Partition, Common History and Moving Forward

“But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.”

– W.H. Auden, Partition

What exactly happened on the midnight of 15th of August, 1947? Well, we know for a fact that we got independence from the British Empire, after a long struggle. Independence from those who had been ruling over us, ruthlessly. India was finally free. A time to celebrate that must have been. As the clock struck 12, Hindustan had become free.

A time of celebration that transformed into a catastrophe. People were killed, women were raped, children were trampled, houses were burnt. Entire villages, which had been in existence for hundreds of years, were turned into ruins. Places where religion was a personal matter became a ground for religious riots. People who had been living like brothers turned against each other. People who protected each other had suddenly become enemies. Entire families were massacred. As if the gods of destruction and violence had descended. There was chaos everywhere. That’s how the celebration became an abomination.

“Hindustan had become free. Pakistan had become independent soon after its inception but man was still slave in both these countries – slave of prejudice … slave of religious fanaticism … slave of barbarity and inhumanity.” 

Saadat Hasan Manto, Murali Ki Dhun

We have all heard stories of Partition from people who had witnessed it. People like our grandparents. They have all recounted stories: some hopeful, some hopeless. While some escaped death by a hair’s breadth, not everyone was that lucky. The chaos that ensued destroyed families and scarred those who somehow escaped. People crossing the border were victims of this violence. People were killed on both sides. In the midst of the tragedy, there were also instances where people protected others from their own people.  Muslims protecting Hindus, Sikhs giving refuge to Muslims, Hindus giving shelter to Sikhs and so on.

This is our past, that’s how independence turned into a catastrophe, the effects of which can still be felt. It is important for us to realize the magnitude of such a chaos. People who had been living together for centuries, what caused them to became bloodthirsty all of a sudden? Countless arguments have been put forward, and one may read those. But beyond those, there is something else. Partition and the events that followed should not be taken lightly at any cost. I, as a Pakistani, have often seen my generation take it too lightly. This must stop. The same goes for the youth of India. It is important to realize the sacrifices that our ancestors had to give.

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Saadat Hasan Manto

When it comes to Partition, Saadat Hasan Manto is arguably the best to read. His short stories and essays capture the plague of violence that spread during those days. Stephen Alter writes on Manto:

“No writer has been able to convey the violent ambiguities of communal conflict with as much force and conviction as Saadat Hasan Manto. Many of his short stories focus on the sense of despair and dislocation caused by the partition of Pakistan and India in 1947. Manto vividly recreates the anger and horrors of this period and the trauma of refugees uprooted and victimized by the delineation of arbitrary borders. As the characters in Manto’s stories confront the ruthless inhumanity of Hindu-Muslim violence – murder, rape and mutilation – their only conceivable response is madness.”

Manto’s stories such as Toba Tek Singh, Khol Do, Thanda Gosht, Gurmukh Singh Ki Wasiyat etc. capture the shocking violence of Partition and truly reflect the horror, the madness that had ensued.

It was indeed Manto who made me think about Partition in a way I hadn’t thought before. The horrible, distant reality suddenly felt more personal. I will go ahead and say that it sort of changed the way I used to look at the whole chain of events that led to Partition. My paternal great-grandfather lived in Delhi, and one of the most famous personalities of his era. He was a Hakeem (physician) by profession. It was only in his later years that he was taken to Hyderabad (Deccan) by Nizam Hyderabad Osman Ali Khan (Asaf Jah VII). He was made the Royal Physician. This is only part of my connection to India. I have been visiting India since childhood, since my mother was born in India and moved to Pakistan after her marriage. To sum it all up: India is my second home.

Sometimes things come together and you start making the connections. It was my recent trip to India that my interest in Pre-Partition India became a passion. When I returned from the trip, I started exploring the past of my city: Hyderabad, Sindh.


Historical buildings in Hyderabad, Sindh

Partition caused the Sindhi Hindus, who had been living in Sindh for generations, to leave. Some were forced through violence, while others had to leave their motherland, the land of their ancestors, reluctantly. As I wandered through the old areas of Hyderabad I looked at all those Pre-Partition houses. Some abandoned, in ruins. Others having lost their original form, still standing, are now giving shelter to the people who came from across the border after the Partition. Most of the houses still have the names of their owners etched on it. The houses having names like: Mukhi Mahal, Vishin Nivas, Bhai Tirthdas Tejumal-Samuratbai Mansion etc. Looking at all those beautiful buildings I wonder what was going through their minds when they contemplated the thought of leaving their houses forever. The houses their grandfathers built, on they built. The ones they spent their childhoods in. The ones where they witnessed the highs and lows of life. And I stopped looking for answers. Looking at all those buildings I realized: the answers were with me all along.

A long, long time has passed since that fateful event. But we still haven’t learned, have we? People who once lived together, celebrated festivals together, have been fighting since then. It’s about time we embrace the past and move on. It’s long due, you know. Hating on the other will not solve our problems. The poor man’s kid will still sleep with an empty stomach. While the big politicians make a fortune out of the conflicts. I truly believe that people of both countries want to meet, share stories with each other. It’s important to realize that blind hatred against the other will get us nowhere. Hate begets hate, and that’s how it has been.

Let’s put our differences aside, and focus on the things we share. The heritage, common history, the culture and so on. Don’t let politics create differences which were never even there to begin with. Rise above those. An average Indian or a Pakistani has nothing to do with high-level politics. Trust me when I say this: there are more things in common, and they are much stronger than the ones which are different.

I’d also suggest the concerned authorities to relax Indian Visa policy for Pakistanis. The people who suffer the most are the ones who have relatives across border, and I have seen people spending their whole lives without a hint of hope for getting the visa. I’d also suggest Pakistani authorities to give special consideration to those Indians who want to visit the places where their ancestors used to live. How about something like ‘revisiting heritage’? Another important thing that I would like to suggest is the promotion of peace through art and culture. Exhibitions, plays, conferences and so on. Also, student exchange programs between both countries on a regular basis will be excellent as well!

Let’s get together, spread love and hope to meet each other over chai and samosas!

Jay Hind, Jeevay Pakistan!

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By Syed Zeeshan Ahmed

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