Pakistan has been a state comprising of people on the move ever since its creation amid the chaos of partition. Recent decades have seen high rates of both rural-urban and overseas migration with important political consequences.
The flood of migrants into Karachi in the 1980s as a result both of a construction boom and of the Afghan conflict created the social conditions in which violence and ethnic conflict were able to thrive. The roots of the unfolding Karachi crisis lay not in the Sindhi-mohajir conflict, but in tension between recent lower class mohajir residents and incoming Pashtun labourers. Following the December 1986 Sohrab Goth episode and the serious ethnic rioting which followed it, Altaf Hussain called for the repatriation of Pashtun/Afghan outsiders. Elsewhere in Sindh, migration established conflicts between Punjabis and Sindhis.
Sindh did not share in the other main source of migration from the 1970s, of Pakistani workers to the oil rich but labour poor Gulf states. Migration to the Gulf increased wealth and encouraged Islamisation through exposure to ‘pristine’ Islamic practice. Some commentators regard it as a contributory factor to the Punjab’s quiescence during the Zia era. Large numbers of Pakistanis have also packed their bags for Britain and North America. The political impact of the establishment of these overseas Pakistani communities has been two-fold: first it has lent support to the Kashmir struggle and publicized indian human rights abuses since the late 1980s; second, in the 1990s, the Urdu-speaking components of these communities provided sustenance for the MQM struggle during the Bhutto administrations. The role of the Pakistani diaspora in national politics possesses some parallels with that of overseas Sikh communities during the troubled 1980s in Indian Punjab. It is an area which requires much greater scholarly investigation than has hitherto been accorded it.
Agricultural innovation together with population growth has released rural labour for migration to Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia*
* During the period 1965 to 1989-91 the percentage of the labour force employed in agriculture fell from 60 to 44 per cent, while that in industry rose from 18 to 25 percent. Thomas, Third World Atlas.
Pakistanis have also settled more permanently in Britain and North America and from a much earlier period in the former case. A 1980 estimate placed the number of Pakistanis working overseas at 1.4 million. At its peak around one in ten of Pakistan’s adult make workforce was employed overseas. Indeed during the fifth plan period (1978-1983) over a third of the increase in the labour force was absorbed by overseas migration. Th remittances which the migrants sent home aided the unfavourable balance of payments situation and indeed by the middle of the 1980s provided around 40% of total foreign exchange earnings. Their effects on domestic consumption patterns and domestic demand were equally significant. The construction industry boom and its growth in transport and consumer goods industries can be linked with migrant’s remittances. According to Jonathan Addleton, ‘the Gulf migration broadened what had historically been a small middle class in Pakistan’.
The Punjab was the province which gained most from the inflow of funds but the most locally concentrated impact was in th Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir. Britain’s ‘Islamabad’-Bradford replaced the dockside of Bombay as the major post-partition destination of Mirpuri migrants, many of whom were ‘pushed’ out of the region after the flooding of 100 square miles of the best agricultural land by th construction of the Mangla dam in the early 1960s. Suzuki pick- up trucks, pucca dwellings and the presence of more banks per capita than in Karachi bear eloquent testimony to the growth of a Mirpuri remittance economy. But as Roger Ballard perceptively remarks in the early 1980s, dependency rather than development has been perpetuated by the inflow o funds.
In the intervening period, AK has experienced some development in the fields of housing and hydro-electricity. But Kashmiri resentment towards the Government of Pakistan has grown along with the continuing failure to improve communications, to pay for the utilization of AK natural resources (the Mangla Dam generates power for the Punjabi industry, not for local consumption, and the AK Government does not receive any revenue) and the refusal to harness more effectively remittance income for development by means of an AK banking sector.
Migrants to the Gulf, unlike those to Europe and North America did not permanently leave the homeland. Little is sill known concerning the consequences of their reabsorption into the domestic economy. The psychological reactions arising from the frustrations of newly- enriched returnees, who perhaps unsuccessfully demand an increased status has been dubbed the Dubai chalo ( Let’s go to Dubai) theme in Pakistani society.
Internal migration has also dramatically increased- both seasonal agricultural migration and rural migration to Karachi and the industrial cities of the Punjab, there has been an urban explosion. While the overall population increased by 250% in the period 1947-81, urban population growth was close on 400%. This is due to both the arrival of Indian and Bangladesh mohajirs and the internal migration of Punjabi, Baloch and Pushtunistan labourers. Urban dwellers increased from 17.8% of the total population in 1951 to 28.3% at the time of the 1981 census. The most rapid growth was recorded in major cities like Karachi and Lahore. Around a tenth of the total world Baloch population is squeezed into Pakistan’s leading city, clustering mainly in the chronically congested environs of the Lyari district. Karachi’s population had risen from under half a million at independence to 12 million in the mid 1990s. It has been estimated that 250,000 Pashtuns and Punjabis settle in Karachi annually. But even such small Punjabi towns at th time of partition as Sargodha and Gujranwala have mushroomed.*
* the 1941 census recorded the population of these Punjabi towns at 36,000 and 85,000 respectively. By 1978 their population stood at 252,000 and 486,000-Anita Weiss
While urban migration has encouraged a construction boom, it has also placed tremendous pressure on the infrastructure and created pollution and environmental degradation. It has not grabbed the international headlines like Bhopal and Lahore’s Baja Line * gas tragedy early in 1997, but poses an even greater long-term threat to the population.
* This incident which claimed thirty lives, took place on 8 January when two cylinders of chlorine gas leaked during their transportation to Ittehad Chemicals.
By the early 1990s, Lahore and adjoining areas discharged 200 million gallons of waste water daily into the Ravi river. While the citizens o Karachi were daily generating 35,000 tonnes of waste, 300 million gallons of untreated sewage were being daily discharged by the Lyari and Malir rivers into the sea. The former green belt of Malir housed the country’s largest pesticide dump and was being turned into a desert as a result of illegal sand mining in the river-bed to supply Karachi’s construction industry.
Karachi’s political violence of the 1980s must be viewed against the background of the outstripping of transportation, housing and water supplies by the mushrooming population. One of the MQM’s early demands was for the legislation of katchi abadis ( mud tenements) as a step towards providing them with better amenities. Piped water for example was available to less than half of the homes in the unregulated slum areas at the end of he 1980s. Yet a rising proportion of the population, nine in every twenty inhabitants lived in the katchi abadis. Resentment at the formal state’s inability to tackle socio-economic problems or provide law and order led to the rise of the informal MQM ‘secondary state’. Meanwhile in Lyari the continued lack of basic amenities highlighted by the water supply problems had by the time of the 1997 elections cut into the traditional PPP domination in this predominantly Baloch area.
Migration to Karachi at the time of the Afghan conflict also brought with it the presence of drug mafias and the growing problem of addiction. Criminal violence in the ‘biggest Pashtun city in the world’ from the mid-1980s onwards was largely drug related. The bulldozing of the largely Pashtun/Afghan- inhabited north Karachi slum area of Sohrab Goth in December 1986 in search o illegal arms and drugs precipitated retaliatory ethnic attacks on poorer mohajir localities elsewhere in the city. The impact of drug-laundered money on consumer demand has never been quantified. Similarly the impact of heroin smuggling on the local economy has been even less studied than that of remittances and the return of ex- migrants. Ugo Fabietti has pointed out, however, that the monetization of the economy of the coastal Makran region of Balochistan was greatly assisted by drug trafficking. Its controllers are now leading entrepreneurs in the building trades, agriculture and fish processing industry. They have become influential distributors of local resources and been courted by politicians.* Indeed Makrani society has seen considerable social mobility resulting from the influx of black drug money remittances from the migrant worker population, who number 10% of the total.
* Evidence for a criminalization of politics was starkly brought home by a report published by the Qureshi caretaker government in 1993. This listed 164 former legislators as active in the drug trade.
Standard accounts of Pakistan’s politics frequently ignore the state’s high rates of social mobility because of their focus on elites and leading personalities. In a pioneering study, Theodore Wright has seen increased inter-sectarian and inter- provincial marriage arising from social mobility as contributing to national integration, although such alliances are confined to cities.
Through courtesy: Pakistan, A Modern History by Ian Talbot, St. Martins Press, New York 1998
The north-western corner of the Indian subcontinent suffered the bloodiest violence and the most severe dislocation in 1947-8, but after just a few years visitors were surprised by the speed of change and the ways in which these events had faded from view. The energies and expenditure of the governments, the imperative quickly to begin farming again in the Punjabi breadbasket states that supplied vital food to the rest of India and Pakistan and the rapid, total exchange of Punjab’s population meant that, publicly at least, a line was drawn under events by the time of the first Indian general elections in 1950. Chiseled Victorian luminaries on plinths were removed and the names of streets and parks changed overnight. The landscape became increasingly alien to old inhabitants as shop names were removed and freshly painted signs were hoisted up in their place. Marketplaces and segments of the old walled parts of cities were reinvented. As the new order began, and the old order fizzled out, cultural, linguistic and economic changes followed in the slipstream of Partition. Refugees made up almost half of the population of Lahore, almost a third of the population of Delhi.
Communities of refugee squatters could still be seen, camped on the outskirts of towns, and rubble still marked the sites of riots. New cities arose from the ashes, though, such as Le Corbusier’s angular, uncompromisingly modernist Chandigarh, the new capital of East Punjab. The resourceful Punjabi refugee became a national stereotype and an actor on the nation building stage. Inevitably, many of the residents who had stayed in the same place during Partition and witnessed these transformations felt nostalgic for the old cities where there had been less traffic, business had been done face to face, prices were at least remembered as cheaper, and it was possible to cross cities such as Delhi in minutes rather than hours; and they mourned the emergence of the ‘vast sprawling multicolored soulless monster of today which we continue to call by the same name’. The public memory of Partition in the north-west of South Asia was gradually put to rest. Grave and invisible legacies lived on in less tangible ways, in emotional scarring and sporadic political friction, but observers were happy enough to buy into the story of regenerative enterprise told by both national governments.
Beneath the glossy factories and the meteoric rise and endless expansion of new cities, though, Partition left deep and ragged fault lines. Those ran through individual lives, families and whole regions, pitching Indians and Pakistanis into new conflicts and paving the way for the troubled bilateral relationship which blights South Asia to the present day.
In the 1940s and 1950s people were not well equipped with the language of psychiatry and psychoanalysis; it was too much to hope for any systematic understanding of the collective trauma which a generation had experienced. Partition had a widespread psychological impact which may never be fully recognized or traced. This afflicted not only refugees but also eye witnesses, perpetrators of violence, aid workers, politicians and policemen; arguably hundreds of thousands of people living in the northern and eastern parts of South Asia. The immediate trauma of the refugees was well testified in their frozen and fixed faces, uncontrollable tears and shocked inertia. More invasive mental health problems may have plagued some people for the rest of their lives. People who had managed to get away or who had been strong enough to secure themselves a place in a train compartment, or who had remained hidden while other members of their community were killed, felt guilt. Others experienced culturally specific shame and humiliation related to violations of religious or community rights that inverted the normal social order. ‘One woman wept hysterically’, recounted Margaret Bourke-White, ‘As she told me how her home was polluted by Muslim goondas who placed raw meat on the window sills’. For others, fear of starvation had left a deep mark-‘they started stealing food’, remembered Krishna Thapar who worked at an ashram in Punjab with rescued women: ‘We would find chapatis under their pillows, under their quilts and their beds. . .Some of them had become psychological cases’. Some people went, quite literally, mad.
For women the trauma of rape, molestation and abduction was so grave, and made even worse in many cases because of the cultural taboos surrounding it, that it is unclear how recovery was possible at all. ‘None of us had the ability to understand the psychology of these women nor did we try’, admitted the social worker Anis Kidwai. ‘The few sentences that spouted at such occasions proved totally ineffective, and often we ended up saying, very unpleasant things to them’. Social workers often tried to steer the conversation away from memories of trauma, encouraged their charges to look to the future and had a limited grasp of their psychological needs. They can only be judged against the standards and practices of the time. For those who saw scenes of devastation or lost loved ones, life was punctured by panic attacks and ugly nightmares for many years. Some twenty years later, Begum Ikramullah wrote, ‘I somehow have never been able to get over the shocked impact the Calcutta riots had on me’ and Manzoor Quraishi’s otherwise prosaic account of life in the Indian Civil Service is suddenly interrupted by the memory of a brother who lost his life on a train to Pakistan: ”I loved my younger brother and could not get over the brutal and tragic end of a brilliant career at the young age of 24 years. For months I could not sleep properly and insomnia that I got from this horrible and traumatic experience has haunted me now and then throughout my life thereafter. My mother whose youngest child (had died) was completely heartbroken and cursed ‘Pakistan’ till she died in 1978. . .’. Urvashi Butalia has pointed to the ongoing trauma of those who has been children in 1947, ‘his wife told us that he still had nightmares, that he woke in the night feeling an intense heat rising up around him, the flames that surrounded him as he lay by his father’s body in 1947’, while in one instance a perpetrator of violence is also haunted by the events of the time: ‘Another Sikh living in Bhogal in Delhi who had actually been part of a killing spree as a child, would often wake in the night screaming. His wife said he could not forget the screams of the Muslims he had helped to kill’. These could have been exceptional cases but it seems more likely that Partition continued to echo, unrecorded, in anonymous stories of breakdowns, alcoholism and suicide
.A prolonged Partition
There were other invisible trails left by Partition. By late 1948, politicians were relieved that violence had subsided, and Nehru in particular was delighted that the annexation of the troublesome state of Hyderabad passed without trouble elsewhere in India. He saw this as a sign that the corner had been turned and was elated that ‘not a single communal incident occurred in the whole length and breadth of this great country’. Sadly though questions of citizenship and belonging still hung in the balance and there were numerous people and communities who had grey, uncertain allegiances to India or Pakistan and had slipped between the cracks formed by these neat parameters of nationhood.
In Bengal, in contrast to the north-west, the physical reality of the refugee crisis was only just beginning to take shape in the 1950s. By 1951, there were at least three million refugees squeezed into every nook and cranny of Calcutta. They slept on pavements and in Nissen huts, made their homes on railway platforms and along river banks. The consequence could not be easily ignored and the unceasing flow of refugees brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war in early 1950. As Nehru wrote to the British Prime Minister Attlee, in 1950 the treatment of minorities in both countries was ‘far more important for the maintenance of peace than the settlement of the Kashmir dispute’. A proclamation of emergency was kept ready to be used at a moment’s notice in West Bengal and the Governor declaring a state of martial law. The prolonged tortuous Partition of Bengal would prove a whole chapter in the Partition story. It was a political and social drama which stretched well into the twentieth century. The war of 1971, and the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan, exacerbated the human crisis in the region and, by 1973, West Bengal was coping with a refugee population of around six million.
After 1947 East Pakistan’s ability to survive hung in balance and the province’s continued viability as part of Pakistan was already in doubt. The desperately poor, waterlogged province, economically dependent on the unreliable jute crop and physically distanced from the Pakistani capital one-thousand. miles away, had to struggle with two dominant issues from the moment of its independence: on its borders it faced a refugee crisis of epic proportions and a brewing conflict with India, while East Bengalis also began a long battle with their compatriots in Karachi, who began trying to stamp their cultural and political imprint on the province. Jinnah declared Urdu the Pakistani national language in 1948, deaf to the passion of Bengali linguistic patriotism and the complaints of the majority of Pakistanis who could not speak the language. After Independence, East Pakistan suffered from inflation and shortages of basic goods as it was cut off from Cakcutta, but the Chittagong port, which was critical for East Pakistan’s industrial development and imports, was developed too slowly. All this was underlined by bigotry shown towards the rural Bengali peasantry and a barely concealed implication that the province was a poor cousin to the ‘real’ Pakistan. Jinnah took seven months to make his first brief visit to Dacca and although Liaquat Ali Khan announced that he would aim a two visits a year, he never managed to reach his own target. The fissures which would eventually result in civil war, the bloody cracking apart of the country and the creation of Bangladesh in 1970-1 were already visible in 1947.
Meanwhile massive communities of Hindus who remained in East Bengal found little to commend in their poorly administered new country, and clung tenaciously to their older political affiliations. Many had ties to Calcutta and remained unreconciled to Partition, which was seen as an arbitrary imposition from outside. ‘Their temple bells can be heard in the evening and in their shops in the bazaar are exhibited portraits of Nehru, Patel and other Indian leaders’, noted one foreign visitor to Dacca. Hindus had overwhelmingly been the zamindars, or landlords, in undivided Bengal, while Muslims had been the tenants, and Hindus remained the wealthy gatekeepers of Bengali bhadralok culture; even in 1950 they still dominated the Dacca bar and held one third of the university’s places. Simultaneously, the promises of Pakistani nationalism had fired the imagination of Muslim tenants who hoped to improve their lot at the expense of their erstwhile masters. In this light, well-meaning Pakistani guarantees of a plural state decreed from the capital and the promise of a 30% reservation for the minority, looked hollow and capricious from the perspective of the East Bengal Hindu who, although represented in the provincial Legislative Assembly, had no figurehead in the cabinet and little reason to believe that his children or grandchildren would benefit from the same access to educational opportunities and legal rights as himself.
Fears of outright persecution were strengthened by real assaults and murders of East Bengalis in the grievous riots in Khulna, Chittagong, Barisal and Sylhet in 1950 and the ruthless requisitioning of Hindu property by a partisan and unaccountable state administration. Disentangling the truth from fiction about the persecution of East Bengal minorities is still immensely problematic, but as news of rapes, murders and massacres gained currency, fears of war between the two countries over Kashmir and the worried intercessions from family members and political groups on the Indian side of the border all added to the maelstrom. Rich and poor Bengalis Hindus became fused in a new collective consciousness of their vulnerable minority status. The full ambiguities of Pakistan’s territorial creation came to light as any Bengalis on both sides of the border lamented its creation and echoed Vallabhbhai Patel’s declaration that Partition was a tragedy.
Ultimately, although some minorities held out in East Pakistan and tried to preserve their community rights, there was an alternative option for those who decided that they could not remain in East Bengal: migration to India. Many did no think this would be permanent, while some remained in East Pakistan for as long as possible and tried to claim their political rights, waiting for the storm to pass. Migration decimated ever more communities, leaving small isolated families target for criminals and creating a vicious circle. By early 1950 some of the Congress regarded war as possibly the only solution that would stop the tide of refugees, push back Pakistan’s borders and create a safe zone for non-Muslims in East Bengal which could be subsumed within Indian territory. Daily border clashes and riots in East Bengal started to threaten the security of Muslims in North India, in Calcutta and West Bengal and in March 1950 riots in East Bengal had ‘repercussions’ hundreds of miles way. The reflex action of many Indian Muslim communities was to pack up their belongings and to consider the possibility of migration to Pakistan. ‘the common folks are concerned- peasants, artisans, metal workers, domestic servants and the like’, Nehru lamented. ‘their panchayats decide and whole groups pack up and want to go’.
Independence had not delivered on its promises. J.N. Mandal, the leader of the local Dalits who had vigorously backed the Pakistan demand and had been sworn in as a minister in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, was racked with regret and dashed expectations. In 1950 he resigned from his post and migrated to India. It was the result of a long personal tussle with his own emotions and responsibilities. ‘it is with a heavy heart and a sense of utter frustration at the failure of my life- long mission to uplift the backward Hindu masses of East Bengal’, he wrote sadly in his resignation letter, ‘that I feel compelled to tender resignation of my membership of your Cabinet’. The daily persecution and harassment of peasants whom Mandal was elected to represent had become too much as ‘untouchables’ found themselves discriminated against, attacked and persecuted in East Pakistan, lumped together in popular thinking with the ‘Hindus’ and exploited by unaccountable administrators who Mandal was convinced, were determined to squeeze out all minorities from the land.
The riots in East Bengal 1950 proved the final straw for Mandal like many others.”The news of the killing of hundreds of innocent Hindus in trains, on railway lines between Dacca and Narayanganj, Dacca and Chittagong gave me the rudest shock’, he wrote. ‘I was overwhelmed with grief’. Shortly afterwards, Mandal made his way to India. The final part of the sorry tale came afterwards in a twist which reflects both the ironies and complications of defining citizenship in the partitioned subcontinent. Mandal’s departure was rewritten as treachery and anti- nationalism. The Pakistani Prime Minister, standing on an airfield in Karachi, when asked about his minister’s departure declared that he hoped Mandal would come back to Pakistan. ‘A number of nationals betray their country and run away’, Liaquat Ali Khan declared imperiously to the assembled journalists, ‘but by doing so they do not cease to be the nationals of that country’.
Once again the murky lack of clarification about citizenship entangled the two states. The bitterness engendered by Partition was still palpable and in 1950 the prime ministers bickered in personal letters to each other about responsibility for the violence in 1947. ‘The disturbances which led to mass migrations covered three hundred thousand square miles in Pakistan’, argued an Indian government’s pamphlet, ‘while the area affected in India was only eighty seven thousand square mikes’. Th real cost of Partition was lost in this scramble to attribute blame.
Both governments became blind to the real human misery of the refugees as the ‘refugee question” became another focal point for Indo-Pakistan conflict. In provocative rhetoric the governments fixated on their own righteousness, undermined the journalism and reportage emanating from the other nation’s press and denied their own culpability for what had happened in 1947. War conditions in Bengal was narrowly averted in 1950. The Indian and Pakistani prime ministers sealed their peace-at least temporarily-by signing a far-sighted Pact in April 1950. The Nehru-Liaquat Ali pact addressed desperately urgent questions of fair press reportage, protection for migrants in transit, affirmation of minority rights, the property rights of migrants and restoration of women who had been held captive against their will. It came just in the nick of time.
In Delhi in May 1950 newspaper editors gathered from India and Pakistan at a joint conference. The Nehru-Liaquat pact encouraged journalists to tone down their alarmist coverage of what was happening in the two countries. Journalists spent hours talking, trying to get to the bottom of what was happening across the border and learning about life in a place which had now become mysterious and inaccessible. A Pakistani journalist admitted that he was relieved to find that the reports he had seen in Pakistan of gangs massacring Muslims had been exaggerated. At the conference, journalists wept to see each other for the first time in three years. On hearing this, Nehru reflected that the two states had to find a way to get their people to meet as often as possible. Sadly, the pact was a temporary sticking plaster and this aspiration towards open borders remained a vain hope.
Visas and Passports
The permanent separation of Indians and Pakistanis from each other, and their inability to cross the new border, was the most long-lasting and divisive aspect of Partition although it was barely taken into consideration by the politicians at the time. It is doubtful if even the leaders fully appreciated the full implications of the rubric of the Partition plan as they deferred the question of passports until a later date, leaving it to the two independent dominions to decide their own border defenses and immigration controls. In the summer of 1947 few could appreciate the full connotations of the division which would ultimately result in some of the harshest border regulations in the world; indeed one newspaper headline read ‘Passport rules believed to be needless at present’.
By this date even less affluent Indians travelled widely around the subcontinent as the railways delivered the possibility of cheap long distance journeys to pilgrimage sites, for trade and to attend and arrange weddings. It seemed unthinkable that destinations mapped in the imagination would become unreachable. ‘I did not realize that it meant saying goodbye to my home and friends’, recalled one future Pakistan Foreign Minister ‘most people didn’t think that an iron curtain would come down’. Although the idea of distinct nation states was starting to take root, few thought that India and Pakistan would be hermetically sealed off from each other. A natural corollary to the empirical confusions surrounding Pakistan’s territorial extent and Pakistan’s intrinsic meaning was that it took a long time for people to come to grips with the idea of India and Pakistan as separate sovereign lands.Members of so- called ‘divided families’- often Kashmiris of North Indian origin- even if they made definitive choices in favour of India or Pakistan, did not anticipate the weighty consequences of such a decision.
An early permit system devised in 1948 gradually evolved into full blown citizenship legislation. By 1951 Indians and Pakistanis required a passport and visa to cross Radcliffe’s infamous line in the west of the country, although the meandering East Bengal border continued to be both more pious and less systematically policed for a longer time and great stretches of land had not yet been marked out with barbed ire or guarded with border posts. Naturally the poor and illiterate could not afford the passport fee and the legal minefield of Pakistani and Indian citizenship caused hardship and complications.
The system of entry and exit permits which began as logical attempt to regulate the refugee flow, soon turned into a restrictive administrative regime which became self- sustaining. Now the aim was to keep out terrorists and enemies of the state, as well as stopping people from making claims on national welfare systems or abusing the franchise. Most of all, the governments needed to pin down precisely who was an Indian and who was a Pakistani. There was no room for ambiguities or uncertain grey areas. Excessive red tape tied the hands of those who wished to conduct trade or visit friends and relatives on the other side of the border. At least seven categories of visa existed between India and Pakistan by the mid-1950s. In reality, access became difficult and cast suspicion on those who wanted to cross the border, while strict conditions were attached to the visits and tough regulations limited the goods that could be transported. Carrying gold, for example was strictly forbidden.
Long after Partition the messy complications of real lives- which did not fit within these paper categories- generated large numbers of court cases, deportations and arrests. The High Courts regularly heard cases in the 1950 s and 1960 s which hinted at a panoply of human dramas: wives who had migrated with their husbands to Pakistan but now wanted to return to their families in India, complications caused by cross-border marriages and of people who claimed that were forced to go to India or Pakistan against their own free will, the arguments of those who had entered on false or forged passports, claimed to hold two nationalities or who overstayed their visas.
Indeed the legacies of those boundary awards have sharpened rather than blunted over time and all the paraphernalia of border control- barbed wire and fencing (more prominent in the west than in the east, but currently expanding along the Indo-Bangladeshi border land mines, thermal imagers, flood lighting and underground sensors designed to trap ‘infiltrators’- have been brought to bear along Radcliffe’s pencil lines. Over time the determination with which these borders have been patrolled has ebbed and flowed dependent on the climate of relations between the counties but e general trajectory has been towards more heavily guarded borders.
Limbs and lives have been lost as villagers caught in the middle of the border areas try to continue ploughing the land. ‘As a major part of the fence remains unlit, chances of anti- national elements sneaking in are there commented the Director General of the Indian Border Security Force interviewed in 2006 about the policing of the Indo-Bangladeshi border.’This year alone we have shot dead 75 people trying to cross the border’. Local people and border guards fall victim to routine border scuffles. Fishermen sailing across Arabian Sea swept along unknowingly into foreign waters are routinely arrested and imprisoned.
Currently confidence building measures agreed by th Indian and Pakistani governments in 2004 give new reason for optimism and enable separated families to meet, often for the first in decades, poor fishermen have been freed and repatriated, the limited bus and train services between Amritsar and Lahore resumed, and new ones most significantly the Thar Express train which crosses between Sind and Rajasthan and the Pan-Kashmir bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad have started. Given the language of impermanency surrounding the creation of Partition and the limited way in which the emergent nationalisms related to territory, the monumental permanence of these borders is paradoxical, and has had contemporary consequences barely imaginable to the political protagonists in 1947.
These divisions have, over the years, thrown up some spectacular oddities and ironies. Fazal Mahmood, the legendary fast bowler and cricket captain, was picked to play for India on its maiden tour of Australia in 1947-8, and even attended a conditioning camp in Pune before the team’s departure. On his way to Delhi, though, the twenty- year-old player was unable to proceed because of the violence. ‘I was informed about the slaughter when I reached the airport’, he recalled much later. ‘I could not go to Delhi and Lahore. A kindly passenger gave me his ticket, and I managed to travel to Karachi. The incident changed my life. I decided to stay in Pakistan. I had a lot in India emotionally and financially, but I had to reconcile myself and settle down in Pakistan’. Heading up the Pakistan national side he played against India on numerous occasions. Another of the quirks of Partition was that many of the first and second generation of the leading officers in the Indian and Pakistani military facing each other across the Kashmiri line of control in the wars of the twentieth century had been close colleagues and worked alongside each other during the days before Independence. In one such instance, an Indian soldier, General Sinha, was responsible for the custody of an old Pakistani friend, General Niazi, as a prisoner of war after his capture during the 1971 conflict. Prior to Partition the pair had served together as captain in Indonesia during the Second World War.
These borders and demands of statehood persist and are far more than abstractions. Border enclaves on the Indo-Bangladeshi border are perhaps the most extreme and bizarre, yet painfully real, example of Partition’s logic. A product of 1947, they continue to exist and shape the lives of South Asians up to the present day. There are 123 border enclaves technically belonging to Bangladesh within India and 74 border enclaves which are legally Indian territory within Bangladesh lying in the eastern border region.
These are tiny pieces of land stranded in a wider sea of the ‘other ‘ state. They came about as a result of the absorption of the princely state of Cooch Behar, sandwiched between the borderlines of East Pakistan and India in 1949. These scraps of land were legal oddities under the sovereign control of Cooch Behar’s r ruler, remnants of India’s pre- colonial past and reminders of the piecemeal way in which the subcontinent’s political map had emerged. With better diplomatic effort they could have been exchanged between the two new states after Partition. Instead a 1958 agreement to effect the exchange has not been implemented and the enclaves have persisted as a technical and legal anachronism, with devastating consequences for the inhabitants. People living in these tiny patches of land have had their lives and identities stretched to the most incredible limit by the demands of nationality and statehood.
Technically ‘Indian’ but living in Bangladesh, or vice versa, enclave dwellers have found it immensely difficult to travel or trade beyond the limits of their tiny isolated enclaves, and their movement has sometimes been at the risk of danger or death while criminals and opportunists have taken advantage of the lawlessness within these third spaces. Enclave inhabitants have.been living tax free so these isolated areas have been abandoned by officials and left without a franchise, policing,roads, healthcare or electricity supplies. The enclaves, in short, made successive generations of South Asians ‘stateless’ human beings in a world now defined by nation states..
All these consequences of Partition have reinforced the estrangement of the two nation states. These twists and turns that have followed on from 1947 are far removed from the hopes and dreams of Swaraj and Pakistan which people rallied to in the late 1940s. Indians and Pakistanis continue to feel the unforeseen repercussions of the 3 June plan. At the same time, they also live alongside memories and amnesia about what took place in 1947.
Remembering and forgetting
The two episodes which took place in 2005 shine a light on the way in which Partition is simultaneously remembered and forgotten in South Asia today. On 4 June 2005, a remarkable event occurred. A seventy-five-year-old Indian L.K.Advani, climbed the steps to a glistening white marble monument in Pakistan’s chief commercial city and former capital, Karachi. To the sound of bugles blasted by a Pakistani guard of honour, he laid a large wreath of purple and pink flowers at the tomb of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Honoring a man who had been dead for over half a century can stll have dangerous political repercussions as Advani, president and co-founder of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the chief opposition party in present day India, quickly discovered. In India, Jinnah is, of course, widely reviled as the progenitor of Pakistan and the architect of a mistaken partition of the subcontinent, while Pakistanis cherish his memory as their greatest leader and founder of their Muslim state. Advani, who later wrote in the visitors’ book that Jinnah was ‘a great man’ who forcefully espoused ‘a secular state in which every citizen would be free to practice his own religion’, was committing virtual heresy in the eyes of many in his own party who remember Jinnah as a dangerous religious fundamentalist who forced the division of the subcontinent. BJP members called for their party president’s immediate resignation.
Advani is not known to be a friend of Pakistan, and s renowned more as a doughty- looking hawk than a dovish peace campaigner whose personal understanding of Indian nationalism rests upon the bedrock of exclusivity Hindu ideology. His party usually noted for its demonization of minority groups, particularly Muslims and, by extension, for a suspicious attitude towards Pakistan. In the past he was nicknamed Demolition Man by the Pakistani press for his role in instigating the brick- by- brick destruction of the sixteenth- century Babri Masjid mosque in the North Indian town of Aodhya in 1992, so his utterances in Pakistan unleashed speculation about his motives. What has happened? Had Advani made an error of judgement and become sentimental in his old age or was this a calculated strategy to reinvent the party and broaden its electoral base? Did he really believe that Jinnah was secular? In retrospect it seems that he had made a miscalculation while trying to broaden the electoral foundations of the party and cultivate a role for himself as a centrist elder statesman at the hub of national life.
His comments, however, struck at the heart of all the nationalist myths that are held sacred by Indians and Pakistanis, and in both countries the front pages of newspapers were consumed with the story, while reams of editorial revisited the minutiae of Jinnah’s character and his political intentions in the 1940s. Roundly condemned across the board by his own party, Advani was forced to resign temporarily as president of the BJP, an embarrassing episode that signalled the beginning of his withdrawal from Indian politics and permanent removal from the post at the end of 2005. Myths of Partition are deeply ingrained and Jinnah is characterized here as a cardboard cut-out hero or anti-hero. Breaking Partition’s myths comes with a price.
There was an added twist to the story, Advani, in common with President Musharraf of Pakistan, belongs to a family displaced by the Partition of 1947. Both men and their families were among th twelve.million people uprooted. Bot have lived the remainder of their lives many miles from their ancestral homes, which ate now absorbed into foreign territory. They also belong to that first generation of independent citizens who played a art in consolidating India and Pakistan as distinct nation states and in fashioning these nations from the remnants of the Raj.
Although there are currently reasons to be optimistic about a new detente in Indo-Pakistan relations, the unfortunate price of the emergence of these states has been the mutual hostility of the countries. There have been three wars since 1947, the development of nuclear weaponry and a putative cold war. The movement of people and goods across 2,600 kilometers of international borderline remains highly restricted. Yet despite persistent animosities, a paradoxical fascination with and attraction to the former homeland lingers. Like Musharraf, who came to India in July 2001 and visited his crumbling ancestral home in the crowded alleys of Old Delhi, Advani desired to see places in his home town of Karachi that he had left behind as a teenager when he departed for India. With his wife and daughter he visited his former house and his old school-the school, coincidentally, that was also attended. by Musharraf as a boy-and he expressed genuine emotion in the face of of the intervening years: ‘I was truly overwhelmed by the warmth and affection of the people. . . I must confess that I am somewhat at a loss to articulate the totality of my feelings and thoughts. . .’
In Pakistan, three months later, another episode equally signaled Partition’s deep seated political significance which continues to resonate to the present day. On Independence Day in 2005, President Musharraf attended a ceremony inaugurating a mammoth 330 million rupees building project in Lahore. The plan, known as Bab- e- Pakistan, has been in the pipeline since 1991. Architectural designs promise a sleek geometric structure soaring into the sky which will be reflected in a rectangular ornamental pool below; locals have also been promised a lavish new mosque, library, garden, restaurants and sports facilities. Standing on the platform in front of a large graphic painting in which a pantheon of national heroes loomed as he inaugurated the start of the construction work, the President of Pakistan invoked the suffering of refugees and the sacrifices at the time of Partition. ‘They were fired by a passion and had an unswerving hope in Pakistan’, he declared. For th land on which Bab-e-Pakistan will stand is the exact site of the Walton refugee camp, the camp in Lahore through which millions of Pakistanis trudged on their traumatic journey,, and the purpose of the project is to memorialize both the camp and the wider story of Partition. The.monument (and the library and exhibitions to be hosted within it) will tell a linear story of the triumphal emergence of Pakistan and although the bloodiness of Partition will have a place in this tale, it will be glossed with the language of martyrdom and suffering in the cause of Pakistan state. The Bab-e-Pakistan has little to say about the experiences of non-Muslims and avoids delving into the shared responsibility for violence at the time of Partition.
These official versions of history have hardly gone unchallenged; some Pakistani observers immediately called for a more representative memorial. ‘If Bab- e- Pakistan has to be built’ suggested a newspaper editorial pointedly, ‘let it represent suffering of all refugees from both sides’. Nevertheless the memories of the squalid refugee camp are to be carefully repackaged in the form of a national monument, and the memories of bewildering social upheaval are to b replaced with a providential, chalked- out destiny.
All memorials and monuments, like history books have heir own rationales, and tell a very particular story. A different criticism sometimes levelled at the governments of South Asia is that they failed to commemorate the brutality of 1947 in any way at all. In India there is only one official monument to the victims of Partition, the Martyrs’ Monument in Chandigarh, the experimental city built after Independence as a symbolic focal point of national regeneration and as a new capital of Indian Punjab. Here, in a square enclosure near to the heart of governance, stone sculptures of a lion, a snake and a prone human figure are intended to symbolize the sufferings of the Punjabis in 1947. However, the lack of other, official, public memorials does not mean that Partition is in any way forgotten.
The political power of the memory of Partition, and the state’s ability to appropriate and manipulate these memories, has been graphically shown since 1947. A subtle and diffuse but no less politicized picture of Partition has extremely wide currency. Throughout the length and breadth of South Asia the contents of well- thumbed schoolbooks in children’s satchels, regurgitated in undigested chunks for school examinations, tell opposing and sanctified versions of the story of Partition. In India this blends together the tales of the Muslim League’s intransigence, it’s ‘communal’ or religiously slanted political orientation that made it impervious to cries of unity and resulted in the fracturing of India. In this story, Pakistan’s creation is entirely illegitimate and it is the failure of the Leaguers to accept a secular, plural, peace- loving state which is at fault. In this line of thinking, Partition as a violent, human tragedy is spliced together with Partition as a political mistake. For this reason, the Indian child hears very little about the ways in which the violence came about and the polarization of the League and the Congress in wartime India, or of Congress’s own ambivalence about religious nationalism and alliances with militant cadres.
This is at odds with the picture that emerges in Pakistan; here the state proactively engages in rewriting history of Partition as one of martyrdom, courage and victim hood. Pakistanis, so the story goes, triumphantly created the state, and gave their lives for it in the face of a planned attempt to bring Pakistan to a point of collapse at the moment of the country’s inception. In this reading, the Congress was little more than a front for a Hindu and Sikh conspiracy. In the textbooks of both countries national leaders are extolled as heroes, and at its worst extreme this takes the form of a kind of morality play or fable about the foundation moment of the state. But it is the absences in the schoolbooks that are most striking. As Krishna Kumar, who has turned his critical eye on the production and consumption of these textbooks ironically observes; when it comes to the description of Partition violence, there are more similarities than differences in the way that Indian and Pakistan school histories approach the thorny question of Partition’s bloodiness: ‘The two narratives come remarkably close in the cursory manner in which they deal with the violence associated with Partition. The horrors and sufferings that millions of ordinary men and women faced receive no more than a few lines of cold recording in most Indian and Pakistani textbooks’.
The Partition of 1947 cannot simply be regarded as a historical event located in the past. It may appear in history books on sale in every bookshop of India and Pakistan but it is not history if ‘history’ is considered to consist of past events that are detached from the political- decision-making processes of contemporary South Asian life. Advani’s faux pas underlined how national interpretations of Partitions-why it happened and who was responsible? – have become ideological shibboleths and have a firm grip on the popular imagination in both countries. There are still strict taboos on what can be said about Partition, and national myths persist, far beyond the limits of the more extreme nationalist parties.
This does not mean that partition is ignored. Far from it: Partition crops up repeatedly, on South Asian television, in the newspapers, and in a torrent of published memoirs, cinematic and fictional accounts and these interpretations have a direct bearing on how each neighbor perceives the other. Memories and histories of Partition continue to reinforce and shape each other and are intimately bound to the understandings of nationhood which have come to predominate in both these countries.
South Asians are simultaneously wary of and hungry for stories of Partition, whether discussing the publication of previously unpublished political diaries or debating the representation of events in the latest Bollywood film or best selling novel. It is living history that is preserved inside family homes by women and men, many of whom live alongside memories of terrible trauma, which are retold and passed on to descendants. Stories about Pakistan and Partition impress themselves upon the reader during a random browse through any issue of an Indian news magazine: a television show that features debates about Indo-Pakistani relations between guests from both countries, an article about a recent India-Pakistan cricket match including a story about the experiences of an elderly Indian couple who took the opportunity to return to the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, ‘where they easily located their old family home. To their delight, it still bears their father’s nameplate’, an article on the suppression of popular Indian satellite channels in Pakistani television.
On Pakistani side of the border, an equivalent magazine will throw up parallel stories: the construction of a railway station to receive the newly planned cross border Thar Express train, an article recounting the recent visit to India by a Pakistani artist who enjoyed touring Jaipur and Hyderabad and also took the opportunity to meet up with distant relatives, commenting, ‘My cousins in India are now third generation after partition’. Echoes of Partition resonate in contemporary discourse, and domestic and foreign policy decisions are shaped, and received by the experience and memories of 1947. Definition of each country’s nationhood have often been made dialectically, through an engagement with and perception of the other state and for this reason it is difficult to evade the analogies of birth and childhood in descriptions of bilateral relations, and the characterization of the emergence of the two states as sibling-rivals.
Both national capitals have produced one-dimensional versions of the past. There has been a lot invested in perpetuating false memories and myth. Nevertheless, a broad sweep of Indians and Pakistanis remember 1947 in far more subtle ways. In films, novels and poetry the violence of Partition has seeped deeply into the cultural imagination. Bollywood has approached Partition from many angles; some films, such as Deepa Mehta’s Earth and Chandra Prakash Dwivedi’s Pinjar, are beautifully restrained depictions of the times.
In the 1980s, the novel Tamas was controversially serialized on Indian television to great acclaim. Other films are, however, gung- ho excuses for nationalistic posturing. Sales of translations and new editions of Partition fiction and poetry are booming in both countries, and the work of writers such as Saadat Hasan Manto, Khushwant Singh, Bhisham Sahni and Intizar Husain are as popular as ever, while new writers visit the perennial yet ever intriguing themes of lost homelands, regret, the pain of separation and the gross violence. Responses to Partition cannot easily be pigeonholed. They traverse the full range of human emotions from the acrimonious and bitter to the regretful and nostalgic.
Nevertheless, nationalist blinkers have more often than not shaped the way in which the history of Partition’s events has been viewed. The master narratives, even if not accepted simplistically or without cynicism have been remarkably potent. The messy ambiguities of Partition have been underplayed, and the anachronistic gloss of nationalism varnishes later accounts. As this book has shown, there is a gulf between these later renderings and the actual experiences of Partition, between the idea and the reality of making two nations in the theatre of decolonization in 1947.
By courtesy, excerpts: The Great Partition by Yasmin Khan, Yale University Press, New Haven & London 2007