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The unfinished Partition of India and Pakistan | Banyan (The Economist)

25 August

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The Economist, August 17, 2017

Seventy years after the two countries split, many Hindus and Muslims are still trying to separate

EVERY year in mid-August India and Pakistan celebrate their independence in much the same way. School kids sing anthems; politicians make speeches; soldiers rattle sabres. The two countries share a quieter, more introspective ritual too: memories are hauled out and dusted off and then, after a great deal of tut-tutting and head-shaking over the folly and sorrow of Partition, they are put away again, and the forgetting resumes.

Time has made both countries skilled at this. Not at forgetting their own injuries, to be sure, or at forgetting the bad things the other side has done. Seventy years after India and Pakistan won freedom from British rule, their mutual forgetfulness has more to do with ignoring, or perhaps simply not noticing, how much unfinished business remains from Partition, and how few of its lessons have really sunk in. The hardest one is the insidious nature of the very idea of dividing people along religious lines.

Such forgetting is not merely a matter of, for instance, preferring not to think very much about the troubled region of Kashmir. This is where, in the attempt to separate the two new countries neatly in 1947, the zipper, so to speak, got stuck. It remains jammed: India and Pakistan both claim parts occupied by the other, and each proclaims that the region’s people, themselves a cocktail of faiths and ethnicities, are a natural part of their own nation. But just as the retreating British colonialists’ hasty drawing of borders between the future India and Pakistan relied on guesswork more than on the inhabitants’ wishes, neither side has taken much interest in finding out what Kashmiris want.

There are other untidy borders. Until recently one of the messiest was between India and Bangladesh. So rushed was the carving out of what was then known as East Pakistan in 1947 that many enclaves, counter-enclaves and even one counter-counter-enclave got trapped on the “wrong” side of the frontier like bubbles in amber. India and Bangladesh finally fixed the anomaly in 2015 with an elaborate exchange of land and people.

Pakistan and India have gone some way, too, to tidying internal anomalies left by the British Raj. In the place of small “princely” tributary states, India has created larger, language-based administrative units. More division would be a good idea: the size of Uttar Pradesh, a state with 220m people that is a legacy of the Raj-era United Provinces, makes it hard to govern and too influential in national politics. Belatedly, Pakistan is taking steps to bring the running of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a chronically violent, backward region, into line with the rest of the country. Britain had regarded these lands as too bothersome to rule, and yet useful as a buffer, an formula unhelpful to FATA’s people that Pakistan blindly preserved.

But many of Partition’s unfinished challenges have little to do with physical borders. Take the saga of the Hyderabad Fund. Back in 1948 the Nizam of Hyderabad, then India’s biggest and richest princely state, sent envoys to London with a purse of £1m to give to Pakistan, which had been shipping him arms. By the time they deposited the money, an Indian invasion had forced him to switch sides. He revoked the order, but the bank balked at returning the money. The cash, said to amount to £35m ($45m) now, has languished in London, with only lawyers profiting from the interminable haggling between India, Pakistan and the nizam’s heirs.

Another dispute requiring Solomonic justice has run almost as long. Back in 1949, a Hindu idol “miraculously” appeared inside a mosque in the Indian city of Ayodhya, substantiating, in popular imagination at least, claims that the 16th-century mosque stood on the site of the birthplace of Ram, an incarnation of Vishnu, a Hindu god, and the hero of ancient epics. Local Hindus felt empowered to claim the site, and India’s government responded by closing the mosque to Muslim prayers.

The lawsuit filed by Muslims in 1950, asserting title to the mosque, is due to be ruled on by India’s Supreme Court later this year—rather late considering that 25 years ago a Hindu mob destroyed the building. However the ruling falls, there is little likelihood of Muslims praying at the site again. Hindu nationalists have successfully incorporated Ayodhya into their narrative of suffering and redemption, and the site has become a magnet for pilgrims. Among its souvenir stalls, those doing the briskest trade are the ones playing videos on a loop of Hindu fundamentalists demolishing the mosque.

The subtext is widely understood: whatever India’s pretensions to being a secular state, effective power lies with its Hindu majority. In recent years, as the strength of the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has grown, so too has the notion that non-Hindus are not really pukka Indians.

Muslims, in particular, are often subtly put in their place. For Independence Day, the BJP government of Uttar Pradesh ordered Muslim religious schools—and no other schools—to provide videos to prove that their students had sung the national anthem. Earlier this month Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, made a gibe at the country’s outgoing vice-president, Hamid Ansari, who happens to be a Muslim. A solemn former diplomat, Mr Ansari had said in a parting interview that India’s minorities feel growing unease. Mr Modi commented that perhaps Mr Ansari now felt liberated to return to his roots among “certain circles” where he felt more comfortable. Indian Muslims took this as an insinuation that they could never represent India wholeheartedly.

There is little such subtlety in Pakistan. Granted, earlier this month it appointed a Hindu as a junior minister in a 46-member cabinet. But he is the first member of Pakistan’s 3.3m-strong Hindu minority to be elevated to such rank in 25 years. Almost from the day it was born Pakistan has been forgetting that its founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, envisaged a secular state, not a religious one. Somehow, Partition remains an unfinished process of separation—even if it is largely now in people’s heads rather than on the ground.

P.S.

The above article from Th Economist is reproduced here for educational and non-commercial use

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