(Source: Economic and Political Weekly, March 16, 2002)
India and Pakistan,1947-2002
The self-conception of India and Pakistan in 1947, when they gained independence, and a half century later. What are the terms of the discourse on 'religious conflict' and violence in the subcontinent and what are our criteria for classifying particular events as 'historical' and consequential?
This paper ˇ if it can be called that ˇ is the result of a recent invitation to speak on 'The Politics of the Subcontinent: Neo-Liberalism, Religious Conflict, Regional Strife'. It would have been foolhardy of me to attempt anything so ambitious, especially since I am no expert on current affairs. So I tried to cut a few corners. As a small concession to myself, I decided to speak not of the subcontinent as a whole, but of the two countries in it that are regularly described as 'the traditional enemies', India and Pakistan, and of the relations between them. Among them, too, I focused more on India than on Pakistan (since it is in India that I have done most of my work and it is the Indian debates that I know a little better), and on the way in which India and Pakistan have been represented since 1947.
In what follows, I begin by very briefly outlining the self-conception of these two nation states in 1947, when they gained independence, and a half century later, and then turn to an examination of how we write about 'religious conflict' and violence in the subcontinent. What are the terms of this discourse, and what our criteria for classifying particular events as 'historical' and consequential? I hope some of these reflections will speak to the debate on the recent history and politics of the region, and that they will also touch on the broader theme of the colloquium in which this presentation was first made ˇ east and west, 'us' and 'them'.
India and Pakistan, 1947-2002
It scarcely needs to be said that what is often described as 'religious conflict' (as in the title of the seminar where this presentation was first made) has very little to do with religion, and a great deal to do with party and national politics. Scholars in south Asia invariably describe it as 'communal conflict', which has to do with worldly issues between people belonging to different religious denominations whom political leaders of different stripes have sought to mobilise or organise on the basis of political, economic, social and cultural demands that they supposedly share in common.
Many observers, in south Asia and elsewhere, have defined the parameters of communal and national conflict in the subcontinent in terms of the long-standing rivalry between India and Pakistan. There is indeed no shortage of populist rhetoric on this score in both these countries, amounting almost to an obsession with each other. This rhetoric has an inward-looking quality: it appears confined by the borders of the nation (or nations), and often refuses to consider the ties of obligation and commitment that bind these states to the rest of the world. Yet this 'inwardness' is perhaps less marked in the case of the subcontinent, and other ex-colonial countries in Asia and Africa, than it is, say, in the US. And it goes without saying that both India and Pakistan are defined by more than their mutual struggles, that there is more to the conflicts and politics of their peoples than the question of Kashmir, or the sanctity of particular mosques and temples alone. Let me try in a few words to situate the question of their relations and mutual antagonism in some kind of historical context.
Pakistan, it is possible to suggest, is a 'minority nation': one that has never quite overcome the belief that it is 'the nation of the Indian Muslims'. Pakistani spokespersons have struggled to define it in more positive and self-contained terms.1 We start then with something of a paradox, for the concept of a 'minority nation' is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Certainly any visitor to Pakistan, and any observer of official Pakistani propaganda, will note the massive doses of anti-Indian rhetoric upon which Pakistan T V, the Pakistani state and Pakistani politics more generally seems to thrive: though one should note straightaway that the Indian media and Indian official pronouncements have hardly been short on anti-Pakistani rhetoric, even if India as a much larger and more self-sufficient country perhaps has less need of defining itself against this 'other'.
However, Pakistan and its politics have not been defined by the presence of India alone. As the smaller and more embattled nation, dominated by a military-bureaucratic complex with a very narrow social base, Pakistan has also felt the need for greater international support than has its larger neighbour. In the context of the cold war, it was drawn directly into the American sphere of influence in the 1950s; and in the last stages of that era, it became a frontline state in the war against the Soviet control of Afghanistan. In this role, it served as base camp, training ground and refuge for the Islamic militants who led the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was the kind of clientilist relationship that we have seen established with anti-Taliban forces in the recent US actions in Afghanistan. Indeed the Pakistani regime had accepted such a subordinate, clientilist position a long time ago. "We provide the manpower and you provide us with the means to do the fighting," General Ayub Khan said in an address to the US Congress as long ago as 1961.2
After the loss of its eastern-wing, which became Bangladesh in 1971, leaving Pakistan as a much smaller and weaker state to the north-west of India, Pakistan could no longer claim even the distinction of being the refuge of the subcontinent's Muslims: both Bangladesh and India have a larger Muslim population. It was in this context, as Aijaz Ahmad and others have noted, that the ruling class launched into a programme of Islamisation and a search for an Islamic identity through west Asian connections.3 This thrust towards a right-wing Islamic politics was also encouraged by the emergence of an oil-rich Saudi Arabia, and by the American-led drive for the containment of communism. Throughout this period, the military-bureaucratic complex grew in strength, with the military clearly taking the upper hand, the general process of militarisation increased, and wider sections of the population gained access to arms and to a new religious militancy. The Pakistani regime's aggressive renewal of its long-standing pledge to liberate the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir from Indian control, and its support for what the Indian government describes as cross-border terrorism in that region, must be seen in the context of this changing national and international situation.
Independent India arrived on the world stage in the middle of the 20th century with rather different ambitions (or pretensions). The Indian national movement had emerged as one of the most powerful and inspiring struggles of the preceding decades, its remarkable popular support combined with an internationalist perspective that enabled Jawaharlal Nehru to claim in 1939 that the boundaries of the movement lay in China on the east and in Spain in the west.4 The new nation-state quickly laid claim to being a leader of the non-aligned world, bound neither to the capitalist west nor to the Soviet bloc, charting out another path to modernity ˇ an ancient civilisation marked by a unique spirit of 'accommodation', now a modern nation-state, contributing generously and distinctively to the making of a modern, international community of peace, secularism and democracy.
'Kashmir' was one of the great populist symbols of this new national enterprise ˇ a Muslim-majority state aligning with secular India at the behest of the popular Muslim leader of the state's people's movement, and confirming its commitment to the new India through its participation in periodic elections. Indian commentators barely mentioned the ambiguous, not to say colonial, relationship of the Indian state with the territories and peoples of the north-east of India, which continued to be classified for nearly three decades after Indian independence as the responsibility of the external affairs rather than the home ministry!5 Kashmir, on the other hand, had become an international question as early as the end of 1947, and hence a prestige issue for India's home affairs. The province became an important symbol in the Indian state's self-representation as a bastion of secularism and democracy; and, once the international dispute with Pakistan had arisen, it was no less important to the matter of national sovereignty and integrity.
Sankaran Krishna makes the point forcefully. "Since independence (or since partition)," ˇ and Krishna's qualification here is important, for it is not Pakistan alone (as we fondly believe in India) but India, too, that is a 'child of partition' ˇ "[a cartographic] anxiety has been showcased perfectly in the space of desire called Kashmir". He relates this specifically to the experience of post-colonial nations, and more pointedly still to "this child of partition, India, [which] has cartographic anxiety inscribed into its very genetic code."6
My own sense is that this sort of concern has a wider provenance. In the majority of cases all over the world, the nation/people has historically come into being through struggles to define and advance a national interest. However, the move from the people-nation to the state-nation has often followed quickly. Once the nation has acquired a state of its own, or (in nationalist parlance) been realised in the nation state, the state has tended to become the nation. And the interests of the state, defined by its ruling class or classes, have become the interests of the people. Sacrosanct among these interests are notions of national unity and territorial integrity; and the preservation of these is deemed to be a matter of paramount importance.7
It is perhaps unnecessary to add that the governance of the modern state is rooted in knowledge practices that enable the state to produce new technologies of order through technologies of objectification ˇ statistics, budgetary models, a strong army. These practices embody a certain kind of rationality and produce ever-expanding horizons for regulation.8 And they provide vital inputs to the political imagination of 'nationalist' parties and governments. "Non-violence is of no use under the present circumstances in India," as Major-General K M Cariappa, deputy chief of the Indian Army Staff, declared in October 1947; only a strong army could make India "one of the greatest nations in the world".9 Durga Das, a young correspondent of the nationalist daily, Hindustan Times, went further, demanding the building of a strong state (through the liquidation of 'enemy pockets') and a strong army on the Nazi model.10 Nathuram Godse, Gandhi's assassin, put it no less plainly in explaining his hostility to Gandhi: India needed to become a modern nation, "practical, able to retaliate, and... powerful with the armed forces."11
These are tones that have become more strident in India in the 55 years since independence, not least in the last few years during which the Bharatiya Janata Party has led the government at the centre. They have been much accentuated by national and international developments of great significance. For one thing, the collapse of the socialist bloc, and the end of the cold war, could be seen as having rendered 'non-alignment' irrelevant, although it may be the case that there is a greater need now than ever before to refuse alignment with the one surviving power bloc. Other worldwide developments have had their effects too. If globalisation and liberalisation have brought new riches into the country, a much larger and much more visible middle class, and a computer industry that the world can be proud of, they have done so at the cost of the disciplining of trade unions and a rapid scaling down in expenditure on welfare and education. Since the 1980s, indeed, the 'poor' have largely disappeared from the Indian government's annual budgetary statements and from the wider public discourse on economic options. With them have disappeared other major national concerns that were once noticeable even in official pronouncements ˇ the concern with national languages, with literacy, with the right to association, the right to strike, and self-determination.
Within India, these developments have been accompanied, paradoxically, by a new wave of class struggles articulated in caste terms, by the collapse of earlier constituencies (for example, the alliance between the highest castes and the lowest, along with the Muslims, that had brought the Congress back to power repeatedly), and by a new politics of coalitions, black money and muscle power. In this situation, Hindu right-wing forces ˇ but not these forces alone, for the entire political spectrum has shifted to the right, in India as in other parts of the world ˇ were able to generate a heightened rhetoric of 'natural' national unity, based now not on a political vision and programme for the future, but on religious symbols described as the nation's fundamental heritage. The new commercialisation and the much more evident flattening of cultures that came with liberalism contributed to this. An increasingly influential group of non-resident Indians, seeking identity and self-definition, now became ardent, long-distance nationalists ˇ fervent supporters of the battle for new Sikh and Muslim homelands and the destruction of a disused (but beautiful) 16th century mosque in Ayodhya ˇ not on the basis of any historical study or political struggle, but rather of the most ready-to-hand and reduced symbols of nation, community and religion.
At the end of the 20th century, then, there has been a major turn-around in the politics of the subcontinent. The aggressively chauvinist, right-wing regimes that have come to power in recent times have kowtowed before Europe and North America for aid and recognition. One telling instance of this was the Indian leadership's plea to the American government, urging it to use 'our' military bases and 'our' supplies rather than Pakistan's, in the actions against Afghanistan. What a departure for the once claimed leader of the non-aligned ˇ harbinger of another, less militarised, and more civilised world. Indeed, it may not be far off the mark to say that, apart from the British, the Indian and the Israeli governments were probably the only ones that were unambiguously bucked by the military consequences of September 11. For here (at last?) was the opportunity to pursue their own wars against 'terrorism', in Palestine and in Kashmir respectively.
Histories of States, Non-Histories of People
Let me turn now to the issue of writing on Kashmir, and more generally on conflict between Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and others in the subcontinent. What is highlighted in media reports and academic writings on these subjects tells us something, I suggest, about a very widely shared understanding of what is consequential in the progress of public life, what constitutes 'history' ˇ the historical and the non-historical, or (to use other terms that are sometimes used as substitutes) the global and the local, the civilised/modern/rational and the barbaric/primitive/senseless ˇ what is worth remembering (and hence preserving) and what must almost inevitably fall by the wayside.
Much of this writing is concerned with the responsibility of major states and political organisations for particular acts of violence, and the more general implications and consequences of their policies, attitudes and actions. These policies and their violent fall-out are often said to be aided or effected by people described in many of these reports as 'criminals', 'mercenaries' or 'terrorists'. This kind of analysis commonly leads to a proposition about the necessity of finding peace through international treaty, governmental compromise or constitutional arrangement, neglecting what seems to me to be the no less important issue of political struggle on the ground, and the long and difficult process of cultural and political education ˇ which is essential to the making of any successful political settlement or constitutional arrangement.
I shall try to illustrate these points here by reference to recent writings and debates on the moment of the greatest communal conflict and strife in south Asia in the 20th century ˇ the Partition of 1947, about which I know a little more than I do about the events of 2000-2001. Several hundred thousand people were estimated killed, unaccountable numbers raped and converted, and many millions uprooted and transformed into official 'refugees' as a result of what have been called the 'partition riots'. I shall return to the question of these estimates a little later. First, a note on how this history is framed.
In spite of the acknowledgement of the fact of 'colossal' violence in northern India in 1947, Indian historians have remained overwhelmingly concerned with the 'causes' of the country's partition. Who was to blame for this evident derailment of the course of Indian history? How did this mistake occur? Thus, while a great deal has been written from the 1940s to today about 'the partition of India', much of this writing has been aimed at justifying or eliding the violence that (as we are told) 'accompanied' Partition, and at making a case about how this violence goes against the fundamentals of Indian (or Pakistani) tradition and history: how it is to that extent not 'our' history at all. It is only in the last decade or so that the question of this violence has been addressed more directly as centrally constitutive of this history and these traditions. And as this has happened, new criticisms have arisen of how this new work pays too much attention to one aspect of our recent history ˇ and that, not the most significant.
A Marxist colleague, political scientist and political activist, Javeed Alam, has put the argument very clearly indeed, arguing for the importance of not studying Partition violence, but focusing rather on the centrality of the state and other "large organisations", of long-term historical processes, and of 'history' in this sense.
"Looking at Partition," Alam says,
there is something which strikes us as a particularity. There are innumerable cases of large-scale massacres mutually indulged in by people at a moment of loss of judgment, of a sense of proportion, at a moment of frenzy. There is no involvement of large organisations or the state as the instrument of mass killings. You can't therefore talk of these events as a general phenomena [sic].12
The work of Joya Chatterjee, Suranjan Das, David Gilmartin, Mushirul Hasan, Ayesha Jalal, Ian Talbot and others13 suggests different findings on the involvement of 'large organisations', but that is not the point I wish to make here. Let us attend, instead, to the critic's notion of the 'general' and the 'particular', which is readily translated into the 'historical' and the 'unhistorical'.
"There are large historical forces behind the little events that happen," Alam states: "The breach between Hindus and Muslims in the 19th century, it becoming politicised, leading through a very tortuous course to Partition. I think, for example of the role of the British state and its policy of systematic divide-and-rule, of playing one community against the other..." The 'little events' ˇ violence and rape, mass murder and the expulsion of whole communities ˇ are rendered peripheral. They are the products of other forces and other processes, which is what requires study. The 'little events' themselves are, in this view, best forgotten.
It is not that every instance of large-scale violence should be so treated. Indeed, there are many violent events that we are enjoined to remember. Scholars have distinguished between different kinds of violence for this purpose. For convenience, let me stay with Alam's commentary, which includes a statement regarding these different types. At a time when the complicity of the state in acts of brutal and apparently meaningless violence is all too well established, the first type of violence he identifies occurs when a state or state-like body directly carries out genocide or massacres: as in Germany, Serbia and Russia, he tells us. India in 1984 provides a variant, when "the state became a part of the violence against the Sikhs". What is crucial, he suggests, "is the presence of a state which is the perpetrator [as in Nazi Germany]...It is right, even morally necessary, to institutionalise the memory of the Holocaust."14
There are other kinds of violence, however, such as that of Partition, "where people become victims of violence where at a moment of a loss of sanity they start killing each otherÍThis [kind of violence] should be left behind, should be forgotten, so that people may live in peace, socially normal everyday life, politically as well as individually..."
Mercenaries and Madness
In this last statement, Javeed Alam gestures towards a second element that is a common feature of the contemporary understanding of collective violence and its consequences. Too often the history of Hindu-Muslim strife in India, in 1947 as well as before and after that, has been seen as a history driven by colonial rulers and self-seeking politicians, employing criminal gangs, paid goondas or toughs ˇ the equivalent of today's 'terrorists'. Interestingly, the latter term is now commonly used in India, in popular as well as in official discourse, to refer to a whole range of struggles for autonomy and/or social justice in widely dispersed parts of the country. Its appearance as common currency can be dated perhaps to the peasant uprisings and Maoist intellectuals' forays into the countryside in the late 1960s: since that time, protestors and rebels of many different hues have been dubbed as 'Naxalites', not only by the state but also by local landlords and their henchmen in all kinds of social and political struggles.
As to Hindu-Muslim strife of the kind encountered in 1947 and on several occasions since, when an argument in terms of criminal elements and self-seeking politicians has appeared inadequate as an explanation of violence on this scale (often involving neighbour against neighbour extraordinary acts of cruelty), scholars have reverted to a proposition about manipulation and madness, about innocent people being led astray, becoming 'mobs' and succumbing to the fever of a moment. As explanations of mass violence and recipes for political action, however, these are hardly more helpful than Namierite theories of the kind mentioned above.
As I have argued in my recent book on Partition, our task must be seen as a slightly different one from that of identifying the causes of violence, or the conspirators behind it. It is necessary to try and recover the history of such violence as a breakdown and a renegotiation, as the re-ordering and resolution of old oppositions and the construction of new ones. We need to see it as a history not of large, historical processes alone; nor yet of 'victimhood', plain and simple (which may amount to something very similar); nor yet of 'madness' or 'natural calamities' that swept all before them (though 'madness' is surely one way of making sense of the violence of 1947, and natural calamities do come to mind); but also as a history of struggle ˇ of people fighting to cope, to survive, and to build anew; as a history of the everyday in the extraordinary.
Statistics and Their Meaning
What seems to be overlooked completely in the endeavour to focus the history of states and 'large organisations' is not only the fact of great personal loss and suffering, but also the collective mayhem and destruction and the deep and enormously consequential scars that all this leaves behind. All of this has been marginalised as 'unhistorical'. So, after 1947, it is still possible to speak of, and celebrate, India's 'peaceful' national movement and its 'peaceful' attainment of independence. What, someone might ask, with half a million killed and 14 millions uprooted? But that is another story, we are told ˇ an aberration, an accident, a distortion of our history, not really history at all. There is something more to be said about the ease with which figures such as these (half a million killed, 14 millions uprooted) are bandied about, and yet readily assimilated into the historically unimportant.
Notice the kinds of statistics regularly presented to us to underline the ferocity of the current struggle in Kashmir, or other instances of violence in India. "The 12-year old insurgency Í[in the province] has left 35,000 dead, according to Indian government estimates. Others believe that the number is twice as high. Last year was the deadliest to date."15 The paper for March 1, 2002, brings more statements of this kind. "The conflict in Kashmir, largely between Islamic militants and India [sic], claimed 3,465 lives last year, according to officials in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir." And on Ahmedabad: "Hindu mobs rampaged through a city in western India [yesterday], killing more than 60 people as they burned Muslims alive in their homes and set fire to Muslim-owned restaurants, shops, cars and apartments. The religious violence, the most serious India has experienced in years, was retaliation for a Muslim mob's attack on Wednesday on a trainload of Hindu fundamentalists in which 58 people were burned to death in a single [compartment]."16
To consider just how casual and facile some of this reporting can be, it may help to return to the figures for Partition casualties and reflect on them for a moment. By the time the rape and loot and migrations were finished, two researchers have said of the violence of 1947, "about eight to ten million people had crossed over from Punjab and BengalÍand about 5,00,000-10,00,000 had perished."17 "Estimates of the dead vary from 200,000 (the contemporary British figure) to two million (a later Indian estimate)", writes another, "but that somewhere around a million people died is now widely accepted".18 The former, Menon and Bhasin, choose half-a-million to a million; the latter, Butalia, "somewhere around a million". Other scholars do the same. Mohammad Waseem accepts a figure of "about half a million". Wolpert settles for "approximately one million".19 What is the basis for this acceptance?
In his popular biography of Mountbatten, Ziegler provides the following summary statement regarding casualty figures. "'A million dead' was the propagandist's slogan, but none of those who have made any attempt to base their calculations on serious analysis of the sources Í puts the figure so high." He notes that G D Khosla, the judge appointed by the Indian government to prepare a comprehensive report out of the records of its Fact Finding Committee, estimated a death toll of 4,00,000-5,00,000; and Chandulal Trivedi, the first Indian Governor of East Punjab, 2,25,000; adding that "probably the most systematic attempt to work out a correct figure was that of Penderel Moon, who suggested the most likely total was 2,00,000."20 It is worth examining how the latter, a noted Punjab ICS official, worked out this estimate.
Based as he was then in Bahawalpur, he had "a pretty accurate knowledge", Moon wrote, "of the casualties both in Bahawalpur state itself and in the immediately adjacent West Punjab districts." A historian ploughing through the records of the government of the time, of military and other intelligence, as well as the findings of journalists and other non-official observers, might be somewhat less confident than the colonial administrator. But Moon was at least trying to establish the bases of a calculation. Regarding a number of other districts, he claimed to have "good information from old subordinates", especially among magistrates and police. On the basis of this information, he arrived at "fairly precise figures" for about half the districts of West Punjab. On the basis of these, he went on to make "fairly intelligent guesses" regarding casualties in the remaining districts. His calculations led him to a figure of 60,000 as the number of those killed between August and December 1947 in West Punjab and Bahawalpur. The author adds that he was gratified to learn that the governor of West Punjab, Sir Francis Mudie had quite independently arrived at "exactly the same result" ˇ though one would have to note that the latter was, by his politics as well as by his position, very far removed from happenings in the countryside.21
As to East Punjab and the many Princely States in that region, from where many of the Sikh attacks against Muslims appear to have been launched, Moon had "no detailed information". He "knew", however, that casualties there had been "considerably heavier than in West Punjab". He "assumed Í that they might have been twice as heavy, i e, 1,20,000Í. Subsequent inquiries have led me to think that the casualties in East Punjab, though undoubtedly higher than in West Punjab, were not, as I had assumed, twice as high and consequently my final figure of 2,00,000 [for those killed in the two Punjabs and neighbouring states] was somewhat inflated."22
Among other early estimates, Ian Stephens, the editor of the Calcutta Statesman, who had seen the Calcutta killings at close quarters in August 1946, provided the figure of "about 500,000" killed between August 1946 and December 1947.23 On the basis of published and unpublished materials and oral evidence provided to him by officials and non-officials in Pakistan, Symonds declared that, "at the lowest estimate", half a million people perished and twelve million became homeless.24 Like others, I have in an earlier essay accepted something like the latter figures as the most "likely".25
Nothing in the surviving records, in the calculations made at the time, or in the contentious debates that have gone on since then, gives us anything like a persuasive basis for such an inference. How then do we arrive at this widespread consensus regarding their 'likelihood'? Is there a process of otherising at work here too, of distancing ourselves from the specificity and details of those killings ˇ even as we seek to underline their enormity and consequence, as several of the scholars cited above have done?
'Our' Losses, and 'Theirs'
Let me try to situate this part of my analysis in the more general, and more immediate, context of the way in which the matter of losses and death is reported in widely different places. In response to the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, more than one Indian scholar has written of the need not to lose sight of individual suffering and humanitarian feelings. "As always in such situations, the moral claims of individuals are supreme," one writes. "ÍTo have shifted our ethical compass in the direction of the collective [i e, collective senses of rights and wrongs, derived from long and complicated histories] would have weakened the moral claims of the suffering and the dead."26 The question one might ask, however, is whether social science commentary can ever do this, whether the fact of individual tragedies at such times can be separated from the dimension of collective histories; and also whether this injunction to foreground grief and suffering somehow applies only to the west.
One aspect of the official response to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre that I found especially moving and impressive was the refusal for a fair length of time to provide any estimate of the total number of people killed. "Whatever the final number turns out to be," the mayor of New York, Rudolf Giuliani declared, "it will be too much to bear". There was in this refusal to hurriedly name a figure a very clear sign of respect for the dead, and for the very large number of people who had lost loved ones. For those in the situation of the latter, it should go without saying, even one death is "too much to bear". It may help to use this sensitive suggestion to reflect upon how we have written about and understood situations of brutal violence in other parts of the world, including the experience of 'religious conflict' and 'regional strife' in the Indian subcontinent.
In the western press and western writings more generally, an important distinction emerges in reporting of this kind between 'our' casualties and 'theirs', between the handful of Americans so far reported killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the 'uncounted' natives; or again (at least until very recently) between the 'hundreds' of Palestinians and 2 (or 10, or 16, or 32) Israelis. In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then the US Secretary of State, was asked in a television interview what she thought about the allegation that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US economic sanctions. While it was "a very hard choice", she said, "all things considered, we think the price is worth it". Earlier this month, US officials made an argument of a similar kind on the question of civilian casualties or 'collateral damage' in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. Pentagon spokespersons sought to clear themselves of responsibility by saying that they did not keep track of civilian casualties in that country. At the same time, the commander of the US forces there said that he did not wish to prejudge the results of an investigation ordered, apparently on the intervention of Hamid Karzai (the leader of the interim government in Afghanistan), into a raid that killed at least 15 Afghans. "The thing I don't think we'll do is be quick to rush to a judgment that takes as truth information that may be provided by sources who do not share the same value of human life that we share in this country."27
It is a distinction that we have long lived with ˇ between 'us' and 'them', the 'civilised' and the 'uncivilised', mere 'bodies' as opposed to 'survivors'. But it is perhaps in danger of reappearing as sharply today as it did during the European conquest and colonisation of large parts of the world. This is a distinction that is made, quite unconsciously, in the visual representation of the war in Afghanistan, or Palestine, or Rwanda, or Zimbabwe ˇ where the 'madness', the collective horror, the dirt and the utter hopelessness of the 'other' is regularly counterposed to the individuality, the identifiable wounds, the pain, and the suffering of survivors among 'us'. Think of the number of occasions on which we are faced with pictures of mourning relatives and by-standers, of surviving toddlers participating in a funeral; or, to take a different example, the long series of moving obituaries published by the New York Times of those who lost their lives in the attacks on the World Trade Centre ˇ an extraordinary number of them (as one colleague pointed out with fascination) apparently sports-men and -women, all of them, in their different ways, brimming with life and hope and desire and laughter, and bringing these qualities to the lives of others. These are portraits of people who live on: alive even when they are dead. Compare this with pictures of captured Taliban prisoners, or the Black raiders of White farms in Zimbabwe ˇ pictures of faceless hordes, lifeless, wild and indistinguishable (even when photographed alone): dead even when they are technically alive.
The point is an old colonial one: 'our' losses, our suffering, our individuality, our history, are narratable ˇ and must be narrated. 'Theirs' belong to a world that is frankly incomprehensible, that is in a sense simply like that. It is a world that evidently has no history; there is nothing here that we can recognise as politics, and individuality counts for little if anything (witness the identical burqas of all those Muslim women, the identical beards of all their men.). How could one proceed to narrativise 'their' losses?
That is the challenge that we face, whether writing about Partition in 1947, or the long drawn out, bloody and (until recently) largely neglected struggle in Kashmir since 1989.
New Kinds of Community
Individual suffering and loss must not be denied on any side. That much is clear. In addition to that, there is the issue, finally, of the kinds of community we live in, and wish to live in. Let me conclude with some reflections on this question through another story about the 1947 Partition, this time a fictional account from the pen of a Pakistani writer whose family was forced to leave their home in India and migrate to the new land supposedly set aside for the Indian Muslims.
Intizar Husain's 'Bin likhi razmiya' ('An Unwritten Epic') is the story of a story (an 'epic') that cannot be written, yet gets itself written, immediately after Partition ˇ even as the author celebrates Pakistan as a great historic moment, the moment of hijrat (or sacred migration). It is the story of a Muslim village called Qadirpur, left on the 'wrong' side of the border when Partition occurred: for Muslims at the time, that was the Indian side. Pichwa is the central character of this epic. He is an unlikely hero, a local 'tough', a body-builder, master in the art of club fighting, and head of a village akhada (or 'gymnasium'). However, the author notes, he possessed "a certain dignity and greatness", and this was after all to be an epic of the common people (Jumhurnama).28
The novelist (Intizar Husain) leaves for Pakistan and there begins to write the story of his native Qadirpur, with Pichwa as his hero. Following another round of violence and killing in the village, however, Pichwa himself arrives in Pakistan ˇ thus ruining the basis of the story. While he was still in Qadirpur, the writer could picture him as he wished. That possibility was now ended.
The 'epic', however, gets written ˇ on different dates. On April 12, 1950, several months after the writer had begun writing his story, his diary entry reads: "When I met Pichwa this morning, he said, 'Miyan, get me some kind of work... if I can't get any work, at least have a house allotted for me.' I was greatly astonished when I heard these words from Pichwa's mouth. He was never worried about daily necessities in QadirpurÍ but now that he's come to Pakistan and wants a place to put his feet and something to fill his belly, all the height and grandeur of his character are destroyedÍ"
On April 22, 1950, he wrote: "How can I write the Mahabharata of Qadirpur? The Arjuna of this Mahabharata is now the picture of failure and he wanders the streets and lanes of Pakistan looking for a house and a jobÍ." On May 6, 1950: "My creative desire continues to cool, and whatever magic there was in the fictional potential of Pichwa's personality ebbs away. He no longer seems like a person at all; he seems more like a chess pieceÍ." Then, following an order of the Pakistan government repatriating large numbers of Muslim refugees whom Pakistan cannot accommodate,▄ Pichwa leaves for India: but whether he ever reaches or not, no one knows. A letter of enquiry sent by the writer to Qadirpur produces the following response from a respectable elder who had stayed behind: "Your letter arrived late, but I am thankful it cameÍ.Qadirpur is no longer Qadirpur. Now its new residents call it Jatunagar... Where is Qadirpur now?Í"
Soon after, the author learns of Pichwa's death, but his proposed novel still does not come to life. On May 27, 1950, he writes: "I have definitely decided not to write my novel. But how long can I just sit at home and do nothing?Í"
At this point, through the good offices of an associate from Qadirpur, the novelist is allotted a flourmill. And the world changes. May 29, 1950: "As the owner of a flour mill, I see a strange kind of change in myself. As long as I was stuck in the web of literature, I felt cut off from my nationÍ Now, however, I consider myself a responsible citizen ˇ a dutiful member of a rising nation." A new kind of community is establishing itself.
There are different kinds of community at stake in Intizar Husain's story ˇ some made by literature and poetry, others by flourmills and the requirements of the state.29 The demands of the 'flourmill', which is no longer quite so local, and of the state, which is also increasingly ruled from afar, have only grown with the passage of time. It may indeed be the case that the 'small voice' of literature and poetry, of human variety and human dignity, is in greater danger than ever before of being swept away by the forces of a resurgent capitalism, of globalisation and of the worldwide homogenisation that is attendant on these. Will these leave no room for anything other than desperate and symbolic statements of an undying and unchanging religious affiliation as identity? Will there be an even more reduced place for debates within 'traditions', and for the recognition of difference, the study of history, and the pleasures of literature and philosophy? These are questions we have to ask, as we ask other questions ˇ about suffering and loss; and about technological leaps, weapons of mass destruction, the erosion of state sovereignty, and the internationalisation of all kinds of armed conflicts.
[This is a slightly revised version of a presentation made at a seminar on this theme held at the Centre for Social Theory and Comparative History, University of California, Los Angeles, on February 25, 2002. Part of the material relating to 1947 that is used here is taken from my recent book, Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India, Cambridge 2001.]
1 See, for example, Aitzaz Ahsan, The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan, Karachi 1996.
2 Khalid bin Sayeed, Western Dominance and Political Islam: Challenge and Response, Albany, NY, 1995, p 126.
3 Cf Aijaz Ahmad, Lineages of the Present Ideology and Politics in Contemporary South Asia, London, 2000, pp 260 ff.
4 National Herald, January 24, 1939.
5 See T N Kaul, Reminiscences, Discreet and Indiscreet, New Delhi, 1982. I am grateful to Sankaran Krishna for this reference.
6 Sankaran Krishna, 'Cartographic Anxiety: Mapping the Body Politic in India' in Michael J Shapiro and Hayward R Walker, eds, Challenging Boundaries: Global Flows, Territorial Identities, Minneapolis, 1996, p 196.
7 Nandy makes an argument that parallels mine: "To many Indians today, secularism [and nationalism] comeÍ as part of a larger package consisting of many standardised ideological products and social processes ˇ development, mega-science and national security being some of the most prominent among them", Ashish Nandy, 'The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance' in R B J Walker and Saul Mendlovitz, eds, Contending Sovereignties: Redefining Political Community, Boulder, Colorado, 1990, p 134.
8 For a fuller discussion of this point, see my Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India, Delhi, 1990, ch 3 and passim.
9 Statesman, October 29, 1947.
10 Hindustan Times, September 28, 1947, cited in People's Age, October 12, 1947.
11 Cited in Ashish Nandy, At the Edge of Psychology: Essays in Politics and Culture Delhi, 1980, p 91.
12 The quotations that follow are all taken from 'Remembering Partition', a dialogue between Javeed Alam and Suresh Sharma, Seminar, no 461.
13 Joya Chatterjee, Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947, Cambridge 1995; Suranjan Das, Communal Riots in Bengal, 1905-47, Delhi 1991; David Gilmartin, Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan, London 1988; Mushirul Hasan, ed, India's Partition, Process, Strategy and Mobilisation, Delhi 1993; Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League, and the Demand for Pakistan, Cambridge 1985; Ian Talbot, Provincial Politics and the Pakistan Movement: The Growth of the Muslim League in North-West and North-East India, 1937-47, Karachi 1988.
14 I suggest that it is in fact a certain 'distance' that is especially important here. The Holocaust now appears a distant event ˇ something that occurred 'there', not 'here': it is perhaps this fact that makes it an event that can, and must, now be remembered. Habermas suggests just this in his celebration of "the political morality of a [German] community that ˇ after being liberated by Allied troops ... ˇ has been established in the spirit of the occidental conception of freedom, responsibility, and self-determination"; James Knowlton and Truett Cates, tr., Forever in the Shadow of Hitler? Original Documents of the Historikerstreit, the Controversy Concerning the Singularity of the Holocaust (Atlantic Highlands, N J, 1993), p 170; see also p 43, and for others' comments along similar lines, ibid, pp 67, 129, 140 and passim.
15 Somini Sengupta, 'Struggle for Kashmir', New York Times, January 13, 2002.
16 New York Times, March 1, 2002.
17 Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, Borders and Boundaries: Women in India's Partition, Delhi 1998, pp 20 and 35.
18 Urvashi Butalia, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India, Delhi 1998, p 3. She goes on to note the statistical evidence of "widespread sexual savagery": "about 75,000 women are thought to have been abducted and raped by men of religions different from their own (and indeed sometimes by men of their own religion)".
19 Mohammad Waseem, 'Partition, Migration and Assimilation: A Comparative Study of Pakistani Punjab' in Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh, Region and Partition: Bengal, Punjab amd the Partition of the Subcontintent, Karachi, 1999, p 207; Stanley Wolpert, A New History of India, New York, 2000, p 348.
20 Philip Ziegler, Mountbatten, New York, 1985, p 437. It will be clear from the following paragraphs that Moon was citing this figure only for Punjab and neighbouring princely states.
21 Compare Mudie's own comment in October 1947: "How many have already died no one knows. No one will ever know"; letter to The Times, October 17, 1947. More than one observer also noted the narrowness that flowed from Mudie's bureaucratic approach. "The snake in the grass in the West Punjab is Mudie. He is inveterate against Congress. He tries to govern himself. Thus he thwarts his Cabinet, above all in their attempts to bridge the gulf between West and East PunjabÍ" Mss Eur F200/129, 'Note' by W Short, October 17, 1947. See also Khalid B Sayeed, Pakistan: The Formative Phase, 1857-1948, London 1968, p 264.
22 Penderel Moon, Divide and Quit. An Eyewitness Account of the Partition of India, Delhi 1998, p 293.
23 Ian Stephens, Pakistan, New York, 1963, p 107.
24 Richard Symonds, The Making of Pakistan, London, 1950, p 74. 25 'Can a Muslim be an Indian?', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 41, 4 (1999).
26 Rajeev Bhargava, 'Responses to 9.11: Individual and Collective Dimensions'; cf Veena Das, 'Violence and Translation'; both at http://www.ssrc.org/sept11/essays.
27 New York Times, February 8, 2002, p A14 (emphasis added).
28 Intizar Husain, 'An Unwritten Epic' in Muhammad Umar Memon, ed, An Epic Unwritten. The Penguin Book of Partition Stories, Delhi 1998, p 165. The following quotations are all taken from Memon's excellent translation. 29 Jonathan Glover, Humanity A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, London 1999, p 51, reports the statement of a Soviet soldier who fought in Afghanistan: "Before I went into the army it was Dostoevsky and Tolstoy who taught me how I ought to live life. In the army it was sergeants." In the post-colonial states of the 'third world', one is tempted to say, it is local licensing and rationing officers.
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