Chapter 14 Understanding Partition Politics, Memories, Experiences
What did the Muslim League demand through its resolution of 1940?
The resolution of 23 March 1940, demanded a measure of autonomy for the Muslim- majority areas of the subcontinent. It never mentioned partition or Pakistan. Sikandar Hayat Khan, who had drafted the resolution was the Punjab Premier and leader of the Unionist Party. He declared in the Punjab Assembly on 1 March, 1941 that he was opposed to a Pakistan that would mean “Muslim Raj here and Hindu Raj elsewhere… “If Pakistan means unalloyed Muslim Raj in the Punjab then I will have nothing to do with it”. He reiterated his plea for a loose (united) confederation with considerable autonomy for confederating units.
Why did some people think of Partition as a very sudden development?
Some people think that partition of India in 1947 was a sudden development. Many Muslim leaders were not serious in their demand for Pakistan as a separate nation. On many occasions, Jinnah used the idea of Pakistan to seek favours from the British and to block concessions into the Congress. Even the Muslims were confused about the idea of Pakistan. They could not think of their future in an independent country called Pakistan. Many people had migrated to the new country with the hope that they would soon come back to India as soon as the situation improved.
In fact, the partition was so sudden that nobody could imagine it.
How did ordinary people view Partition?
Ordinary people did not know what the Partition was and it would affect their lives in the future. They even did not know about the different areas of the subcontinent. Migrants thought they would return to their original place as soon as peace prevailed again.
What were Mahatma Gandhi’s arguments against Partition?
- Mahatma Gandhi opposed the Partition by arguing that both Hindus and Muslims were bom of same soil and they had the same blood, ate the same food, drank the same water and spoke the same language. So, they were similar to each other.
- He stated that the demand for Pakistan put forward by the Muslim League was un- Islamic and sinful because Islam stands for the unity and brotherhood of mankind and not for disrupting the oneness of the human family. So, those who wanted Partition were enemies alike of Islam and India.
Why is Partition viewed as an extremely significant marker in South Asian history?
The following reasons can be put forward for the given view:
- The partition of India had a unique nature. This partition was based on religions. The partition took place in the name of the communities. History has never witnessed such type of partition.
- The partition marked a severe violence. Innumerable people were killed. People began to kill each other irrespective of their earlier relation. Earlier they lived with each other in harmony and peace but now started to kill each other. Government machinery failed to check this.
- People faced a lot of problems. Their life became miserable. Their near and dear ones were killed. Many people were abducted.
- People moved across the border. Most of the Muslims of India crossed over to Pakistan and almost all Hindus and Sikhs came to India from Pakistan. They were forced to start their life afresh.
- People lost all their movable and immovable property all of a sudden. They became homeless and forced to live in refugee camps.
Why was British India partitioned?
Partition of India was not a sudden event because even in its resolution of March 1940, the Muslim League had only demanded a measure of autonomy for the Muslim majority areas of the subcontinent. It was a culmination of events such as communal politics that started developing in the opening decades of the twentieth century as mentioned below :
- Government of India Act 1909 and 1919 – The British Government granted separate electorate for Muslims in 1909. These were expanded in 1919. Separate electorates implied that Muslims could elect their own representatives in designated constituencies. Thus, religious identities were encouraged. Community identities no longer indicated simple difference in faith and belief: but they led to active opposition and hostilities between communities.
- Events during 1920s and 1930s – During the 1920s and 1930s, Muslims were agitated by the activities of the Hindus such as “music-before-mosque”, cow protection movement, and shuddhi movement of Arya Samaj. Similarly, Hindus were angered by the rapid spread of tabligh (propaganda) and tanzim (organisation). These activities led to riots at different places and deepened differences between two communities.
- The provincial elections of 1937 and the Congress ministries – In the elections of 1937, Congress did well but Muslim League failed poorly in the constituencies reserved for Muslims. The Muslim League wanted to form a joint government with the Congress in United Provinces where Congress had won an absolute majority. The Congress had, therefore, rejected the offer. This led to drifting away of the Muslim League but thereafter Muslim League doubled its efforts at expanding its social support.
- Policies of the Congress ministries – The Congress ministry in UP wanted to abolish landlordism which was supported by the Muslim League. The Congress also could gain much in its mass contact programme in UP. But its policies alarmed the conservative Muslims.
- Rise of Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – The rise of Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which had over 100,000 trained and highly disciplined cadres pledged to an ideology of Hindu nationalism, convinced Muslims that India was a land of the Hindus.
The above factors created differences between two communities but inspite of this fact remains that the Cabinet Mission (1946) plan that recommended a loose three-tier confederation was accepted by all the major parties. It was due to later developments such as ‘Direct Action da/ (16 August, 1946), riots and violence, fear of Sikh leaders and Congressmen in the Punjab and a section of bhadralok. Bengali Hindus in Bengal which compelled the Congress to accept the partition of the country.
How did women experience Partition?
For women, partition was horrible. Women were raped, abducted and many times forced to live with strangers and start a new life. They were deeply traumatised and began to develop new family bonds in the changed circumstances.
Women became victims on both the sides of the border. They were forced to live in a strange circumstances. But the government officials of both the countries did not take any serious step to consult those women. Women were left on their fate.
They were even murdered by their own family members. When the men realized that the women of their family would fall into the hands of the enemy, they killed their women with their own hands. To escape from the hands of enemy, in a Sikh village, ninety women were said to have voluntarily jumped into a well.
How did the Congress come to change its views on Partition?
Initially, the proposals of the Cabinet Mission were accepted by all the major political parties but due to differences over interpretation of the plan, neither the Congress, nor the League agreed to the Cabinet Mission’s proposal. Thereafter, following developments took place:
- The Muslim League announced 16 August 1946 as “Direct Action Day” for winning its Pakistan demand.
- “Direct Action Day” led to riots at Calcutta and other places.
- At that time, many Sikh leaders and Congressmen in the Punjab were convinced that Partition was a necessary evil, otherwise they would be swamped by Muslim majority and Muslim leaders would dictate their terms to them.
- Similarly, a section of bhadralok, Bengali Hindus, who wanted political power to remain with them, began to fear the “permanent tutelage of Muslims”. They were in a numerical minority so only a division of the province could ensure their political dominance.
Thus, under these circumstances, the Congress had no option except to agree to the Partition.
Examine the strengths and limitations of oral-history. How have oral-history techniques furthered our understanding of Partition ?
The strengths and limitations of oral-history are as mentioned below :
(a) Strengths :
- It helps us grasp experiences and memories in detail. It enables historians to write richly textured, vivid accounts of what happened to people during Partition.
- Oral-history enables historians to broaden the scope of their discipline by writing experiences of the poor and the powerless who have been generally ignored in mainstream history.
(b) Limitations :
- The oral-history lacks concreteness. Its chronology is not precise.
- The uniqueness of personal experience makes generalisation difficult because a large picture cannot be built from micro-evidence and one witness is no witness.
- Oral accounts deal with tangible issues. Small individual experiences are not relevant to unfold larger processes of history.
But inspite of above shortcomings the oral-history is important because it can be corroborated by other sources. The experiences of the people during Partition are significant and should be used to check other sources and vice-versa.