By Adil Zareef
August 14, is traditionally a day for rejoicing, much fanfare, military parades, display of firepower and nukes. Symbolically, the patriotic chest thumping and feet stomping at the Wagah border between the erstwhile “traditional enemies” touch a feverish pitch as hysterical crowds on either side cheer their highly charged and battle ready soldiers, hoisting their national flags amid fierce expressions in a crescendo of sloganeering at sunset – the climax of the existential confrontation refuses to ease or ebb with time, despite the epoch making history that has transformed the greater part of our world.
Perhaps we are condemned by history or by geopolitics, or both, keeping us embroiled in a state of perpetual confrontation as other regions have prospered and progressed and long buried the hatchet of hate. Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan are competing in exclusion and exploitation of their respective population, as their state policy inch towards nihilism.
William Dalrymple, writes in “The Great Divide“, “August, 1947, when, after three hundred years in India, the British finally left, the subcontinent was partitioned into two independent nation states: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Immediately, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Muslims trekked to West and East Pakistan, while millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed in the opposite direction. Many hundreds of thousands never made it”.
“Across the Indian subcontinent, communities that had coexisted for almost a millennium attacked each other in a terrifying outbreak of sectarian violence, with Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other—a mutual genocide as unexpected as it was unprecedented. In Punjab and Bengal—provinces abutting India’s borders with West and East Pakistan, respectively—the carnage was especially intense, with massacres, arson, forced conversions, mass abductions, and savage sexual violence. Some seventy-five thousand women were raped, and many of them were then disfigured or dismembered”.
Nisid Hajari, in “Midnight’s Furies” in his fast-paced new narrative history of Partition writes, “Gangs of killers set whole villages aflame, hacking to death men and children and the aged while carrying off young women to be raped. Some British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps claimed Partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found literally roasted on spits.”
“By 1948, as the great migration drew to a close, more than fifteen million people had been uprooted, and between one and two million were dead. The comparison with the death camps is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Partition is central to modern identity in the Indian subcontinent, as the Holocaust is to identity among Jews, branded painfully onto the regional consciousness by memories of almost unimaginable violence”.
The acclaimed Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has called Partition “the central historical event in twentieth century South Asia.” She writes, “A defining moment that is neither a beginning nor an end; partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.”
68 years on, the subcontinent still smolders in violence as India and Pakistan inchtowards confrontational politics. Religious extremists on both sides of the divide become ascendant as minorities feel increasingly vulnerable to communal and divisive politics. Human rights have now become easy target for bigoted mindsets as capital punishment is blatantly accepted as a norm in vitiated and paranoid state narratives. The secular idealism of the founding fathers is recklessly discarded as mainstream narrative takes pride in wearing both religion and patriotism on (public) sleeve.
After the demise of Cold War, militarization of the subcontinent and consequently, global corporative nexus for “free markets” narrow down the breathing space for indigenous tribal and marginalized communities, having been dispossessed of their lands and identities, wandering in a limitless space of anger and frustration in monopolized state lands owned by Big Business and a corporate military.
In present political wilderness, the Aam Aadmi Party( AAP) in India, soldiers against the corporate-political onslaught of the disadvantaged sections, its counterpart too is gearing up for seeking resettlement of the evicted families and voicing the resentment of the dispossessed in Pakistan.
The Awami Workers Party (AWP) workers country wide protest demonstration for resettlement of families evicted from I-11 katchi abadis in Islamabad and release of people arrested by the Islamabad police on fabricated charges of terrorism is something that ignites the imagination of the bygone progressive struggle. The AWP has submitted a petition on behalf the condemned underdogs of I-11 in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
On August 14, let us collectively reflect the APS carnage of young on 16/12 and the bestial abuse of minors in Kasur recently. Short of thumping our chests and stamping our feet to patriotic songs in self-conceited pride…let us consider the fact, we have slid down the depths of depravity and despair..there is precious little to celebrate when our young and the vulnerable are preyed upon by beasts, and a vast majority of displaced Pukhtuns and other people remain condemned to a life of stifling and cramped camps.
“This day break, pockmarked –
this morning, night bitten.
Surely this is not the morning we’d longed for
in whose eager quest all comrades
had set out, hoping that somewhere
in the wilderness of the sky
would emerge the ultimate destination of stars;
Somewhere the wave of the slow night will meet
and somewhere will anchor the boat of heart’s grief.
….Even the night’s heaviness is just the same;
the moment of salvation has not yet arrived
for the heart and the eye.
So let’s press on – the destination is still far away..”
“Abhi garani shab main kami nahin aye
Najat deda aye dil ki ghari nahin aye
Chaley chalo ke woh ghari nahin aye…”
THE MORNING FREEDOM –AUGUST 1947
Faiz Ahmad Faiz