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Updated: July 22, 2013 21:24 IST

Partition made people slaves to bigotry: Jalal

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Ayesha Jalal in conversation at the Jaipur Literature Festival at diggi palace in Jaiour. Photo Rohit Jain Paras
Ayesha Jalal in conversation at the Jaipur Literature Festival at diggi palace in Jaiour. Photo Rohit Jain Paras

“The pity of partition was not that the country had been divided into two, Independent India and Independent Pakistan; but it was that people had become slaves to bigotry, religious passions and barbarity,” says Ayesha Jalal, Professor of History at Tufts University, and grandniece of writer Saadat Hassan Manto. The Pakistani-American historian, who was in Mumbai last week, talks about her book, The Pity of Partition — Manto’s Life, Times and Work Across the India-Pakistan Divide, and other things in an interview with Sukhada Tatke.

You have suggested that creative writers have done more justice to the Partition than have historians. Do you think this is because it is safer to face major historical events through creative processes?

What I meant was that unlike creative writers, historians are bound by the demands of their discipline, methodological and archival, which makes it more difficult to capture the human suffering that occurred at the time of partition. This is not to deny considerable variations in both historical and fictional writings. In some cases, creative writers can, and have, replicated the official narratives of partition on both sides of the 1947 divide while a few historians have boldly challenged state-sponsored interpretations of the events while remaining true to their disciplinary craft.

What do you like most about Manto’s writings?

Manto has a vast corpus and it is difficult to identify one piece, whether a short story, a personality sketch, a radio drama or an essay, as my favourite. I have favourites in each of the different genres in which he wrote. In his short stories, my favourites among his pre-partition stories include  “Nya Qanun” “Hathak”, “Kali Shalwar” and “Babu Gopinath”. Among his partition stories, “Thanda Goosht”, “Sakina”, “Parihya Kalma”, and “Toba Tek Singh” stand out. My personal favourite among his personality sketches is “Murli ki Dhaun” on Shyam. I am an avid reader of his non-fiction, namely his essays, most of which are not translated into English. But one that has been a great personal favourite is his “Letters to Uncle Sam”. What I most enjoy about Manto’s writing is his extraordinary perceptiveness, uncanny ability to foresee the future and his uncompromising attitude towards social hypocrisy. Many of his characters are unforgettable precisely because of his amazing ability to probe the inner depths of the human psyche without being judgmental.

You have been accused of weaving a different narrative of the nation’s birth. What made you rethink the idea of Partition?

I set about asking how a Pakistan came about that had satisfied the interests of its main constituents so poorly, noting that the two main Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal ended up getting divided while Muslims became citizens of two mutually hostile states. My historical research based on the availability of hitherto unused sources led me to question the conventional narratives about the reasons for India's partition.

If Jinnah never wanted British India to be divided into two countries, what were the main factors that led to the Partition?

As I have shown in The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge 1985), it was the inability of the Congress and the Muslim League to arrive at a power sharing arrangement that led to the partition of India. Instead of the purported unities of religion that were supposed to be the driving force in the making of Pakistan, I have argued that it was regional, class and ideological differences among Muslims and Congress's emphatic opposition to what it saw as Jinnah's unreasonable demands that led to partition.

Is there a connection between the origin of Pakistan and the modern troubles of the country with Islamic extremists?

There is no neat linear evolution from the origins of Pakistan as a state claiming to be created in the name of religion and the murder and the mayhem caused by the rise of religious extremism since the 1980s. Instead of taking a deterministic view of the phenomenon, it is important to recognise the differences between the uses of Islam before the break-up of Pakistan in 1971 and its deployment for strategic purposes following the global assertion of Islam and the American-backed war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

In what way has the military rule eroded the kind of education imparted in the schools of Pakistan today and subsequently, women empowerment?

Military rule in Pakistan has a long and eventful history. But until the so-called ‘Islamisation’ policies of General Zia-ul-Haq, education was not systematically targeted for ideological reasons as a matter of state policy to the extent that it was after the 1980s. The policy of promoting ‘jihad’ in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan transformed not just the education sector but Pakistani society that until then was by and large moderate despite the lip service paid to Islam by successive governments, civil and military. The current dismal state of education in Pakistan and the question of women's disempowerment cannot be addressed without looking at the geo-strategic situation and the collateral damage of the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

What are the challenges of teaching history in a country where history has been more about promoting official or sectarian ideologies?

What is being taught in Pakistan is not history as a discipline but as an ideology. In private institutions history is now beginning to be taught and the reception of the students is quite good, but they are generally not well versed in the methods of history and are mostly ignorant about the bare facts of even South Asian history. But where history is being offered as a major, some students are showing an inclination to go for history. This trend will grow if more institutions rectify the present imbalance against the teaching of history as a discipline in their humanities and social science faculties.


The mother of all problemsAugust 27, 2013

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Two points left out in the following discussion on Partition:

1. Struggle for India's freedom from the British lasted over 50 years and it took many turns. The difference between Congress and Muslim League as represented by Jinnah surfaced in 1937, when Nehru came out with his legalistic opinion that any agreement with Muslim, can be revoked or renegotiated after India becomes freedom. There were other twists and turns in the story. But the final straw on the camel's back, was Churchill's advise to Viceroy Wavell, to keep some part of the British India, for themselves in view of their military need to counter the ever expanding Soviet Russia. He also recommended that Jinnah should be made an intermediary in the project. Secret correspondence between Churchill and Jinnah through Churchill's secretary is now in public domain. So the main trigger was British geopolitical interest looming large. All other factors became secondary and just a patchwork while British departed. 2. The comparison between today's condition of Muslims in India and Pakistan, invariably leaves out the weightage Muslims would have got in United India, is not available to Indian Muslim now. With that weightage in the democratic India, Muslim votes would have carried the day. Think, how much important the Muslim votes are in India's electoral politics. In the event of United India, Muslims would not have to be subservient to non-Muslims, even though at the beginning, Jinnah and his group has thought so. Nehru's challenge for renegotiation with Muslims after independence, should not have unnerved Jinnah. We could have crossed the bridge when we came to it.

from:  Ghulam Muhammed
Posted on: Jul 25, 2013 at 20:31 IST

just agree with Aysha

from:  Sattar Rind
Posted on: Jul 25, 2013 at 18:52 IST

Was Partition good for Hindus generally and the Sikhs in particular? Absolutely not. Was it good for the Muslims? Unquestionably yes. Despite all the trials and travails over the years the middle class today constitutes 40% of Pakistan's population and less than 25% of her people live below the poverty line. This is not what can be claimed for India. When you compare this with the state of Muslims in India today, as spelt out in the Sachhar Commission Report, Pakistanis indeed count themselves as being exceedingly fortunate in having separated.

As for the part played by religion, the religious parties have seldom received more than 10% of the votes. This is a very different picture to what we find in India. Similarly, much is made of terrorism in Pakistan. Until the US invaded Afghanistan there had not been even a single suicide bombing in the country. The rate of violent deaths even after that and despite everything still remains less than what it is in the US.

from:  K. Hussan Zia
Posted on: Jul 25, 2013 at 08:32 IST

A retired academic in North America, I read Ms. Jalal' refreshing interview. My acquaintance with Manto was confined to 'Toba Tek Singh'. Surely he was a literary Gem of joint Punjab. Ms. Jalal is right to say that since Zia's rule, Pakistan became a narrow-minded Muslim state and the Mullah ruled the roost. The successive Military rulers nourished the ideology, which demonized the modern, democratic India as a Hindu state, kept Pakistan a closed society in mind and body. She sees some signs of mental liberation now. Unfortunately, the leaders Indian Kashmir still suckle on the notion of an Islamic state, which keeps the region backward. Surprisingly, some young Pakistani immigrants to North America bring along the frayed Pakistani mentality, and indulge in Jihad, bringing a bad name to Islam. Ms Jalal seems afraid of Pakistan, to say that Jinnah was the stumbling block, refused any agreement, till the massive sectarian violence hastened the Partition. The official records prove that.

from:  p.kumar
Posted on: Jul 25, 2013 at 07:02 IST

Greed for power always exceeds need for peace. None can disagree with
Prof Jalal, for the agony of Partition didn't result in ecstacy for
either India or Pakistan. AICC and AIML leaders who could sew and heal
at the time of independence, viz., Gandhi and Jinnah both had their
hands sullied with blood of the innocent injured, maimed and murdered
during partition.

Politicians who followed on either side, have never been statesmen who
worried about future generations, willing to sit together to heal and
seal the eternal festering problem of Partition by reconciliation if not

Lack of political will, presence of jingoistic nationalism, barbaric
bigotry with poisonous communalism with absence of easy access to masses
having common tastes for food, culture, trade; especially films,
cricket, etc.

Introducing proportional representation within Indian constitution is
first step towards incorporating all legitimate demands made before
Partition and Independence of India, Prof !

from:  Manohar
Posted on: Jul 24, 2013 at 19:28 IST

The issue is not partition of subcontinent. Two brother can opt for
seperation. There could be a good logic to live seperatly yet that
does not mean enimosity. The people of subcontinent righty can ask
their leaders of the time, why they failed to do all this peacefully?,
why they failed to convence mases simple thing that partition doesn't
mean murdering each other? two brothers divide their house by erecting
a wall doesn't mean end of relationship. Why they failed to convence
people that for centuries we lived togather and will continue to do
so,will help each other not bringing each other down even after
partition? Why should we call person a leader if he lakes the
qualities of a leader? A juglar can bring a crowd around him in no
time but that doesn't mean he/she is a leader. I think a person can
call him/herself a leader or mases could give him the title of a
leader who can bring peace in lives of people,who have a road map for
the people to succeed and live prosperious life

from:  Shafiullah Shirazi
Posted on: Jul 24, 2013 at 13:07 IST

In the world of nations, with people of different faiths, some faiths will have to be minorities – a mathematical and logical given. In a similar manner, people speaking different languages and professing different economic philosophies may live in a nation. It is a dangerous idea to think that people of a certain faith should all live in one nation despite geographic and other differences. Patriotism and individual freedom to practice their faiths without impinging on the beliefs of others is a noble goal to work for. Ultimately, when people reach their God’s kingdom, they achieve that goal alone and not as a group.

from:  Som Karamchetty
Posted on: Jul 23, 2013 at 23:42 IST

I appreciate Jinnah....for his stubborn attitude towards partition to
have a separate nation! it's Good for India, Good for Pakistan, other
wise there would have been many Pakistan inside India...! but yes feels
sad for those Hindus in Pakistan who are treated inhumanly & the fact is
Muslims in India are more happier than those in Pakistan....Salute to
the democratic,secular country..Jai Hind !!

from:  Girija R
Posted on: Jul 23, 2013 at 15:52 IST

Without an iota of doubt, in hindsight, we are absolutely happy about partition for the sole reason that terrorism is not home grown for us any more. So good luck to Pakistan!

from:  Prasad
Posted on: Jul 23, 2013 at 12:47 IST

I love to read Ayesha Jalal's comments on different subjects. She is honest & candid in her views. I enjoyed her 'Partisan of Allah' very much. I think our establishment/military needs to re-think on certain issues of national importance if they want to see this country on the path of progress.

from:  Nasir Aman
Posted on: Jul 23, 2013 at 09:53 IST

Before partition in 1947 both Hindus and Muslims were living amicably,
respecting each other. A third party who need not be named fostered
imagined differences and whipped up passions and hatred.And some
leader/s who need not be named fell for their machinations. It is only
after partition that the divide has become so wide as to seem to be

Veevip Sarathy

from:  Veevip Sarathy
Posted on: Jul 23, 2013 at 08:54 IST

As some Western intellectual has said societies cannot help but propagandize themselves. All societies pick and choose within history and even resort to out and out fabrication. How many Englishmen would accept that the battle of Trafalgar did not change the history but it was their fraudulent history that changed the battle? How many Americans know that the story of "Father I can not tell a lie" is a lie? How many Indians are aware that Taj Mahal is the mausoleum of Aurangzeb's mother? How many Indians are aware that one of MK Gandhi's sons converted to Islam? How many Indians know or would like to know how far their culinary terminology like Biryani, Kabab, Naan, Korma, Keema, Kulfi or Tandoori goes into their own literature? How many Indians know that Masala is an Arabic word? How many Indians know that history doesn't know of any of Akbar's wives named Jodha?

from:  Tipu Qaimkhani
Posted on: Jul 23, 2013 at 05:43 IST
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