One wonders if Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked his foreign minister S Jaishankar what he thought about his idea of India hereafter commemorating August 14 — Pakistan’s Independence Day — as ‘Partition Horrors Rememberance Day’, before he tweeted it and the Home Ministry notified it. Because it has very real, god-awful and enduring ramifications.
Partition happened, Independence followed but 74 years after that bloody bifurcation the deep wound was drying out, developing a thickened scab in the process of perhaps leaving a small scar indicating the psychological recovery of the peoples on either side of the Radcliffe Line from the trauma impacting Punjabis in particular who lived through that time of excesses committed by, and against, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, in that horrid August of 1947. Except, August 14 will now keep reminding Indians about that ghastly period when sense had left the people. It will be like periodically picking on a scab until the dried up wound is raw again, which will keep the wound from drying out.
Modi’s observation that the displacement of millions of innocent people and loss of lakhs of lives owing to the “mindless hate and violence caused by the partition” and his hope that this Day will “keep reminding us of the need to remove the poison of social divisions, disharmony and further strengthen the spirit of oneness, social harmony and human empowerment” is, in the event, somewhat disingenuous, though politically and electorally, perhaps, productive. Bad memories long since interred will thus be stirred up on a yearly basis. The Pakistan government called it a “political and publicity stunt that only seeks to divide” and called it a “hypocritical and one-sided” invocation of “the tragic events and mass migration that occurred n the wake of independence”. The opposition parties here have slammed it as “divisive and diversionary politics”.
My wife is a Punjabi. My father-in-law was from Mogha, East Punjab, on this side of the Radcliffe Line where his family owned land; my mother-in-law was from Miani, Sargodha District, West Punjab, on the other side of the R Line. Her sister was married to an Inspector in the Punjab Police and was the one most to suffer the pangs and terrors of Partition. How she and her three young sons, one virtually a babe in arms, made the perilous and palpitating journey in a train from Lahore put on it by her husband’s Muslim colleagues in Punjab Police who escorted her from Dera Ghazi Khan, and how every moment on that wretched death train in its stop and start journey with men with bloodlust in their eyes and knives and swords in their hands entering and exiting the compartments killing passengers crammed into them but somehow missing my wife’s aunt and her then very young cousins huddling terror-stricken underneath the lower berths, the mother quite literally sleeping on her baby son, hoping he won’t cry and give them away, was an unforgetable passage that passed into family lore.
So, Partition was very, very bad; emotions and memories jangling and jostling on the tip of the eye colouring the post-1947 world as it passed by for that generation of Punjabis. My father-in-law’s hate for Muslims, however, was at once visceral and sublime. This was a man who when at St. Stephen’s College (as he recalled those days) befriended Zia ul-Haq (yea, ex-Probyn’s Horse and army chief who imposed the nizam-e-mustafa on Pakistan, and finished off its future) and ribbed him incessantly, calling him “Mullah” for being a strict namazi.
Hailing from a family with roots in the pleasantly temperate and sedate environs of Dharwad (in north Karnataka), I could never make head or tail of this kind of anti-Muslim rage and hate. And still can’t.
But I see that unthinking rage against Pakistan reflected even now in some retired and serving Punjabi military officers as they tortuously try and explain to me why the Indian army, navy and air force need to prioritise taking down Pakistan militarily. For the life of me I can’t see how they don’t see the obvious that Pakistan is a small, big-talking, military nuisance and sideshow at best, and why the institutionalised antipathy towards Pakistan is a strategic liability that has dragged India down since 1971 when ironically, having reduced Pakistan to its western wing, the Indian government and the military brass rather than moving on and making preparations to take on China, gave into their base and myopic instincts and began fixating on Pakistan instead.
Little wonder India has slipped down in the world. This even as China has gone from strength to strength, taking care to keep Pakistan afloat nuclearly and otherwise, just enough to have India on edge, and all this as it laughs its way to Great Power. Whatever else Partition Horrors Remembrance Day does, it will perpetuate India’s bottom-feeder status but, hey, we will have a lowly Pakistan for company. That should make us happy and keep the world entertained with South Asia’s never ending Punch and Judy show!!