Suppressing Partition horrors and manufacturing convenient realities

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In the discourse surrounding India’s Partition horrors, often manufactured and convenient truths have dominated, generating a miasma of falsehood and self-deception.

In his introduction to the reprint of Sardar Gurbachan Singh Talib’s Muslim League Attack on Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab—1947, philosopher Ram Swarup put forth an articulate description of forces and elements that are active in order to stymie and stifle our national growth. Ram Swarup described them as ‘old imperialist forces’ who are active and ‘mobilising old allies who worked for the division of the country’.

These were now joined, he pointed out, ‘by new vested interests who find disintegration of the country equally useful or close to their heart. They daily tell you through the media they control that India is not one, that it is only a geographical expression, or merely an administrative entity; they tell you that while India is an abstraction, its reality is “ethnic minorities” who have a right to their “national homelands”. And as they push their right with the help of AK-47 rifles and Kalashnikovs, they find that they have powerful friends and protectors in Delhi and powerful ideologues of their cult in the press.’

In the last seven years, the Kalashnikov cult has been practically decimated in the country but their powerful friends and powerful ideologues—though depleted—continue to be active. It is this coterie and web which have always prevented the Partition horrors narrative and discourse from being discussed in all its dimensions. It is this web again which scoffs at and opposes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s declaring 14 August as the ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’.

They have worked ceaselessly over the decades to ensure that the memories of Partition are diluted and obfuscated. It is these elements who also argued that remembering Partition today and offering homage to its victims will only make India back pedal to an age that has been long left behind. These arguments, cleverly couched in highfalutin lexicon, are akin to those proffered by the wide and powerful network of holocaust deniers in the West. The deliberate attempt at trying to polish off the truth, to create in its place a convenient pseudo-reality has been the objective of such a mindset worldwide. The discourse on the Partition of India has not been spared of this motivated assault.

For a comprehensive understanding of the Holocaust and its psyche, we must necessarily turn to its legendary exponent and chronicler late Primo Levi. In his last work, in which Levi gives voice to his apprehension on whether the Holocaust is being already forgotten or erased, he observes how ‘the further events fade into the past, the more the construction of convenient truth grows and is perfected’.

Levi aptly describes the attempt to create and generate this ‘convenient truth’ in order to circumvent the actual truth and history of the Holocaust. He writes, ‘There are those… who lie consciously, coldly falsifying reality itself, but numerous are those who weigh anchor, move off, momentarily or forever, from genuine memories, and fabricate for themselves a convenient reality. The past is a burden to them; they feel repugnance for things done or suffered and tend to replace them with others… The silent transition from falsehood to self-deception is useful: anyone who lies in good faith is better off. He recites his part better, is more easily believed by the judge, the historian, the reader, his wife, and his children.’

In the discourse surrounding India’s Partition horrors, often manufactured and convenient truths have dominated, generating a miasma of falsehood and self-deception. Ram Swarup’s ‘powerful ideologues’ have always promoted and pushed such a line for political and ideological convenience.

Why is it, for instance, that the story of the ‘Great Calcutta Killings’ has always remained relegated to the background and works of those who have discussed it threadbare been dumped or suppressed? Being one of the prime movers that led to Partition this gruesome episode needed to be discussed in detail. Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s pistol remark, the incendiary statements by each of his political colleagues, the shock-therapy planned and executed by his Muslim National Guards in the streets of Kolkata all of these should have seen greater and wider documentation than was hitherto done in independent India. The easy excuse was that wounds needed to be healed and so facts needed to be forgotten or suppressed. History and the truth of Partition were thus often sacrificed at the altar of political correctness and an artificial secularism.

Describing the panic-stricken air of Kolkata on 16 August 1946, Talib for instance writes, ‘Such a horrible carnage ensued as had not been heard of in India in the three-odd decades during which communal rioting had been heard of in India.’ Massacres took place to the slogans of ‘Lar Kar Lenge Pakistan, Mar Kar Lenge Pakistan, Dena Hoga Pakistan, Pakistan Kayam Karo etc.’ The Statesman of Kolkata, in one of its editorials of the period argued, ‘The Muslim League ministry [of Bengal] for a good long time (for practically two days) hesitated whether a little rioting would not after all be good; and so nothing was done to summon the military and to quell the rioting…’ ‘Direct Action’ for instance convinced Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee and others that Bengal needed to be divided and that a portion of the province needed to be secured for the future of the Bengali Hindus within independent India.

Historian Dinesh Chandra Sinha, in his Bengali opus, Syamaprasad: Banga-Bhanga O Paschimbanga, gives a detailed account of events in Bengal leading up to 1947 and beyond and also documents the numerous Partition horrors episode on the eastern front between 1946 and 1950. Naturally Sinha’s book did not see wide discussion, was suppressed and saw light only within a very limited and committed circle of his readers, scholars, students and admirers.

The propensity at self-deception has dogged the narrative of the horrors of Partition on the Bengal front primarily because it did not see closure with pogroms and evictions continuing for decades. Had it been highlighted, the politics of vote-bank and of a concocted secularism would have been severely challenged affecting the Nehruvian establishments and its communist page-boys.

January 1950, for instance, saw another massive wave of refugees who faced persecution and eviction from East Bengal. The Amrita Bazar Patrika, then under editorship of the iconic Tushar Kanti Ghosh, was one of those dailies which reported in detail incidents of persecution and eviction. A sample of its reportage in March 1950 reveals the kind of documentation of Partition horrors that awaits the researcher and scholar of the Bengal Partition, ‘People from villages in districts like Dacca, Chittagong, Faridpur, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Bogra and Rangpur say that large-scale movement of Hindu villagers has started. Cattle, stacked paddy and corn, plough and the land offer no more lure to them to keep their village homes where they had been living for generations. Village smiths, kavirajs, day labourers, carpenters, Namasudras, Santals—in fact every Hindu in Eastern Pakistan is trying to move out.’ This phase has hardly ever been discussed and only saw some references made during the CAA debate.

In documenting the horrors of Partition, each year ought to see new landmarks and milestones achieved in terms of research, documentation, exhibitions and erection of memorials. Such an approach will make the observance real and dynamic.

The writer is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s pistol remark, the incendiary statements by each of his political colleagues, the shock-therapy planned and executed by his Muslim National Guards in the streets of Kolkata all of these should have seen greater and wider documentation than was hitherto done in independent India.

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