14 and 15th of August are Independence days for the countries of Pakistan and India. One would think after 70 years both the countries, having thrown the yoke of colonialism would have focused on their shared legacy of the Partition trauma and their respective poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, and unemployment plagues. Instead we find a violent Pakistan obsessed with India and ethnically cleansing its minorities with state sanction and an India trying to become a Hinduised Pakistan meaning Talibanised.
In Sadat Hasan Manto’s short story Toba Tek Singh, the relation between the two countries is perfectly summed up in the lunatic utterings of Bishan Singh. We are all Bishan Singh today. We lost families, on both sides. People were displaced both sides, and both sides indulged in the killing sprees that marred and dominated the bloodiest and largest mass migration of a people in history. Yet after decades we still haven’t come close to healing from the trauma or even fathoming what we lost. Pakistan focuses on a further breakup of India with its Ghazwa-e-Hind and India is hell bent on sending its Indian Muslims to Pakistan never reconciling with their faith or destiny.
It is impertinent to mention here that the terms India and Pakistan are to be read as the military-mullah-industrial complex of Pakistan and the Hindu far right of India. The civil societies and common people of both the countries are to be separated from the axis of evil – extremist, politically corrupt and bigoted forces governing the two countries today. Today’s generations are trying to understand the legacy of their forefathers and it would be unfair to hold them responsible for the mistakes of their ancestors.
For a mistake it was. Despite the shared cultures, traditions, faiths, ethnicities, and race, at a decisive moment in history, common people fell victim to the agenda of a few and an entire subcontinent was thrown into chaos. Now reams maybe spent on who was responsible for whom. The revisionist historians from both sides of the border work overtime to blame it on the British, the Muslim League, Nehru, the Congress or Jinnah and his cronies, depending on which side of the LOC you are. But the reality is that it happened, it was traumatic for millions and our collective psyches are never going to recover from it.
But it is better for us to start moving forward from it and recognise that the period is past, we were not an informed bunch then and this is no way to exist – focusing on the weaknesses, faults and divisions of the other. Being a Kashmiri, a Muslim, a woman and a minority within a minority within a minority – pro-India, secular, and outspoken about Islamofascism under the garb of azadi, I can vouch for the sufferings of women on the subcontinent brought out painstakingly by a collaboration of the writings of Ritu Menon, Urvashi Bhutalia, Zoya Hasan, Rakshanda Jalil and other Pakistani, Bengali and Indian writers. It is no hidden fact that women suffer the brunt of conflicts whether they be in the violence of the Partition, the Hindu-Muslim riots in India post-independence, Muzaffarnagar, Gujrat et al, or the conflict in Kashmir, Bengal genocide of 1971, anti-Sikh riots in 84, the forcing of Hindu and Christian girls to convert in Pakistan and so on.
At a time that women recognise that misogyny has no borders, be it the Nirbhaya case of 2012 and nearly everyday occurrences like it or women like Qandeel Baloch being silenced for being nonconforming, the subcontinent needs to get over its violent past and focus on the future. That can be done by standing up to state sponsored terrorism as well as religious bigotry. I have seen innumerable Bishan Singhs in my life in various degrees of sanity, insanity, sensitivity, hurting for their Toba Tek Singh, my late husband included (mourning for his beloved Valley which would never be the same again).
In Christopher Hitchens words, “The cure for poverty has a name, in fact: it’s called the empowerment of women. If you give women some control over the rate at which they reproduce, if you give them some, say, take them off the animal cycle of reproduction to which nature and some doctrine—religious doctrine condemns them, and then if you’ll throw in a handful of seeds perhaps and some credit, the floor of everything in that village, not just poverty, but education, health, and optimism will increase. It doesn’t matter; try it in Bangladesh, try it in Bolivia, it works—works all the time….”
He was and is right. A country got made on the basis of religion, only to have the theory on which it was founded debunked a few days later when military personnel from the new nation indulged in a genocide of the Bengalis whom they considered inferior and not worthy of existence. With less than half the country left of the original one envisioned by the Founder Jinnah, it chooses to focus on a Jihad in Kashmir, hoping to keep the Indians occupied and underdeveloped into oblivion.
The same military industrial complex ignores the fact that despite its poverty, malnutrition, corruption, unemployment, misogyny, colonial oppression, a debilitating caste system and numerous invasions, India has survived in spite of those existential “thousand cuts” and a “million mutinies” and will continue to do so. The spirit of survival no matter what, is in the DNA of Pakistanis too, not so separate from us, not too long ago.
Somehow down the line, we forgot we got independence from the British not from each other. The way we common people listen to the extremist forces helplessly and submit our people power makes it seem as if we have accepted the distortion of history. We don’t always. Lal Masjid stand off and the Delhi protest of 2012 was people power in action. In 1940s and 50s, a lot of Bishan Singhs were let down. Let’s not let down our Qandeels and Nirbhayas