Consequences of Partition, 1947-1971: Demographic, Political, Social and Human Costs which continues till Today
Presentation at the
Indian Council of Historical Research, Delhi, India
January 4, 2017
Presentation at the
Indian Council of Historical Research, Delhi, India
January 4, 2017
Dr. Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar
Distinguished Professor, State University of New York, Old Westbury, Politics, Economics & Law Department
Namaskar, greetings. Let me first thank ICHR, Dr. Rao, Sri Aruni, Dr. Singh, and especially Saradindu Babu, for inviting me to speak here. What can an amateur historian say to professional historians? For me it’s a bit scary. It is like the Bengali proverb of what not to do: mayer kachhe mashir galpo kara or not telling your mother her sister’s story. Nevertheless I will share some of the lessons that I have learned through reading and my four decades of travel, field work and social work in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Incidentally my NY Partition Library contains hundreds of English and Bengali history and history-based books on partition and post-partition events till today. One lesson for Indians is that it is possible to do academic, human rights and social work during intolerant conditions in both Bangladesh and Pakistan but constraints vary, and parameters is localized. I have been welcomed by Muslims, stayed with then, as well as non-Muslim minorities there. Many Bangladeshis tell me that I am the first Hindu who has reclaimed its home. There are groups and individuals with whom we have failed to bridge. I must also add that I have faced constraints for our work with helping schools for the poor in West Bengal, but not in Bangladesh.
With the partition of India into India and Pakistan, serious demographic changes took place in the Subcontinent. In West Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir demographic change of non-Muslim minority took place with jhatka killing and cleansing in 1947 through 48. But in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, slow killing and cleansing started with Noakhali Pogrom of 1946 under the Muslim League Government of British Bengal but anti-Hindu pogroms continues to this day. Large-scale pogroms took place in 1948, 1950, 1952, 1956, 1964 (possibly genocide), 1965, 1971 (genocide), 1990, 1992, 2001 till 2016. With cut off of exchange of information, travel and ideas between India and Pakistan it brought serious social, political and human consequences with long term effects that continues to this day. One of the consequences was that of Bangladesh Liberation War and extermination campaign of Hindu minority and mass-killing of secular Muslims. Self-censorship in India added another dimension to the problem. Having traveled to India, Bangladesh and Pakistan I feel that a large section of Indian intelligentsia, academics and media – left to right – have failed to understand the seriousness of the issue and come to assist those like-minded peoples across the border as well as to the minorities they left behind in hostile land. I hope to highlight some of these issues and contradictions with slides, references from my books Ai Bangla Oi Bangla, Empire’s Last Casualty: Indian Subcontinents’ Vanishing Hindu and Other Minorities, A Aamar Desh, Living among the Believers: Stories from the Holy Land down the Ganges, Memoirs of Homeland: Partitions of Bengal in India, Mukti: Free to be born Again – Partitions of Indian Subcontinent, Islamism, Hinduism, Leftism and Liberation of the Faithful, our work with Partition Documentation Center and Probini Foundation (that helps educate the poor and the orphaned in 33 schools in Bangladesh, PaschimBanga, Assam and Mizoram.) The last two books have just been released.
For me talking about partition and human consequences is difficult, stressful and painful. It is very stressful. It is a taboo subject for many. It raises passion among many, especially of refugees, hard liners, fundamentalists, denialists, fatalists, neo-colonialists, communal left and right, nationalists and partisans. I believe, on the other hand many are only too happy to blame others. I do not believe that has lead us to anywhere, but that does not mean censorship. If you have strong feelings, different from mine, I am sure many of you do, please share that at the end of the presentation. I will try to address that as much as I can. Very recently I was attacked by a Bangladeshi-Indian-claiming-to-be-atheist but who chose not to live with his Muslim neighbors in Bangladesh for living in India and has chosen not to visit his homeland saying “there hasn’t been any oppression of Hindus in Bangladesh” which even ideologically anti-Hindu Jamat never says that. A Bangladeshi-Indian atheist Politburo Member who chose not to live with the Muslim-majority in Bangladesh also said the same thing in NY which was immediately challenged by the folks, when he ran away from the public. When I was invited to be a keynote speaker at an international conference in Dhaka I got death threats. Then there are folks who wrote/broadcast total lies about me in Bangladeshi media while some others thought that my family is demigod. This is the problem in our lands. I also received scorn from Hindu nationalists as they thought our work in Bangladesh allows non-Muslim minority to live in their ancestral land instead of fleeing to India which Islamists want. They would always tell me “why don’t you bring them to India?” In Bangladesh and in PaschimBanga, except for cities like Kolkata, Dhaka, Durgapur or Chittagong people who call my family as their own are not bhadralok, yet to us they are truly bhadra. Sometime back we estimated many of them were surviving in about 1,200 Indian rupees (US$20) for a family of 3 generations of 8 people, but they are not starving.
So, let me first share the demographic change which is in the past and easy to present from Census data. Then I will share some slides with anecdotes of pleasure and pain from my travel and field work. Unfortunately it must be mentioned that discussion on social, political, and especially human, costs come from my post-1971 travel to partitioned Bangladesh and Pakistan. This is also true for my travel to far corners of India from Ladakh to Andaman, or from Mizoram to Bengaluru to Dandakaranya. Before 1971 I was too poor to take those trips and experience the joy and pain of my extended family. I will share some slides from Bangladesh, then West Bengal, finally Pakistan.
I hope to hear your experience after that.
As I may not get a second chance let me tell you that apart from full-time teaching I head the Partition Documentation Center in NY which is funded by my family’s savings and donations from people like you. We have saved over 175 oral histories of refugees, survivors and protectors on YouTube. Please visit our ispad1947 channel and if you could please tape some interviews for us. We have a one-room Partition Museum. If anyone likes to donate documents for display, please do so. We have annual conference in October, please join us – this is not just 1905, 1947 or 1971 Subcontinent partitions but lot more from identity to unity, from influence of music to politics and religion around the world. We publish a Journal, please write for that too. I have brought a few copies. I have also brought a few copies of Probini and ISPaD newsletters. Please take one.
This is just to inform you that in 1996 I ran for and was elected to an office in New York making me the first Indian, Bengali, Bangladeshi, Hindu or a short dark-skinned like me to hold an elective position in New York. Moreover I testified in Congress twice on minority plights in the Subcontinent. I guess several groups must have recommended me for presentation. For sake of time I will make some broad generalizations. I will be happy to explain further. I can go on and on, but let me stop, read bullet points, and talk about demographics first:
· Pakistan: 25% minority in 1947 to less than 2% Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian, Brahmo by 1949
· Pakistani Kashmir: 20% non-Muslim in 1947 to practically 0% by 1949
· Bangladesh: 30% Hindu with some Buddhist and Christian in 1947 to less than 10% now; 22% in 1971
· India: with 12% Muslim minority in 1947 to 14% Muslim now in spite of tens of millions of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, and Christian refugees from Pakistan, Pakistani Kashmir, Bangladesh and Afghanistan; overall non-Hindu minority has increased after 1947. I don’t think cries of differences of birth rate will explain that.
A few points of Social, Political and Human Costs:
· With connections cut off between India and Pakistan, India and Bangladesh (East Pakistan) we have all become culturally ghettoized in many ways. Often misinformation & propaganda influenced politics, e.g., the 1964 Hazrat Bal Danga Killing of East Pakistan.
· Except for Muslim League Party cross-border political parties collapsed. Congress Party vanished in both East and West Pakistan, even Communist Party lost most of its connection with West and East Pakistan.
· Saving grace was radio, then TV, and now Internet.
· There are people in Pakistan who truly don’t know that India and Pakistan was one country, and Pakistan and Bangladesh was one country, and Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs lived with each other. Bangladesh is also heading in that direction except for the tenacity and love of land of the oppressed-caste Hindus who live there and pro-tolerant Muslims who are trying to protect them. (Ex: Farhan)
· People-to-people contact were lost from 1947 between India and Pakistan; between two majority communities. People who lived with their neighbors of other religions were forgotten forever. Hundreds of years of friendship was lost forever. (Lahore Lakshmi Baag; Lahore Museum; Lenin Sarani of Kolkata; Gava-Ram Chandra Pur.)
· Linguistic connection between 2 Punjab is gone; one Urdu and the other Punjabi;
· Linguistic connection between Sind and Sindhi diaspora is broken forever;
· As you travel in Pakistan pushing monotheistic Islam and monolingual Urdu, especially by Punjabi Muslims who gave up their own language for Urdu, has homogenized the population a lot – a dream for many rulers – yet was the reason why majority Bengalis split from Pakistan. In India in a remote corner of Arunachal I saw signs in some villages wanting to be taught in Thai, but not in Pakistani Kashmir for Kashmiri language. I suppose a pluralistic, fatalistic Hinduism does allow for that kind of diversity and tolerance. Regional Sindhi, Baloch and Pakhtun linguistic demands are rising in Pakistan.
· In West Bengal elites and media completely ignored and censored oppression in East Bengal/ Bangladesh Hindus and its Muslim intelligentsia – a common complaints in Bangladesh, as well as of the oppressed oppressed-caste Hindus with silence (mounam sammati lakhsmanam) although most of the elites and rulers of Paschim Bangla and Tripura come/came from East Pakistan/East Bengal who chose not to live with the Muslim majority there;
· Problem of communal self-censorship in West Bengal and India. Pakistan and Bangladesh had state-sanctioned censorship, frequently managed by dictators;
· Oppression of Hindu minority in East Pakistan/Bangladesh was ignored by the refugee ruling communal privileged-caste elites & media of West Bengal and Calcutta – a form of racism of the elites, including leftists. (I grew up as one of those.) Yet those oppressions and atrocities are boldly highlighted by pro-tolerant Muslim intelligentsia in Bangladesh, even at their own peril. (This is also partially true at times in Pakistan);
· Most Bangla secularist Muslims and Hindus are amazed that the entire Indian and Hindu civil society were/are completely silent about the Enemy Property Act which allows Hindus to be declared enemy of the state and ancestral lands and businesses taken away without any notice and compensation by Pakistan and Bangladesh;
· And we showed no support for the trial of War Criminals in Bangladesh whose main target was killing and cleansing of all Hindus and secular Muslims.
· In Bangladesh there is significant solidarity between Muslims and non-Muslims at village level – except at times after Friday Jumma prayer and sermon. One special feature of our society is while a village thug protects in his own village yet he kills-rapes-abducts-converts in the next village (see Subhas Mazumdar of Noakhali interview at YouTube’s Ispad1947 channel);
· No safe heaven was provided to secularist Muslims or murtads from Bangladesh or Pakistan by the Indian civil society, often complained by the activists across the border;
· One irony in overseas is that we all come together for Bollywood events, otherwise folks from secular India celebrate religious festivities at mandirs, churches, gurdwaras, and masjids except for a few August-based India Day festivities yet many neo-colonialists oppose Indian religious festivities for so-called “South Asian” events, yet Muslim-majority Bangladeshis celebrate secular festivities of Bijoy Dibas (Victory Day), Independence Day, Nababarsha (Baisakh New Year); while Pakistanis have very few secular festivities except for masjid-based acts. All Mandirs, however, welcome all during their events and festivals.
· I will end these bullet points with a serious, philosophical question for you historians. Having traveled to over 100 countries and territories, and having visited numerous museums and memorials I always wanted to ask our historians like you, what is it that we Indians or Hindus do not commemorate our historical events, unlike Christians, Jews and Muslims? Is it because we worship deities of pre-historic origin, and cremate our dead not leaving any memorial on ground that we don’t have a collective historic memory? We do not commemorates when the first partition took place in India, which brought the second partition. No one remembers when Portugal entered India, or the first non-native Muslim invasion or building of Kutub Minar, or when the First War of Independence began, or Noakhali Danga Pogrom or Calcutta Killing. Like other nations can we do not remember these taking along our Muslim, Christian or Euro-Indians along, not demonizing them for their ancestors’ deeds? Yet West commemorates Inquisition, First World War or America remembers Pearl Harbor after 75 years, and Jews remember Hanukkah. I will wait for your reflection after my presentation. (For a point of reference, in 2005 for commemorating the first partition in India in 1905 my mostly non-Subcontinent students of Politics of India and South Asia class in NY had a petition signed by hundreds of people around-the-world, sent a letter to the prime ministers, had a book display in a Bengali-Christian church, organized by white, black and Hispanic students helped by a Bengali Muslim. The petition and the letter are available in the Internet, while students of 3 elite colleges in Bengal barely knew the year, but certainly not the date, October 16. Accidentally on that date our daughter Joyeeta was born and on that year my mother Nihar Kana was born. That is also the date when Noakhali pogrom began in 1946 on auspicious Kojagari Lakshmi Puja Day
Even after lots of deleting I have 85 slides. (Not included here.)
Here are a few pictures from the event: