Indian Muslims: balance-sheet since Partition-ii

Experience of Muhajirs in Pakistan: Nor did Pakistanis experience any cultural synthesis among the Bengalis, the Punjabis, the Sindhis, the Pakhtoons, the Baluchis and the Biharis. Some of them speak Urdu but prefer to use their own mother tongue. Some of them even agitate against Urdu being given the official language status. Even the great Urdu poet Faiz, a leftist activist, led a procession in Lahore against Urdu becoming the sole language for official communication and the first language in schools. Just about 5% of the people of Pakistan declare Urdu as their Mother Tongue.

Each ethnic group maintains its identity. So the Muhajirs would socialize only with fellow Muhajirs. In fact, either they married among Muhajirs or came to India in search of ‘rishtas’. When they prospered in big cities, they built their own colonies and left their ghettos. They never mixed with the Sindhis or Punjabis. When they formed their own political party, the MQM, the Muhajirs dominated parts of Karachi, but could not outnumber Sindhis. So they demanded dividing Sindh and forming an Urdu Pradesh around Karachi. Once they raised the political banner they were subjected to repression, abductions and killings and were so tamed.

Muslim Indians continued to trickle into East Pakistan on what was called the ‘gardania’ passport. After the turmoil in East Pakistan, which created Bangladesh, in substantial numbers the ‘Bihari’ Muslims crossed the border to take refuge in India, sometimes escorted by the Indian Army. The interesting aspect is that when they reached their original villages, their Hindu neighbours welcomed them, albeit with a touch of sarcasm but no hostility. Indeed it was their own relatives who became apprehensive that the returnees may dispute their possession of the entire family properties and reported them to the authorities. Hardly any cases were reported by Hindu neighbours.

If India was not partitioned: In a united Sub-continent the Muslims would today number about 450 millions out of a total population of about 1800 million. Almost half the national territory would be covered by Muslim concentration states and districts. In India a federal polity, these Muslims pockets would enjoy almost complete autonomy but as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad put it, they neither achieved an Islamic homeland nor equal citizenship in the country of their birth. In the reorganization of states, Sikhs got the Sikh state; the tribals got many tribal states and some are struggling for more. But the support Muslims extended in the 1940s to the Pakistan Movement has not   been forgotten. Hindu communalism has opposed the reorganization of pockets of Muslim concentration as in Purnea or in Rohilkhand or in Marathwada on Malabar or Murshidabad in West Bengal. Even the areas in which the Muslims form 30 to 40 % of the population continue to face hostility, distrust and under-development. They are discriminated and short-changed when it comes to government service, access to higher or professional education or to bank credit or distribution of the fruits of development at the operational level or even the formation of smaller districts and blocks.

Cost of Partition: On one hand, Pakistan has neither seen the dawn of an Islamic state, nor given any substantial impetus to the further development of Indo-Muslim culture,  because its roots, whether the centres of Sufism, or of Urdu literature, or theological seminaries, or even architectural heritage like the Taj Mahal, the Qutub Minar or the educational centres like the Aligarh Muslim University or Jamia Millia Islamia all remain in India, though under an ever present shadow of majoritarian control and Hinduisation. Pakistan has not been embraced by the Muslim world. Perhaps the Muslims of united India would have been better received. Yes, Muslim Indians continue to be silently dubbed as Pakistanis and perceived increasingly as terrorists. They live in fear; their mohallas are under close observation by the state. They are occasionally targeted by majoritarian violence; the last genocide occurred in Gujarat in 2002. But their population continuously grows and today they constitute roughly   15 % of the national population. Unfortunately without proportional representation in central or state legislatures or in administration or even in the Panchayti Raj institutions, they do not enjoy real power. And when they speak of discrimination, they are advised to leave India and go to Pakistan if they are not happy.
Balance Sheet for Muslims of the Sub-continent:  What Muslims lost in 1947 is incalculable and the possibilities of their development have been stunted by the very existence of Pakistan. Over the last 60 years, Muslim Indians have suffered and survived, they have proved their resilience, a capacity to rise from the ashes to build a community, which is to quote Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, is as proud of being Indian as it is of being Muslim. As India develops Muslim Indians are also developing though not in the same measure. But an objective look at cities, towns, qasbas or even villages will show, they have made marked progress educationally, economically and socially. There are, no doubt, pockets of backwardness and deprivation. The virus of Hindu majoritarianism has entered the blood stream of the nation. But secular forces would not let them deny constitutional equality and social justice to the Muslim Indians. Some may be averse to Muslims, participating as Muslims in the political transformation which is touching every identifiable and conscious backward class and weaker section belonging to the Shudras, the Achhuts and the Adivasis who are openly and loudly demanding their share in the assets, resources and wealth of the nation, Muslims form part of this social upsurge and, therefore, cannot be totally ignored. Today Muslim reservation has become a universal demand of the Muslim community cutting across languages and baradaris. The Sachar Report has established that Muslims form a Backward Class and are therefore eligible for effective measures of positive affirmation e.g., reservation which is what the subsequent Mishra Commission recommended. The Reservation Movement has secured the support of most of the political parties, at least in principle, but this is how political ideas progress and the day is not far when the Muslim Indians would be duly represented in all spheres of life as well as legislatures. Let us record that the Freedom Movement failed to secure an understanding between the Hindus and the Muslims. At one step the Congress was prepared to grant reservation for Muslims even in the legislatures. But it was not prepared to accept any safeguards like weightage or separate electorates. In retrospect, it appears that by sticking   to their demand for separate electorate, the Muslim leadership widened the political gulf to make it unbridgeable. Today Muslims are prepared to accept reservation under joint electorate. Partition was thus ill-conceived and became a bad bargain for the Muslims in the Muslim minority provinces of British India. May it turned out to be a tragedy. It also continues to cast an ominous shadow over their future because the anti-Muslim forces in India, without any rhyme or reason, continue to consider the present generation of Muslims as responsible for the creation of Pakistan and look upon them as Pakistanis or Pakistani sympathizers and, in any situation of conflict between the two states, as political aliens and at least fifth columnists. The Hindu Right has neither forgotten the Partition nor forgiven the Muslims nor given up the quest of assimilation under Hindu Rashtravad. But a majority of Hindus do not belong to the Hindu Right. From the point of view of the Muslims of the sub-continent, a United States of South Asia will open a new horizon for friendly and peaceful cooperation among all the states of the region which will eventually emerge as one of key poles of world politics and economy. Muslims of the Sub-continent will then enjoy a special position because to the west, to the north and to the east of India are regions of Muslim majority and they will have the historic task of serving as bridges to them. The mistake that the Muslim Indians made during 1940-47 can be partially mitigated, though not blotted out of history and memory, if they contribute all their energy, resources and influence to the building of the United States of South Asia.      

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 July 2011 on page no. 12

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