and then hope
Punjab Blooded, Partitioned and Cleansed
scientist Ishtiaq Ahmed, a Lahori based in Sweden and Professor Emeritus
at the Stockholm University, has documented a voluminous and immaculate
account of such partition-related stories and events, drawing on both
written and oral evidence.
book, titled ‘The Punjab Blooded, Partitioned and Cleansed’, also digs
out some precious data and information regarding demographic and political
facts at the time of partition.
starts off by explaining the concepts of identity, ethnicity, forced
migration, ethnic cleansing and genocide that provide the framework for a
historiography that follows.
explains these complex phenomena with brevity and clarity that speak of
his scholarship and firm grip on the subject. He summarises relevant
theories, quotes major examples of ethnic cleansing and genocide from the
past and develops a context to understand what happened in the Punjab of
1947. This conceptualisation makes the following narrative in the form of
first-person accounts of those who witnessed the history and the secret
British papers now made public more meaningful.
then dilates on the pre-colonial social structure and dynamics of Punjab
where Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs lived in peaceful coexistence for
centuries. Although Punjab’s society was plural —different religious
communities were identifiable— it was also bonded together by strong and
common linguistic and cultural traditions. However, the advent of British
rule and modernisation sharpened the divisions and created movements of
religious revivalism in urban centres and religious identity started
becoming stronger among the urban population. A kind of religious
nationalism came into existence that gave birth to the politics of the
religious divide in Punjab. Ahmed delves into the political context of
Punjab’s partition — the division of India and the political events
leading up to partition.
the 1946 elections, the All India Muslim League emerged as the single
largest party in Punjab Assembly, but could not form the government owing
to an alliance of the Unionist Party, Congress and the Sikhs.
protracted election campaign (1945-46) had already accentuated the group
identities based on religion and media played a pernicious role in
fomenting hatred and conflict. The League’s agitation against the Khizar
ministry ended up in governor’ rule in March 1947, further escalating
the political tension between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus and created a
sense of insecurity and anxiety about their survival among the Sikhs and
Hindus. The League leadership did little to placate the fears of
non-Muslims. Congress and Sikhs demanded the bifurcation of Punjab on
religious lines. Jinnah belatedly moved to appease Sikhs with generous
political offers but failed to win them over.
believes a democratic formula would have helped surmount the communal
differences and emphasise common culture and tradition, but the political
leadership of the three communities failed to agree to a fair
March 2, 1947 onwards, no political party was in power in Punjab who could
be held responsible for public safety. The political actors representing
the religious divide failed to negotiate peace and power-sharing, the
administration was weak, unruly elements were on the rampage and different
religious communities were fearful of each other — a perfect setting in
which people kill the ‘other’ out of fear or for one’s own survival.
killings of Muslims in Bihar and Bengal in 1946 and migration of Muslims
to northern areas of Punjab inflamed riots and barbaric killings of Hindus
and Sikhs in Rawalpindi by Muslims in March 1947. Evidence suggests
ex-army servicemen and outlaws were leading the attacks on Sikhs and
Hindus. The exodus of non-Muslims started to the eastern districts. The
gory tales of the Rawalpindi victims set in motion the ethnic cleansing
and genocide of Muslims in East Punjab by Sikhs. The Hindu communalists
were not directly involved in killings but funded the bloodshed.
Eye-witness accounts say Congress’ leading light Sardar Patel was also
involved in financing mob factories and goaded Sikhs to kill Muslims of
was up in flames from mid-August to December 1947. The religious identity
took precedence over the ethnic Punjabi identity and assumed an aggressive
and macabre dimension. The criminal elements and their political patrons
took charge. Some 10 million Punjabis crossed the border and around
800,000 were killed. These facts may already be known, but Ahmed has
recorded them with a great sense of responsibility and non-partisanship.
He has painstakingly collected written and oral accounts of the brutality
and victimhood of both Muslims and non-Muslims.
has tried to explain the causes of violence carried out by Muslims and
Sikhs against each other. Historical evidence shows how inflexible and
short-sighted the political leaders were, and how oblivious to the
horrible outcome of their actions. Secret government reports existed
showing the government was aware that all the three communities had set up
‘private armies’ and could be dangerous for the law and order
situation. The British government looked the other way and devoted its
meagre force to save European lives.
Ahmed concludes that what happened in Punjab in 1947 was essentially
ethnic cleansing because the overriding intention was to get rid of
unwanted populations, but the organised terror employed for this purpose
did carry the characteristics of retributive genocide. He
argues the Sikhs had a special interest in expelling Muslims from East
Punjab in order to concentrate their co-religionists in those parts of
Punjab which they wanted to become their separate homeland, Khalistan, at
a later stage.
Ahmed has also interviewed the Punjabis who migrated and still have nostalgic and fond memories of their birthplaces on either side of the fence. He also narrates recent events in which Punjabis from both sides came closer and showed great respect, generosity and hospitality to each other.
News: Nov. 3, 2011