Thursday, March 11, 2010

The other side of tragedy


Humanity amidst Insanity: Hope During and After the Indo-Pak Partition
By Tridivesh Singh Maini, Tahir Malik and Ali Farooq Malik
UBSPD; Pp 186

From the blurbs

A novel approach by an Indian and two Pakistani journalists to bring the humane and positive episodes of the 1947 partition holocaust, to the fore. A series of interviews of the survivors of Indo-Pak partition who owe their survival to the other community. Tales of hope and faith in the crisis of humanity, when people were killing each other in the name of religion, these angels of sanity helped the innocent and gave them life. An analytical approach to the good involved and practiced during the times of violence and terror. A new look at the relations that could become a reality for the Indo-Pak partition sores which have long been unhealed.

Daily Times

EVERY CRISIS poses an opportunity to seek some lesson, some space to persuade reflection. From tragedy can come wisdom that might open minds, that might save lives. This book epitomises the hope and progressive foresight in daring to look at the other side of tragedy.
The reality of the 1947 partition of the subcontinent was almost 2 million people dead and 15 million displaced. The consequences led to three wars, mindless confrontation, billions of dollars spent on the military and millions of people reeling in poverty. South Asia, which could well provide world leadership in the understanding of different faiths and bring harmony between them, has actually still not fully recovered from the trauma of 1947. The authors however realise the first step is to confront the human stories of that summer and then to attempt to heal the wounds. The future of the planet they say depends on dialogue and understanding, which renders this book a welcome initiative in the right direction.
Humanity amidst Insanity is a novel approach by an Indian and two Pakistani journalists to bring the human and positive episodes of the 1947 partition holocaust to the reader. It compiles a series of interviews of the survivors of Indo-Pak partition who owe their survival to the other community. The authors suggest that the partition of India showed us some of the worst sides of humanity but even in those dark days, the human spirit of compassion remained resilient. Simplistic in tone and language, this read brings home a forgotten or perhaps an underestimated lesson that humanity prevails no matter what the condition.
The book poses two significant questions eventually addressed through interviews and supporting literature, asking what were the types of intercommunity bonds that existed pre-partition and were there social barriers between communities that should have been checked in time? And what was the nature of pre-partition camaraderie in villages and towns? It is suggested that if one were to look at the overall organisation of pre-partition societies, there was cohesion generated by ‘tribe’ or biradari, rural commonalities, linkages and economic interests. The anthropological paradigm of ‘ethnic bonding’ between some Punjabi castes like the Jats on both sides of the border and the common ‘Punjabi ethos’ show a complete neutralisation of the Muslim-Hindu divide during partition, with faith and nationalistic fervour taking precedence. In the pre-partition milieu, religious identity in rural settings was overshadowed by bonding between similar tribe or caste or occupation or geography.
Another perspective highlighted is the notion of honour (izzat), which was of paramount importance for individuals of all participating communities. Many individuals saved people from other communities as a manifestation of honour, whether while doing their duty or in a personal capacity notwithstanding religion, caste and creed. The concept of ‘watan’ or paidaish or place of birth proved to be equally important for analysing the quandary of the generation surviving the trauma of partition. The positive, it is suggested, continues to reflect when establishments acknowledge the significance of watan or paidaish place when it comes to politicians. It has been aptly said: “Every bird loves to fly back to its nest and so do we, human beings. We are passionately attached to our roots, the pull of these roots beckons us to our ancestors” (pg, 39).
Holocaust scholar Marianne Hirsch’s ‘concept of postmemory’ is cited to prove significant, as some of those who were interviewed were not actual witnesses to the happenings during partition but had been fed on stories related to it. The authors do acknowledge the shortcomings of oral history such as inherent biases of the individual interviewed. However, despite the limitations, the authors believe oral narrative offers a different way of looking at history, a different perspective and insider snippets. For instance, Brigadier SS Chowdhary, a retired army officer from the Assam Regiment now living in Chandigarh, recollects his concern while fighting the wars of 1965 and 1971: he was keen to know whether any of his previous colleagues were on the other side. In spite of the fact that India and Pakistan were so hostile to each other, there was this curiosity in his mind that he might be fighting against his old friends. Fahmida Bano from Lahore reminisces how her husband took care of their Sikh friend’s daughters from Amritsar and brought them to Lahore to stay with them for months till the partition quagmire settled down and eventually took them back to India.

Full review here

South Asian Citizen Web

THIS VERY  thoughtful and much- needed book says Partition was 75 percent inhuman and depraved, but there was 25 percent of it which was human and which has not been memorialised because of the dominant hostile narratives that came after 1947.
The memory of Partition has concretised the communal fracture of India and made it permanent in the shape of India and Pakistan. Even the ‘neutral’ accounts compiled after the more intense periods of nationalism have been ‘partitioned’, the Indian side putting on record the good deeds done by non-Muslims, and the Pakistani side recording the acts of grace of the Muslims.
This book could be the first of its kind. It is ‘unpartitioned’ in its account of the residual good among two savage communities and puts its hope in the 25 percent of the population of India and Pakistan to save the subcontinent from descending into a Hobbesian end of its 1.4 billion people.
Think of it, this can be done very easily too today, with the help of the nuclear weapons that Partition has caused to appear like malignant growths on the map of the region. The book contains interviews with non-Muslims who fled to India in 1947 and 11 interviews with refugee families in Pakistan. One doesn’t need to emphasise that they are moving in the extreme.
Around 13 million changed home in 1947 and it took them two months to complete the process. Hundreds of thousands got killed, women were raped and children lost. The wound of it went deep, bequeathing to South Asia one of the world’s most lethal sets of nationalisms that braked development and prosperity and unleashed poverty-provoking wars. If there was holocaust in the West this was one in which ‘no one community could be held responsible’. Politely, it means both were abysmal. If that is what the book says, which it does, then we are face to face with an evil that was more pervasive and therefore more sinister. That means we were 80 percent all individual Hitlers.
Ashis Nandy thinks that the 25 percent Muslims and non-Muslims not subscribing to the hatred of their community are the saving grace which will finally rescue the Subcontinent from its historical death-wish succubi. He makes a case for abstention of uniformity of thinking that nationalism dictates because the 25 percent at Partition who did not conform are today worth remembering.
One hopes that those in India and Pakistan who did not conform after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 will also be remembered some day when madness has finally left us. But people like Ashish Nandy have always been there though few in number: Khushwant Singh, Balraj Sahni, Kartar Singh Duggal and Saadat Hasan Manto.
The book mentions only Manto as the Pakistani ‘deviant’. That is understandable for two reasons: first that a community that dominates numerically is bound to have more ‘original’ people; second, anxiety levels in a smaller revisionist state are so high that deviationist thinking is cruelly suppressed as opposed to the big status quo power where ‘comfort’ levels prevalent in society tolerate deviationist and innovative thinking

Full review here

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