History’s bitter divide

British-sowed enmity still inflames Indians and Pakistanis, who, ironically, are warm towards the coloniser.

Written by Alizay Jaffer | Updated: October 24, 2016 1:04 pm
india pakistan, british raj, indo pak, india pakistan history, indo pak history, partition, india pakistan partiton It’s been almost 70 years. The lines of these divisions run far too deep.

From where I stand, this looks like an unusual story. Not so long ago, in the mid-18th century, Mir Jafar, commander-in-chief of the nawab of Bengal, conspired with the British to overthrow the nawab. The British were far-sighted thinkers. If there was one group that required their help to change the status quo, there must be more. And there were.

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She didn’t seem selfish, Great Britannia. If she took our raw materials and labour, she gave us much in return. We learnt English, benefited from improved communications and the mighty railways; ultimately, we had systems in place for the elixir the world calls “democracy”. For all the exploitation, there was a reward. After all, we were the star child, the feather in Britain’s colonial cap.

The British weren’t the first empire to rule India. When the British arrived, they were met by an ageing, flailing Mughal empire, crumbling under the weight of its own extravagance. The Mughals had ruled India for almost four centuries. The empire was cruel, as empires often are — but the empire was cruel to Muslims and Hindus alike. The British were quick to notice though that an empire set up by people of a particular faith, Islam, that happened to be in a minority, ruled over a majority, Hindus, for centuries. They were equally quick to point this out.

The seed was sown. Indians, instead of seeing the ruling power as a common enemy, began seeing enemies in each other. Muslims and Hindus, who’d shared the pain of being subjects of insensitive rulers, had never viewed each other with as much disdain as they began doing under the British. We could never get rid of the influence of “Divide and Rule”. Today, it’s been almost 70 years that the British left us — but our hatred is as alive, if not more. Why?

On June 24, 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU), the political and economic entity that about 28 European countries willingly agreed to be part of. Britain had been part of this since 1973 — a mere 43 years between joining and leaving. But Britain must give the EU two years notice, a suitable amount of time to leave without creating havoc in its wake. Only 43 years in. And two years to get out.

In pre-Partition India, power shifted violently from a four century-old empire to the British, who then ruled for almost 200 years. After World War II, when Indian soldiers were reminded of their capabilities to fight, when the schism between Hindus and Muslims had carved itself into the Indian psyche, when “Divide and Rule” had taken tangible shape in the two-nation theory, the British decided it was time to leave. The star child was imploding, imperialism was fast losing its value and the giant’s proverbial belly was, perhaps, finally full.

When the time came for the British to leave India, we weren’t as fortunate as the EU. Our motherland, a plethora of faiths, languages, landscapes, climates and cuisines, bound together under one common identity — India — was given short notice. Our motherland became so distinctly yours and mine.

In early 1947, the British announced they’d be out by 1948. Britain’s economy had suffered major losses and India was becoming a force they couldn’t control. The British didn’t just have to leave though. They had to carve out a separate country first. Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who’d never travelled east of Paris, was assigned the mammoth task. News of Hindu-majority states going to India and Muslim-majority states going to Pakistan began creating so much unrest, the handover was pushed to August, 1947. To exacerbate the situation, British troops started returning home. With fewer troops to manage unrest, the ensuing turmoil only echoed the sentiments of all those devastated at being divided.

Pakistan was born. Neighbours who’d once laughed together over tea, friends who broke common bread, colleagues who shared ideas, children who played together, relationships, love, anger, hope, stories of joy and sorrow, all silenced at the stroke of midnight. The great division wasn’t restricted to provinces and villages. It extended itself to people’s homes, their minds — their hearts.

It’s been almost 70 years. The lines of these divisions run far too deep.

The generations before us who left homes or witnessed the blood of innocents spilled could justify their bitterness. However, the bitterness that’s been passed on from generation to generation translates to blind hate. That kind of hate removes the possibility of analysis, promotes rigid biases, gives birth to radical elements in any society.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as much a victim of this Stockholm Syndrome towards the British as the next person. But I do wonder why we are capable of loving, or tolerating, our former colonisers, while we have no patience for one another. Our lack of patience only allows the establishment to skew our thinking further and shift the focus from issues that genuinely demand attention — clean water, sanitation, security, housing.

There is a plea here, from me and many like me, who are baffled by the disdain that flows so freely in people’s hearts on either side. The plea is not to shift your hate. The plea is simply to question it.

The writer is a Pakistani development professional and blogger.