Lahore still lives in the Partition Moment

Seventy years on, Punjabis on both sides of the Radcliffe Line continue to use words like ‘batwara’ or ‘vand’, the word for division, which overtook the euphoria of ‘independence’ and ‘azaadi’

Written by Yaqoob Khan Bangash | Updated: June 14, 2017 9:08 am
partition, india pakistan, indo pak relations, indo pak partition, lahore, india news, indian express news While a lot of water has flowed down the Ravi and in the Yamuna since those dramatic days in 1947 and the generation of Indians and Pakistanis from that era is fading, the scars and memories remain.

“Why do you guys use the word ‘partition’ instead of ‘independence’?” a friend once accosted me. For someone who uses the words interchangeably, I hadn’t dwelt on this much. He was right, I realised. People in Punjab, on both sides of the Radcliffe Line, commonly use words like ‘partition,’ ‘batwara,’ or ‘vand’ (the same word in Urdu and Punjabi respectively). It is only when one moves beyond the Radcliffe line that words like ‘independence’ or ‘azaadi’ emerge.

This difference, of course, is because Punjab and Bengal were the only provinces that were partitioned during the Transfer of Power in 1947. While Bengal also suffered large-scale violence, the extent of the holocaust in the Punjab was dramatic, as were its lasting effects. For most people in these provinces, the ‘partition moment’ overtook the euphoria of independence.

After all, what would independence mean to a person who has lost her home, seen the massacre of loved ones, and barely made it to an alien land? The joy of independence must be something different for her.

Over 10 million people crossed the Radcliffe line after it was drawn that Indian summer 70 years ago; nearly a million people died, or were injured and numerous displaced. While the bulk of the population movement was between the two wings of the Punjab and Bengal, there were others too who migrated to the other side. The big difference, of course, was that the migrations from other provinces, say from the erstwhile United Provinces, were ideological in nature. For them, Pakistan was the land of “milk and honey.”

In Punjab, though, most people—Hindu, Muslims and Sikhs – didn’t want to leave the land of their ancestors. There are scores of stories of people giving their house keys to their neighbours, saying they would be back once the violence had abated. But for them the moment of return never came. For them, partition has never really ended.

In Pakistan, the city which never really recovered from partition, is the city I was born and raised in—Lahore. I sometimes wondered why place names were such a casualty in other parts of the subcontinent. Ever tried finding Curzon Road in New Delhi or Elphinstone Road in Karachi? One would have to go round and round in circles till someone old enough to remember took pity on you. In Lahore, on the other hand, try looking for Faisal Chowk or Shahrah-e-Bin Badees and you’re bound to get a quizzical look in return. Charing Cross or Empress Road? Here are exact directions !

I had thought that this was because Lahoris took their history very seriously. But what then prevented Karachities or Delhities from taking theirs? Perhaps another explanation is due, which is that these names persist in Lahore because Lahore never really recovered from its partition moment. Latching on to old place and road names is a reminder of the once envious position the city once had, of being the heart of the subcontinent.

Lahore in 1947 was certainly a city proud of its multi-religious and cultural heritage. It had a large number of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, was the hub of excellent educational institutions, including undivided India’s fourth largest University – the Panjab University. Its writers and poets were world famous and its radio and film stars were already legendary.

But in 1947 it lost everything. Over half the city’s population left, and Lahore never recovered from its loss. Whereas Sikhs and Hindus from Lahore supplanted the exodus of the Muslim elite in Delhi, and UP Muslims replaced the exiting Hindus in Karachi, in Lahore no such replacement took place. The artisan classes from East Punjab took the place of Lahore’s Hindu and Sikh elite, and while they assimilated easily, they couldn’t recreate that unique mix which gave Lahore its pre-eminent position in undivided India.

A gaping hole was left in the heart of Lahore. Names like Krishan Nagar, Lakshmi Chowk, Qila Gujjar Singh, etc., are still cherished as reminders of the past the city once thrived in. In a way, the denuded Lahore stands as the lasting, and perhaps haunting, memory of the partition it never moved beyond.

In a few weeks, both India and Pakistan will celebrate 70 years of their existence. Two brand new nations were born and continue to be raised. While a lot of water has flowed down the Ravi and in the Yamuna since those dramatic days in 1947 and the generation of Indians and Pakistanis from that era is fading, the scars and memories remain.

Only Lahore, with its myriad existential crises, neighbourhood problems, and a contested identity remains in that partition moment. Our ancestors say in Punjabi, “Jise Lahore nai vekhya, o jamya nahi…” The person who hasn’t seen Lahore may as well not have been born. But that isn’t true anymore. Lahore remains incapable of overcoming the body blow that was dealt to it in the fires that ravaged the city, both physically and in the mind. Sometimes I wonder how many more decades it will take.

Yaqoob Bangash teaches history at IT University in Lahore and is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55

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  1. M
    Mateen Saeed
    Jun 15, 2017 at 11:24 pm
    There was never any division of India, indeed Punjab and Bengal, two nations were divided. If any Indian nation had actually exited, the Sub continent would have divided into Muslim and Hindu India, like Korea, into North India and South India. But this never happened, Punjabies Muslim immediately said good bye to their so-called Indian iden y, but their Punjabi iden y is still intact. Likewise Bengalies too said goodbye to Indian iden y and are happy with their Bangladesh. Punjabi heroes like Bhagat Singh, and great Philanthropists like Sir Ganga Ram still live in hearts of Punjabi Muslims.
    Reply
    1. S
      Sreekant Havanur
      Jun 15, 2017 at 12:55 pm
      Had not been par ion unified India would have developed leaps n bounds. Now both countries r spending on defence. This money could have bene ed poor. Further only humanity can bind people.. Not religion or caste.
      Reply
      1. M
        Mohammad Dar
        Jun 15, 2017 at 3:13 am
        A building can not stands without its roots, nor can cities and nations, without the original foundations, La is La and beautiful, because of its roots, the history, good or bad, but original, and resident of La do not seek , their city to imitate, hindu ugly miss piggy, with a hindu immoral and unnatural looks and way of life, labeled as modern, to justify , a hindism crime against the city of La , and her, noble history of existence.
        Reply
        1. S
          sk
          Jun 15, 2017 at 12:03 pm
          Just for your information that La is named after son of hindu Lord Ram, it's essential roots are not Islamic. Check your facts
          Reply
        2. S
          sk
          Jun 14, 2017 at 8:14 pm
          It is well known that Germans apologised for holocaust, anese regretted repression in Korea, It is surprising that despite after 70 years, Muslims of Indian subcontinent do not regret this betrayal called the par ion-the so called right of Muslims of subcontinent
          Reply
          1. M
            Mohammad Dar
            Jun 15, 2017 at 3:16 am
            Because they did not feel to be part of hind crime of hinduism racism by faith, and be counted as human of civility, One has to be a hog of hinduism racism, in human form, to be happy with hinduism injustice of hindrance to truth hinduism racism, as part of his faith and a nation.
            Reply
          2. L
            Lovely
            Jun 14, 2017 at 8:11 pm
            Lah was a jewel of north India. Cultural and political capital of India.At that Congress could not match the strenght of Muslim League. In 1947 the popuation of Lah was Sikh 1 lac, Hindus 5 lacs and Muslims 6 lacs. Every Hindu and Sikh resident of La at that thought La may be divided but Radcliff had another idea. Partsion of India was itself a biggest tragedy and La going to Phakistan was even more bigger tragic . It was an avoidable tragedy. Every refugee who came from Phakistan made a good fortune in all fields by hard work( both women and men ) .The courage and determination Punjjabis Sindis can not be matched. But scares will remain forever even though refugees of 1947 are very few are living .
            Reply
            1. M
              mimi sur
              Jun 14, 2017 at 6:03 pm
              stanis get what they deserve . We Hindus still bear the curse of Islam . Period . Muslims then and now contribute nothing to this world or that matter India except Radicalism and Extremism .
              Reply
              1. M
                Mohammad Dar
                Jun 15, 2017 at 3:19 am
                Typical hog of hinduism immorality, speaking as usual, his hindu stupid head stuck in his hindu stinky hind, never to make any sense, to the human beings.
                Reply
              2. I
                INDIENKENENR
                Jun 14, 2017 at 5:33 pm
                You get what you deserve. Hindu Indians got Islam curse on them from their neglect of self-defense around the time Islam invasions took a start. Muslim Indians, of course, lost both the worlds- NA MILA KHUDA, NA HUYA VI SANAM. stan is like a satellite around India Earth. The star will eventually burn out and fall bak to its original source. It is much like in a drama. stan is the villain of piece. India is naturally the hero, and so for ages that defy reckoning. Good, La should stay half dead, half alive to serve as a constant reminder of Indians gone berserk with Islam, an ending up harming themselves. For example, today, UNO SC has five Veto Powers lording it over the rest world. Imagine if India had kept its unity. It would be a different world then- for sure. Fools never learn. They need to be defeated on battlefield in crush the cobra head way.
                Reply
                1. E
                  Employ Ment
                  Jun 14, 2017 at 4:41 pm
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