Thursday, December 25, 2008

Two Muslim views on Partition

From my interaction with Muslims from all over the subcontinent, there are two primary viewpoints that I can distinguish when it comes to Partition, that watershed event in the subcontinent's history in the last century.

The first one sees Partition as a painful but glorious event, whereby a homeland was created for Muslims where Islamic culture of Mughal and other origins could flourish, where Muslims could keep their customs and traditions alive, free from being submerged and assimilated into the multitudinous multi-religious but Hindu-majority mainstream that was India. This view also holds that if Partition had not happened, Muslims would have been constantly persecuted in India by the majority Hindus. And in support, people holding this viewpoint point to the regular riots and tension between the two communities in India, and point to how the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh keeps the Muslims in these countries safe from such trouble.

The other view is that Partition was a colossal mistake. Instead of a united Muslim polity in the subcontinent, it divided the Muslims across three states that are pitted against each other. This view holds that this was a grand strategy of the enemies of Islam to keep the religion weak in India and prevent it from ever taking control of the subcontinent again. The event also forever restricted Muslim areas to be those of the new states, and condemned the Muslims who chose to stay behind to a minority existence. They point to numbers where instead of a 500-million-strong (500 million = 50 crores) united Muslim population that would have formed 1/3 the population of a united India and would have had the shared power with the Hindus to decide Indian destiny, what you have today are 3 divided populations, spending billions of dollars in fighting their neighboring states. Instead of a united shining India that would have been the envy of the world, given its rich cultural heritage, its land rich with natural gifts, with enough arable land and food aplenty to feed everyone, Partition left a legacy of squander and death and sadness. A subcontinent this rich, with people so sweet, civilized and cultured to each other in normal times, would have made unbounded progress to quickly take its place among the leaders of the world. With a diverse population, with strong and friendly links with the Islamic world, while being fully confident and proud of its millenia-old heritage embodied in the Hindu, Buddhist and other populations, the country would have been a magical place, to rival the United States in terms of diversity and equality and justice. And Partition, in this view, destroyed all that. That the India that remains aims to achieve just such a vision is small comfort to people who hold this view, typically progressive urban Muslims in India.

Both views to me, are fascinating. Has Pakistan achieved the dream of a just, equitable, loving Islamic land? I hope Pakistanis can comment on this. Would India united have achieved the vision laid out by the latter view? It's something to wonder about.

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