Shattering Myths about Partition

Voice of Partition LogoMany myths about ‘Independence’ or partition were shattered. I had the honor of being part of a wonderful project Voices of Partition’ (VoP) – a project of Theatre Wallay (TW) funded and supported by many institutions and individuals including US Embassy in Islamabad, USEFP, Fulbright Commission, State Department (USA), and many individuals who contributed in cash or kind. The details of the project can be seen on TW website. Here I will give you a brief overview.
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Scene from the Play – People migrating to unknown land

VoP team went out to cities and villages in search of people who had migrated from India to Pakistan at the time of Partition of India (1947), and recorded their interviews. We interviewed nearly 100 persons – men and women from various backgrounds now in their 70s and 80s. Quite a few of them passed away since we interviewed them. (We had no means to record stories of people who had migrated from Pakistan to India.)

Their true stories were, then, turned into a play, and performed in Islamabad, Lahore, New York, Boston, and Washington DC. In Pakistan, it was performed in Urdu, while in USA it was performed in English.
It was an intense experience for me. Being a resident of Kohat, Pakhtoonkhwa, I (or my family) was not much affected by partition. Yet I could not remain aloof to partition as it was there all over my textbooks. Additionally, most of my schooling was done in Punjab, and stories of Partition were everywhere around me.
As we progressed with our project, it turned out that all the stories written in our textbooks were just myths. The real stories told by these old men and women shattered those  myths, and changed our perception of the partition completely. It helped break the stereotypes like:
  1. Muslims and Hindus were always at each others’ throat. We interviewed about 100 people, and almost all of them started their stories by narrating that they enjoyed good relations with their Hindu/Sikh neighbors. In our textbooks, this peaceful co-existence is never mentioned. They did mention some tensions occasionally, but the situation would normalize within days, and sometimes it remained confined to a two families, and did not affect the whole community. This happens almost everywhere – wherever two communities live together. No matter the communities are divided on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or any other.
  2. The Muslims of India were dying to migrate to Pakistan. From each story, it is very clear that nobody wanted to leave the land where they were born and raised. They had strong bond with those areas, and they wanted to stay, but the riots, arson, looting, and killings, forced them to leave. So many of them originally planned to go back to their ancestral towns/villages after the situation normalized. But international borders were drawn, and return was made impossible. Some old men and women, during these interviews, recalled their ancestral villages as their ‘watan’. Most of them had not come to terms with their new homeland.
  3. People living in same villages turned against each other. During riots, people of different faiths living in the same villages/communities did not attack one another.  In fact, they tried their best to protect their neighbors irrespective of their faith. Muslim migrants told us of stories of how their Hindu/Sikh neighbors tried to protect them from other Hindus/Sikhs, and similarly Muslims on this side of the border told us stories of how they tried to protect their Hindu neighbors when other Muslims wanted to kill them. The attackers always came from other often far off places, and killed people whom they did not know personally.
These lessons are very important for those struggling to promote peace, tolerance, and co-existence. Both the states – India and Pakistan – need to learn lessons from this. They are  spending billions of dollars on weapons, and both of them have millions of people living below poverty line.
We, Pakistanis, need to pay more attention. We allowed this hate mongering to go on unchecked (rather actively facilitated it). We refused to allow and facilitate equitable development of the entire nation. Hence, we suffered another Partition in 1971,and that was based on ethnicity and language, not religion.
We have lost another 70,000 lives in past 15 years. We are not safe; our children are not safe in schools and universities where we teach them to hate their neighbors. We need to wake up, and put an end to teaching hatred. Truth is the only way to salvage ourselves, our way of life, our culture, and our centuries old civilization.

One thought on “Shattering Myths about Partition

  1. Pingback: Shattering Myths about Partition | Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network

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