In 1986, a much awaited and planned wedding of a friend was postponed because his grandfather couldn’t get an Indian visa in time. Where was his grandfather coming from we wondered? And wasn’t his grandfather the elderly gentleman who often came visiting from Dehradun? No, we were informed that was the grandfather’s brother but grandfather himself was coming from Pakistan. Which to be frank, took us by surprise.
In North India, especially among Hindu Punjabis and Sikhs, we’ve grown up with the stories of how our parents, grandparents and sometimes even their parents had to flee with what little they could gather and run with. How their homes, land, villages, towns held through generations had overnight morphed into what was to be now Pakistan.
Some with small bundles, others with gold coins stitched into their turbans or hidden in a baby’s clothing – fled, leaving the rest behind. In the chaos and the fires, people lost beloved members of the family, womenfolk to kidnappings, rape and sometimes killed by one’s own to escape shame and stigma. Several thousand were slaughtered on the trains and never managed to reach the safety of the arms waiting to hold them on the other side or, an unknown refugee camp teeming with the shattered and the displaced.
One of greatest speeches of the 20th century delivered by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru was on the eve of India’s independence. Tryst with Destiny was poignant, brave, full of a hope to a people that had won their Independence after a largely non-violent struggle but followed by the horrific bloodbath of Partition that killed more than a million and displaced 15 million.
That landmark oratory transfixed people and those who heard it still find it difficult to explain and describe that surreal moment when freedom became a reality after nearly 1000 years of subjugation. Not only the yoke of British colonization but subjugation under one tyrannical invader after the next.
The mind couldn’t wrap itself around the idea, I’m told. But the business of getting on with life in a newly, free country was of utmost importance.
In the early days of Partition, there were often frequent references to those who were left behind. Some stayed by choice. Some didn’t have the means. Some to protect land and hearth. Some who didn’t quite understand the import of the happenings around them and held the belief that this madness was but temporary and like all riots of the past, things would return to normal and everybody would come back. Others because they chose not to abandon an elderly person who couldn’t have survived the dangerous and violent journey and in the bargain endangered the chances of the others. As was the case of Grandfather who was then a young, strong, recent widower in his 30s, having handed over his two baby boys to a brother. With the intention, of course, to cross over – later.
So, were the words of the new Prime Minister a balm to his unimaginable wounds? This man who opted to stay behind for his beloved mother in the ashes & dust of what was once a flourishing life. Did these words give him hope that India understood his compulsions and would wait for him?
“We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, & we shall be sharers in their good (or) ill fortune alike”.
Around the same time, MA Jinnah did say – “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State”
That sigh of relief, however, was shortlived, because the 2nd Prime Minister of Pakistan, Khawaja Nizamuddin stated- “I do not agree that religion is a private affair of the individual nor do I agree that in an Islamic state every citizen has identical rights, no matter what his caste faith or creed be”.
As expected, in 1956, Pakistan became the Islamic Republic. The Muslim, who decided to cross borders post-Independence, took it for granted that the Land of The Pure awaited him. Pakistan, after all, is the only country to have been created in the name of Islam for the Indian Muslim.
At this time the ‘hostage theory’ had been espoused. According to this theory, the Hindu minority in Pakistan was to be given a fair deal in order to ensure the protection of the Muslim minority in India.
Nonetheless, the two countries chose distinct and different paths. One ancient, imperfect, embracing & recovering from a recent amputation. The other new and petulant, eager to cast off old associations and sift in the sands of the Middle East for some connection that could tie them to a history more to their liking.
Our Minorities grew in numbers and rose to succeed in politics, the armed forces, the judiciary, business, the media, the film industry, sports, art, literature, music. Whereas theirs simply, slowly vaporized or were done to death.
This was the time, Grandfather attempted to return. His mother had long passed and he had taken a new wife and had two daughters with her. What was left unsaid, as if she was of the same faith? Regardless, India turned him and his family away.
Since India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention it refuses to recognize the Pakistani Hindu Migrant as refugees & is not bound to offer them citizenship.
This has been said before and must be repeated again and again.
13 countries have Christianity as the state religion. 26 countries have Islam as the state religion, including Pakistan which was specially carved out for the Indian Muslim. 2 countries have Buddhism as their state religion. The State of Israel is the Promised Land for the Jewish people who have a Right to Return no matter where they come from. And there is not one country that has Hinduism as a state religion despite 988 million.
It is said nearly 5000 Hindus leave Pakistan for India every year.
Some rot in refugees’ camps, as they are doing now in Delhi.
Some enter surreptitiously and lie low in the deserts of Rajasthan & Saurashtra. Many leave Bangladesh to escape religious persecution.
It is time a distinction is made between one illegal immigrant and the other. Between one refugee and the next. The Hindu is persecuted, suffers the violence of an unimaginable kind, can be put to death because of his faith in our two neighbouring countries. A man and his family of this religious denomination cannot be heartlessly sent back to a burning ship from which he jumped off, risking his life, swimming to a shore expecting safety and succour. Only to be turned back by Secular India, forgetting her Eternal Tradition, her Eternal Way, beyond human history to which this Hindu is connected.
Grandfather did finally arrive for what was to be a brief visit. A frail man in a suit which had definitely seen better days, clutching his drink while family and old friends gathered around him. With the boisterous Sangeet in the background and the dholki keeping beat, young boys and girls were introduced to the broken branch of the family tree. Not quite here. Not quite there. Fallen between the cracks…
Published in OpIndia.