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‘Independence Marred by Tragedies of India’s Partition’: Tariq Ali

  • A refugee train on its way to Punjab, Pakistan.

    A refugee train on its way to Punjab, Pakistan. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Published 15 August 2017

The ideals of independence, British-Pakistani writer Tariq Ali argues, have not been fulfilled.

Tariq Ali flips back 70 years in his mind, recounting his earliest memories of Partition.

“Lahore was a vibrant, cosmopolitan city…(till) it was ethnically cleansed,” the British-Pakistani writer and critic recalls, having been just three years old when the Indian subcontinent for the first time, split into two separate nations: India and Pakistan.

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The “subcontinental frenzy”, as he called it, seven decades later, still probes the question: have the ideals of independence been fulfilled for either nation?

“It’s a long story and it’s an old story,” the public intellectual begins on teleSUR’s “The World Today With Tariq Ali”.

Watch: The World Today With Tariq Ali - The Partition Of India: 70 Years After

Indeed, Partition was the direct outcome of 159 years of British colonial rule, which “exacerbated divisions among ethnic and religious lines”, he presses.

And while some may argue that Partition would have been inevitable, Ali asks to the contrary, how did these various groups — Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and so on — “more or less live in peace” for centuries?

For while Pakistan was created as a Muslim-majority state, its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was staunchly secular. Jinnah, however, did have concerns that Muslims in India would continue to be repressed by a majority that was opposed to giving the group concessions.

“The Hindus worship the cow, we eat it,” was Jinnah’s tongue-in-cheek reply when a British journalist asked why he was pushing for the creation of Pakistan.

But while leaders from the Indian National Congress, along with the likes of Jinnah and others from the Muslim League, reached an agreement for the creation of Pakistan in 1947 soon after winning independence from the British, no one, says Ali, could have “predicted the slaughters and massacres”.

For Partition saw some 2 million people killed — and those doing the killings were the citizens of the country that had lived in relative harmony for centuries: Muslims versus Hindus, Sikhs versus Muslims.

An aged and abandoned Muslim couple and their grand children sitting by the roadside on the arduous journey of Partition. "The old man is dying of exhaustion. The caravan has gone on," wrote Bourke-White, the photographer. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“It always happens when partitions take place, when people turn on each other,” says Ali. “All sides did it.”

To this day, the British-Pakistani writer argues, celebrations of independence are marred by the tragedies that have taken place.

Ali also recounts how, from early on, while Pakistan was created as a Muslim-majority state, India’s own supposed secularism never stood a chance.

The occupation of Kashmir — which was ordained under the leadership of both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India — as well as the massacres of Muslims in Hyderabad soon after Partition, placed the newly-separated India far from ideals of equality under secularism, argues Ali.

Today, India is run by Narendra Modi, “an open killer of Muslims”, as Ali describes him, who continue the legacy of right-wing Hindutva politics, under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that continue to repress Muslims, so-called lower-caste Hindus, Christians and other minorities.

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In Pakistan, so too continues the repression of minorities as well, those marked outside the fold of the country’s Sunni-majority Muslims. This repression, in the seventies, created the state of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, in 1971 after a bitter war, where it split from what was then West Pakistan.

“The ideals of independence, as embodied in both the Indian political class, the Congress party and the Muslim League in Pakistan, were not really fulfilled,” closes Ali.

“So the legacies of Partition have not been particularly beneficial for all parts of India, and in all three countries.”

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