Although millions were killed and many more million people migrated leaving home and hearth behind, there was much less bitterness and hatred in 1947 between communities than one sees in India today
Although 93 years old, journalist, author, diplomat, parliamentarian and activist Kuldip Nayar retains a lively interest in current affairs. While pouring his heart out in this conversation, he strikes an optimistic note. Democracy in India will survive despots and communal harmony will prevail, he is convinced. Excerpts from the conversation:
Kuldip ji, you have seen the Partition of the country. What do you remember of those days?
We lived in Sialkot, barely 14 kilometres from Jammu. So, when it became evident that Pakistan would come into being, we decided to cross over to this side. But even when the Radcliff award came, we were still in Sialkot.
Yes. Radcliff drew the border. I once met him in London and asked on what bassis he had drawn the border and his reply, now well known, was revealing. “I had nothing, no map, no scale. Mountbatten asked me take a tour and decide,” he said. Once he drew the line, someone told him that he had given Lahore to India and that Pakistan had got nothing. So, he re-drew the map and gave Lahore to Pakistan.
It does sound like a bit of a joke?
No, it was madness.
So, you were still in Sialkot in 1947 ?
I had recently completed my Law from Sialkot. My father was a prominent doctor and I planned to stay back at home and practice law. But then, taqseem announce ho gayi.
Riots started soon thereafter?
There were no riots in Sialkot as the Hindu-Muslim population was almost 50-50. We used to live peacefully but when taqseem was announced, then the riots started.
So, you left everything back in Sialkot ?
We had never ever dreamt that we would never return. Although I remember my mother saying while locking the door, “Beta aisa mujhe lagta hai ki hum wapas nahi aa rahe” (son, I don’t think we will be able to return ). I told her we most certainly would.
Sialkot is at a little distance away from the main road. Therefore when we reached the main road, it was a shock to see the sea of humanity flowing on both sides. “My God ! Thousands of people.” The sea of people was moving in both directions.
Were you alone or with your family members ?
I was alone. On August 12 our father called us, his three sons, and asked what we had planned. I declared that I would stay back in Sialkot. But my father agreed with my brothers when they said that I would be thrown out and dispossessed in no time. ‘No one would let you stay here’, they said.
What did you see while crossing over ?
In Sialkot, there were no riots. Up to Samrewal, there was no one. But there onwards, we did find scattered corpses. I particularly remember when our small group came across a similar group wearily dragging themselves from the opposite direction. We just stopped and stared at each other. We kept looking at each other. “Wo bhi lute pade thhe, hum bhi (they were homeless and so were we).”
It must have been awful, going through a partition in which both Hindus and Muslims suffered …
My aunt lived in Daryaganj. I would visit the Jama Masjid every day and have kebabs. An old man there once day asked me where I worked. I said I was looking for work. He enquired after my education and said he could provide information about a job. A newspaper, Anjaam, he said was looking for a Hindu. He took me there. The owner gave me a PTI copy to translate into Urdu and having satisfied himself, offered me the job and Rs 100 per month. When I handed over my first salary to my mother, she said it was a handsome salary.
So, that’s how you became a journalist?
Hasrat Mohani Sahab, a shayar, used to stay there. When we met, I recited a sher:
Nahi aati to yaad unki, mahino tak nahi aati;
Magar jab yaad aate hain to aksar yaad aate hain.
He asked me, “Udhar se to lagte ho, par kidhar se?”
Sialkot se, I said.
Iqbal is also from there, he said.
Iqbal, Faiz both were from Sialkot. It was Mohani Sahab who told me that Urdu would lose its importance in Hindustan and I should take up English journalism.
What do you recall of the Hindu-Muslim divide that we see? Did you also feel the rising hatred between communities?
Students at the Sialkot Law College would eat together. The kitchens unfortunately were separate and Hindu Kitchen and Muslim Kitchen had come into being but we would eat together, both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
In the house we lived in, there was a grave in the garden. It was known as the grave of some Muslim Pir (saint) and my mother’s instruction was that we should light a lamp there every Friday night. We would all assemble there and partake of sweets.
I never paid much attention to this ritual. But when I was jailed during the Emergency, a Pir Sahab appeared in a dream and told me I would be free next Friday. I was indeed woken up on Friday morning and the Jailor informed that my release order had arrived.
Did you ever anticipate that today’s Hindustan would start resembling Pakistan?
Never. We actually believed that there would be a soft border between the two countries and people would come and go as and when they pleased. BJP did not exist and while there was a lot of anti-Pakistan feeling, it wasn’t really anti-Muslim. When my father learnt from newspaper reports that the Commissioner (Chief Secretary) at Sialkot, Fida Hussain Sahab was visiting Delhi, he sought an appointment. My father had treated him for several years and when they met, my father said he wanted to live and practice in Sialkot. But Fida Hussain bluntly told my father that Pakistan would not allow any non-Muslim to live there.
How do you see the plight of Muslims in India today?
The 18 and odd crore Muslims living in this country have no say in anything. They have no representative in the government, marginal representation in the public sector and even less in the private sector. They live in slums and stay with other Muslims so that they don’t get killed. It is true that there is not as much violence today as during the Partition but Muslims still have no say here.
So, Muslims are being treated as second class citizens?
They have accepted it now. They have accepted that they have to bear the Cross for the creation of Pakistan. The population is divided. In Vasant Vihar, there are just a few Muslims. And they don’t feel safe.
Jinnah used to tell Muslims that if they stayed in India, they would be treated as second class citizens. Is it happening today?
He used to say that to appeal to people to come to Pakistan. Otherwise, he used to talk about development, progress and even minority rights.
Jinnah had once come to our Law College in 1946. He was saying the same things like Hindus and Muslims are different ‘kaums’ and there had to be two nations.
I asked him, after Pakistan’s creation, what would be Pakistan’s stand if India were to fight a war with a third country? He said, “Our soldiers will fight by your side. The blood will flow together and we will drive out the enemy.”
Much later I once narrated this to Lal Bahadur Shashtri when I worked with him. He said, “When the Chinese attacked us in 1962, if they had come to fight with us and, if then, they would have asked for Kashmir, saying ‘no’ would have been very difficult!”
How do you feel about today’s India?
Gandhi’s, Nehru’s or Maulana Azad’s idea of India was such that everyone would live together, all religions would be respected, etc. I remember at a prayer meeting someone said, “Bapu, we don’t want to hear ‘Pakistan’ every day.” Bapu said then there would be no prayer meeting. For three days, the meetings didn’t take place. Then the man apologised and the meetings resumed.
Do you see a ray of hope?
Yes, I do. In India, I believe, neither the Hindus nor the Muslims will ever have absolute control over the land. Democracy will survive in India. Remember, Mrs Gandhi had imposed a state of Emergency. But people threw her out of power.
(Kuldip Nayar, veteran journalist, columnist, activist and former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom was also Information Officer to the late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri)