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Martyrs’ Days: Memorializing 13 July 1931 in Kashmir: Mridu Rai

July 13, 2011

Guest post by Mridu Rai

It is widely believed that the Kashmir conflict has its roots in the Partition of India in August 1947. This view perpetuates the understanding of the conflict as one between India and Pakistan. However, recognising that the roots of the conflict lie in an earlier history – indeed, that there was a history before August 1947 – changes our understanding of the ‘intractable’ conflict in Kashmir. This guest post by MRIDU RAI, author of the book, Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir (2004), discusses the salience of the events in Srinagar on this day, exactly 80 years ago.

While "separatists" were placed under house arrest to prevent commemorative mass gatherings, policemen took part in Kashmir Martyrs' Day ceremonies at the Martyrs' graveyard in Srinagar, July 13, 2011. Photo credit: Reuters

*

In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,
We lit the light of hope, and it was not extinguished…
…We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river.
The vision became reality…Bondage became freedom.
And this we left to you as your heritage.
O generation of freedom remember us, the generation of the vision…

-Liam Mac Uistin

These lines of thankfulness for the sacrifices of generations of rebels who brought independence to Ireland in 1921 were written in an Irish poetic genre known as the aisling. The latter was devised in the eighteenth century as a way to express protest without drawing the heavy hand of Power’s censorship. In the typical aisling the personified nation appears as a vision to mourn the torments of the present and augur the approaching return of providence. Liam Mac Uistin’s poem evoked the solemn bequeathing of a legacy by those who envisioned freedom and struggled to achieve it to those generations, present and future, who were to enjoy its fruits. And at its heart was the invocation to remember. Such remembrance is not to be nostalgia; it is not to be a mere wistful reminiscing of the past. Instead, it is meant to serve as a powerful collective act of memorializing to galvanize a striding forward and a renovation of the past into the present and the future.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, ever since nationalism became the predominant ideological vehicle to counter colonial dominance in India, memory became apotheosized in its culture. Events, people, places, words, memory became symbolized. And memory became History; History, however, mapped out in specific ways. Memory-as-History had to perform new ideological work. In the service of nationalism, and national imagining, its labour was to secure, represent, and symbolize that which is always precariously on the verge of being lost. One such loss that needed to be captured and reversed was the oblivion that follows death. History and memory came to be mustered for the task of what Jules Michelet, the nineteenth century historian of the French Revolution, described as exhuming the dead:

… each death leaves behind a little good—its memory—and demands that we tend it…I have given to many of the dead the help that I will myself need. I have exhumed them for a second life…They now live among us…In this way is a family made, a common city [built in which dwell] the living and the dead.[1]

The purpose of exhumation was the powerful one of turning these deaths into sacrifices. Whether or not they themselves had seen it as such, the Historian, speaking on behalf of the anonymous dead, re-signified their deaths as the proffering of life for the Revolutionary dream and for the ‘imagined community’ it produced. The dead became martyrs and their sacrifice was to be commemorated ever after for a nation—a city in which the dead and the living commune with each other—to come into being.

In India, too, nationalism partook of these innovatory elements of Europe’s nationalisms. From the Munda ulgulan of 1900 to the massacre at Jallianwallah Bagh in 1919 and the many other fallen in anti-colonial protests, the anonymous dead were conscripted as the martyred foot soldiers of a nation-in-the-making. For Kashmiris, made double-subjects of the British empire in India and of the princely state the latter had installed under Dogra maharajas in 1846, nationalism’s work of forging a nation and giving it political articulation involved taking a double step. It had to overthrow the yoke both of Dogra thraldom and of colonial dominance. Their martyrs could not be the same as those of the Indian nation. And it was 13 July 1931, not the familiar markers on the Indian independence movement’s calendar, that gave Kashmiri nationalism its first sacrificial deaths for commemoration. 

Srinagar, 13 July 1931

Several historians have elected this date to mark the inauguration of the ‘freedom struggle’ of Kashmiris against Dogra rule. Neither the events of that day in Srinagar nor the death toll of twenty-two demonstrators and one policeman seem so outstanding as to command remembrance when compared to contemporaneous developments in British India.[2] But this date was not intended to serve the fashioning of the Indian nation. In Kashmir, the date’s emblematic importance drew from the fact that it was the first time a gathering of Kashmiri Muslims had openly challenged the Dogra maharaja and his government.

The portentous events of that day had followed upon rumours, spreading since mid-1931, about the maharaja’s officials mistreating Muslims and deliberately offering insults to Islam in Jammu. The report that elicited the most vehement reaction was about a Hindu police constable who had not only prevented a Muslim subordinate from saying his prayers, but had added to this insult the injury of throwing the latter’s copy of the Qur’an to the ground.  Later investigation found the account of this incident to have been exaggerated although not entirely without basis. However, it brought to a head a gathering discontent born out of a number of factors other than the purely religious among Muslims in the state and, by the time its reports reached Srinagar, it set the stage for the unprecedented occurrences of the following days. On June 25th, Abdul Qadir, identified by some as a Pathan and others as a Punjabi servant of a European vacationing in Kashmir, made an inflammatory speech at a meeting held in a Srinagar ‘mosque’[3] that condemned the Dogra maharaja and ‘incit[ed] his hearers to kill Hindus and burn their temples’. He was promptly arrested.  A general impression created by accounts of subsequent events was of an unprovoked attack led by Srinagar Muslims against hapless Hindus. However, contrary to later reconstructions of the events of the day, Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindus, shaken by the expression of such hostile sentiments as those of Qadir, had not been sitting by idly as unwitting victims of a carnage-about-to-happen either. They had been disseminating their own set of rumours to rally other co-religionists into action.  One such, spreading like wildfire—and indicating the fear felt by a ‘minority’ that had until then enjoyed security of power that they were in danger of possibly losing ground in the state to an increasingly vocal Muslim ‘majority’—was that the Dogra ruler was about to lift the state-wide prohibition on cow slaughter.[4] And were this to come about, it would have been no mean concession since the ban defined the identity of the state as one in which Hindu religious tradition enjoyed primacy. Thus, in the days preceding the fateful date of ‘matyrdom’, segments of both the Hindu and Muslim populations in Kashmir were raising their defences and the situation was moving inexorably towards a confrontation.

On July 13th, when Abdul Qadir was to be tried at the Central Jail in Srinagar, a crowd had attempted to enter the penitentiary to protest his prosecution.  Retaliating, the police fired into the gathering that then scattered and went on a ‘rampage’ in Srinagar city.  In Maharajgunj, a quarter of Srinagar inhabited predominantly by Kashmiri Pandits and Punjabi Hindu traders, ‘crowds of Mohammadan hooligans’ attacked shops, looted large quantities of goods and ‘committed indiscriminate assaults’. The British Resident in Kashmir had reported that ‘there had…recently [been] much discussion among Mohammadans [in Kashmir] about their grievances against the comparatively small Hindu community…which, as a result of a mistaken policy of many years standing, ha[d] been allowed to monopolize most of the appointments in the State’ (emphasis added). Yet, the Resident confessed that ‘no one [had] for a moment suspected than [sic] any danger was to be feared in the city of Srinagar’. Evidently taken by surprise by the overt ‘activism’ of the Kashmiri Muslims, the maharaja’s government devised makeshift and quick fix solutions.  Relying on the tested strategy of his predecessor, Maharaja Hari Singh ‘received a deputation of all the leading Muslims of the city’ with a view to removing their apprehensions. Meeting with the ruler, members of these eminent Muslims assured him of their ‘unfaltering loyalty’. However, as the Resident suggested, the greatest difficulty the maharaja would have to face would come, not from the small Kashmiri Muslim élite but, from the public disapproval of his policies freely expressed in British India and particularly in Punjab.[5]

The events of July 1931 had catapulted a number of new actors onto the political stage of Kashmir each seeking to capitalize on the momentum of Muslim restiveness unleashed through these incidents.  A younger generation of Muslim politicians led by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah and aiming at broad social bases of mobilization was pitted against the older and more socially exclusive, élite leadership of the Jama Masjid Mirwaiz and others.  These Kashmiris were joined in their competition for the leadership of Muslims in the valley, by two rival sets of interests from the Punjab represented by the Ahmediyas and the Ahrars.  By mid-August 1931, the Resident was already reporting on dissatisfaction among Kashmiri Muslims being fuelled by letters from Muslim organizations from outside the state urging them to keep up their agitation. Under such prompting, Kashmiri Muslims led by Sheikh Abdullah had refused to meet with the Maharaja on August 6th, 1931, aiming to ‘procrastinate’ until August 14th.[6] The latter date had been declared ‘Kashmir Day’ throughout ‘Muhammedan centres in British India’ by the Kashmir Committee formed only a week after the killings of July 13th and supported by large numbers of the valley’s Muslims long settled in the Punjab.

In the aftermath of July 13th, and viewing with trepidation the bleeding of political protest across their carefully demarcated and vigilantly policed borders between the Punjab and the Dogra state, the British colonial government of India exercised its prerogative as paramount power to appoint a commission, working under the direction of B. J. Glancy, to examine the grievances that had caused the disturbances. Its report of 1932 included a powerful indictment of the Kashmir durbar’s partisan functioning in favour of its Hindu subjects to the neglect of Muslims. Strikingly, the report had also invalidated the principle of ‘first peoples’ on the basis of which the Dogras and Pandits had re-imagined Kashmir as ‘originally’ Hindu. Glancy’s report provided a corrective to nearly a century of marginalizing the largest number of the Kashmir state’s subjects. Through its many recommendations, it re-inscribed Muslims into their history and region. And, perhaps unconsciously, it also redefined the contemporary territory of Kashmir — no matter what lay beneath its historical layers — as Muslim. From hereon, the challenge gathered a momentum that would end with stripping the legitimacy of the Dogra princes to rule over Kashmiris. Over the following decade, this newly ‘grounded’ assertiveness extended into a wider struggle for the fulfilment of a spectrum of economic and political demands that culminated in the unravelling of Dogra sovereignty itself in 1947.

Remembering Martyrs’ Day, 1947 to the Present

Days of commemoration are not themselves beyond History. Acts of remembrance are always intended to the serve the construction of the present, even as their legitimating meaningfulness is seen as extending into the limitless future. Whereas, 13 July 1931 was conspicuously memorialized ever since it was marked by death symbolized as sacrifice, until 1947 it had been annexed to the struggle against the Dogra monarchy. After 1947, it came to be marshalled for quite a different need in Kashmir; that of nation building.  Indeed History-as-Memory can be seen as a defining sign of the period extending from 1947 to the present, bookended by a freedom insufficiently achieved through its being made subservient to Indian nationalism, on the one hand, and a final break with India’s unmet democratic promises through militant rejection on the other.

Barely fifteen years after B.J. Glancy’s remedial steps had finally reinstated Kashmiri Muslims into their homeland, this recognition of their claims to Kashmir’s soil was overwhelmed by the assertion of Indian nationalism’s sole claim to the territory of the entirety of the subcontinent—that which remained after the carving out of Pakistan—from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Indeed, since independence in India, there has been a steady recycling and circulation of the rhetoric of vivisection derived from partition narratives, of memories of the bloodbath that accompanied that division, of hyperbolically expressed fears of another partition/balkanization and of a ‘total disintegration of India’. These have served to reinforce dramatically both the idea of the nation as geo-body and of its parts as ‘atoot ang’. And secessionist sentiments and movements in Tamil Nadu and the Northeast so soon after the Indian nation had allegedly come into its own, only aggravated this nationalist anxiety. In these circumstances, any arrant expression of regional pride was deemed suspect but especially so when emanating from a province whose inclusion in the union was contingent and codicillary. July 13th would continue to be celebrated but would have to be conceptually subordinated to 15th August (and in the Kashmir across the border to 14th August).

But within Kashmir, there was still the urgent need for a commemoration with salience for its people. This was especially so since in the minds of its people the accession of Kashmir to the Indian union was far from being a settled matter. After 1947, Sheikh Abdullah’s nation-building program rested on his economic reform program, ‘Naya Kashmir’, and the ideological construct of Kashmiriyat, a regional mirroring of Nehruvian secularism in India, that asserted that being Kashmiri was more important than being Hindu or Muslim. The National Conference now appropriated Martyrs’ Day, which had in any event come to be associated with the Sher-e-Kashmir since 1931, even more firmly as its special day. However the party also grew increasingly centralized and intolerant of internal dissent as the first euphoria of snatching freedom from the Dogras began to show, by the 1950s, signs of celebration fatigue. Indeed the more intense the challenges—both external and internal—to its hegemony grew, the greater reliance it placed on jubilation, ovation, commemoration and memorialisation of that day in July now long gone to bolster the legitimacy of its dominance. As one Kashmiri, Mohammad Ashraf, growing up in those decades recalls in his blog, “the memory we have from our school days is of the massive turnout and a colourful tribute paid to these martyrs on this day every year. Every locality would send its own procession. There used to be an official procession of smartly dressed policemen who would pay a formal tribute to the martyrs.”[7]

Yet national day celebrations are a poor substitute for effective governance. As the National Conference showed increasing signs of corruption and authoritarian overbearance, Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor, one time poet laureate of Abdullah’s brand of Kashmiriyat-informed nationalism, now delivered a powerful indictment of the redacted version of freedom that had become Kashmir’s lot. ‘…Poverty and starvation, Repression and lawlessness, It is with these happy blessings, That she has come to us’ he wrote. As time passed and the workings of human memory, in holding the past together, proved increasingly wanting, the commemorated date became a fertile ground for contest over what the past of subject and community meant. In any case, it has to be remembered that July 13th could not have universal appeal in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Dogra Jammu could not find much cause for exultation in that date and even in the valley the memory was tarnished for Kashmiri Pandits by recollections of the attacks on their community that was also part of that day’s happenings.

In 1975, the Indian centre headed by a particularly authoritarian Indira Gandhi had released a chastened Sheikh Abdullah from his long incarceration in jail, forcing the Delhi Accord on him and de-fanging the politics of independence for Kashmir he had championed on and off ever since the accession. And alongwith this capitulation and quiescence its celebration of Martyr’s Day became a more tempered affair. As Ashraf recalls for us, ‘the processions were continued on a grand scale till 1975 when there was a u-turn in the movement. The official tribute continued even after that date but on a smaller scale. The common people would go on their own to offer fateh to the martyrs as they were considered the pioneers who had in reality started the movement, which was still going on!’ Thus, as the National Conference became entirely the party of the status quo after 1975, there was also a clear disjuncture between what July 13th came to signify for the party and for the people. To the point that Sheikh Abdullah’s grave itself needed to be sequestered from the wrath of those of his people who hold him and his political successors as traitors. And more recently, with the National Conference-led state government’s even more tightened pact of convenience and dependence with Delhi, the official celebration has become a positively furtive affair. Last year, in the bloody summer of 2010, when the violence of Indian security forces had already begun reaping martyrs from among protestors armed only with stones, if at all—many of them so young they could not have been conscious of the nature of their ‘sacrifices’—the government had moved so far from its citizenry that it could mark this chief day of popular remembrance only through anti-popular seclusive celebration. Referring one last time to Mohammad Ashraf, he writes that on that Martyrs’ Day last year, the ‘leaders did not even stay for the customary speech. They very quickly laid wreaths and showered flower petals on the graves…The entire area had been turned into a virtual prison…The entire city had been put under curfew…[and] For the first time common Kashmiris were prevented from offering fateh on the Mazar-i-Shuda [Martyrs’ Graveyard]’.

This year, it looks like it is going to be more of the same. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the Hurriyat conference, had announced last Friday, his intention of leading a peaceful procession from the Jama Masjid to the Martyrs’ graveyard on July 13th in commemoration of the day and as a renewal of the pledge to continue the struggle for the liberation of Kashmir. However, a day before Martyrs’ Day, on July 12th, the state government has placed him and other pro-azadi leaders under house arrest. Will this be yet another year of a national celebration cloistered from the attendance of the nation? Will it be another secretive marking by so-called popular leaders of government too afraid to afford any communion with their people?

Whereas in the decades immediately following 1947, July 13th could still be remembered with buoyancy and hope, after 1989 it had become the subject of elegy. As optimism yielded to a pervading loss, as thousands of Kashmiris filled the hundreds of martyrs’ graveyards dug up in a frenzy to the bury the mounting numbers of the dead, the symbolism of grief took over and pathologized memory. There were few more eloquent voices to emerge from the turmoil of the 1990s than that of Agha Shahid Ali. His laments for the dead became the collective expression of Kashmiri grief. Encoding a powerful challenge to oppression within his verses, History and Memory were sundered from each other. Memory became the weapon of the dominated to confront History, the instrument of the dominant.

And after 1990, no memory and memorialisation of Kashmir’s past could properly ignore a gaping hole in its society. As the valley was vacated of its most important minority of the Kashmiri Pandits, the memory of Martryrs’ Day came to be partitioned. One particularly acerbic denunciation of the remembrance of that date pitched very recently from the ranks of Roots in Kashmir, a radical organization with Hindu-supremacist links that claims to represent Pandits in exile, even seeks to recuperate for glorification the unrepresentative monarchy that had been resisted in 1931. It characterizes Maharaja Hari Singh as a ‘patriot’ and the offending Abdul Qadir as an accomplice in a British conspiracy to dislodge him.[8] Other Pandit expressions of loss and exile have been less polemically delivered and less compromised in their stand on a common future in Kashmir.[9] They are for that reason also more poignant. In these instances, the memories of individual Pandits returned continually to retrieve a form of historical remembrance that located and supported communities of marginalized victims. And their striving found an echoing response in the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali; a lyrical recalling of the departures in which pointed divisions were sought to be dissolved in a narrative of shared suffering, extending history into the memories of those who were excluded.

Again I’ve returned to this country
where a minaret has been entombed
…each house buried or empty
Empty? Because so many fled, ran away,
and became refugees there, in the plains,
where they must now will a final dewfall
to turn the mountains to glass. They’ll see
us through them—see us frantically bury
houses to save them from fire that, like a wall,
caves in. The solders light it, hone the flames,
burn our world to sudden papier-mâché

Thus spoke the poet of the fractured present but with the entreaty to remember those departed; both the dead and the exiled. May this July 13th be a solemn remembering of the legacy of Kashmir’s generations of the vision. On this Martyrs’ Day, through remembering their fallen innocents, may they create a new freedom by standing up to oppression with a vision of peace!

(Mridu Rai teaches South Asian history at Trinity College, Dublin. A slightly different version of this piece was first published, on 7 July 2011, in the online magazine The Kashmir Walla.)

Notes and References

[1] Jules Michelet, ‘Preface’, Histoire du XIXe Siècle, vol. 2, cited in Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), p. 198. The translation from the French is mine and is a rough one. Michelet’s excerpted original words are as follows: “…chaque mort laisse un petit bien, sa mémoire, et demande qu’on la soigne … J’ai donné à beaucoup de morts trop oubliés l’assistance dont moi-même j’aurai besoin. Je l’ai exhumés pour une seconde vie…Ils vivent maintenant avec nous … Ainsi se fait une famille, une cité commune entre les vivants et les morts.”

[2] In British India, the closing years of the 1920s, following the withdrawal of the first non-cooperation movement and the pro-Khilafat mobilization, had witnessed bloodbaths brought about by Hindus and Muslims retreating from a common struggle into their separate and hostile camps.

[3] I understand this may have been the Khanqah-i-Muaula (Shah-e-Hamadan) shrine.

[4] R/1/1/2064, Crown Representative’s Reports (Political Department), Maharaja Hari Singh’s Message, dated 9 July 1931, IOL.

[5] Ibid. From the Resident in Kashmir, dated 17 July 1931 & From the Resident in Kashmir, dated 3 August 1931.

[6] Ibid. From the Resident in Kashmir, dated 17 August 1931.

[7] Kashmir First, ‘Back to 1931!’  (last accessed July 6, 2011)

[8] Koul, Radhika, ‘July 13 in the Pages of History‘ (last accessed July 6, 2011)

[9] One such example is Siddhartha Gigoo’s recent novel The Garden of Solitude (New Delhi: Rupa, 2011)

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011 12:32 PM

    During Indo-Pak partition in 1947 the agreement is that all Muslim majority regions should be merged with Pakistan and all Hindu majority regions should be merged with India.
    India betrayed by annexing Muslim majority Kashmir and Hyderabad.

    UNSC passed multiple resolutions since 1948 advising India, Pakistan & China to give independence to JK, PoK, Tibet & Aksai Chin.

    • Mridu Rai permalink
      July 27, 2011 2:39 AM

      RQ, While your statement about the muslim-majority and hindu-majority areas forming Pakistan and India respectively is true, this was a reference to directly administered British India. J&K and Hyderabad were princely states and their arrangements with regard to the lapsing of British paramountcy and, following that, their merger with the two new independent states were to be decided on a different basis. So, technically, India did not annex Kashmir…the betrayal was/is of a different order: viz, not coming through on the promise of the plebiscite that had been made on the accession of the state to the Indian union.

      In the case of Hyderabad, a hindu-majority princely state, yes, Patel forced the accession. But let’s also remember that that, too, was a princely state and its ruler, the Nizam, was as unrepresentative of his subjects as the Dogra maharajas were of theirs. It’s difficult to condemn the Dogra maharaja’s actions and in the same breath applaud the Nizam’s announcement of his wish to merge his state with pakistan. Besides the fact that these decisions were taken by unrepresentative rulers, the question of contiguity applying in the choices to be made by the princely states was a useful idea, i think.

      None of this is, of course, to excuse the Indian state’s decision to use brute force in the case of Hyderabad and barely disguised blackmail in the instance of Jammu and Kashmir to force their rulers’ accessions of their states.

      One more point that I’d like to make here is that it is true that had Jammu and Kashmir not been a princely state but a province in directly administered British India, its muslim-majority would have ensured that at least parts of the state would have gone to make Pakistan without room for questioning that merger. Of course, for many Kashmiris who want independence today, that would not have been a particularly desirable outcome either.

      Finally, I’m not sure how this is really relevant to the article I posted.

  2. chetna kaul permalink
    July 14, 2011 3:22 PM

    use of history to create and support another neo colonial supressive state, sad that past repression by opportunists is being used jingoistically for convenient arguments for gain rather than opening of minds so that people dont make mistakes once again

    • Mridu Rai permalink
      July 27, 2011 2:42 AM

      Chetna Kaul,
      I’m afraid I don’t know who or what you are referring to you in your remarks. Who is using history to support what neo-colonial state? who are the opportunists? what are the convenient arguments. it would have been useful for a clearer, straight-talking comment rather than this obfuscating one. I’d be happy to hear clarifications from you, if you care to give them.

  3. Varun Shekhar permalink
    July 26, 2011 11:47 PM

    “During Indo-Pak partition in 1947 the agreement is that all Muslim majority regions should be merged with Pakistan and all Hindu majority regions should be merged with India”

    No, that wasn’t the agreement at all. All India conceded in 1947, is that a few areas of British India that were dominated by rabidly anti-plural, anti-secular and anti-democratic entities like the Moslem League, were free to form an exclusive Islamic homeland, despicable as that is. For the rest, other factors like people, culture, ideology, history and the necessity of propagating secularism and pluralism, were much more important. And for your information, Hyderabad was not a Moslem majority state. There was a violent Islamic insurrection, that India had to put down, before the state could be integrated with the modern India.

    • Mridu Rai permalink
      July 27, 2011 3:34 AM

      Varun Shekhar,
      Your version of the partition of India is rather more polemic than historical explanation. It’s off on several counts, but let me address a few points:

      (1) First of all, the term “conceded” is inaccurate. By early 1947, it is the Hindu Mahasabha and the Congress who were demanding the partition of Punjab and Bengal, not the Muslim League. And in Bengal it was the provincial level Congress men, in collusion with the Hindu Mahasabha, who demanded partition because they could not accept a Muslim-dominated Bengal. And the united but independent Bengal scheme–with all its problems–was advanced by Sarat Bose and — surprise?–H. Suhrawardy.
      (2) The Muslim League, and Jinnah at its helm, was certainly not anti-plural, anti-secular or anti-democratic. Even Advani and Jaswant Singh, the stalwarts of BJP bigotry, admitted so. The demand of the Muslim League was for a parity of representation for the Muslims in an undivided India. What went wrong in 1947 was about that demand not being recognized by the Congress and also an inability to square provincial ambitions with centrist insistence on a near-monopoly of power.
      (3) What are a “people”, a “culture” and an “ideology” — all terms you use in the singular — and who are you implying espoused such categories? Their definitions were widely disputed in the decades preceding and following 1947. To put forward at least one example: the Congress’ definition of who constituted an Indian “people” was very different from the Hindu Mahasabha’s variant, which really was a definition of Indians as caste Hindus, with others either defined as outsiders who had made India their home in various ways (the Parsis, Christians etc), groups forcibly defined as Hindus because their faiths had grown out of an Indian religion (the Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists) and then the permanently left-out outsiders (the largest minority of India, the Muslims). So whose definition of the “people” are you suggesting the lovely “we” of Indians found “more important” to defend than those “others”?
      (4) When you define the the events in Hyderabad as a “violent Islamic insurrection”, you are incorrectly attributing religion as the primary motivation behind the moves of the Nizam and the Razakars. Why is political or economic motivation not the explanation you settle on?
      (5) Your use of the term “violent Islamic insurrection”, as well as the general tenor of your remarks, seems to suggest you view religious violence or religiously-informed violence as the exclusive preserve of Muslims. Let’s remember that Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were all equally implicated in the violence surrounding partition. And even in 1946, if Muslims killed HIndus in Noakhali, then in Bihar thousands of Muslims were killed by Hindus.

      I think it is important to refer to History but to do so as dispassionately as possible.

      Mridu Rai

  4. suresh permalink
    July 27, 2011 2:25 PM

    Mridu,

    The demand of the Muslim League was for a parity of representation for the Muslims in an undivided India. What went wrong in 1947 was about that demand not being recognized by the Congress and also an inability to square provincial ambitions with centrist insistence on a near-monopoly of power.

    I agree with the first statement. But isn’t it a little ungenerous to say that the demand was not recognized by the Congress? Surely, Jawaharlal Nehru recognized Muslim fears: why else would he say that the biggest threat to India was majority communalism? From the Congress’ point of view, the issue was that once you concede a sort of “veto power” to one community, then in principle you cannot deny it to others. Where does that leave the unity of the country?

    Pratap Bhanu Mehta, in this video clip articulates matters well when he says that the problem which we could not solve between 1905-1947, and which remains unsolved even now, is simply this: What form of representative government will both protect people’s vestments in identity and yet promote a feeling of common citizenship? (See Mehta’s remarks from 4:34 onwards.)

    I guess the earlier nationalist narrative of Jinnah as the villain of partition has now been replaced with Nehru/Gandhi and the Congress as villain. Given the scale of the tragedy, I don’t think we will ever stop our search for a suitable villain but I think we may just have to accept that there are none in this case. My feeling is that basically, the Muslim elite did not trust the Hindu elite and vice versa. (As you note, the demand for the partition of Bengal and Punjab came from the minority Hindus. And the distrust is very clearly observable when we look at current Kashmir Pandit narratives on Kashmir.) Mutual mistrust cannot really be bridged by political arrangements, no matter how clever.

    • Mridu Rai permalink
      July 28, 2011 3:32 AM

      Suresh,
      I don’t mean to be either “ungenerous” or generous when discussing history. But, to take but one instance—an important one to my mind—it was the Congress that scuttled the Cabinet Mission Plan of March 1946 that would have ensured an undivided independent India. The three-tiered arrangement, as you probably know, would have given the sort of parity of representation for the Muslims that Jinnah had asked for, both at the provincial level and the centre. The Congress objected to it because it opposed the compulsory grouping of provinces at the second tier (I don’t mean to be cynical but I do believe that it was in large measure because two of the groups would have included the Muslim-majority provinces of British India, which the Congress could not accept. This despite the fact that the Hindu-majority provinces grouped together could not have been threatened in any way by such an arrangement.) Both Congress and Jinnah at the helm of the ML would have liked a stronger centre but Jinnah was willing to accept the arrangement as coming pretty close to the demands he had been making consistently since at least 1937, viz (1) for parity at the centre for Muslims and (2) the kind of protection for Muslim minorities in Hindu majority provinces that could be guaranteed by having undivided Punjab and Bengal in the union. It’s also important to remember that Jinnah fully intended (in his Lahore Declaration of 1940–the misnamed “Pakistan Declaration”) that there should be no transfer of populations from any of the provinces so that the existence of minorities in both Muslim-majority and Hindu-majority provinces would guarantee as a safety for each other. But once Congress had turned the Cabinet Mission’s plan down, the last chance for an undivided India was gone.

      There is no doubt that Nehru was indeed opposed to Hindu majority communalism, but then when we begin to speak of communalism, we have to also address the question of the very problematic definition of the term as the Congress imposed it. It was a label doled out selectively to individuals, groups and political parties that would not speak from the ranks of the Congress. Otherwise, how was it that Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel or indeed even Maulana Azad were not labeled “communalists”?

      I’m afraid I don’t have the time to watch the video link – thank you for providing it and I will watch it later, when I have a little more time than I have at present. But I think the point Dr. Mehta puts forward, as you have summarized it, makes eminent sense. That is indeed one of the great dilemmas of postcolonial India and I would say it has a great deal to do with the decision to continue the colonial state’s arrangements—with very little change—whether in terms of the political structure of all three nation-states that emerged from British India with the insistence on an extreme centralization of power, or in terms of continuing the assumptions of a distinctly colonial sociology in terms of identifying or misidentifying groups of citizens. So it should come as no surprise, in these circumstances, that the current constitutional and political structures of our country cannot but be out of touch with social and cultural realities and with the realities of where political power and dynamism today lies, viz in the regions and the localities. This insistence on a centralized state structure as the arena for party politics is partly what prompts distinctly regional/local parties such as the BJP to aim for constituencies beyond their “natural” ones to inventing false national unities, which in turn promote the politics of creating national enemies, too. But surely, Suresh, our imaginations haven’t fossilized already in the short span of time since independence that we cannot rethink the structure of our states, whether in India, Bangladesh or Pakistan. We each have very plural populations for which the kind of centralization we have adopted cannot work – it isn’t working.

      I am not one to look for villains or demons at all. So for me neither was Jinnah a villain nor are the Congress or Gandhi. I seek to understand the contexts that produced their particular politics. I have to disagree that no political arrangement can over-ride inter-community distrust. If it is the drive for power or at least protection of political rights that drive us all, and produce in no small measure the mutual distrust you speak of, then the answer has to lie at least partly also in the domain of politics. Therefore, we must be clever, we need to be cleverer than we have been.

      Thank you for reading my comments with the care you have shown and for bringing up your very interesting points.

      Mridu

  5. Varun Shekhar permalink
    July 27, 2011 6:45 PM

    Mridu Rai is certainly wrong in stating that Jinnah and the League were advocates of secularism, pluralism and democracy. Not once in the 30’s the 40’s did they promote those values. Instead, their whole focus was on “Hindu domination”. The League did not attempt to attract non-Moslem support, condemned Congress attempts to seek mass Moslem support, did not believe in a shared 5000 year heritage, was not oppositional to British colonialism, and failed to condemn acts of violence committed by its supporters. The League also insisted that the Congress represent only Hindus, no one else.

    Basically, the whole approach of the League was “give Moslems everything they ask for, every appointment, reservation, weightage, guarantee and consideration, otherwise face mass violence and civil war”. The Congress, Mahasabha or any other patriotic, independence seeking group, was under absolutely no obligation to do any such thing.

    • Mridu Rai permalink
      July 28, 2011 3:55 AM

      Varun Shekhar,
      Your way of arguing is by simply pitting your word against mine. It’s difficult for me to engage with you in those utterly bizarre terms. But let me give it my best effort.

      How do you claim the AIML did not advocate secularism or pluralism? I guess this revolves around the question of how you define secularism and pluralism. Would you say your great “patriotic” party the Hindu Mahasabha was secular and promoted a plural vision of society?
      As for promoting democracy, please explain in what way the AIML’s version of democracy was any different from that of the Congress.

      Don’t you think it would have been a little bizarre for the AIML to seek Hindu votes before 1947? But that fact alone does not mean even remotely that Jinnah and the AIML did not envisage a secular, democratic and plural state. Please read, if interested, the reply I have posted above to Suresh’s comments.

      Please also tell me where the AIML was not equally interested in independence from colonial rule? Your reading of history seems to come from some strangely blinkered perspective.

      And if the AIML insisted it was the sole representative of Muslims, the Congress forced itself as representatives of the dalits of India. how far do you want to go with your exercise of pointing fingers?

      Regarding your statement within quotation marks–“give Moslems everything they ask for, every appointment, reservation, weightage, guarantee and consideration, otherwise face mass violence and civil war”–who are you quoting here? there was no such ultimatum delivered. if you believe there was, please tell me who delivered it and when (a citation of a source would be helpful, if you can find one).

      For the rest your statements are mere pouring of vitriol – and i don’t accept them.

      Mridu Rai

  6. Varun Shekhar permalink
    July 27, 2011 6:50 PM

    Also, Mridu Rai, why was *anyone* killed at all, during partition and the run-up to it? Who started and instigated the violence? What possible motive would the Congress, or even the much maligned( by you, at least) Hindu Mahasabha have for starting riots in 1946-47? Now, ask that question of the Moslem League and Moslems, and the answer becomes crystal clear: to create a defacto Pakistan by massively reducing the population of non-Moslems in Moslem majority areas.

    • Mridu Rai permalink
      July 28, 2011 4:04 AM

      And why do you expect me to answer a question that I am sure an entire subcontinent must have asked? Of course, one wishes no one had been killed at all. Your question, “Who started and instigated the violence?” is not only distasteful it is also simply polemical because it is not a question that can be answered. You assume there is a single narrative that will produce a magical explanation for the violence whose scale was so enormous, its venues so varied, its motivations so different. That’s not terribly rational thinking, is it? Your search for a single explanation and a single culprit is not only misguided it is historically speaking entirely ridiculous: there is no single explanation for all the various riots that accompanied partition or indeed for all the riots that preceded the decade leading up to it.

      If you want to persist with your distasteful blame-game, then why don’t you go ahead and give me your reading of the very first riot–since you believe in such a thing–that started it all. I’m a historian who knows both her medieval and modern history so this should be a fun pastime.

      Oh, and, please answer just one question for me, please: who was it who assassinated Gandhi?

  7. Varun Shekhar permalink
    July 28, 2011 7:44 PM

    What was Nehru’s( and Patel’s and other patriotic pro-India, anti-colonial figures) assessment of the Moslem League? That it was a great, secular, humanistic, progressive, anti-imperial entity? Read Nehru’s various remarks about the League. He called them, rightly, feudal, reactionary, rabidly communal, non-oppositional toward British colonialism, pro-princely state, obstructionist and vulgar. He did not say “The Moslem League has a very enlightened alternative secular, pluralistic vision of India, with which we disagree, but which nevertheless we respect.”. Again, the League did not seek out mass non-Moslem support, and insisted that the Congress represent only the Hindus.

    It is fair and right to ask who instigated and started the partition violence with first demagoguery, then lies, followed by actual killing. The League and its followers were the culprits. They had all the motive and ideology to undertake such a course.

    • Mridu Rai permalink
      July 29, 2011 11:30 AM

      Do you really expect Nehru and Patel to be impartial commentators about the AIML? Rather naive of you, if you do, wouldn’t you say?

      In any case, since when did Nehru and Patel become such speakers of the holy truth that their words must be accepted by suspending all critical faculties?

  8. Varun Shekhar permalink
    July 29, 2011 3:27 PM

    Nehrus’ and Patel’s( among other patriots) comments are far more compelling than the Moslem League’s, whose sole purpose, its raison d’etre, was to oppose the Congress and other patriots, and instigate paranoia about Hindu domination. You should read the Moslem League’s comments about the Congress and the Hindus. Not exactly balanced, objective and impartial.

    JInnah and his little coterie of cronies in the Moslem League wanted power. They felt marginalised by the Congress, and also very, very jealous of them. So they started their garbage, playing on the latent fanaticism and proneness to violence, of the Moslem masses. After badly losing the elections to the provinces in the 1930’s, they raised the issue of Islam in danger. That approach was far more successful with Moslems than what the Congress tried, which was emphasis on economic issues, and independence of India.
    Throughout the 30’s and 40’s, the League identified the Hindus as the one and only adversary.

    To repeat, the League did not speak of secularism, pluralism and democracy, of a shared 5000 year heritage, showed no desire to oppose British colonialism or princely feudalism, failed to attract any significant non-Moslem support. All they did was to make more and more demands, and use the the fulfillment of those demands as a condition for keeping the subcontinent united. Jinnah certainly used expressions as ‘India divided or India destroyed”, “Pakistan or civil war’ etc.

  9. Mridu Rai permalink
    July 31, 2011 3:35 AM

    Yes, you are getting tiresomely repetitive (and repeating something three times neither makes it true nor does it count as historical evidence). And, since you seem to have nothing new add, you will excuse me if I choose not to continue this exchange with you any further.

  10. Varun Shekhar permalink
    August 24, 2011 8:45 PM

    What is Mridu Rai’s take on the events in the NWFP in 1946-47? Does she view the Moslem League’s( and followers) behaviour in that period, as a great example of secular, pluralistic, universal humanism? Including the riots, killings, arson and looting indulged in by the League, in order to destabilise and overthrow the Red Shirts/Congress administration in the province?

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