By Karamatullah K Ghori
What’s is it like being a Muslim in India 66 years after the cataclysm of August 1947 that unleashed the ‘Great Divide’ in the South Asian subcontinent and spawned India and Pakistan?
The question comes naturally to every curious mind keen to know how the largest minority, i.e., its Muslims numbering around 180 million is doing in what the western world is so prone to referring as ‘Shining India.’
But for a Muslim who may have spent the better part of his life living in, or working for, Pakistan-and now living in the west-the question assumes both a greater curiosity than normal and an added intensity of passion, for the simple reason that he was born an Indian Muslim himself.
In plain language, this scribe, born in Delhi, migrated to Pakistan as a child with little inkling as to why he was leaving his ancestral abode but in all of his adult years remaining sentimentally tethered to the place of his birth; the place where his ancestors are buried.
They say –a saying attributed more to the Muslims of India –that Pakistanis, especially those who came over from those parts of the Subcontinent that fell to India, can’t help carrying a guilt syndrome in regard to their fellow Muslims in India. That may be true but of that generation of Pakistanis which has long since gone to its graves. They-my elders-were old enough at the time of the Partition to know what they were doing. Or were they really conscious of what they were doing? Did they suffer from any guilt syndrome?
I never got to ask this question of my father. He wouldn’t allow me even if I’d the gumption to put him this question. He was astute and straight as an arrow. No looking back, in his case. And he was quite forthright about it; he didn’t want to look back.
So the guilt syndrome may not have been passed on to me as a legacy of my elders. But as a student of history I’ve never been too distant from academic curiosity to entertain the idea-and nurture it consciously-to visit India as often as possible to keep tabs on fellow Muslims and their lot in that place where they had been rulers for centuries but have now been reduced to minority status in a huge country, with a bulging population second only to China.
As a career diplomat in the service of Pakistan visiting India wasn’t a very popular idea, though nobody ever posed me any hurdles when I asked for permission to visit my ancestral abode.
But exigencies and demands of an overtly engrossing career wouldn’t give me more than two opportunities-the first in 1980 and the next in 1988-to set foot on the land of my progenitors.
However, long before any Indian Muslim would hazard to pose the question of guilt or not on my part, it’s the Indian Consul in Toronto who reminds me that my parents –God bless their departed souls– had made a horrible mistake when they scooped me up in Delhi and took me across the border to Pakistan.
‘I’ sorry, Sir,’ he tells me with a poker face, ‘but I’m afraid I can’t give you a visa to India on your Canadian passport.’
‘But why on earth would you do that? I ask, totally flabbergasted and miffed, ‘this Canadian passport is the most sought-after in the world and people would give their left-hand to get one.’
‘True, Sir,’ he remains unfazed, ‘but in the hands of a former Pakistani it doesn’t get an Indian visa,’ he’s quite matter-of-factly.
‘But my dear man, ‘I protest, ‘I was an Indian before I became a Pakistani. I was born in Delhi, what about that?’
‘Quite right, Sir,’ he intones, ‘but you migrated to Pakistan.’
And then he adds, ‘We’ll give you visa on your Canadian passport if only you’d give us an affidavit, in writing, that you’ve renounced your Pakistani nationality.’
‘You can’t be serious,’ I’m close to exasperation if not quite ready to explode, ‘you think I’ll ever ‘renounce’ my Pakistani nationality for the sake of a visa to India? Forget about it. You’re being naïve.’
In the end, it was my ‘official’ Pakistani passport that saved the day for me. I couldn’t be refused a visa on an official passport; and for an added courtesy, or a sweetener to take care of the egregious hurt caused to me, I was to be exempted from reporting to police and register with them upon arrival in India –a must for ordinary Pakistanis venturing into India. Police reporting marks them, instantly, as suspects that must be kept under surveillance.
So that’s it: the Indians associate nationality to land, whereas in Pakistan it’s to the idea of Pakistan; a commitment to a notion and not so much to a patch of earth.
The Pakistani perception of nationality-thankfully, to people like me-is not land-bound, which it’s in India. That’s why Pakistan allows its nationals to take other nationalities without surrendering their Pakistani nationality.
No wonder that some, like this scribe, have moved on to other lands, far distant from Pakistan, and settled down there. But their second migration hasn’t, in any way, overshadowed their commitment or adherence to Pakistan or diluted their moorings in the idea of Pakistan.
But how do our Muslim brothers– proverbially left behind in India and deserted by us –feel about the idea of Pakistan? Do they approve of our unflinching commitment to it? Or do they rather think it was naïve and quite tentative of us to imagine that adherence to a common religion would override and circumvent all the fault-lines that divided, or still divide, the Subcontinent on ethnic, linguistic or sectarian bases?
These were some of the questions I routinely posed to my Muslim interlocutors, of all ages and persuasions, in the course of my month-long sojourn in India-my first in 24 years.
I distinctly recall that in my previous visit to India-24 years ago, in 1988-I was often cut short, brusquely, when I posed the same question. They-and some of them were men of great insight and clarity of thought-would instantly blurt out that it was a preposterous idea for Mr. Jinnah (Quaid-e-Azam, or great leader, to us, Pakistanis) and all of his cohorts and flunkies to think that bonds of a common religion, alone, could keep a disparate people together.
‘Look,’ they would say with ill-disguised ire (some even with banter and a chuckle) ‘you couldn’t keep East Pakistan with you for even a quarter century; the Bengalis had had enough of your flirtation with romance, if not your outright cruelty to them. So they decided to go their separate way.’
They were right. East Pakistan became Bangladesh and put paid to the idea of Pakistan, as far as they were concerned.
Or, as the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had boasted, the ideology of Pakistan was cremated in the PaltanMaidan of Dhaka, that black December day of 1971 when Pakistan’s General ‘Tiger’ Niazi, had meekly surrendered to his victorious Indian counterpart General Arora.
MaulanaAbulKalam Azad–the sage, the clairvoyant, perhaps the only one in the galaxy of leaders that adorned the then firmament of India possessing a prophetic vision-was then routinely cited to buttress the argument against the idea of Pakistan. Not so much now.
It was, in fact, heart-rending to me to see the Maulana’s tomb, under the feet of Delhi’s still majestic Jama Masjid, bearing tell-tale signs of neglect. I felt sad, very sad, at the apathy of our Muslim brothers for not according to the sage’s tomb the decorum and dignity it so rightly and richly deserves. I rushed to see it as soon as I was done with the Friday prayers on my first Friday in Delhi.
I wanted to pay my respects to the sage all the more-felt an incontinent urge for it-after listening to the sermon of the Masjid’s custodian and Imam, MaulanaBukhari. It wasn’t a typical Friday sermon but more in the format of a political address.
The UP elections were in the air (This article was written more than a year ago—Ed).and the Shahi Imam, MaulanaBukhari’s popular title, was blowing hot-and cold (more hot than cold, in fact scalding hot) with the rhetoric and eloquence of a seasoned political campaigner on-the- stump.
Maulana Azad’s tomb, in palpable neglect and decay, seems to have become a favorite hang-out for junkies. I could tell from the hazy and clouded faces of a dozen or so of them languishing in the shade of the tomb that they were there because the authorities wouldn’t bother them in its sanctuary.
Ironically, the Maulana is now the most-quoted political thinker and sage in Pakistan. The rising graph of his popularity and acceptability in Pakistan is in inverse proportion to his fading profile in ‘Shining India.’ I didn’t hear him quoted half as much in India as I would in contemporary Pakistan.
There was a time, in the early days of Pakistan, when Maulana Azad, was more reviled than Gandhi or Nehru. They’d refer to him as the Congress’ Trojan horse. The two-bit maulvis of Pakistan despised him and would mention him with rancor.
No more of that nonsense. The Maulana is the star attraction and piece de resistance in the increasingly popular and ongoing dialogue that questions the logic of Pakistan. They quote him with admiration and awe as the man who could see the future of Pakistan even before its birth.
Maulana Azad’s welcome intrusion into the critique of Pakistan is, no doubt, as much a belated recognition of his intellectual stature as a product of the Pakistani intelligentsia’s bitter frustration with the dismal performance of Pakistan as a state.
Frustration is also writ large on the faces of Muslims of India. But the critique of Pakistan among the Indian Muslims is a product of Pakistan’s holistic failure; it blends dismay at the idea of Pakistan with its dismal failure as a state.
What impressed me, outstandingly, was the absence of rancor against the idea of Pakistan, which was so much evident in the two earlier visits, 1980 and 1988. By the same token, scorn at the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, has come down markedly, if not exponentially.
There’s more pathos than passion in the Indian Muslim discourse of the day on Pakistan. The typical argument I heard in my visit went something like this: ‘Look,’ they’d say with no visible shade of hurt, ‘Pakistan may have been a bad idea. But it’s a reality, now, and we can’t wish it away. On the contrary, we wish it all success and pray for it. We’ve, after all, our kith and kin there whose life and future is dear to us. We don’t want any harm to come to them, or to the country they call home.’
‘That’s mature and healthy,’ I’d quip. But would then quickly turn to my favorite theme in the discourse: ‘Do you still think Pakistan is responsible for the plethora of your problems in India? Do you feel we, the Mohajirs of Pakistan, turned our backs on you and left you to the mercy of India’s majority population? Have you been treated unfairly, to say the least, because we deserted you?’
Some of my interlocutors were more charitable than others. ‘We’ve overcome the trauma of desertion that rankled us so much in the early decades after Partition,’ they’d console me, ‘but the sense of hurt revisits us every time there is a Babri Masjid tragedy, of 1992, or the mayhem of Gujarat, 2002. The revanchist Hindus wouldn’t have dared to pounce on us, as they did on those two occasions and many others before them, had there been no Pakistan. Just imagine what formidable strength we’d be as one Muslim people of India. Add the numbers to get the sense of what we’re saying: 180 million Pakistanis, 160 million Bangladeshis and 180 million Indian Muslims. That makes it a staggering number of half a billion-plus Muslims. Would anyone, in their right mind, have dared to take us on collectively?’
‘Your argument has merit and obvious thrust,’ I’d concede. But before I could continue there’d be quick intervention: ‘Look, forget about any other argument and just read the eye-opening report of the Sachar Committee. It tells you, more graphically than any Muslim could argue, of what horrendous price the Muslims of India are still paying for the creation of Pakistan.’
This debate is to be continued.