The Partition & Destruction of PunjabJASJIT SINGH DHANOA
The next two days will mark the Independence Day of both India and Pakistan.
However, what does this “Independence Day” mean to Sikhs and Punjabis?
To give a brief background, the border of India and Pakistan is mainly divided in the region of Punjab.
”Punj-ab” loosely translates to the “land of five rivers”.
However, in 1947, this land of five rivers was divided between two nations which were built on the concept of religion - two majority religions: Islam and Hinduism. While Pakistani Punjab received 2/3 of the traditional region, Indian Punjab received 1/3 of the portion.
Punjab, like many other regions in South Asia, was an ethnic region that had its own independence prior to the British rule and the subsequent forming of the two nations. It is never mentioned in history books that the Sikh empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh spanned from beyond the Khyber Pass to Patiala (if we include the smaller princely states that maintained their own “land”, Sikh suzerainty would span all the way to modern day Delhi).
Furthermore, while most of India was under British rule beginning in the late 1600s to early 1700s, Punjab did not go under British rule until 1849 - this means that Punjab was part of the British Raj for a mere 98 years.
It is important to note that the Sikh empire was not a Sikh only state. Although the rulers were Sikhs, they had a majority of Hindu and Muslim residents. In fact, Muslims and Hindus played important roles in the development and maintenance of the empire.
However, without going into too much detail, the Sikh empire was defeated and the British prevailed.
In the years of struggle for independence, over 80% of those who were sent to the gallows or imprisoned during the British rule were Sikhs from Punjab, all while Sikhs only made up 2% of the population.
Punjab gave the world Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, Kartar Singh Sarabha, and many other freedom fighters.
With the partition of 1947 came mass migration that resulted in 12-14 million people crossing the borders on both sides, with Sikhs and Hindus going to India and Muslims going to Pakistan. Over 1 million people were killed, both sides murdering each other like barbarians, neither side less guilty than the other.
The correlation of Sikhs and Punjab?
A majority of the Sikhs were farmers and rural people. The land in western Punjab is often considered more fertile, and due to their large roles in the British army, they were given enormous amounts of land and property for their services in the world wars and other efforts.
Sikhs chose to be part of India and not Pakistan, on the express promises from Nehru and Gandhi that the Indian state would recognize Panjab as a semi-autonomous state, and that Sikhs would receive full recognition for its disproportionate representation in achieving India’s independence.
But none of this occurred, with Nehru eventually stating that circumstances had changed.
The 1960s marked the further linguistic divide of Punjab on linguistic lines. In demarcating the boundaries, while Sikhs declared their mother tongue Punjabi, their Punjabi-Hindu brothers and sisters falsely declared their mother tongues Hindi … and Haryana was created.
The 1970s marked the green revolution which fed all of India during wide-spread food shortages, and then the subsequent decline of the Punjabi farmer. Then, due to societal, economic, and religious strife and extensive human rights violations by Indian authorities, the 1980-1990 decade was marked with violent murder of innocent Sikhs in the tens of thousands throughout Punjab.
At the end of the day, the Muslims in Punjab have a sense of identity with Pakistan and the Hindus of Punjab have a sense of identity in India. But the Sikhs are stuck in a no-man‘s land.
On the one hand, they gave their lives and their land for India - and feel they should be able to have that sense of pride, but the betrayal and struggle since August 15, 1947 militates for a better solution.
The Sikhs remained Punjabi. Their language, their scripture, their culture – it is Punjabi. To many such as myself, I despise the border created by the British and the selfish leaders who claimed to be the voice of millions (Jinnah or Nehru).
In Punjab, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and other faiths had lived in harmony under the Sikh empire. With the partition, the Hindus received India and the Muslims received Pakistan, but the Sikhs received nothing. This is the sole reason that Sikhs struggle for their own cause of freedom and identity, because unfortunately not many of their fellow Muslim or Hindu Punjabis feel the need to join them.
While the other two enjoy nationalistic pride, the Sikhs are left wondering what they are. They suffered and continue to suffer in a nation that promised them autonomy and independence, and would probably have suffered in Pakistan as well.
I leave you with these final thoughts.
Today marks the beginning of a time of mourning, as it marks the death of one million people. The ones killing each other were Punjabi. These Punjabis had been exploited by the politicians to use religion to kill each other. They forgot that the women they brutalizing were their own sisters, the men they were killing were their own brothers.
On this day 65 years ago, Punjabis lost their identity, and - egged on by outsiders - divided themselves.
Similar divisions have been used over and over again since, and still are today, to divide, control, and destroy Punjab, Punjabis, and Punjabiyat.
August 15, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Baljit Singh Pelia (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), August 15, 2012, 11:07 AM.
The Khalsa Panth was the Indian sub-continent's homegrown solution to break the bonds of slavery forever. Raaj Khalsa was the product of this movement. The success and spread of this empire was due to the core values of the Khalsa doctrine that Maharaja Ranjit Singh so thoughtfully adapted into his government. In the forty or so years of this raaj, the empire became so powerful that even the British had to respect it's boundaries, something they were not prone to do, guided that they were by their overpowering greed. Later on, using the forces from other Indian states that they had captured and sheer bad luck of the Sikhs, as well as the treachery of the self-serving Dogras, the British were able to prevail. During World War II, they simply used Mohandas Gandhi as a tool to pacify the rebellions till they could devise an exit strategy. The objectives of this strategy are visible even today. Carefully drawn lines in the sand for maximum chaos and bloodshed, primarily between the Sikhs and Muslims who were coexisting peacefully till the British began to meddle to divide and rule. Many Muslims were followers of Guru Nanak and proclaimed him a Prophet. Hindus from the Mughal period were always on the fringes of conversion to Islam, but were now becoming Sikhs. First born males in households north of Delhi joined the Khalsa and were proudly renamed Singh by their parents. The future impact of this movement was not lost on the British. The British had learned a important lesson from losing the American continent. Jinnah, Nehru and Gandhi were just pawns in the British game plan. Hindu-Sikh rivalry created by Indira Gandhi also serves only one purpose: power grab and destruction of the community that had the wherewithal of challenging her family's draconian rule since 1947. Lawlessness and corruption prevail in these two failed states, by design. A few strategic families rule all the states in India and Pakistan, siphoning off the wealth to western banks. India and Pakistan are still part of the British Commonwealth, after all. The people need to educate themselves about the Great Gurus, their infinite wisdom in creating a new race of selfless individuals believing in the welfare of all humanity. The emergence of the subcontinent from the maladies that enslaves it rests in the true spirit of the Khalsa, as ordained by the Guru and the will of WaheGuru.
2: Harry (Poona, India ), August 15, 2012, 12:18 PM.
Every word is full of truth. Our family also felt the heat of partition. Later, half of the family settled in India, half in America. Still, we love this land.
3: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), August 15, 2012, 12:59 PM.
Partition has left not only a physical scar on the geography of South Asia but also in the hearts and minds of those who were affected by it. In the case of Muslims, the creation of a new nation which emphasized religious identity required a complete severing of ties with historical Punjab. This can be seen by Pakistan's almost child-like attempt for the last 60 years to prove to the rest of the Muslim world that they are an integral part of the Ummah rather than existing on the periphery. The abandoning of Punjabi for Urdu, the promotion of a history built upon half truths and the horrible persecution of religious minority groups, is the result of replacing the secular Punjabi identity with a nationalistic Islamic-Pakistani identity. The situation hasn't exactly been much different for Punjabi Hindus as well. Rather than helping the Sikhs early on during the years after independence in demanding more rights for Punjabi, Hindus were supporting organizations such as the Praja Mandal which sought to eradicate Punjabi in favour of Hindi. In fact, if one were to look at the history of contemporary Indian Punjab written from Hindu sources, one would notice that this period is always described as Sikhs demanding their own homeland under the guise of a linguistic state. Thus the Hindus shed the secular Punjabi identity for a Hindi-Hindu Indian identity and unloaded Punjabi onto the shoulders of the Sikhs while at the same time accusing them of exploiting identity politics. There is a reason why the girth of Partition material is written by Sikh intelligentsia. Even though Pakistan has a population of 80 million Punjabis, they have yet to produce the same quality or quantity of material relating to Pakistan as Indian Sikhs. Whenever Partition is mentioned in Bollywood it is seen as the destruction of 'Mother India', not the destruction of the Punjab.
4: R. Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), August 15, 2012, 1:45 PM.
Punjab is widely translated as fiver rivers, but is in fact a Persian word meaning "five waters". ab = water, in Persian.
5: Kanwarjeet Singh (Franklin Park, New Jersey, USA), August 15, 2012, 11:20 PM.
India's freedom - the reality. The charkhawalas have become kings and the ones who took bullets on their chests ('charkharre wale') have become slaves.
6: Raj (Canada), August 15, 2012, 11:35 PM.
During pre-partition years, there was a movement headed by then chief minister Tiwana, a muslim, to create a dominion under British that would be a greater, independent Punjab. It was to be on the lines of the pre-British entity of Punjab. It would have been a better option for Sikhs, but our moron leaders - under pressure from the Hindus - never accepted it. Another option was to create a dominion under the British for Sikhs only. Again, it was ridiculed by "patriotic" leaders of Sikhs. Actually, late Harbhajan singh Yogi confirmed this in one of his lectures, it's on internet. The young and educated leaders of Sikhs had accepted it, and were to make a declaration. But, next morning the older leadership told them that they can't consider it because they had already done an ardaas, and now have to live with the "bhana".
7: Gurpreet Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 16, 2012, 10:55 AM.
Great insight into history as per above comments and the article itself. Problem is we all justify a Sikh state as of 1947 but moving forward we are not ready to talk about a free Sikh nation. Why?
8: Sikandar Pasha (Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan.), November 24, 2012, 10:23 AM.
Now at age 56, I have had some time to go through several articles written on the rampage that took place in 1947. My heart bleeds at the foolishness of all the parties. My mother's hometown is Amritsar and she lived in a house right opposite MAO (Muhammadan Anglo Oriental) College. My grandfather's name was Mir Ahmed Hassan. My mother passed away in 2010 at the age of 83. She continued to talk about Amritsar and her house opposite MAO College even on the day before she died. She told me that the house was located about three minutes walk from Hathi Gate. I did sit with her going through google maps trying to locate where the former MAO College was actually located but she couldn't find her way to the location as she believed that the layout had probably changed as most of the Muslim owned houses were burnt after the Muslims left Amritsar on 17 august 1947, and probably the Hathi Gate area was rebuilt after the rubble was removed. All we could trace was the DAV School complex which was probably built in place of the MAO College which was moved to Lahore. Another institution which added to her confusion was the DAV College, close to Hall Bazaar. Could any one from Amritsar tell me where actually the former MAO College stood and what actually happened to the Muslim houses right across the street? Were these houses burnt down? My grandfather Mir Ahmed Hassan left Amritsar for Lahore on the evening of of 17 August, 1947 when the Boundary Commission report was made public declaring Amritsar would be a part of India. My father Abdul Waheed Pasha, at that time a Sub-Divisional Officer in the Punjab Irrigation Department, had moved to Lahore on 10 August 47 to join the West Punjab government. Does the name of Mir Ahmed Hassan ring a bell for anybody? I live along the Moghulpura Canal close to the Mall Road in Lahore. If anyone has any questions on Lahore, I will be happy to answer. With love from Lahore ...
9: Gurpreet (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 06, 2013, 1:56 PM.
Great article. I always show this to people who are not clear on what Punjab has gone through. Also, wow, Sikandar, it's great to see how you are helping your mother. I hope you do find your mother's home. I can't really help you out but the best I can do is pray that someone can. Cheers.