In my previous essay, I had examined and pointed out gross distortions in the chapter titled Theme Thirteen: ‘Mahatma Gandhi and the National Movement,’ which is part of the Class XII NCERT history textbook. In this essay, I will focus on Theme Fourteen: ‘Understanding Partition. Politics, Memories, Experiences’ by Anil Sethi. [NCERT Textbook for Class XII, Delhi, 2007: Hari Vasudevan Chairperson, Advisory Committee, with Neeladri Bhattacharya as Chief Advisor.]
This chapter begins, as the author claims, with the causes leading to the partition and the ‘harrowing experiences of ordinary people during the period 1946-50 and beyond’(p.376).What is not explained is this: why must it begin only at 1946? Therein lies the tale.
Communal tension and confrontation has a long history in India, and is co-terminus with the Arab invasion of Sind in the 7th century, which continued throughout the period of subsequent Islamic conquest, and rule in India till about the late 18th century. This historical reality is sought to be pushed under the carpet by the author on the ground that the ‘history of conflict has co-existed with a long history of sharing and of mutual cultural exchange’ (p383).
As Nirad Chaudhury, Vidia Naipaul and many others have pointed out, and we have all known from our ground experiences that there was never any compromise on the basic matters, and the ‘sharing’ happened over music, dance, cuisine, and so on.
An objective history textbook written for children needs to mention the fundamental concepts that have a definitive bearing on historical developments: the key concepts of kafir and momin, dar-ul-harb, dar-ul-Islam, Jihad, and how Non-Believers are seen in the Islamic worldview.
Even if one wants to avoid these theologically sanctioned behavioral patterns, to please political patrons and to be in the good books of the Islamic Ummah, one has to necessarily begin with at least the 19th century developments— Wahabis and Faraizis, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his Aligarh Muslim University, Syed Ameer Ali, the Pan Islamic upsurge, the Khilafat Movement, anti-Hindu pogroms by Moplahs, the massacre at Kohat, the assassination of Swami Shraddhanad, and the Congress acquiescence in most of the anti-India and anti-Hindu agenda of the Muslim separatists and their violent tactics from the 1920s onwards.
Anil Sethi, however, is determined to impose an arbitrarily selected starting point.
‘Some scholars see Partition as a culmination of a communal politics that started developing in the opening decades of the twentieth century. They suggest that separate electorates for Muslims, created by the colonial government in 1909 and expanded in 1919, crucially shaped the nature of communal politics’. (p. 383).
Ambedkar has rightly added the Indian Council Act of 1892 to it. One may like to know why the foundation of the Muslim League (1906) and the Aga Khan-led Simla Deputation are left out. Is it because of the ‘Holy’ status of Aga Khan ?
Moreover, what was created by ‘the colonial government’ was actually an implementation of the Muslim League’s demand. The mischief is also apparent in putting ‘Arya Samaj’ in a box (p.383), in between The ‘Lucknow Pact’ and ‘Music before Mosque’, leaving out the Wahabis, Faraizis, cow slaughter, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and the rest.
Similarly, the Muslim League is put in a box, with the Hindu Mahasabha in another box (p. 385) as if they are exactly similar. The purpose of this sort of mischievous history writing is clear. The real, root causes are suppressed, while the consequences, big and small are the same. Indeed, bias is evident and omissions are blatant. Yet, this is the official history our children must learn.
We all know that the cataclysmic events in history: for example, the fall of the Roman Empire, World Wars, Partition of India, the spread of ISIS, just can’t be said to have begun on a specific date. To describe the origins of such earth-shaking events in history, one has to understand what we call the underlying factors which are spread over vast stretches of time. Therefore, both ‘1946-48’ and 1920s are historically not relevant starting points to begin with: they are actually misleading.
The author then goes on to mention ‘music before mosque’ by the cow protection movement, and the efforts of the Arya Samaj to bring those Muslims back to the Hindu fold (shuddhi movement) who had recently converted to Islam (p.383) as the causes for communalism. In other words, only Hindus are blamed for communalism.
But then in the category of irritants at local levels, it was the slaughter of cows (omitted by Anil Sethi) and its public display that offended the Hindu sensibilities most. As we know, cow slaughter is not mandated in Islamic rituals: it was deliberately picked up by the ulemas in the dar-ul- Islam of India to cause hurt to the Hindus. The ‘music before mosque’ came much later, (exceptions apart in the medieval period) only when the British colonial rule was established, and the Hindus rightly desired unhindered access to public thoroughfare.
Isn’t it an established fact that ever since the beginning of Islamic conquest of India, it is the Hindus who were forced to part with their landed properties, including their most sacred temples which came under the illegal occupation of the new colonial masters, a bulk of which subsequently came to be called the Wakf property? We can clearly see that the author has deliberately suppressed the order of things, and squarely blames the Hindus.
As for the Arya Samaj’s efforts to bring back to the Hindu fold those who had recently converted to Islam’, the author is unconvincing. Let’s explain this in a bit more detail.
If reconversion to Hinduism causes so much tension, then how much socio-psychological devastation and mental trauma with all its attendant religious, political, demographic consequences forcible conversion to Islam must have caused to the Hindus over almost a millennium? Even if we exclude the example of contemporary India, how may authors of the ‘progressive’ and ‘eminent’ historians have ever mentioned this factor in the textbooks and their ‘non-saffronite’ ‘path-breaking’ ‘scholarly’ and ‘brilliant’ research papers and books?
In any case, Sethi’s logic is that, if Hindus initiate a process of reconversion, it is unacceptable, but when the predatory religions routinely inflict it on the polytheists, it is neither news nor a matter of conflict. But then, these are precisely the ‘Left-wing’ ‘scientific’, and Jihad-friendly ‘secular’ historical lies that have been routinely dished out to serve dangerous political goals to serve short term political gains.
This begs another question. Is Anil Sethi sure that no conversion to Islam was taking place in late 19th and 20th century? Had it completely stopped? Why doesn’t he mention the fact that even in the Hindu Maharaja-ruled Kashmir, forcible conversions to Islam occurred? Also, what about the forced conversion to Islam by the Moplahs in 1920-21 in Kerala?
It is true that ‘every communal riot deepened differences between the communities, creating disturbing memories of violence’ (p.384). But it was the attitude of the Congress that sought to pamper the culprits while pretending to remain oblivious of the sufferings of the Hindus that prompted the foundation of the Hindu Mahasabha (1915), and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1928. The so called ‘Hindu communalism’, we must remember, was a reaction to violent Muslim behavior and its abetment by the Congress party. Moreover, the Hindu reaction was essentially to defend the beleaguered Hindus rather than to hit back at the Muslims.
And then Anil Sethi suddenly cites from the film, ‘Garam Hawa,’ and claims that ‘Communal discord happened even before 1947 but it had never led to uprooting of millions from their homes’. There is a serious problem here. Actually, what had happened in whole of the north-western provinces and Bengal over the centuries was the fact that Hindus and Sikhs had become a minority by the 19th century. Certainly large numbers, if not most of them, had not been physically uprooted, but they had been converted to Islam and were living with an imposed Arab identity. Was this psycho-social-religious-cultural uprooting anyway less disastrous than the physical mass uprooting? This is still happening in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the process of mass expulsion had been successfully completed in India’s own Jammu and Kashmir.
Anil Sethi then jumps to another falsehood by claiming that ‘Partition was a qualitatively different phenomenon from earlier communal politics, and to understand it we need to look carefully at the events of the last decade of British rule’ (p.384).
Here again, the emphasis is on the ‘last decade’ during which rapid developments occurred, for which both the Muslim League and their patron-in-chief, the British, had all kinds of plans while the Congress was more busy fighting Subhas Bose. The individual satyagraha programme, unfortunately failed to take off.
The word ‘communalism’ is then defined (?) within a box, with the necessary historical background and context surgically removed. The author jumps straight to the 1937 elections, skipping over the Nehru Report (1928) and Jinnah’s absurd and highly communal Fourteen Points, where he dubbed the Congress as Hindu Fascists and Communal. Sethi has erred in claiming that the Congress had rejected the Muslim League proposal for a coalition government in U.P. partly because the League tended to support landlordism, which the Congress wished to abolish’ (p.385). That’s perhaps not the entire truth. It was the principled refusal of Congress (so rare thereafter), to have the Muslim League as its partner, having no pre-election understanding. For this, Nehru deserves full credit.
Sethi also cites Maulana Azad as the giver of gospel truth without examining it, as a historian must do. The gospel goes thus: while Congress leaders were not allowed to join the League, the Congressmen could be members of the Hindu Mahasabha. Thus Sethi equates the nationalist Hindu Mahasabha with a rabidly communal Muslim League. In which case, let’s probe whether Azad was right.
Congress leaders who were with the Hindu Mahasabha, were people like Lala Lajpat Rai belonging to that rarest of rare troika of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal. Moreover, Rai died due to police brutality while he was protesting in Lahore against the Simon Commission. Madan Mohan Malaviya, another Hindu Mahasabha leader, was also the President of the Congress four times, and was the founder of Benaras Hindu University Let’s also see what Tagore wrote – that it was very essential that Hindus too set up a University because a lot of people still thought that Hindus can’t build anything more than pathshalas. He also asserted that for the full flowering of the idea inherent in Hindutva (yes, he used the word Hindutva), such an university was imperative.
Let’s also take a look at what Tagore wrote on the assassination of Swami Shraddhananda, another Hindu Mahasabha leader. He described him as one of those few men in this country who could hold on to the truth, and that history is full of such examples of people who have faced calumny and untimely assassination in their pursuit of a noble mission (Kalyan brata). Tagore called him a great hero and Maha Purush. Tagore also pointed out that much of India’s misfortune is because of a dearth of people like Shraddhananda. Delving deeper into the Hindu behavioural pattern, Tagore regretted, ‘if Muslims attack Hindus, we go on swallowing it, ascribing it to the weakness of the Hindus.’
Indeed, even Nehru paid a moving tribute to Shraddhanand! ‘And now he lay dead, killed by a fellow–countryman, who thought, no doubt, that he was doing a meritorious deed, which would lead him to paradise’. We may note how Nehru also harks back to the theologically sanctioned term. Nehru adds further,
‘Always I have admired sheer physical courage, the courage to face physical suffering in a good cause even unto death. Most of us, I suppose admire it. Swami Shraddhanand had an amazing amount of that fearlessness. His tall and stately figure, wrapped in a sanyasin’s robe, perfectly erect in spite of advanced years, eyes flashing, sometimes a shadow of irritation or anger at the weakness of others passing over his face-how I remember that vivid picture, and how often it has come back to me!’.
The ‘non-saffronite’ historians whose patron saint is Nehru would note that Nehru often admired Shraddhanand’s ‘good cause’ (Shuddhi’!) and also had respect for the Sanyasin’s robe (saffron).
It is important to note that the top leaders of the Muslim League like Jinnah or Iqbal had never gone to the British jail, nor received lathi blows from the British police, and did not stand for a united India.
Lajpat Rai, Shraddhanand, Malaviya and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee were made of nobler and sterner stuff, and our children are not being told that. Moreover, one may not take the ‘nationalist’ credentials of Maulana Azad very seriously. He was a Pan Islamist to begin with, and continued to have a very strong Deobandi worldview who remained committed to the interest of the Muslims and Muslims alone.
Sethi again blunders in repeating the absurd claim of a Pakistani author who has an unexplained influence on ‘progressive’ Jihad-friendly Indian historians. According to him, the Muslim League and Jinnah actually did not ask for a Pakistan: it was just a ‘bargaining counter’ (p.387). As I pointed out earlier, and reported in the media, this is a ridiculous and mischievous ploy to build up Jinnah, one of the vilest mass murderers in history as a ‘constitutionalist,’ and the creator of the ‘modern state’ of Pakistan!
Moreover, there is not a hint in the textbook of the fact of how in West Pakistan, the religio-ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs was completed in a short time, while the sufferings of Hindus and Buddhists was prolonged in East Pakistan. Equally, the fact that the pogrom of 1950 led to the resignation of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee from the Union Cabinet and the disastrous Nehru-Liaqat Pact which harmed Hindus is conveniently omitted. In fact, the scale of the victimisation of Hindus and Sikhs and their violent ouster in both wings of Pakistan was certainly aided and abetted by the Pakistani state, and therefore fit to be categorised as a Holocaust-a term author is at pains to deny. (p.381)
In fact, the trauma and violence, on a smaller scale in India, was immediately contained. To equate India and Pakistan on this score, which Anil Sethi has sought to do, actually means that there was no difference between Jinnah and Gandhi and Nehru. Even the worst critics of the latter would never draw this vile equation.
To show both Pakistan and India in the same light, the author actually defames the Indian National Congress and Nehru. Is it because of the Ummah factor and the exigencies of the UPA government, the most anti-Hindu government to rule India since the downfall of the Mughals?
A few more points before we conclude.
Anil Sethi entirely skips the traitorous role of the Communists: their support for the Pakistan demand and opposition to the Quit India movement. It may be noted that Stalin had a Pact with Hitler earlier, and thus the Communists were the first to have an understanding with the Nazis in Europe. Their Indian followers had to follow this diktat.
Historians may still debate whether the Quit India movement actually brought the ‘British Raj to its knees’ (p. 387). One does not deny its impact, but then, the fact of Indian soldiers of the British armed forces joining the Indian Legion in Europe, and then the INA in South Asia, trial of INA officers in the Red Fort, and the rebellion of the Royal Indian Navy, Air Force in Karachi and Bombay shook the British as nothing else had done. Contemporary records reveal that the British were no more sure of the loyalty of Indian troops, and it is this which compelled the British to leave India in a hurry.
Similarly, in the grim story of partition bloodshed, Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs, which had a Hindu-Sikh majority is mischievously mentioned twice to give a false impression that only the Hindu-Sikhs were guilty where they were majority. But it is no aberration.
Anil Sethi does it again while referring to the communal situation in Delhi (p.394). And he again cites Maulana Azad to describe a Hindu led ‘pogrom’ on the Muslims of Delhi (p.394). In hundreds of villages and towns where the Hindus and Sikhs had been turned into an insignificant minority over the centuries, they were once again subjected to inhuman treatment and wiped out forever—a fact that the textbook fails to mention. This comes as no surprise. But there is no mention of ‘pogrom’ here.
A look at the contemporary demographic scenario of Amritsar and Delhi would show how an ever-growing Muslim population with their mosques and graveyards show signs of a robust growth. Is there any such hamlet in Pakistan and Bangladesh where Hindus are growing in number? Yet, Sethi does not use the word ‘pogrom’ in this context, too.
It is this kind of suggestio falsi and suppressio veri which confirms the real objective behind writing such text-books. One could go into great detail to describe the incalculable damage such history textbooks have caused to children who grow up ingesting this false history about their own country.
The incidence of forced conversion of Hindu and Sikh women to Islam and their forcible nikah with their Muslim captors is totally blacked out. Let’s also not forget that this goes on with impunity even now in Pakistan, Bangladesh and various parts of ‘secular’ India with the Trinamul Congress-ruled West Bengal topping the charts.
I again repeat that the entire Editorial Board owes an answer to the taxpayers of India for the incalculable harm they have inflicted for decades on the country. Some of them were certainly members of the ICHR and proud ‘non-saffronites.’ In any case, such textbooks must be scrapped. Sooner the better.
These are the author’s personal views.
Dr Saradindu Mukherji is an academic and historian, He was a Charles Wallace Visiting Fellow, department of Politics, Centre for Indian Studies, University of Hull. He was a former Member of ICSSR, He retired as Head of Department of History, Hansraj College, University of Delhi. He is currently a Member, Indian Council for Historical Research.