Title: Partition and Locality: Violence, Migration, and Development in Gujranwala and Sialkot, 1947-1961 Author: Ilyas Chattha Publisher: Oxford University Press, Pakistan (September, 2011) Pages: 322, Hardback Price: PKR. 825 ISBN: 9780199061723
Ilyas Chattha’s, ‘Partition and Locality: Violence, Migration, and Development in Gujranwala and Sialkot, 1947-1961’ is a significant study that manages to stand out in a crowded field. It does so on account of its reading of British Indian history, its willingness to challenge conventional approaches towards partition and its detailed examination of the historical record and use of primary sources, especially interviews and local police records.
With regard to British Indian history, ‘Partition and Locality’ describes the workings of the municipalities of Gujranwala and Sialkot. The picture that emerges is that both urban centers had started industrializing by the early 1900s, possessed dynamic entrepreneurial leadership and enjoyed responsive local governments built on the foundation of self-taxation. The communal structure of these cities was that the Hin- dus and Sikhs owned most of the property and businesses, while the Muslims residents were principally landowners who lived in town, were artisans or unskilled workers. The non-muslim factory owners also employed some of the artisans as foremen and shift managers. The upheaval at the time of partition and the subsequent rise of Gujranwala and Sialkot as major industrial centers in Pakistan are rooted in the demographic and socioeconomic development of these cities under the British Raj.
In describing the societies of Gujranwala and Sialkot it seems as if the Muslims and non-muslims lived together, but separately. Participation in local government, economic interdependence, Christian missionary challenges to the religious identities of older communities and sheer proximity meant that the local environment was bringing people of diverse hues into contact under conditions of great inequality.
The Muslims, in particular, fared very poorly on most socio- economic indicators as compared to the Hindus and Sikhs. In Gujranwala, where the Muslims were 70% of the population, Hindus and Sikhs owned more than two-thirds of the property and businesses. Hindus and Sikhs also accounted for 90% of all tax receipts collected from Gujranwala. Given the importance of property and educational qualifications for local representation, the political disempowerment of the Muslims was a logical outcome. Economic backwardness translated directly into professional underdevelopment. In 1935, the ratio of non-muslims to Muslim lawyers in the Gujranwala District Bar was 50 to 5.
Disparity in wealth played a powerful role in determining the
nature of violence that erupted after the failure of the Cabinet Mission Plan in July 1946 and the call for direct action by the All-india Mus- lim League (AIML), in August 1946. Rejecting the high-politics approach as well as nationalist Indian and Pakistani narratives, ‘Partition and Locality’ presents a brilliant forensic reconstruction of “ethnic cleansing” that does great violence to conventional thinking about partition. This exposition also lays bare the revolutionary and redistributive aspects of the emergence of Pakistan.
The case is made convincingly, that the AIML embarked on a deliberate program of escalating communal tensions to compel the British to concede the substance of Jinnah’s territorial demands for a separate Muslim-majority state. The atmosphere of terror and suspense that was built up from August 1946 onwards served to convince the British to leave sooner rather than later, accelerating the timeframe for independence and partition and exacerbating uncertainty and communal tensions. Hindu and Sikh businessmen, as well as more politically aware non-muslims in the Punjab, started disposing of their business and transferring what money they could to Delhi and other major cities in what was sure to become India.
This flight of capital, however, was limited by the fact that most of the purchasing power belonged to the very people who were now fleeing and this enabled Muslim managers and foremen to purchase assets at below market rates. Those non-muslims who opted to stay on even after the June 3, 1947 plan to partition and quit was announced, soon found themselves reduced to penury and refugee status as the intense phase of communal violence erupted in August 1947. The cycle of massacres and counter-massacres assumed a momentum of its own with local opportunities for aggrandizement combining with ancient hatreds to unleash horror and chaos on a revolutionary scale.
The rise of Gujranwala and Sialkot as major centers of Pakistan’s industrial revolution with powerful internationally connected Muslim business elites is a legacy of the accumulation of skills before partition, the confiscations and reallocation of Hindu and Sikh property and favorable government policies post-1947 that aimed to rehabilitate and diversify the economy. ‘Partition and Locality’ describes the rise of industrial sectors, and within sectors, individual companies. In doing so, it makes an invaluable contribution to the economic micro-history of Pakistan. Going beyond statistics and explanations of government policy (of which there are plenty), interviews with entrepreneurs are also employed. Many of these businessmen embrace their humble origins as artisans or skilled workers who were at the right place at the right time when partition was initiated and acknowledge the role of the state in getting the economy going again.
Overall, ‘Partition and Locality’ is a commendable effort that deserves to be widely read. Its appeal is to both subject specialists and lay readers. One hopes that Chattha will continue to enlighten and provoke readers with further research on this and related topics.