Re­vis­it­ing Par­ti­tion

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

Southasia - - Book review - Il­han Niaz is the au­thor of The Cul­ture of Power and Gov­er­nance of Pak­istan, 1947-2008.

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.

Re­viewed by Il­han Niaz

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