A Peek into the Past
Despite the passage of over 60 years, the partition of the Indian subcontinent still holds quite a few unanswered questions. The events that led to partition, the struggle, its aftermath and the shape of events that followed in both India and Pakistan after partition have been a part of a never-ending, but interesting, debate.
One major aspect of any discussion on the partition has its basis in the declaration that the two separate religions, the Hindus and the Muslims, required two separate homelands in order to progress beyond their postcolonial destinies.
But, as always, there are a few basic sets of questions that have always intrigued students, researchers, historians and readers in general. Some of these questions are: what was the nature of relations between the two religions? How did the colonial system affect them? And, most importantly, how did the demand for freedom from the colonial powers, and the formation of a federation with autonomous states, end up as a demand for partition and creation of two separate countries?
The book ‘The Genesis of the Pakistan Idea: A Study of HinduMuslims Relations’ by Walter Bennett Evans tries to answer some of these questions.
Born in Sandstone, Minnesota (U.S.A.) in 1907, Evans got his Masters in History from the University of Minnesota and taught the subject at the East Los Angeles Junior College. The genesis of Pakistan was actually
Book Title: The Genesis of the Pakistan Idea: A Study of HinduMuslim Relations Author: Walter Bennett Evans Publisher: Oxford University Press Pages: 382, Hardback Price: Rs.695 ISBN: 9780199068081
his doctoral thesis which served as the foundation for the afore-stated book. That is why the book has a research paper feel to its narrative style and referencing pattern. What makes the book an interesting read is the fact that it was written at a time when Pakistan was still in its early stages of life after independence.
Evans’ narrative takes us through the multiple aspects of the journey that concluded in the partition of the subcontinent. He argues with examples that it was not just clear cut religious divisions within the subcontinent that led to this demand. A host of other reasons such as different cultures, customs and social orders within the region also played an important role. In various chapters, he explores Hindu-Muslim relations, pointing out that even at the time of the Mughal Empire, when the Muslims ruled the subcontinent, the local cultures of India overlapped with the ones that were bought over by the rulers from their countries of origin. All cultures influenced each other. Furthermore, the political landscape also played a major part in weaving the overall fabric of society. The writer states that although both communities did coexist, there were numerous instances of strife throughout the history of the subcontinent.
The early Muslim conquerors and rulers such as Firoze Shah imposed restrictions on the non-Muslims. The imposition of jizya (a tax for nonMuslims) was one such example. But later monarchs like Sher Shah and Akbar demonstrated leniency in such matters and tried to form a nation having loyalty to the empire as against loyalty to a religion or a social order. But, unfortunately, these efforts were not consistent and reforms, rules and regulations were more a matter of personal preferences. A prime example of this behavior was the reinstatement of the jizya by Emperor Aurangzeb.
Thus, it was no surprise then that after Aurangzeb’s death and the beginning of the downfall of the Mughal Empire, the Maratha clans tried to establish ‘Hindu’ rule. But they were unable to do so because they struggled against numerous contenders, such as Indian princely states as well as the French and the British from Europe, with the latter eventually forming an Empire in India.
The book’s concluding chapter argues that the Hindu population had been subjugated by the Muslim rulers and later by the British. Thus, their desire for freedom was quite genuine in view of their long history of subjugation. People like Ram Muhan Roy and movements like the Brahma Samraj convinced the Hindu population to accept the technological, educational and, to some extent, the cultural aspects of British rule. The Muslim population, on the other hand, remained backwards for a longer time but was eventually geared towards a Muslim Renaissance. Political figures such as Sir Syed Ahmad, Amir Ali and Iqbal played a prominent role in initiating this desire. But the basis for this was the fact that the Muslims had
indeed ruled the Indian subcontinent for nearly 800 years. According to Evans, “The nationalism in India was plural. The Hindu Renaissance caused the Muslim Renaissance.”
The author touches upon the 1909 Morley-Minto Reforms that allowed both Hindus and Muslims separate electorates and weightage. The book also highlights the Lucknow Pact of 1916, which was considered a positive step by nearly all sides, as it was to serve as one of the major building blocks of cooperation between the Congress and the Muslim League. In fact, some cooperation (although mostly artificial in later years) was witnessed after the pact. One example was the Muslim League’s acceptance of Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement and the Congress’s support for the Khilafat Movement.
Evans further states that both parties tried to curb the rife resulting from the Hindu-Muslim riots in the 1920s and 1930s, but were not successful. The Nehru Report of 1928 demanded ‘domination status or independence on the basis of a strong centre and joint electorates’. The League, on the other hand, demanded a ‘weak centre’ and separate electorates, stating this as a more viable option to ensuring their autonomy and political freedom.
The book also points out that the 1935 Constitution (Communal Award) was not welcomed by all the local political forces. The provincial selfgovernance that followed, from 1937 to 1939, further aggravated the fears of Jinnah and the Muslim League about Hindu dominance. Henceforth, these fears led to the formulation of the Two-Nation Theory and the demand for Pakistan.
According to the author, in the end, the only solution to the problem was partition. Further expanding his argument, Evans also quotes the speech of Liaquat Ali Khan (Pakistan’s first prime minister) at the United States Senate in May 1950: “Pakistan was founded by the indomitable will of a hundred million Muslims who felt they were a nation too numerous and too distinct to be relegated forever to the unalterable position of a political minority, especially when in the vast subcontinent which was their homeland, there was enough room for two great nations…”
The author also states that initially the idea of Pakistan was not welcomed even in Muslim circles. Examples of people who opposed the idea included Professor Abdullah Sardar as well as Mohammed Ali Jinnah himself, especially the latter, who had worked tirelessly to unite the Hindus and the Muslims of India to demand more autonomy for their country.
The book is a useful read, considering that it probably utilized limited resources for research since it was written at a very early stage in the life of Pakistan. But it cannot serve as a single, clear-cut document to explain every action that took place, as one has to keep in mind the scale and complexity of partition and the impact it has had in the times to come.