Spectacle blurs reality
Sagarika Ghose has made an extremely valid point in ‘Howdy Modi: Spectacle diplomacy can be a letdown without real gains’ (ATM, September 29) by highlighting that spectacle diplomacy hides real issues. The recent US visit of the PM hardly had any substantial gains for the country, but only symbolism. Not even the much anticipated trade deal could be signed between the two sides.
There are countless families all over northern and western India who were once categorised as refugees from what is now Pakistan. Lakhs of individuals left their ancestral homes and made a new beginning in independent India. Their histories have been documented, and there is even a museum in Amritsar that commemorates the migration.
Over the decades, these erstwhile refugees have not only been seamlessly integrated but many have risen spectacularly. One former refugee — Dr Manmohan Singh — rose to become Prime Minister of India and another — L K Advani — became Deputy Prime Minister. What distinguishes the refugees from the rest today are family memories and the occasional sense of loss.
If today, someone was to tell a Punjabi or Sindhi descendant of a refugee family that there is a likelihood of them being deported to Pakistan, t hey would be laughed out of court. Apart from the sheer absurdity of being forcibly transported to a Pakistan that has changed unrecognisably, the Indian-ness of yesterday’s refugees from Pakistan has never been doubted.
There is, however, a detail that tends to be overlooked in the discourse over the division of India: there were two partitions, one of which was in the east. The tragedy of those who fled their homes in erstwhile East Pakistan has been marginal to the popular narrative. The reasons for this neglect are worth restating. Firstly, the exodus didn’t happen all at once. The Hindu migration from East Pakistan began in 1947 and continued in waves right until the formation of Bangladesh in 1971. Subsequently, it has become a trickle but still continues.
Secondly, the rehabilitation programmes for refugees in northern India wasn’t complemented by similar initiatives in the east. Bengali Hindu refugees suffered from official neglect so much so that a ‘refugee problem’ persists to this day in parts of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura.
Thirdly, thanks to the misplaced Nehru-Liaquat Pact of 1950, New Delhi lived, at least until 1972, with the delusion that the exodus was one of temporary displacement and that the refugees would soon return to their original homes. Syama Prasad Mookerjee had resigned from the Nehru Cabinet in protest against
NO FOCUS ON THEM: The tragedy of those who fled their homes in erstwhile East Pakistan has been marginal to the popular narrative