Thursday, November 04, 2010

Understanding the Kashmir conflict through the eyes of a British relief workder

Lessons from a relief worker’s diary

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Discussion on the India-Pakistan relations often turned into the historical aspect of the issue namely Partition and we all have our own version of it. The aftermath of partition was equally horrific as migration of the huge population created an unimaginable problem for the government of both the newly independent countries and rumor mills had been working full time and no doubt some of the hardcore elements in both the government were ready to exploit the situation. And soon after independence the issue of
‘Mercenaries tribal’ assault as India wants us to believe or tribal uprising as Pakistan would like us believe, in Kashmir brought both the countries to war. The problem remained unresolved even after 50 years and one of the main reasons of deteriorating relation between the two countries. While Indian considers Kashmir as the symbol of their secular pride, the Pakistanis consider it an unfinished agenda of partition. IN between no body talks of Kashmiri people and how fundamentalism has grown there. The author Richard Symonds was a British officer who worked in different positions in India and a member of Kashmir’s independent Commission form by the UN. He had tried to be impartial though he had admitted that his access to Indian leaders was greater than the access to the Pakistani leaders, some of whom might be arrogant. The author no doubt learn from his Indian experiences and did not just confined himself to the issue of relief issue which he dealt during the famine period in Bengal for which he blamed a lackluster government headed by the Muslim League and the career oriented bureaucrats who were more busy to make happy their bosses then addressing the issues of the people. And see the subcontinent’s bureaucratic structure; it is still following to serve the same interest groups which it was serving during the Raj.

The author has brought many interesting facets about 1942 famine, partition, migration and Kashmir which are essential for students of history and political science who want to understand the core of the problems. The author has brought forward some such issues which have never been highlighted by any one because of his direct access to them and through his own experiences. Unfortunately, very little is available from his book about the people’s version of the Kashmir question, an issue that still haunts the entire subcontinent. Now the issue is not who is right and who is wrong. Who played treachery and who betrayed people’s cause? The issue is much bigger for how long we will continue to divide the same people, who have same cultural legacy, who fought together against imperialism, who contributed immensely for our art, architecture and music. Symonds experienced writing, therefore, should help us resolve our issues amicably rather then making them unrealistic and impossible. It should make our resolve stronger for a peaceful co-existence and must not think it anti-national if we question the wisdom of our leaders. It also reflects that whether demand for Pakistan might have come from communal consideration (this author does not pass any judgment on the issue, as it has both the sides) yet, Jinnah was never a communal man.

After Fifty years now we need to hear those who were fortunate enough to visit both sides of the border frequently and were able to bring the fact which remains tightly gripped in the hands of either Pakistani establishment or Indian bureaucrats because for long, we have left the objectivity to our parochial nationalistic interests. And it seems history for our officials and political leaders means when it suits to their ‘national pride’ or when Prithvi Raj defeated Mohammad Gori or later when Mohd Gori defeated Prithvi Raj Chauhan as both have now become symbol of Hindu and Muslim victory over each other.

So far from this meddling, Richard Symonds has done an interesting work to give us the first hand account of his experiences as a relief worker in India from 1942-1949. Symonds was not only a relief worker as the ‘officer in charge of the Indian section of the ‘Friends Ambulance Unit’, based in Calcutta during the 1943 infamous famine of Bengal. He was the Deputy Secretary to the Government of Bengal’. This book reveals the multifaceted personality of symonds as he not only writes about famine issue but also make critical observation on important aspect of India Pakistan relation.

It is interesting to note the 1942 account that the government was a shaky coalition headed by a former Leaguer Fazal-ul-Haq who formed his Krishak Proja Party and was joined by Forward Block and Hindu Mahasabha. In 1943 another Muslim League government was formed under Nazim-ud-Din with several Hindu and Scheduled caste members. This reflects how the elements of extreme rights were ready to leave aside their mutual hatred for the power politics. Terming the attitude of the bureaucrat in Bengal as pathetic and careerist the author quote an Australian journalist who was in India that time and went back saying that “ It will not be possible for many years ahead for India to do without a large number of British individuals in government service in a wide ranger of administrative, legal, medical, police and other professional and technical appointments.” Though this was a fact yet reflect unnecessary white superiority complex. In the same book the author has compliments two bureaucrats from India and Pakistan M/s H.M.Patel who later became India’s finance minister in 1975 under Morarji Desai’s government and Muhammad Ali from Pakistan for their exemplary work done after the partition.

In September 1947, one month after the partition, hundreds of thousands of people started migrating. There were communal disturbances and tempers were running high. When a communally charged Hindu stood in front of Nehru’s car and said: “they have their Pakistan, we will have our Hindustan”, Nehru got down from his car and caught the person from his collar and shook him. But despite Nehru, two ministers in the cabinet Sardar Patel, and Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who was the founder of Jan Sangh, were
not at all happy with the creation of Pakistan and issue of Muslims in India. It is important to know for the readers that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee served as Secretary to Mookerjee, who groomed him as his political heir.

In November 1947 Jammu had seen the communal virus. The situation in Delhi was also grim though the cabinet committee was regularly meeting and Gandhi had strictly asked them to take care of the Muslims. About 1,75,000 refugees had come to Kurukshetra near Ambala and were living in tents. Because of being in a senior position and looking after the refugees work, access to government officials in both the countries was most interesting part of Symonds work. He quotes British Brigadier Collyer of Pakistani army in Sailkot: “War with India would be a folly for Pakistan, his troops are becoming more belligerent. The frontier tribes, he thought, had been let into the Kashmir valley by the Pakistanis as a bridge, a substitute for subsidy which the British used to pay them.”

It is interesting that the author reflect the Pakistani side also on the issue of Kashmir problem though he refuses to take side. He quotes a Pakistani official saying that Mount Batten had influenced Radcliff over the boundary award which had not only opened a possible route between India and Kashmir but had deprived Lahore of its source of electricity. Was it Mount Batten’s dislike for Jinnah because the latter did not make him Governor General of Pakistan as India did? Unfortunately, the issue of Governor General might have come later. It is also interesting to note that until 1941 Poonch had its own Raja and after his death the Maharaja of Kashmir took control over it and imposed severe taxes on his Muslim subjects. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why people stood up against him in revolt.

Very little has been written on the possible role of Gandhi on such an important issue of Kashmir. Had his importance finished after India attained independence from the British? On December 6th 1946 when the author met Gandhi at his house he ‘insisted’, Kashmir must not be partitioned even ‘though the whole of it were to go to Pakistan’. Gandhi felt dejected with the leadership at the end but his human side has also been reflected when he took personal care of Symonds when he almost fainted after meeting with him. Gandhi did not allow him to be admitted at the government hospital but instead insisted him (Symonds) to be shifted at his (Gandhi) house and according to the author he was then able to see Gandhi’s multi faceted personality and his philosophy of life which make him a much towering personality than any other political leader of his time.

When Indian and Pakistani army were fighting with each other over Kashmir in 1947, you call it an irony or paradox, the Commanders-in-chief on both sides were British and were in frequent telephone contact with each others in kind of chess game, implying ‘ if you bomb this, we shall shell that.’ This need to be pondered whether the Kashmir issue is a British creation who never wanted it to resolve? It need to be understood in the international strategy of the former Raj whether division of Kashmir between India and Pakistan have not been a British strategy so that a peace zone is not allowed to grow in the subcontinent. Otherwise who will go to them for assistance and support if there is a peace between India and Pakistan. It is also revealed in this book that Gilgit was always under direct control of the British and that people there were fully in favor of remaining with Pakistan in the very similar way as the people of Ladakh and Jammu were firmly behind India.

Symonds who also authored, ‘The Making of Pakistan”, reflected his experience with Pakistan ruling elite. They are interesting and important for the growth of a secular politics of the subcontinent. If partition is considered as a communal flair up then it is also important for us to reveal such facets of our leadership and people that reflected their broader outlook. The author compliments Jinnah as having understood the contribution of minorities particularly Hindus in the life of Pakistan and that is why, according to him Jinnah insisted, ‘Islamic flag of the state should include a broad white band to represent minorities.’ By explaining the hitherto un-known fact of Gandhi and Jinnah, the author has done a great service for the cause of common cultural legacy of the subcontinent, which is being erased by the war-mongering elite in both the countries. One such issue was assault on minorities in both the countries. On hearing about atrocities on Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan, Jinnah told the National Assembly: “This is not the moment to go into the origin or cause of the holocaust or to apportion blame as to which community has disgraced itself the most. It will be for historians to give the verdict.” Jinnah’s political heir Liaquat Ali khan was equally committed to the cause of minorities and upliftment of depressed communities when he said in the Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly: “ Adequate provisions shall be made for the minorities to profess and practice their religion and develop their culture and adequate provision shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities and backward and depressed communities and said that even a non Muslim could become the head of Muslim state. However, these facts have gone out of the minds of people. Even at the government level it became difficult for Pakistan to find non-Muslim representation
in the government and other semi government autonomous bodies. J.N. Mandal was the only non-Muslim minister that time belonged to Dalit community from undivided Bengal. Unfortunately despite over several millions Scheduled castes in East Bengal, which gave 17 SC members, but none of them was given due representation. The Pakistan government had reserved 6% of its civil services posts for the Scheduled Castes but practically it did not serve any purpose. Mandal feared Dalits might not get their due respect and representation in Pakistan and left for India as he was deeply impressed with the work done by Dr B.R.Ambedkar, the father of India’s Constitution and leaders of Dalits in India, who fought for their equal rights and political representation and reservation in the government services.

In the Epilogue of the book, the author sadly remarks that Pakistan could not provide a credible second ranking leadership after Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan and therefore a country which was hailed for high economic growth rate in early 50s and 60s lost its path.

The author has paid rich tribute to Gandhi for his human spirit and his ability to speak truth and admit his faults. He said: “ There is no such thing as Gandhiism. I don’t claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems. The opinions, I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not by any means final. I may change them tomorrow if I find better ones” And that is one reason why the author says that despite his agreement with Gandhi on many issues he has not accepted anything as Gospel truth even from Mahatma but as he says from giving Gandhi’s example that ‘ there is no shame in admitting to changing an opinion in light of new evidence’. One can only hope that the government of the India and Pakistan will forget their bitterness emanating from the past and work for the people’s wish. Hopefully, we will become countries where people’s wish remains supreme and democratic values and multiculturalism strengthen every passing day and where the rulers are not ‘entrapped by pomp and pageantry.’ It is in this way, this book serve greater purpose if bureaucrats, and those in power, admit their follies, sit together and work on the issues facing their countries rather than fanning communal passion and blaming each others for all the evils they face after independence. Time call for an introspection and action for reconciliation, only then we could say that history is a learning process for civilization and how Jinnah said that it is not up to the political leaders but to the historians to decide as what went wrong. There is a need to spread these words of our visionary political leaders to our masses who have termed them either Pro Muslim or Pro Hindu but nothing as human being. Jinnah’s concern about security of Hindus were no lesser than Nehru’s concern about Muslims in India, hence it is important for us to speak about the issues and not heighten tension on the religious bigotry and communalization process which will ultimately strengthen hate-mongers and war- mongers in our subcontinent. It is also essential that such kind of revealing books must be publicized and probably published in local languages so that more and more people are able to read them and understand the humane nature of their political leaders. More importantly it is important for the current lot of political leaders to read such books and make their vision a little broader in terms of great cultural legacy of the subcontinent.

Name of the Book: In the Margins of Independence: A Relief worker in India and Pakistan: 1942-1949

Author: Richard Symonds

Publisher: Oxford University Press, Karachi,

Pages: 144

Price: not mentioned

Published : 2001

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