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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

Partition Museum sans Britain

Saturday 26 December 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

I liked the idea of a Museum on Partition. There was a lot of enthusiasm for it. But I find to my horror that the Partition Museum would be a branch of the British Museum, which would also supervise it. The whole purpose is defeated because the British are the ones to blame for the partition that resulted in the killing of one million people and uprooting of thrice that number.

 The partition was a parting kick by the British before they quit. They drew the line on the basis of religion which got institutionalised in the shape of Islamic Pakistan and not-so-certain secular India. True, India has adopted a secular Constitution and has the word secula-rism in its Preamble. But what cannot be denied is that in the same India, the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 and thousands of Sikhs were killed in 1984. Secularism seemed a farce. Secular India could not prevent two wars against the Islamic state of Pakistan and the latter’s misadventure at Kargil. On top of it, both sides have nuclear weapons which may be serving as a deterrent but the fringe elements on both sides use the possession of these to threaten each other. Against this background, the Partition Museum will not serve the purpose.

Even otherwise no museum can depict the real happenings if it does not show the horror that people went through. Any picture or painting depicting what happened at that time may reopen the wounds. Already, the two countries or, for that matter, the Hindus and Muslims, are not at the best of terms. In their endeavour to establish a separate identity, the two communities talk more of what divides them than what can unite them.

After all, the two communities lived together for centuries before the British introduced the separate electorate, Hindus exercising their vote only in favour of Hindu candidates and the Muslims for the candidates of their own religion. Even though after independence the separate electorate was abolished, vote-bank politics has taken in its place, making only a slight difference.

During the drafting of the Constitution, the then Home Minister, Sardar Patel, offered reservations to the Muslims. But their leaders at that time said that reservations on the basis of religion had led to the partition and therefore any step that creates division between the Hindus and Muslims would again take some shape of partition.

Today, the community leaders are demanding reservations because, as the Sachar Committee has pointed out, the plight of Muslims is worse than that of the Dalits. Still the Sachar Committee itself did not propose reservations and asked the government to take affirmative steps, as America has done in the case of Blacks, to provide jobs and admission to top educational institutes.

Viewed from any point of view, there is no go for Hindus and Muslims except to integrate. Any concession on the basis of minority character is mole in the eyes of the majority. What has happened over the years is the stoppage of social contacts between the two communities. They meet as traders, businessmen and industrialists but never as neighbours or normal human beings. Their contact remains confined to business and seldom gets reflected in their relationships.

I recall when there was a communal riot in the Kishangaj mohallah in old Delhi, I lived among the Muslims to experience their hardships and apprehensions. What I found was that they were living in a world of their own and had developed such fears which were difficult to allay. I negotiated with the then government and was able to get a large track of land where they could resettle. Their insistence was for a mosque. The government agreed to it.

Yet ultimately, the Kishanganj inhabitants felt that they were more secure behind the iron gate of their mohallah than elsewhere. I vainly argued with them that it did not take much to break open the gate. Yet, my pleas fell on deaf ears and they preferred slum-like conditions to the open space which was there for them to choose.

Today the situation has worsened because the Muslim population has grown at that very place. The community is afraid of staying in a mixed locality lest they should be singled out as it happened during the Mumbai riots. The fact also remains that there is an increasing tendency among Hindus to keep the Muslims at a distance. Every Muslim is a suspect in their eyes during tensions with Pakistan.

Against this background, how would the proposed Museum depict the partition? Pakistan has done a better job by establishing a Punjabi Cultural Centre instead of a museum. The Centre was essentially the idea of the progressive poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He collected old folk songs, doors from village houses and recorded folk music that was used during weddings as well as deaths. This Centre near Islamabad is frequented by thousands of people, especially the young, to connect themselves with their roots.

The supporters of the Partition Museum can build upon what has been done in Pakistan, recreate the fabric of old culture where both the Hindus and Muslims live like human beings and pursue together trade, business and industry. Even today the best solution for amity between India and Pakistan is to have joint ventures and investment in each other’s country so that they develop mutual trust.

If this takes place, the chance meeting between the Prime Ministers of the two counties at Paris will be replaced by regular contacts between the two. One side will be able to pick up the telephone at any time and talk to each other and share their problems and predicaments. The recent meeting of the two National Security Advisers at Bangkok would not have looked something extraordinary even though it lasted for four hours.

Whatever shape the proposed Museum takes, we should keep the British out in any type of participation. Theirs was not a benevolent rule but that of cruelty. India opened more schools within one year after independence than the British did during their 150-year rule. True, they have laid the railway network but this was essentially to haul the troops to suppress those engaged in the independence struggle. The idea of the Museum is welcome, but the British association in any way is not.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com