The foundation of Pakistan is easily one of the most traumatic memories from India’s independence. The death of a half a million people, mass migrations and an atmosphere of fear and hatred ruled the years from 1947-50. But, did you know that the British had a part to play in this? Khushwant Singh writes – 

British attitude towards the Hindus and the Muslims changed from time to time. For some years after the mutiny of 1857, in which Muslims took greater part than Hindus, the policy was distinctly anti-Muslim and pro-Hindu. After the foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, which began to agitate for freedom and was largely composed of Hindus, the policy became pronouncedly anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim.

The British encouraged Muslim separatism. Under the guise of neutrality, they gave Muslims more privileges in services such as the police and the army than the quota they were entitled to. The British encouraged separate educational institutions – Islamic schools and colleges were matched by Hindu and Sikh schools and colleges. In public places such as railway stations there were separate restaurants for Hindus and Muslims. Even drinking water booths bore signs – Hindu water, Muslim water.

Hindu–Muslim riots became a normal feature of Indian life. Seldom did a Hindu or Sikh religious procession passing a mosque fail to spark a brawl. And every year, at the Muslim festival of Bakr Id commemorating Ibrahim’s attempted sacrifice of his son, tension mounted. Muslims made it a point to sacrifice a cow instead of a ram or a goat. And they took good care to decorate a cow and march it through streets where Hindus lived before taking it to the slaughterhouse.

The hostility so generated affected all sections of society, even the intellectuals. An anecdote of the time illustrates the rivalry between Hindu and Muslim scholars to prove the superiority of their respective ancient civilizations. It is said that archaeologists excavating the ruins of an old Hindu temple found a rusted steel wire. A Hindu pandit immediately declared this to be evidence that the ancient Hindus had had a telephone system.This spurred Muslim archaeologists to excavate around the site of an old mosque. They could find nothing. But not to be outdone, a Muslim ulema declared this to be evidence that the ancient Muslims had known everything about wireless telegraphy.

The British government set the scene for political separatism when it gave Muslims, and later other religious minorities, separate electorates in elections to legislative bodies.This policy encouraged political parties that represented only the interests of their respective communities. With separate electorates, the British gave Muslims special privileges and thus kept them from joining the nationalists. Another reason for the Muslims keeping aloof from the nationalists was the fact that some of the leading figures in the movement, for instance, Bal Gangadhar Tilak of Maharashtra and Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab, were also associated with Hindu revivalism. British patronage and suspicion of Hindu nationalism gave birth to the Muslim League, which in 1940 demanded an independent Muslim state, Pakistan. 

Continue reading Khushwant Singh’s ‘We Indians’ on the Juggernaut app for free on 23rd October 2021 at 7pm!


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