FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Past and Prejudice
Updated:Aug 18, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Khaled Ahmed
 
 
I must confess my admiration for the Indian politician Shashi Tharoor. It has a lot to do with my “inebriation with the spoken word”. The occasion was the May 2015 Oxford Union debate, “Britain owes Reparations to Her Former Colonies” which I saw on video. After Tharoor was done with his speech, there was no doubt who had won the day. He has followed up with a book, An Era of Darkness, which I find convincing and informative in equal measure. It is a clever dig at Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul who wrote not so glowingly about India in An Area of Darkness (the book was initially banned in India). But Naipaul went on to even the scales by writing Among the Believers, which caused much consternation in Pakistan. This writer, who had given the book a positive review, was sent messages that barely concealed their threats.
 
 
Imperialism can be judged positively if you undertake a comparative analysis of occupying nations. But colonisation has never been without extractions. Tharoor won the debate not only because of his brilliant style but also because his facts were convincing. In his book, he is careful to take account of the “good” that India’s enslavement did to a rather decadent India under Muslim rule. But it is the thesis of “divide and rule”, generally accepted by those who passionately desired to keep India united after the British left the country, that binds Indians today and informs Indian nationalism. Tharoor sums up the catechism clearly: “The creation and perpetuation of Hindu-Muslim antagonism was the most significant accomplishment of British imperial policy. The project of divide et impera would reach its culmination in the horrors of Partition that eventually accompanied the collapse of British authority in 1947.”
 
 
Pakistan has a similar exceptionalism that opposes the Indian interpretation of the Partition. This view holds that the British Raj sided with India — the last Viceroy Mountbatten and his wife were too close to Nehru — by tilting the formation of the state boundaries in its favour and depriving the new state of Pakistan of Kashmir. People like me in Pakistan — who had to contend with Muslim rationalists like Syed Ahmed Khan being rejected in favour of hard Islam after the Objectives Resolution of 1949 — can’t take the textbook explanations of what happened with an easy conscience. An important book I read in 2002 was Prejudice and Pride: School histories of the freedom struggle in India and Pakistan by Krishna Kumar who remains for me the most perceptive living Indian. He says: “A human child is ‘socialised’ by his parents through a certain process of conditioning to elicit from him a behaviour of obedience. Similarly a state too undertakes conditioning to produce obedient citizens. It uses history to create a uniform mind (national identity) and puts a carefully cultured version of it in the school textbooks.”
 
 
I can speak more confidently about what happened after the British Raj in Pakistan than I can about India, post-1947. Our national poet and philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal — who was knighted by the Raj and didn’t give up his knighthood like Rabindranath Tagore after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre — was supposed to be our guide on ideology. In his lectures he had “reconstructed” Islam by modifying certain ancient edicts, a modernising revision which the post-1947 state of Pakistan rejected. What stares us in the face now is what Pakistan rejected of Iqbal. In his defiance, we haven’t stoned women for adultery, haven’t cut hands for stealing and feel bad about letting down our ideology. But even Iran, where women were once stoned for adultery, has had to give up this practice.
 
 
The Penal Code of the Raj was ruined by introducing into it a matter that haunts the state today. The blasphemy law demonises the state and the law that bans banks from charging interest hurts the economy — Syed Ahmed Khan and Iqbal had argued that charging interest does not violate the scripture. Khushwant Singh who lived in Lahore till 1947 wrote that Hindus and Muslims never mixed socially and that wasn’t because of “divide and rule” of the Raj. But the Raj has started looking better as Christians leave Pakistan to avoid being brutalised by the Blasphemy Law.
 
 
India has veered right and the tensions that emanate from its damaged pluralism are mitigated by the country’s economy: India has a growth rate that makes it attractive to the world, which then overlooks Hindutva. It might seem that the world finds India attractive because it is not ruled by Muslims. But that is not the reason. Turkey’s growth rate has absolved President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he rolls back Kemalism — which I find strangely comparable to the British Raj. Turkey started late but will catch up with India where Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen is being subjected to censorship. Of course, India can’t be compared to what is happening to the Islamic world. But it can start looking worse than the British Raj for people like journalist Saeed Naqvi. He has spelt out his reasons in his recent book, Being the Other.
 
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assumed office again in Bangladesh in 2009, bilateral relations between New Delhi and Dhaka have been on a steady upward trajectory.
 
read-more
  Nearly 58 per cent of the about 600,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are children who suffer from severe malnutrition, a UN report released said.
 
read-more
A unique and passionate gathering of acrophiles, or mountain lovers, took place in neat and picturesque Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram state in north-eastern India in September.
 
read-more
India’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attained a level of maturity which allows it to assert itself in an effective manner. This is aimed at protecting the country’s national interests in a sustained way.
 
read-more
With over 100 incidents of braid chopping reported in different parts of Kashmir, there is widespread fear and anger among the people.
 
read-more
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China's GDP expanded 6.9 percent year on year in the first three quarters of 2017, an increase of 0.2 percent above that of the corresponding period of last year.
 
read-more
As political roller coasters go, there is none as steep and unpredictable as the one shared by the United States and Iran.
 
read-more
In West Asia, the end of one war paves the way for the next. Raqqa, the Syrian capital of the self-styled Islamic State (IS), has fallen to a coalition of rebels, the Syrian Democratic Forces that is backed by the United States.
 
read-more
On “Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century”
 
read-more
Column-image

Title: The People Next Door -The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations; Author: T.C.A. Raghavan; Publisher: HarperCollins ; Pages: 361; Price: Rs 699

 
Column-image

Could the North Korean nuclear issue which is giving the world an anxious time due to presence of hotheads on each side, the invasion of Iraq and its toxic fallout, and above all, the arms race in the teeming but impoverished South Asian subcon...

 
Column-image

Title: A Bonsai Tree; Author: Narendra Luther; Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pages: 227 Many books have been written on India's partition but here is a firsthand account of the horror by a migrant from what is now Pakistan, who ...

 
Column-image

As talk of war and violence -- all that Mahatma Gandhi stood against -- gains prominence across the world, a Gandhian scholar has urged that the teachings of the apostle of non-violence be taken to the classroom.

 
Column-image

Interview with Hudson Institute’s Aparna Pande, whose book From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy, was released on June 17.

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive