Migration was Inevitable!

For the Muslims of India, mass migration to Pakistan, lock, stock, and barrel, was not a choice between the lesser of two evils; it was rather a deliberate decision taken in the name of Allah and out of the love for Islam.

By Dr. Pirzada Sharf-e-Alam | March 2023

casting a thorough glance through the annals of history, particularly of the sub-continent, one cannot help oneself looking at a local community in India, comprising both Hindu and Muslim populations, who tend to happily live together with peace, interfaith fraternity, and communal harmony, enjoying absolute freedom to practice their religions or belief system. The scene, characterized by civil solidarity, peaceful coexistence as well as a deep-seated feeling of togetherness, was a ubiquitous site across India, particularly during the 600 years of Muslim rule in a predominantly Hindu-dominated land.

Flipping the page of history, one’s eyes now stumble upon a cantonment site of Meerut, abounding with troops of allegiant, loyal soldiers hailing from the Indian soil. In so doing, the soldiers set an example by refusing to tear open the greased cartridges of their rifles with their teeth, thus launching a mutiny against the British Army for the first time in the history of British India. Challenging the writ of British invaders, the brave Indian soldiers, consisting of both Muslim and Hindu believers, set the motion together for India’s independence. The next page from the history of India brings one to a somewhat blurry image of Maulvi Fazal-e-Haq, blown from a gun as a punishment for being a part of the independence movement.

In the wake of the 1857 War of Independence, the British Empire had decided to break up the unity of Hindu and Muslim communities and the best way to sow the seeds of hatred and loathing among them was to favour the Hindu lot over the Muslims as part of state policy. The divide et impera strategy worked well for the British rulers and the increasing hatred between Muslims and Hindus, slowly but surely, turned into an impregnable wall.

The formation of the Muslim League, the passing of the Lucknow Pact, the ensuing massacre at Jalianwala Bagh some years later, and the peak days of the Khilafat Movement. One keeps turning over the history pages and finds in every next chapter a manifestation of a new reality that keeps popping up unless it is perceived and evoked with all its brutality and ferocity as unleashed by British colonialism. How can one evade such historical watersheds as the Allahabad Address by Dr. Muhammad Iqbal in 1930, the passing of the Lahore Resolution in March 1940, the rise of Subhas Chandra Bose as the most popular leader of the Indian freedom struggle in 1942, and a prolonged but epoch-making negotiation over the partition of India by the top leadership of the Indian National Congress Party and the All-India Muslim League?

Though it is easy to figure out the Partition of India as a destined route to independence, it necessitates a great amount of deliberation and reflection to determine the inevitability of Indian Muslim migration to Pakistan, a newly-independent nation-state. In his poetry book titled ‘Faryad-e-Baba’, my father Pirzada Ashique Keranvi dwells on the chief reason behind the blood-ridden mass exodus of Indian Muslims to Pakistan. While describing the lachrymose tale of his long, blood-stained journey all alone towards a newly-born Muslim state, he often used to reiterate the words of strange rioters, mainly Sikhs and Hindus. They said, “Who the hell told you to carve out Pakistan?” The grisly stories of those who went through the bloody migration during the Partition are legion, scattered all over the place – be it a semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque in Lahore or a temple’s capstone in Varanasi much like the North Star, a cluster of streets of old Delhi or a multi-angled roundabout of Peshawar circled in all directions, green fields laden with ripe summer fruits or extended rail tracks with no end in sight, a busy market thronged by people shopping for Diwali and Eid-ul-Fitr, or be it a lush-green garden or the stoned walls of multistory houses of both Hindus and Muslims wailing across the Pakistan-India border. Each nook and cranny of this part of the world is soaked with the blood of those who left their centuries-old abode in quest of a new resting place.

Among the several interviews I conducted for the 1947 Partition Archive, an oral history organization in Berkeley, California, I can never fail to mention the gory tale of Syed Qasim. A resident of Solapur city of the Indian state of Maharashtra, Qasim, who was merely 7 years old at the time of migration, had to flee his home barefoot in the middle of the night, along with his entire family and community members, with little time to gather anything. Having wandered to and fro for a prolonged period of three months in a row, however, when they came back to Sholapur, they found that all their possessions were stolen and houses encroached. Back to square one, Qasim’s family exerted all its efforts to restart their lives from scratch in Sholapur as truly Indian citizens but all went in vain. In 1952, they once again decided to migrate to Pakistan, as there was no other choice left for the Muslims, come hell or high water!

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