By Abdul Majeed Abid
December 15, 2014
The popular narrative about history of Pakistan involves the following version, in short or detailed format. After the fall of Mughal Empire, the East India Company started ruling the subcontinents, using different machinations and forming alliances with Hindus. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan realized the educational backwardness of Muslims and founded Aligarh school that later became a university. The All India Congress was formed in the 1880s and most of its leaders and workers were Hindus. In the early twentieth century, Muslims got their own political party named the All India Muslim League. The two parties initially agreed on certain issues, culminating in the Lucknow Pact but later parted ways. A movement to restore the Ottoman Caliphate was active in the second half of the twentieth century. In the following decades, schemes for future constitution of India were presented by Motilal Nehru—known as the Nehru Report—and by Mr. Jinnah in the form of fourteen points. The Government of India Act was passed in 1935, granting citizens the right to vote.
Elections held in 1937 resulted in a huge victory for Congress and a shock for All India Muslim League. The Congress ministries were a disaster for communal relations and were dismissed after two years. In March 1940, a resolution was passed in Lahore by All India Muslim League, demanding a separate Muslim homeland. There were two different delegations sent by the British government during the 1940s—the Cripps Mission and Cabinet Mission—in an attempt to decide the future of British India. In June 1947, the independence of India was announced to take place in August 1947.End of Story.
While the facts mentioned in this ‘version’ of history are mostly correct, they lose their meaning without proper context. For one, this narrative is completely India-Centric and doesn’t inform students about changes taking place in the international arena, barring the example of the ultimately futile and misguided Caliphate movement. Another angle that this story misses completely is about the anti-imperialist struggle of freedom fighters who risked their lives for gaining independence from the British Raj, much before the actual partition. Without proper context regarding the role of India in British Empire, colonial structures and their implications or the two world wars in which Indian soldiers were used as cannon fodder by the Raj and resistance movements against the Empire; one cannot fathom the curse of imperialism and the history of our region.
One of the prominent motifs in the modern history of India was the allegiance shown by the Muslim intelligentsia to the British Crown. Every major Muslim figure mentioned in textbooks of “Pakistan Studies”, from Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to Mr. Jinnah, publicly supported the British Raj at different moments in history. One can agree or disagree with their pro-British positions but the fact that these positions are deliberately kept out of the public view is deplorable. Coupled with the upper-class snobbery displayed by the Muslim League leaders, toeing the British line was a hallmark of Muslim politics before partition. Both these characteristics were present in the personality of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. One of the three objectives for its foundation as described by All-India Muslim League was loyalty to British Crown and to cultivate good relations with the Raj.
Sir Syed earned his ‘ropes’ during the mutiny of 1857, Iqbal wrote eulogies for the Queen and British officials deputed to India and the All India Muslim League sided with the British during the Second World War while the Congress was openly opposing involvement of Indian troops in the war. Even the Khilafat Movement indirectly helped the British case against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk after the First World War. What needs to be taught to younger generations and discussed with general public are the indigenous anti-colonial movements emanating from Indian Subcontinent in the twentieth century.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, millions of people had lost their lives in the subcontinent due to repeated famines. In the first decade of the twentieth century and up to 1915, unemployment was on the rise in Punjab. In 1914, Punjabi labourers in San Francisco launched the Ghaddar Movement, named after the 1857 Mutiny (which was derisively named ‘Ghaddar’ by the British). It was the first in a series of radical anti-colonial movements in India. It was also one of the only movements in which migrant workers returned to free their homeland from foreign rule.
Composed largely of Punjabi Migrant workers in United States and Canada, the movement sought to rid their country of the British Empire. It started with publication of a weekly paper published in Urdu and Punjabi, titled ‘Ghaddar’. Their exposure to American and Canadian societies helped them understand the reason of misery faced by fellow Indians: It was colonialism. One of the underlying theme in Ghaddar movement and other radical movements that followed it was their non-communal character and emphasis on Indian nationalism.
The Ghaddarites failed to achieve their goals but were able to strike fear among hearts of British officials. The year that Ghaddar movement officially ended (1919), Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place in Amritsar. Bhagat Singh and his comrades were inspired by both the Ghaddar movement and colonial brutality showcased at Jallianwala Bagh. During the Second World War, Subhash Chandra Bose (aided by the Axis forces) raised Indian National Army (INA), in Southeast Asia. The aim of the army was to secure Indian independence with Japanese assistance. The INA contributed to independence of India as the trials of captured INA officers in India provoked massive protests in their favour, eventually triggering the Bombay Mutiny of British Indian Forces.
Some historians insist that indigenous movements against the Raj failed to have a broader impact on Indian politics and should thus be discarded to the dustbin of history. I completely disagree with this notion as it generalizes the movements and discounts the grassroots support for such movements. It is imperative that current and future generations of Pakistanis be educated about their ancestors who raised their voices and even gave their lives fighting Imperialism.
Abdul Majeed Abid is a freelance columnist.