By Justice Syed Asif Shahkar
September 30, 2012
It will not be wrong to say that Hindus suffered the worst losses and were the ultimate victims of the partition of 1947
When Hindus left West Punjab at the time of the partition, they also left behind assets worth billions of rupees. With the exception of Jalandhar and some areas (now in Haryana), they did not participate in the killing of Muslims in East Punjab. Sikhs took charge of the machine to kill and annihilate the Muslim population. Hindus, nonetheless, became victims and a target of butchery and carnage.
When Hindus did reach East Punjab, they had been reduced to the status of a nobody and nothing; they were mere refugees. Since not many Muslims who moved out were traders or business owners, as a result there was not enough property that could be claimed by refugees from West Punjab. Besides, the established rich Hindu business owners of East Punjab were not willing to give a helping hand to them. They perceived them as a nuisance and a threat so they discriminated against them and opposed them with passion. The majority of the displaced Sikhs and Muslims were farmers, so when Sikhs arrived in East Punjab they claimed the land left by Muslims and started farming. All the doors were closed on the displaced and destitute Hindu refugees. With no support from the local Hindu business owners and no resources to start new businesses, the only occupation they knew, they were left to somehow fend for themselves.
Hindu refugees had hardly found a footing in East Punjab when the brawl over language started. Sikhs associated the Gurmukhi script with the Sikh religion. When they tried to enforce it in Punjab, Hindus resented it zealously. It was the beginning of a long and intense language-based conflict between Sikhs and Hindus. In this discord, the Hindus moved to the other extreme; they discarded Punjabi and claimed Hindi to be their language. This decision of the Hindus was the first step on the path leading to more problems. Is Punjabi language the sole legacy and property of Sikhs or Muslims? Is this a fair question for Hindus? Muslims and Sikhs came into being not too long ago whereas Punjabi as the language of Hindus in this part of the land has been there for thousands of years.
If Hindus resented Punjabi in the Gurmukhi script, they could have used Dev Nagri script but they completely discarded Punjabi and took refuge in the arms of Hindi. Punjabi Hindus forgot that Hindi and Urdu were the black holes used by the British to rob them of their roots, identity and heritage.
Just like in 1947, Punjab was once again in the grip of a violent storm. Homes were torched and the blood of the innocent flowed freely. Dreadful screams and cries filled the air. Hindus were again forced to flee. Those who were displaced during this upheaval, once again, became penniless and destitute. Hindus got a rough deal; like a ball, they had been kicked from one place to another and then to still another place.
The present status of the Punjabi Hindus is nothing as compared to the grand standing they enjoyed before the partition. It will not be wrong to say that Hindus suffered the worst losses and were the ultimate victims of the partition of 1947. The Punjabi Hindu is defeated, forlorn and forsaken; with a lost identity and roots he has misplaced his footing, and like a dry leaf in the wind, is blown from here to there. In the Punjab of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro where the Hindu once enjoyed a powerful status, today, every step has been taken to wipe out every symbol representative of his heritage and presence. Not only that, he is not even allowed to visit this place as a tourist. How unfair and unjust is that. Their status and position in East Punjabadi (the present East Punjab) is not desirable or worthy either.
In the past, many forces have played a role in bringing them down, but the Hindus cannot absolve themselves of their own actions by which they have brought devastation and misfortune upon themselves. Before and after the partition, they blindly tagged along and played in the hands of the Congress Party and the other staunch Hindu parties. In the post-partition era, there has been a lack of unity among Hindus. The Punjabi Hindu, out of sheer selfishness, refused to give a helping hand to the refugee Hindus. An outdated caste system has forever divided the Hindus. On top of that, they have not had a real progressive leadership, and as a result, the Punjabi Hindu laid down all his defences, succumbing to the political powerhouses of Delhi and UP.
Some Punjabi Hindus also suffer from certain complexes and hang-ups. Inflicted by a superiority complex, which is nothing but a pseudo ego trip, a Punjabi Hindu thinks and considers himself to be the most cultured, educated and modern. Their decision to have less or no children is the result of this idea of being modern. The Hindu sitting in the UP and Bihar, though poverty-stricken, is not producing less children. Why is the Punjabi Hindu doing that, when affordability is not even the issue? If to be modern was to have less or no children then Sweden would have been on the top, but here Swedes are encouraged and rewarded to have more children. Although a shrinking number of Punjabi Hindus is a reality, but even those living here are not interested to stay here. Everyone is eager and all set to flee Punjab to settle in the US, Canada, Australia or any European country.
Due to the same idea of modernity, the Punjabi Hindu turned his back on his language and heritage, the same Hindu who was once the proud owner and heir of Punjab, the Punjabi language and Punjabi heritage, for whose preservation his ancestors had made huge sacrifices. Today, he is ashamed and reluctant to be associated with anything ‘Punjabi’. Frankly, I want to ask them, do they really believe that the non-Hindi speaking Hindus are ignorant, uncultured or uncivilised? Was Rabindranath Tagore (the eminent Bengali poet) illiterate, uncultured and uncivilised in their eyes?
(To be continued)
Justice Syed Asif Shahkar is a serving Justice in Sweden