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Remembering The Partition: “The Blood Of Innocent Men And Women Flowed On Both Sides”

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By Saeed Naqvi

A suggestion that a neutral army and police force be maintained for peace in the early days of Partition was overruled by a majority of Congress leaders. Nehru and Patel opposed it, of course, but not as vehemently as Dr Rajendra Prasad who emphatically opposed a unified army ‘even for a day’. Why this extreme aversion to a joint army, ‘even for a day’? Because Congress leaders were eager to seal Partition. They wished to leave no room for the issue to be re-opened. Leaders who otherwise stood on a platform of a united India were now adamant that the army must be instantly partitioned just in case a united army signalled the Congress’s ambivalence on the question of Partition.

The undivided Indian army had remained untouched by the politics of religion. But once it was hurriedly divided on communal lines, a communal poison was injected into the army. When, after 15 August, the blood of innocent men and women flowed on both sides of the frontier, ‘the army remained passive spectators’. Let us have the tragedy described in Maulana Azad’s words:

Lord Mountbatten said to me more in sorrow than in anger
that Indian members of the army wanted to take part in
[the] killing [of] Muslims in East Punjab, but the British
officers restrained them with great difficulty. This, however, I
know from personal knowledge that members of the former
undivided Indian army killed Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan
and Muslims in India.

Not only were Congress leaders eager to wield power in Delhi, they very quickly lost interest in keeping up the pretence that partition had been imposed on them. They made it look like their first choice. Having brazenly embraced partition, the Congress Working Committee then watched the consequences of this decision from the sidelines. For decades thereafter, the blame for Partition was heaped on Indian Muslims.

Did Nehru not know that there was not a single member in the senior echelons of the party (who later served in his Cabinet) who had any sympathy for the 90 million Muslims (at the time of Independence) who were to be left behind in India? Take the home minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, for instance. Lord Archibald Wavell made the following entry about him on 17 March 1947 in his book The Viceroy’s Journal: ‘He is entirely communal and has no sense of compromise or generosity towards Muslims, but he is more of a man than most of the Hindu politicians.’

Michael Brecher in his biography of Nehru is equally blunt: ‘Patel was a staunch Hindu by upbringing and conviction. He never really trusted the Muslims and supported the extremist Hindu Mahasabha view of the ‘natural right of the Hindus to rule India.’ How did Nehru ever imagine that an India partitioned on Hindu–Muslim lines would, somehow, remain secular? Because that is what would make him feel good about himself? Such self delusion.

In the post-Partition mayhem, as Muslims were being massacred, Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru were unhappy with the inadequate police arrangements in Delhi. Patel thought otherwise. He said that the reports were ‘grossly exaggerated’. When Gandhiji supported Nehru, Patel lost his temper. He said the situation in Delhi ‘was being competently handled. He would not tolerate any further criticism’. He packed his bags and left for Bombay in a huff.

‘What is the use of my staying?’ he said when he realized Gandhiji was not prepared to listen. ‘He [Gandhiji] seems determined to blacken the name of the Hindus before the whole world.’ Patel was emphatic: he was concerned about the image of ‘Hindus’ not ‘Indians’.

In fact, to explain police inaction to protect Muslims, Patel put out a story that ‘deadly weapons’ had been discovered in the Muslim quarters of Delhi. Azad describes this in his book. Patel’s insinuation was that ‘if the Hindus and the Sikhs had not taken the first offensive, the Muslims would have destroyed them.’ Muslims were very well armed.

As proof, Sardar Patel ordered arms recovered by the police from Karol Bagh and Sabzi Mandi to be brought to the Government House and kept in the ante chamber of the cabinet room. This evidence was to be examined by Lord Mountbatten and the Union cabinet. Dozens of rusted kitchen knives, pocket knives, spikes and fences from old houses and cast iron water pipes were piled on a table. Mountbatten was amused at the exhibition. The Viceroy smiled and remarked that if they had really expected to take Delhi with pen knives then they had an incredible sense of military strategy.

Note: Excerpted with permission from Aleph Book Company from “Being The Other” by Saeed Naqvi. 
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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