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During Partition, What My Grandmom’s Muslim Neighbours Did To Fight Hindu-Muslim Hate

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By Shivani Chimnani:

August 1947

Rumours were rife; Hindus were being slain in all parts of the North West Frontier. Fear, apprehension and animosity arose amongst all Hindus in the land of Sindh, a province in modern-day Pakistan, a once harmonious and united agrarian city, caught in the midst of ruthless religious turmoil.

Brutalities of the severest nature were being committed. No one was spared. Rape, murder, torture and various other heinous crimes were being committed everywhere.

My grandmother fell victim to perhaps one of the greatest refugee crisis India had ever faced. Her family heard about the bloodshed pervading in their motherland and began to devise elaborate plans of escape.

August 15, 1947, while a day of immense celebration for most people in India after being liberated from the shackles of the despotic British rule, millions of people were being displaced from their homes, irrespective of the side of the border they belonged to.

My great grandmother decided to guise my then adolescent grandmother as a married woman by making her wear red bangles and putting crimson powder on her forehead to prevent her from being raped or abducted.

They decided to leave behind all the property including mansions, fields, jewellery and other riches because the threat seemed grave and imminent. In the midst of all these expedient plans of escape, hustle-bustle and dreadful circumstances, something wonderful happened.

My grandmother’s Muslim neighbours arrived at her doorstep. They weren’t there to threaten or harm them but simply there to ask them to stay. Rather, begged them to stay.

They profusely apologised for the vile acts being committed against Hindus even though it was due to no fault of theirs. They promised to protect my grandmother’s family, to keep guard, to lie, to bear the brunt, to do whatever it took to ensure the family’s safety. All their Muslim neighbours assured them that they would take turns keeping guard and constantly be on the lookout for persons who’d try to hurt them. They promised my family’s safety so they could keep their home, their lives intact.

My grandmother was pretty scarred by the partition and doesn’t speak much about it. But, when I ask her about her neighbours, there isn’t any religious prejudice or hate or fury or dejection, she simply says, “Woh bohot ache insaan the”. (They were the nicest human beings).

My grandmother’s family after weighing in all circumstances ultimately decided to flee but till date this gesture of her neighbours remains very dear to her heart.

If they would’ve chosen to stay, the apparent “enemies” heartfelt assurances would have been the reason.

While there were two communities fiercely fighting each other at one place, the same two communities were helping or rather willing to put everything at stake to protect each other at the very same place.

This story moved me to extents unbounded. I always believe and will continue to believe hate spread in the name of religion is something certain unscrupulous people concoct to favour their own gains. Religious prejudice is incited not inherited.

In the recent past, various initiatives have been introduced with the aim of fostering India-Pakistan unity and busting the myth that there prevails discord between ordinary citizens of India and Pakistan.

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The History Project (THP) is one such initiative wherein history textbooks comprising excerpts from three Indian textbooks and nine Pakistani textbooks, provides students with an illuminating comparison of the ways that key historical events – leading up to the partition – are taught in schools in both countries.

Various discrepancies in history are a major reason for conflict amongst the present generation. The other side is always depicted in an unfair and biased manner. The History Project targets to curb these inconsistencies.

Their latest bookPartitioned Histories: The Other Side of Your Story” highlights the two perspectives of history from the Indian and Pakistani side by offering an insight into the ways history has been skewed with attempts to glorify one’s nation and putting one class at loggerheads with another.

Sanaya Patel, a student of law at Government Law College, Mumbai and the co-author of the book, says “THP wants to start a conversation. This conversation is about two nations’ shared history. This conversation is important because it shapes the mindset of students on both sides of the border. A major reason why this conversation hasn’t taken place is partly because of the way we’re taught history. We’ve been taught history from a single perspective which perpetuates an inherent gap in the way we study the same event.

THP aims to underscore the varied perspectives and show children of both nations the other side of the story so they can begin to understand a historical event without preconceived prejudices which otherwise lead to an ideological gap. THP endeavours to fill this gap.”

Notions of national or religious hate have been so deeply entrenched in our minds because of the very fact that we’ve been taught the same since primary school.

Modern politics embraces, propagates and manipulates anti-Pakistan or anti-India prejudices and attitudes. The truth still remains that we don’t know the other side of the story and that we must.

THP must be greatly lauded for taking such initiatives to foster inter-nation harmony and bridging the gap.

As James Redfield once said “History is supposed to provide knowledge of the longer context within which our lives take place. History is not just the evolution of technology; it is the evolution of thought. By understanding the reality of the people who came before us, we can see why we look at the world the way we do, and what our contribution is toward further progress.”

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  1. Yogesh Shugani

    Same Story told by my grandma.

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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.

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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.

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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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