By Shivani Chimnani:
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.
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 book “Partitioned 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.”