Book Review: The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia by Vazira Zamindar

If there is one book on Partition I was asked to recommend, this would be it! Normally we read about the ‘high politics’ of partition, communal riots, mass migration and finally the creation of two dominions India and Pakistan through the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Most history books then freeze Partition..This book breaks that myth and lays down how the process continued till at late as the mid 50s (some would say 1965) before citizenship got congealed and frozen.

Vazira Zamindar lifts the curtain on the role both the states played in making partition a fluid process till the mid 50s, how the idea of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent was nothing but a ‘fraud’ and ‘myth’ perpetrated by Jinnah, with the newly created dominion of Pakistan doing everything in its power to control the immigration of non Punjabi Muslims to Pakistan. The book reinforces my view that Pakistan basically was Jinnah’s vanity project in which he succeeded. In fact Liaqat while meeting Indian Muslims in a refugee camp in Delhi clearly stated that they had only two options before them; fight for their rights with the Indian government or start a civil war. The movement to Pakistan was not an option for them.

Similarly, despite the professed secularism of the Indian state the treatment of the Indian state with regards Hindu migrants and re-returning Muslim migrants from Pakistan differed. While Hindus got citizenship easily, many Muslims who had gone to Pakistan in the early days of partition and wanted to return subsequently were subjected to increased surveillance, legalese and demands of proof of loyalty. There are heart wrenching stories of discrimination that not only Muslim men faced but also women and children who returned back to India.

The book highlights the role that evacuee property legislations passed by the states played in creating difficulties for Muslims in India as well as Hindus in Pakistan. In fact both the states used this law to dispossess minorities and use these properties to settle the incoming co religious (majority in the states) refugees. So much so states had provisions like ‘intending evacuees’ where a property could be declared as evacuee property even when one decided to visit the next mohalla!

Post the Nehru Liaqat Pact and Gandhi ji’s assassination communal frenzy quietened down in India and nearly 95,000 Muslims who had gone to Pakistan registered to come back. However both states used instruments like Permits and finally Passports to restrict their return and made things more difficult for them in acquiring citizenship.

A great book which should be a mandatory read for all, going beyond the ‘High Politics’ history that we are mostly taught. It makes us realize the price common people pay when they start visualizing ‘utopias’ and are carried away by the ‘rhetoric of demagogues’ without clinically analysing what that utopia actually entails or could lead to.

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