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22 Oct


Nation Building Process and its Challenges

Partition and its aftermath

The initial few years of independent India were full of daunting challenges and concerns regarding national unity and territorial integrity of India. Freedom came with Partition, which resulted in large scale communal violence and displacement and unprecedented violence challenged the very idea of a secular India. Independent India faced three kinds of challenges:

i. The first and immediate challenge was to shape a nation that was united, yet accommodative of the diversity in our society. Due to the large landscape, different cultures with different regions and religions, variety of spoken languages, many people widely believed that a country with such amount of diversity could not remain together for long. ii. The second challenge was to establish democracy. India adopted representative democracy based on the parliamentary form of government. These features strived to ensure that the political competition would take place in a democratic framework. The challenge was to develop democratic practices in accordance with the constitution. iii. The third challenge was to ensure inclusive development and well-being of the entire society. Due to the widespread poverty, the real challenge now was to evolve effective polices for economic development and eradication of poverty. Partition: Displacement and RehabilitationOn 14–15 August 1947, two nation states came into existence, because of ‘partition’ of the division of British India into India and Pakistan. According to the “two nation theory” advanced by the Muslim League, India consisted of two ‘People’ Hindus and Muslims. Due to the forceful circumstances and several political developments in 1940’s the political competition between the congress and the Muslim League and the British role led to the decision for the creation of Pakistan. A very important task at hand was demarcation of boundaries. After 3rd June plan of Mountbatten a British jurist Radcliff was invited to fix the problem and to form two boundary commissions one for Bengal and one for Punjab. Four other members were also there in commission but there was a deadlock between Congress and Muslim league. On 17th August, 1947 he announced his award. Limitation of this award: a) Justice Radcliff had no prior knowledge about India. b) He had no specialized knowledge needed for the task also. c) He had no advisors and experts. d) 6 week deadline that Radcliff had was also a limitation of this award. It was decided to follow the principle of religious majorities which means that areas where the Muslims were in majority would make up the territory of Pakistan. The remaining was to stay with India. The principle of religious majorities had entailed with it so many difficult positions: i. There were two areas of concentration with Muslim majority, In the West and East part of India. Hence, it was decided that the new country. Pakistan will comprise two territories, West and East Pakistan. ii. All the Muslims were not in favour joining Pakistan. Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, the undisputed leader of the North West Frontier Province, staunchly opposed the two nation theory. But as Khudai khidmatgar of Abdul Ghaffar Khan boycotted the Plebiscite due to provision of limited franchise rights in that, the lone contender in the fray, the Muslim League, won the vote by default and in the end NWFP was made to merge with Pakistan. iii. Two Muslims majority concentrated provinces of British India, Punjab and Bengal had very large areas with non Muslims population in the majority. Eventually it was decided that these two provinces would be bifurcated according to the religious majority at the district or even lower level. The partition of these two provinces caused the prolonged trauma of Partition.

v. The last difficult position was of “minorities” on both the sides of the border. Minorities then on either side lived in fear and fled from their homes to save their lives from brutal violence unleashed during partition.

Consequence of Partition:

The year 1947, saw the one of the most abrupt and haphazard, tragic transfer of people that human history had ever witnessed. There were brutal killings, atrocities, rapes, on both sides of the border. The cities like Lahore, Amritsar, Kolkata (then Calcutta) got divided into “Communal Zones”. In many cases women were killed by their own family members to preserve the ‘family honor’. Everything was divided then from tables, chairs to government officials. It is estimated that the Partition forced about 80 lakhs people to migrate across the new border. Between five to 10 lakh people were killed in Partition related violence. The government of India was successful in providing relief and in resettlement and rehabilitation of nearly six million refugees from Pakistan. A department of rehabilitation was created. Various refugee camps were set up some notable being camp at Kurukshetra and Kolwada camp at Bombay. Many of the Hindus and Sikhs fleeing West Punjab were directed by the government of India to refugee camp in Kurukshetra. A vast city of tents had grown up on the plain, to house waves of migrants, sometimes up to 20,000 a day. Kurukshetra was the largest of the nearly 200 camps set up to house refugees from West Punjab. While there were five refugee camps in Mumbai for refugees from Sindh region. Some refugees had arrived before the date of transfer of power; among them prescient businessmen who had sold their properties in advance and migrated with the proceeds. However, the vast majority came after15 August 1947, and with little more than the clothes on their skin. These were the farmers who had ‘stayed behind till the last moment, firmly resolved to remain in Pakistan if they could be assured of an honourable living’. But when, in September and October, the violence escalated in the Punjab, they had to abandon that idea. The Hindus and Sikhs who were lucky enough to escape the mobs fled to India by road, rail, sea and on foot. Camps such as Kurukshetra were but a holding operation. The refugees had to be found permanent homes and productive work. Thus refugees required land for permanent settlement. As it happened, a massive migration had also taken place the other way, into Pakistan from India. Thus, the first place to resettle the refugees was on land vacated by Muslims in the eastern part of the Punjab. If the transfer of populations had been ‘the greatest mass migration’ in history now commenced ‘the biggest land resettlement operation in the world’. As against 2.7 million hectares abandoned by Hindus and Sikhs in West Punjab, there were only 1.9 million hectares left behind by Muslims in East Punjab. The shortfall was made more acute by the fact that the areas in the west of the province had richer soils, and were more abundantly irrigated. To begin with, each family of refugee farmers was given an allotment of four hectares, regardless of its holding in Pakistan. Loans were advanced to buy seed and equipment. While cultivation commenced on these temporary plots, applications were invited for permanent allotments. Each family was asked to submit evidence of how much land it had left behind. Applications were received from 10 March 1948; within a month, more than half a million claims had been filed. These claims were then verified in open assemblies consisting of other migrants from the same village. As each claim was read out by a government official, the assembly approved, amended, or rejected it. Expectedly, many refugees were at first prone to exaggeration. However, every false claim was punished, sometimes by a reduction in the land allotted, in extreme cases by a brief spell of imprisonment. This acted as a deterrent; still, an officer closely associated with the process estimated that there was an overall inflation of about 25 per cent. To collect, collate, verify and act upon the claims a Rehabilitation Secretariat was set up in Jullundur. At its peak there were about 7,000 officials working there; they came to constitute a kind of refugee city of their own. The bulk of these officials were accommodated in tents, the camp serviced by makeshift lights and latrines and with temporary shrines, temples for Hindus and gurdwaras for Sikhs.

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