Left: Cover of the Book from which this is excerpted. Right : Amal Kiran (K.D. Sethna), 1904-2011
This essay was written by Amal Kiran, and was originally published in the monthly journal ‘Mother India’ sometime between 1949–50, and is currently excerpted from the book “India and the World Scene”.
The Challenge of Repression and Genocide
All over India the minds of men are both anguished and perplexed. The tragedy of the Hindu population in East Bengal is not only terrible but seems to reach down to basic problems of inter-dominion ethics. That is why even the anguish is doubled: there appears to be no clear-cut way out of the tragedy. Tomorrow the communal situation in Pakistan may improve, but it is certain that no guarantee can be found for a fundamental improvement. Murder, mutilation, arson, loot and rape may result any time. How shall we prevent them? What steps would be legitimate?
The most puzzled man in the country is Pandit Nehru. He feels that what is happening in East Pakistan is closely linked up with what has happened for the last two and a half years in Kashmir and yet there is the difference that he could march his armies into Kashmir while now he is holding them back. He is all for peaceful means of settlement and yet he realises that there is no peace, for Pakistan has butchered thousands and vast multitudes are fleeing from that territory because there is no security or justice there and they are moving into India for protection and appealing to her to stop the iniquitous war that is being waged on them. Surely here is a pull in two directions, with the result that a man of fine sensibilities and high principles like our Prime Minister is bound to be in acute torture and oppressed by a sense of being baulked and frustrated.
Are Hindus in Pakistan Nationals or Aliens?
The whole perplexity, however, rests on a central misconception. He has said: “Inevitably, we cannot control happenings in East Bengal except in consultation with the Pakistan Central Government and the Government of East Bengal.” This is but to rephrase the stand taken by East Bengal’s Premier, Mr. Nurul Amin. “My Government,” he says, “are of the opinion that minorities in each country, being nationals of that country, must look to the Government of their own country for protection of their lives and property and that it would be disastrous to future relationship between Pakistan and India to encourage any other feeling tantamount to a form of ex-territorial loyalty in either State.” Mr. Amin is a lawyer and Pandit Nehru has also had a legal training. Both of them stress what seems a point of international law, the one because it suits him, the other because of genuine scruple.
But it is worth while analysing the legal nicety upheld by the heads of the two States. First let us ask: What is its real status in Pakistan’s mind? If Pakistan is based avowedly on the two-nation theory which rules that Muslims and Hindus cannot ever form a single nation, it is illogical to argue that the Hindu minorities in Pakistan can be nationals. By very definition they become aliens. And it is as aliens that Pakistan’s Press regards them. The Dawn of Karachi, which is a semi-official organ of the Pakistan Government, recently argued that the Hindus resident in Pakistan should be treated as aliens and expelled since Assam has passed a law to expel the large number of Muslim immigrants from East Bengal. There is no parity in fact between immigrants who have been citizens of another State and whose motives are suspect and people who have never left a province and have been living there from their birth. Assam is one of those parts of India which figured in Mr. Jinnah’s original plan of Pakistan, just as Kashmir did. Since partition there has been a huge influx of Muslims – almost four times that of non-Muslims – which the Assam Government rightly considers “suspiciously methodical”, the purpose being to flood Assam with Pakistani elements that can raise the standard of revolt and claim to be members of a national uprising more or less on the same pattern as the “Azad” Kashmir gang. There is absolutely no valid reason for Muslims in such masses to move from East Bengal into India; and an Immigrants Bill, calculated to push out these 50,000 undesirables, is a correct measure of security and in consonance with Article 9 of our Constitution. Aliens undoubtedly they are. How can they be compared to the Hindus who have known no other country than East Bengal, mostly agriculturists whose families have been attached to the soil for generations without count? To institute the comparison is simply to declare that a Hindu just by being a Hindu is an alien in Pakistan. And even the comparison happens to be instituted precisely because it is the ineradicable conviction of the upholders of Pakistan that Hindus and Muslims are two nations and cannot be anything else than aliens to each other.
Turning from theory to actual treatment, what do we find? Except for Mr. Mandal of the Depressed Classes, there is not a single Hindu incumbent of a high post in the whole of Pakistan though the number of Hindus is considerable. The Pakistan High Commissioner of Ottawa, Mr. Muhammed Ali, once declared grandiloquently that Mr.Mandal was not the sole non-Muslim enjoying a high post: theGovernor of East Pakistan, the Chairman of the Public Services Commission of that province, several judges of the high court in thePunjab and in East Pakistan, the secretary of the Ministry of Finance, the joint secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the heads of the three services (army, navy and air force), key-men in the foreign service – all these were said to be non-Muslims. But the High Commissioner forgot to add that every one of them was a European and not a Hindu! This sort of false propaganda is typical of Pakistan. But it cannot conceal the active discrimination going on in that dominion. As the Amrita Bazar Patrika has pointed out in relation to the Hindus in East Bengal:
“They have no share in the executive: 25 per cent of the people have no representative in the Cabinet or in the all-powerful bureaucracy. They have no share in legislation, for brute majority (a phrase borrowed by us from pre-partition Muslim League terminology) counts and the voice of the minority is but a cry in the wilderness. They have no share in the judiciary: a community which has produced jurists and judges of international reputation for a century or more cannot provide even a Munsif for the East Pakistan Judicial Service.”
If the Hindus are distinctly treated as aliens in ordinary times, what should we expect when riots break out? The hideous massacres that have put even Hitler’s persecutions into the shade and sent 130,000 Hindus running for dear life from Pakistan into India are a direct result of the Pakistan Government’s policy and in most cases enjoyed the connivance of the authorities. Pandit Nehru has cited the happenings at the Kurmitola Airport near Dacca. Intending passengers – women and children no less than men – were attacked and butchered mercilessly within a stone’s throw of the military headquarters and in the presence of Pakistani armed guards! And such horrors have taken place all over East Bengal. That is why the Pakistan Government has brusquely rejected the proposal for a joint fact-finding commission and tried to impose an iron curtain on the Press. Pakistan’s deeds stink to high heaven and write in letters of blood and tears that the term “nationals” which she applies, whenever it suits her convenience, to the Hindu minorities is an outrageous lie.
Our Right to Armed Intervention
If everything goes to prove that the Hindus are treated as aliens belonging to India and either to be foully murdered or atrociously sent packing to us, can we allow the responsibility for them to rest with Pakistan? It is absurd slavery to the letter of the law to plead that inevitably we have to do nothing save ask the Pakistan Central Government and the Government of East Bengal to control what happens in the latter province. There is not the slightest proof that these Governments have dealt with or ever intend to deal with the Hindu minority as with nationals. A large number of Muslims in India have come forward to proclaim their satisfaction with the Indian Government and condemn Pakistan for her murderous communalism and for the gross falsehoods and exaggerations in her Press for the purpose of further inflaming the lust for jehad. Have any Hindus of Pakistan come forward in condemnation of the Indian Government or in support of Pakistan’s policy? From all sides one single truth stares us in the face: there are no Hindu nationals in Pakistan’s eyes. If that is so, all Hindus within her territory are the concern of India whose nationals they were before the partition. We have every right to take drastic protective steps of our own.
What is more, there is the clear pointer in the very terms of the Partition Treaty by which India was vivisected. India accepted partition in order to avoid communal disturbances. Instead of such disturbances diminishing they rose a thousandfold. But we still honoured the Treaty, thinking that these were unavoidable birthpangs. No such excuse can be found for the holocaust of Khulna and Dacca and Sylhet and Chittagong and Feni [see the wiki “1950 East Pakistan riots“]. They are not the consequences of heated tempers and pent-up animosities. They are the offspring of a cool calculated plan of genocide. They are an integral part of a deliberate policy. And they go against not only natural expectations but also the written terms of the Partition Treaty. Unmistakably is it stated there that India is broken into two with the express understanding that in spite of the cleavage the minorities left in either section should be protected to the fullest. The Indian Government has carried out its promise in an exemplary fashion. Whatever riots took place against the Muslims at the beginning of our post-partition history were sought to be quelled with a firm hand. The same firm hand has been in evidence in Calcutta where the movement of retaliation was immediately checked. It is noteworthy that almost half as many Hindus were shot by the Indian police as Muslims were killed by the Hindus rioters. And the number of Muslims killed in the riots is exceedingly small – a mere drop as compared to the ocean of blood spilt in East Bengal. Every independent witness has borne out the fact that the Muslims of India get all the protection necessary and live with full civic advantages and on a status of equality with the rest of the population. The latest is Professor Said Neaficy of the University of Tehran, who after a three-month tour of India says:
“Pakistan has misrepresented the situation in India. I have visited several towns, cities and villages, and have met Muslims, Christians and Hindus. I cannot anywhere see any evidence to show that minorities are oppressed. In Benares, the holy city of the Hindus, I have participated in the joyful celebrations of the birthday of the Holy Prophet. I have also visited Hyderabad and found that Muslims there are free and equal citizens, sharing the joys and sorrows of their Hindu and Christian brothers.”
Yes, India has kept her word. Pakistan has completely broken hers. The conditions that are integral to the Partition Treaty have been most flagrantly violated and there is not the least sign of any possible change of heart in the Pakistan Government. Only to throw dust in our eyes are high-sounding phrases periodically trotted out. Thus Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan has asserted that protection of Pakistan’s minorities is his Government’s own responsibility and that it is determined to “discharge this duty unflinchingly and with the utmost vigour”. But nothing radical is done. And observers with a sense of history have reminded us that Mr. Jinnah also had said that the minorities living in Pakistan would be treated “not only justly but generously”. Curiously enough, he said this not long after the non-Muslims had been hounded out of West Punjab and the Frontier with knife and gun and fire-brand and shortly before the Hindus of Sind were barbarously compelled to quit! Promises and temporary lulls are, therefore, no proof of a psychological conversion. The most important provisions of the Partition Treaty are a dead letter for Pakistan. The defiance of them entitles us to any measures we may deem fit for securing the welfare of the 12 million Hindus who are in panic in East Bengal. This defiance legally and constitutionally gives us the right even to march our armies into East Pakistan and make an end of Bengal’s partition!
The Alternatives Before Us and Pakistan’s Strategy
Of course, if a better line of action is open to us than armed intervention we should adopt it. Two suggestions have been offered. One is to absorb all the Hindus of East Bengal. But 12 million are not a small number. Can our economy stand the strain? As Acharya Kripalani has pointed out, to accept refugees periodically and in installments instead of all in one continual movement is to be at the mercy of the sweet will of Pakistan to upset our economy whenever she thinks it will suit her hostile intentions. But even a total migration will spell economic disaster for India. There is no earthly reason why we should be subjected to so ruinous an inconvenience. Besides, the length of time over which the total migration would be stretched out would give Pakistani fanatics opportunities enough to harass the Hindu minorities and either slaughter them or push them out, famished and possession-less. The second suggestion is that, if the Hindus of Pakistan are to come here, the Muslims of India must go and make room for them: there must be at least an equal exchange of populations. But to uproot an enormous number of persons from their homelands and carry them to unknown destinations is, as Pandit Nehru said, a task so colossal in magnitude and fraught with such misery to the people concerned that it is difficult to conceive it or to give effect to it within a measurable space of time. Here, too, Pakistani fanatics will have sufficient chance to play havoc with the Hindu minorities. There may be reprisals from the masses in India, and, as in 1947, when the populations of the two Punjabs were forcibly exchanged, the whole process may end in massacre and eviction. Untold tragedy is in store in the scheme apart even from the lesson we have learnt from the unrehabilitated condition of so many out of the 6 million refugees from West Punjab and Sind. And in addition, there is the question whether the Indian Muslims would consent to leave for Pakistan. As a secular state we cannot compel them. Even if we did, what about the Muslims remaining over after 12 million of them have been exchanged for the 12 million Hindus of East Bengal? Nearly double the number would still remain and Pakistan would keep on clamouring about their safety or else demand extra territory to transfer them to and settle them on. India will stand to suffer in all instances – just because the Pakistan Government has let loose the forces of bigotry in East Bengal today.
What, then, is to be done? The only alternative appears to be armed conflict, an alternative perfectly justified, as we have shown, on both moral and legal grounds. We may, however, ask whether armed conflict will not involve a further slaughter by Pakistanis of theHindus within their borders. Commonsense leads us to answer that it must, though we can certainly do much to lessen the evil. But, sooner or later, unless Pakistan disintegrates from within, armed conflict has perhaps to come, and even without it the Hindus of Pakistan have a black future: as Pandit Nehru has clearly put it in his broadcast on March 3:
“The basic difficulty of the situation is that the policy of a religious and communal state followed by the Pakistan Government inevitably produces a sense of lack of full citizenship and a continuous insecurity among those who do not belong to the majority community. That policy leads to hatred and violence and produces conflict.”
The import of these words is that Pakistan is pledged to violent anti-Hindu activity. And this activity implies not only the extermination of Hindus in her own territory but also hostile designs on India. Already there has been invasion of Indian ground in the State of Kashmir whose Maharaja acceded to us by an absolutely unimpeachable instrument backed by Sheikh Abdullah’s democratic party of long standing. War to the finish is the sole solution of the Kashmir deadlock. And the recent tactics of large-scale Muslim immigration into Assam prove that another Kashmir is sought to be staged. Evidently the aim is not to localise the conflict but spread it all over with a view to embarrassing India on many fronts. But Pakistan’s strategy is a very subtle one: there is no direct and open attack. Every species of war possible she wages on the Hindus and with detriment toIndian possessions, without a straight crossing of swords with India.To this she adds a cold war by means of evading the evacuee property issue and creating a standstill in trade and attempting to “jitter” our nerves by moves like the recent concentration of troops on the borders of Cooch, Behar and opposite the Purnea District of Bihar. Her plan for the nonce is to attain all her ends without direct war because she banks on our intense desire for peace and our inclination to go to great lengths of compromise on account of that desire. But her long-range plan most probably is open war: she knows that a point will be reached when India will no longer be in a mood to compromise or adopt peaceful methods, and against that day she is preparing at a feverish tempo. Even in the future, however, she would like us to be the aggressor in the world’s eyes so that she may lift up her hands in appeal to the world against our infamy and seek aid or bring about anti-Indian sanctions. If we still fail to walk into the trap, she may herself unleash her military might, and hope because of her strategic geography vis-a-vis Russia to get away with her misdemeanour. The onset of war seems, therefore, most likely if not as certain as the persecution of the Hindu minorities and the damaging of Indian interests in every field. It would be prudent on our side not to neglect considering whether we should declare war now or wait till Pakistan does it or else delay in the expectation of a more advantageous posture of circumstances.
The “When” and “Where” of War
At the moment the food situation in our country is not very bright. But the stream of refugees daily flowing in will make it worse. And that means a weakening of our war potential. Hence, not to take immediate steps on the basis that by her brutal behaviour and callous intransigence Pakistan has provided us with a casus belli may be dangerous. Another reason for immediate steps is: the quicker the blow, the more chance of preventing harm from befalling the Hindus left in East Bengal. A third reason may be suggested: the more rapidly we act, the less chance we give West Pakistan to make any effective arrangement for sending East Pakistan military aid. There are a thousand miles of land between, and a greater distance by sea. Both the land-route and the sea-route will be impossible. Even the air-route is highly vulnerable and, besides, it may be questioned whether West Pakistan has a sufficient air-fleet to keep sending material as well as men. East Bengal is bound to be an irreparable casualty if we do not delay armed attack. Not that our delay would enable East Bengal to be ever our match: we shall be victorious any time and there is not much that West Pakistan can do by way of reinforcements. But celerity would save us a lot of trouble. Against the three reasons we have submitted, there is only the consideration of international opinion. But here a significant nuance must be borne in mind. Although we are aware that West Pakistan no less than East Pakistan is bent on rendering peace and prosperity most difficult for India and that her invasion of Kashmir and, still more, her continuance in this province is as legitimate a casus bellias the persecution of Hindus in East Bengal full two and a half years after partition – although we are aware of a justification for war on both halves of a rabidly communalist dominion, attack in the West is likely not to be deemed necessary at the moment by international opinion. Also, it is not immediately vital for us and we might do well not to take the initiative. Militarily, here also we have no cause for doubting ultimate success, unless the U.N.O. and the Great Powers take measures against us, which is not probable in case of Pakistan’s attacking us instead of vice versa. If the U.N.O. and the Great Powers keep out of the picture, Pakistan will hardly have a comfortable time. The Pakhtoon movement is in full swing and Afghanistan is sore and impatient: they may, to say the least, greatly inconvenience her. Even otherwise, as a writer in the Hindustan Times has noted, she has no ordnance factories and industries to keep her army well-supplied, and her only line of communications, north to south, runs close to the border and is liable to be cut any instant, thus severing her forces operating in the north from Karachi. Yes, we have little need to fear West Pakistan’s saber-rattling. Yet to precipitate war with her may not find favour before the world. East Bengal, however, is a different proposition, and a magnified police action as against Hyderabad though with a somewhat dissimilar moral and legal case should be perfectly in order according to international standards broadly and humanely interpreted. So, if an immediate military move is to be ours, the local character of it must be clearly explained, and we must leave West Pakistan severely alone and, while fully preparing to meet emergencies anywhere, cross only our eastern borders. Such a move seems the best answer to the challenge of repression and genocide. Nevertheless, deep thought must be taken before we launch on any corrective action. Whatever is necessary cannot be lightly done and the Government must weigh every possible factor. Neither the public nor the Press should hustle those in authority who are best qualified for an overall view. If some delay is required, then it must be accepted, no matter how unpalatable. But not the smallest misgiving should there be in any quarter about our right to deal East Bengal a swift and crippling blow.