A moving account of how two women, one, the wife of Maulana Azad’s nephew, Nooruddin Ahmed, and the other, her sister, preferred India to Pakistan after Partition despite lucrative offers from the other side
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
Jo chala gaya usey bhool ja/ Hind ko apni Jannat bana! (Forget all those who had left/Treat India as your only trust)
—Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Indian scholar and politician
“The Muslim identity of India is a thoroughly Indian identity, very different from the Islamic identity of other Muslim countries,” my mother often told me. She said that she could have admitted me to Habib School in Karachi or Aitchison or Lawrence College in Lahore as there were many offers even years after Partition but love for her homeland prevented it.
In the aftermath of 1947, my maternal grandmother, Amjadi Begum, asked her children—Nazuk Jahan Begum (my mother), Qaisar Jahan Begum (my aunt) and Mohammed Ali Khan (my uncle)—to stay loyal to India.
Qaisar Jahan (the author’s aunt) had completed her MEd, two masters in Economics and History and was doing a third one in Urdu. Though she was offered good posts in Pakistan, she refused.
My aunt told me that it was Maulana Azad’s speech in 1948 from the steps of Shahjahani Jama Masjid that not only forced my maternal grandparents but many other families to open their bistarband (luggage) supposedly heading for Karachi and remain in India.
The Radcliffe Line dividing India and Pakistan was hastily drawn. Sir Cyril Radcliffe had never been to India and was given little time to implement the Partition. He worked with outdated maps and census figures.
Maulana Azad reprimanded Indian Muslims who were planning to cross the border for greener pastures. He asked: “Do you remember? I hailed you, you cut off my tongue, I picked my pen, you severed my hand, I wanted to move forward, you broke off my legs; I tried to run over, and you injured my back. When the bitter political games of the last seven years were at their peak, I tried to wake you up at every danger signal. You not only ignored my call but revived all the past traditions of neglect and denial. As a result, the same perils surround you today, whose onset had previously diverted you from the righteous path.”
He continued in his impeccable flow: “Where are you going and why? Raise your eyes. The minarets of Jama Masjid want to ask you a question. Where have you lost the glorious pages from your chronicles? Was it only yesterday that on the banks of the Jamuna, your caravans performed wuzu? Today, you are afraid of living here! Remember, Delhi has been nurtured with your blood. Brothers! Create a basic change in yourselves. Today, your fear is misplaced as your jubilation was yesterday.”
The Maulana added: “My dear brothers, today you are leaving our country; did you ever think what will be the outcome of this? If you go away the Muslims in India will become weak. Listen to me carefully, Hindu can differ with your religion but they can’t differ within your qaumiyat (clan), but in Pakistan you will face the difference of the clan as they’ll treat you as chattel.”
He also said: “What makes me sadder is that some people have mixed with British and made the ijtemaiyat (togetherness) of Muslims weak.”
No one in India and Pakistan can deny that Partition was a trauma. The large mass of people involved in this two-way exodus was permanently scarred by it as it was the single-most traumatic happening in recent Indian history. The violence it unleashed was unprecedented and barbaric. Memories of those days still mark social behavior, political judgments and moral rightness of everyone in the region, said my mother and her sister. Remembering it is not such a good thing if it intensifies the hatred India and Pakistan have nurtured for each other.
My mother died in 1986 and my aunt, Qaisar, in 1994. Both were offered the best packages in the name of religion in the aftermath of Partition but they voted to stay in India. My aunt was offered the post of director, Radio Pakistan, Karachi and four Dakota plane tickets for the family but they refused. This is a lesson for Kashmiri brethren who flutter Pakistan’s flag.
Both the sisters stuck to their homeland, bringing alive this couplet: “Jo chala gaya usey bhool ja/Hind ko apni jannat bana! (Forget all those who had left/Treat India your only trust)” I have often been narrated Partition stories during family discussions, which testify to the irrational passions that erupted so violently among Hindus and Muslims as they forgot their humanity, faith and cultural pride, and began to stalk and kill each other.
Qaisar Jahan would often wonder: “Why were they tempted by the cowardice of the killer, the ravings of the religious fanatic and the frenzy of the mob? Why did the light of reason, decency and piety which had guided their struggle against colonial rule and given it dignity, fade so suddenly?” Nevertheless, she loved India for its secularism and safety.
At that time, Qaisar Jahan had completed her MEd, two masters in Economics and History and was doing a third one in Urdu. Even though she was offered good posts in Pakistan, she refused as she had lost her father, Ahmed Nabi Khan, a cavalryman in the English army, and had to look after her mother and sister. Her brother, Mohammed Ali Khan, was taking care of his own family. Qaisar didn’t want to take a chance in a newly created nation, leaving the cozy warmth and safety of her home in Delhi.
It was a rare feat that this Muslim lady had studied so much at a time when Muslim women weren’t even allowed to peep outside their houses. Later, she was selected by Fatima Begum, a sister of Maulana Azad, as a bride for her son, Nooruddin Ahmed. The precondition from Maulana Azad was that she shouldn’t work after marrying his nephew.
But this warning from a man of Maulana’s stature and caliber did not work as she wanted to work as an Economics lecturer at IP College. She said “no” to Nooruddin, who later, clandestinely married her elder sister, Nazuk Jahan Begum, with a design to avenge the insult. In fact, Qaisar had gone to Azad’s office in 1956 for a recommendation letter to work as lecturer in Indraprastha College when Nooruddin saw her and fell in love with her. Nazuk Jahan too accompanied her.
Both my mother and aunt being educated were always abreast of what was happening around them and read The Statesman regularly. They defied the Muslim League and staunchly supported the Congress as Azad was their political hero. Azad would often say: “Water cannot be cut in twain!” But it was cut and there were terrible riots on both sides of the Radcliffe Line.
Qaisar Jahan would often discuss the man who was put in charge of Partition by the British—Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Radcliffe had never been to India and was given little time to implement the Partition. He worked with outdated maps and census figures. The Radcliffe Line, as it is known, became the border between India and Pakistan.
“The British simply didn’t want to get their hands dirty in this business of keeping Indians from going at each other’s throats, with the result that the British military did not actually try to prevent people from massacring each other or abducting each other or taking possession of property,” Qaisar would often say.
All those descriptions conveyed to me the grim reminder of how one should not forget the horrors of 1947. My mother would describe the gory sight of trains from both sides where people were mauled, murdered, raped and mutilated. Women, especially, were used as instruments of power by both Hindus and Muslims.
Hindu revivalists also deepened the chasm between the two nations. They resented Muslims for their former rule over India. They also wanted to change the official script from Persian to the Hindu Devanagri script, effectively making Hindi rather than Urdu the national language.
It was Maulana Azad’s speech in 1948 from the steps of Shahjahani Jama Masjid that forced many Muslim families to open their luggage supposedly heading for Karachi and remain in India.
Muslim revivalists, on the other hand, vied for a new El Dorado in Pakistan. They thought that migration would mean a bed of roses. It was another thing that the Muslim League experiment failed. Partition didn’t deliver the goods either for India or Pakistan.
Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, said the goal of a separate Muslim state should be peace within and peace without. But that goal has proved elusive in the past six decades. Till my mother and aunt died, they believed that Pakistan was created out of religious frenzy and would be a jilted experiment—a prophecy that has proved true.
—The writer is a commentator on social issues and the
grandnephew of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
Lead picture: Firoz Bakht Ahmed’s mother would describe the gory sight of trains from both side of the border during Partition. Photo: YouTube