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The Partition of Punjab in 1947

The Partition of India in 1947 resulted in the biggest forced migration in history — some 14 million people altogether of which 10 million were from the Punjab.

Secret behind Punjabi Nationalism

From the North-Western side, Punjab acted as a gateway into the fertile plains of the Indian sub-continent. Ths was a key reason why the ancestors of the present day Punjabi people had to face numerous foreign invaders from Central Asia and beyond. 1000 AD onwards, Punjab had to face continuous military aggression, starting from the Greeks under Alexander, followed by invasions by the Ghazni, Ghauri, Tughlaqs, Lodhis and the Mughals. Subsequently, during the reign of the Mughal empire, Punjab was invaded by the Afghans (Nadir Shah, Ahmed Shah Abdali). These invasions repeated over centuries played a key role in establishing the spirit of Punjabi nationalism - If the people of Punjab did not stand together then the invaders could not be resisted or repelled.

Sikhs of Punjab

As a consequence of multiple invasions from Central Asia over centuries, over half the population of undivided Punjab (Punjab prior to its 1947 partition) had already converted to Islam. These muslims were always with the hindus in resisting foreign invasions into their common homeland, Punjab. In fact the new Sikh religion (founded in the 15th century) was born out of the need to bring together hindu and muslim communities so that the local people of Punjab could live free, without being subject to the oppression of primitive cultural values and foreign rule. The fundamental principles of the Sikh religion are based on values derived from both Islam and hinduism. This concept can be seen in how Guru Nanak (1469 to 1539 AD), founder of the Sikh religion is described by the people of Punjab at that time:

Guru Nanak Shah Fakir
Hindu ka Guru, Mussalman ka Pir.

Translated into english as:
Guru Nanak, the King of Fakirs,
To the Hindus a Guru, to the Muslims a Pir.

Punjabiyat, Spirit of Punjabi Nationality

Punjabiyat or Punjabi Nationality was not without its problems. The Mughal rulers became fearful of the growing popularity of the Sikh Gurus and started to view the Sikhs as a political threat. The Sikh Gurus and their followers became targets of persecution where the real motive behind this was not religious but political. The transformation of the Sikhs into a martial community started soon after their fifth guru, Guru Arjun, was executed in Lahore by the orders of the Mughal ruler, Emperor Jahangir. Subsequently, the ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was executed in Delhi by the orders of the Mughal ruler, Emperor Aurangzeb. The Sikhs were finally organized into a formal uniformed militant sect by the last (10th) guru, Guru Gobind Singh to resist and repel oppressive political rule. Many of the teachings of Guru Nanak were against entrenched hindu beliefs such as idol-worship and the caste system. Therefore, the Sikhs had to face an additional threat from the hindu brahamin community. On several occasions, hindu rulers colluded with the Mughal forces against the Sikhs. (Guru Arjun refused the hand of a hindu banker's daughter for his son. This banker was amongst the tormentors of Guru Arjun. The two sons of Guru Gobind Singh were captured and killed by Mughal forces because of betrayal by their brahmin servant.) It is important to note that inspite of such incidents, there was no serious rift amongst the muslims, sikhs and hindus of Punjab.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh

The spirit of Punjabi Nationalism managed to survive and was cast into the shape of a powerful kingdom by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh was the first Indian in a thousand years who succeeded in blocking invasions from the North-Western Frontier. The secular nature of Ranjit Singh's administration can be seen by observing that the principal advisers and military commanders of Ranjit Singh were from all the three communities - Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.

After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the British were able to annex the Sikh kingdom in 1849 AD. The British split apart the three communities (Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs) that had united under Maharaja Ranjit Singh by giving preferential treatment to Punjabi Muslims and the Khalsa Sikhs.

The 1947 Partition of Punjab

Due to the seeds of division sowed by the British between the three (Muslims, Hindus & Sikhs) communities, the Punjabi Muslims wanted an independent state but the Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs opposed such a partition of Punjab. The partition did finally occur and Punjab paid a very heavy price for it. By the Partition of Punjab two distinct countries, Pakistan and India, were created in 1947. In the chaos that ensued almost ten million people lost their land, home and belongings and about a million lost their lives. India was able to accommodate about five million Hindu and Sikh Punjabi refugees.

The Green Revolution

The Sikh refugees who entered India had left behind large plots of agricultural land irrigated by canals. What they received was mere thirty acres irrigated by well water. The sikh refugee farmers worked upon the arid wastelands of Ganganagar, Rajasthan and the swamplands of the Terrai region and converted these parts into some of the most prosperous regions of India. The Punjab Agricultural University was set up in 1962 in East Punjab (Indian part of Punjab). As a result, a few years later, the average yield of wheat and rice from East Punjab was turning out to be three times that of entire Pakistan. The Green Revolution in India was primarily the achievement of Sikh farmers. The sudden prosperity resulting from the Green Revolution in Punjab brought with it certain negative cultural changes also - Western influence, crisis of identity, degeneration related to alcoholism, drugs, gambling, etc.

India and Secularism after Partition

After the partition of Punjab, India chose to become a Secular country, a concept originally envisioned by Sikhism to solve the problems of inequality faced in the fifteenth century. In Secularism there is a clear distinction between the functions of the state and religion. Therefore, in a secular state politics and religion must be kept separate. Secularism can also mean "equal respect for all religions". By the second definition of Secularism, even if religion is not kept separate from politics, there must be equal respect for all religions, where such respect should be implemented by law and built into the social framework to ensure proper representation and equal opportunity for all citizens across all recognized religions within the country.

Communalism versus Secularism

Communalism is the destroyer of Secularism. Even though India was formed as a Secular Country in 1947 after the Partition of Punjab, why was the venomous Serpent of Communalism able to crawl all over this secular state? Here are some reasons for the spread of communalism in India:

  • Exponential rate of increase of the population leading to poverty, lack of education and awareness about the core values of the foundation of the new secular state.

  • Scarce resources, absence of adequate income generating opportunities, and lack of jobs that cause insecurity and where the only form of security is through the adoption of communal ideologies.

  • In congested cities where millions live in filthy and trying conditions, tempers flare up easily. In such situations it is easier to form communal gangs and unleash violence not on one person but on the entire community to which such a targeted person belongs.

  • The poor form communal gangs and rob the well-to-do law abiding minority communities on lame excuses. For example, a subtle political leader desiring to form a personal vote bank misleads a poor and illiterate audience by frivolously declaring that they have been deprived by wealthy minority citizens who are really foreigners in their land.

  • When the number of "Educated Unemployed" starts to increase rapidly then communalism may bring some ill-gotten benefits. Such type of gains are an over-all loss for a secular country where the after-effects of such losses are likely to be disastrous over an extended period of time. A poverty striken community is more concerned about the present rather than the future and so such problems continue to remain.

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