Wednesday, July 8, 2009

From ‘An American Witness to India’s Partition’ by Phillips Talbot

Meanwhile the bomb explosions continue in London. Most of my acquaintances comment, “Oh, it’s just the Irish again,” and go about their business. And still the Empire carries on. [from a letter written in 1939]

……….he [Gandhi] replied with a warm appreciation of Jesus’s religion. “But I do not mix up Christianity with many missionaries I have known,” he added, amplifying his comment with an uncompromising disparagement of the mission system.

……..[from a letter written in 1941]……on many sides in India today one hears that Gandhi is through, finished. That his era is past……..his old magic wont work anymore………..True it is that in many ways he seems old-fashioned. A surprising number of his ideas………….can be traced to reading he did in early youth. His judgements of people and institutions are highly colored by his prewar experiences in South Africa……..many youthful nationalists have gnashed their teeth at the moderation he has forced upon them……Plenty of people say they would like other leadership. But there is no individual who can command the loyalty and following of so many of the 400 million people of India as Gandhi, and everyone recognizes the fact.

……..[from a letter written in 1941]……To understand the position of Muslims in India, one must remember that their upper crust is the smashed former Mughal aristocracy of the country, and the great bulk of them are descendants of converts from the lower castes of Hinduism. The ex-rulers did not take kindly to the new order. They refused to learn the English language and the non-Persian sciences, they avoided participation in the new government long after Hindus recognized from where the cake was going to come, they held back from the modernization of their life, mental equipment, and outlook. The low-caste converts, like many Indian Christians drawn from the same levels, had no education and were not fitted to take places of leadership. The result has naturally been an academically-backward community. Because they couldn’t get their share of government posts in open competition, Muslims have had to have special places reserved for them. Whenever any new benefit was desired, they have had to ask it as a favour.

This position has bound Muslims together in a common defensive spirit of inferiority, the same feeling on a larger scale unites the whole Indian nation in respect to the British.

……..[from a letter written in March, 1947]……it is clear that the war finally took the profit out of imperialism. The re-establishment of British authority in India would have taken prodigious effort, especially as the “steel framework” of administration was badly rusted out. The weary, nearly bankrupt British victors found no taste for such a task. On the Indian side, the two-generation-old nationalist movement had risen to a new pitch as a result of the economic, social and political influences that grew out of the war. Great changes were inevitable.

…………..the first 100 days of partition would see 10 million citizens uprooted, and close to half a million killed or murdered

……..Even in political matters members of the Congress high command, his [Gandhi’s] closest allies for 30 years, sometimes disagree with the old man……………..But still they go to him……….to obtain guidance in their major problems…………Gandhi remains their guru – their teacher and counseller.

The reason is not far to seek. Wrapped in a loincloth with, perhaps, a wet cloth over his head when the weather is hot, the little man can still sense India’s pulse more keenly than most of his fellows. “The heart of India is in her villages,” he repeats constantly. And there he is most at home.

……………For Gandhi this should be a time of great rejoicing. After a lifetime’s struggle, he has seen the end of British rule. Yet he emerges as a tragic figure. He fought for freedom, and got partition. He taught nonviolence, and lived to see the bloodiest, grossest human slaughter in India’s recent history.

“This much I certainly believe,” he said……………”that August 15 should be no day for rejoicing, whilst the minorities contemplate the day with a heavy heart.”

……..[from a letter written in December, 1947]……Pakistan may be subject to bad administration and many other ills, but probably any ministry can popularize itself, at least for some years, by standing up to India. Indeed, one of the greatest dangers to Pakistan is that excited Muslim citizens may drive the country to suicide by too much aggressiveness against Indians

When about 12 million people fled from their homes during the 1947 post-partition massacres, Pakistan claims to have had to provide for more than a million beyond what it lost. But a heavy proportion of the incoming Muslims were peasants and artisans who had owned little wealth in India, while many of the Hindus and Sikhs who left Pakistan were merchants, bankers, landlords and professional men. The Indian government estimates that its nationals left behind property worth almost 10 times what Muslims forsook in India………If accepted by Pakistan, I suppose that this would stand as the largest international debt in the world.

Northern India received perhaps a million fewer refugees than Pakistan had to cope with, but it had less evacuee land on which to settle them. This was because Sikhs and Hindus fleeing from Pakistan were generally more prosperous and therefore owned more land, than the Muslim artisans and peasants who left India.

……..[from a letter written in February, 1950]……A number of Indians approve of adult franchise. Whatever it may mean in bringing illiterates into parliament and in debasing the level of political life, they argue, it is almost certain to intensify the pressures against caste and creed distinctions. If you have to depend on a hundred outcastes or Muslims for votes, you cannot indefinitely depress them between elections. Also it is felt that a broader political base, no matter how rustic, will put new vitality and challenge into politics and be the means by competition of bringing forward a new crop of vigorous men.

No comments: