Friday, 3 August 2012

Paul Brass on the Partition Genocide

This is a heart-rending essay by Paul Brass- including material from interviews with Sikh leaders he conducted in the 1960's- on the Ethnic Cleansing of the Punjab at the time of Partition.

On the one hand, it highlights the curious blindness of the both the British and the National leaders to the predicament of the Sikh and their likely response. On the other, it has some harsh things to say about the Sikh leadership itself. 
In particular, one might well wonder whether Mazhabi Sikhs were in fact regarded as little better than slaves by the Sikh leadership who only counted them as part of their own community to boost their numbers and claim to territorial compensation.
 Brass writes- 'For a parallel to this shameless argument, one needs to go back to the Constitution of the United States in 1789 where the Southern states were allowed to count their slaves as part of their total population for purposes of representation in the Congress, but these Negro slaves were, of course, not to be allowed to vote. In the Sikh claim, such non-persons of the other community were not to be counted at all or were to be traded for others from the other side to perform the same menial tasks on their behalf. Since the Muslims would not accede to this reasonable demand of the Sikhs for their own homeland, the only alternative became what Sardar Harnam Singh had declaimed as “unthinkable,” namely the movement of the Sikh sons of the soil themselves to the eastern Punjab districts and the forced expulsion of not just the Muslim menials from those districts, but every last man, woman, and child.'

I find this argument difficult to stomach. Surely the Mazhabis were differentiated by Religion from other Scheduled Castes? The Hindu S.C. leader, J.N. Mandal, initially supported Pakistan and served as a Cabinet Member before fleeing for his life. The Pakistanis also passed a law forbidding the migration of Hindu Scheduled Castes whose services were needed. Clearly there was a distinction between Mazhabi Sikhs and Hindus performing similar functions. Why does Brass allege that the Sikh leadership considered Mazhabis in the same light as Slave-owners in the antebellum South considered 'Negros'? Was there really no feeling of religious solidarity cutting across class and caste within the Sikh Religion? If that is really so, then some explanation is required. Were the Sikhs too stupid to read their Holy Books? Or did they no longer properly understand the language in which it was written? Or had the Sikhs fallen prey to Casteist Mahants who brain-washed them?
No such explanation holds water.
It may be that the rise of Communist thinking in academic and bureaucratic circles colored perceptions when Brass was doing his field work. In other words, the changed climate of the times led Brass to discount the Spiritual value of Sikhism and to emphasize the socio-economic interests of the dominant caste within its fold.
Paul Brass is a senior figure in Academia- if he gets things wrong about India, especially Spiritual matters, one can blame the narrowness of the Social Sciences as well as the fact that he does not belong to India or espouse one of its Religions or Spiritual traditions.
 What is shocking- nay, unforgivable- is that Indian people, sitting in air conditioned Conference rooms in New Delhi, adopted a blinkered Caste based Political Arithmetic which was founded upon the notion that Religion was just the opium of the people. The Mazhabi was being oppressed and his Sikh faith was the means by which that oppression was effected. Thus, to help the Mazhabi or Ramgarhia or whatever, New Delhi must try to split dominant castes like the Jats by propping up alternative leaders who take a more militant line against other sects.
New Delhi betrayed Secularism- though acting in its name- when it meddled in a Spiritual Religion which it did not understand simply for some evanescent political advantage or specious egalitarian goal.  
New Delhi's crazy policy towards Punjab- denying the State Industrial growth to keep pace with Agricultural progress on the flimsy excuse that Industries should not be located near the Pakistan border- and it refusal to recognize the Spiritual rather than Socio-Economic nature of the Sikh Religion precipitated a disaster not just for Punjab but the whole of India. 


Anonymous said...

where's the link?

windwheel said...

windwheel said...

Thanks- I've updated the link.