The two nation theory

Back in the early 1940s, when the cause of Indian independence was gaining strength, the "Two Nation Theory" was proposed. The premise of the theory was simple and succinct -- the Hindus and Muslims living in the then British India were always segregated communities and thus Muslim-majority enclaves must be formed if the otherwise minority is to survive the inevitable massacre at the hands of the Hindus.

The upshot of this theory and the Indian independence in 1947 was that the British India was split into 3 contiguous landmass - India, West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The ensuing confusion, lawlessness and general chaos led to the death of 1 million (or more) in various riots as well as atrocities committed on the various refugee groups. Large amounts of property was summarily destroyed in an orgy of wanton destruction. Amongst the more gruesome activities, entire train-loads of refugees were massacred.

I am writing to show you how this theory was patently wrong then and how it is being undermined today.

Firstly, the Hindus and Muslims were not as segregated as the theory suggested. Most Muslims in India were not imports but converts. Many handicrafts in India were the exclusive province of one sub-sub-sub-caste confined to a small geographical location. When such groups decided to convert (at various times), that skill went over the Muslim side but the demand remained where it always did. For example, Varanasi is full of Muslim weavers who make very exquisite sarees that are traditionally worn by Hindu women. Many of the decorations for temples are Muslim-made as well. Muslim also had no problem borrowing money from Hindu moneylenders.

Another hotspot of Hindu-Muslim interaction is Muradabad where various brass, silver (and these days silverplated) items are made. Most of the artisans are Muslim but the consumption is universal. This city is responsible for exports worth $1 Billion a year!

These Hindu-Muslim links were not only economic in nature but also spiritual. Kabir was a famous spiritualist who rejected the Hindu-Muslim divide and till date has followers in both religions. But he is only one of many hundred spiritualists that are revered by followers of both religions. And while rare, Hindus and Muslims have married across the religion line as well with many Moghul kings (all Muslim) marrying Rajput princesses (all Hindus) in an attempt to shore up their kingdom.

While mass conversions (usually Hindu to Muslim) were common while various Muslim dynasties ruled over India and made Hindus pay more taxes, many families saw only some of the members convert to Islam. Such "split families" are common across India. So, the notion that there is no interaction and no common community of Hindus and Muslims comes under a cloud.

Even back in 1940s, it was obvious to many that the two-nation theory was nothing less than bunkum. Unfortunately, this theory grew legs so long and large that 1947 was etched into the brains of many refugees as they tried to move to either Pakistan or India. Surprisingly, at the end of the partition, there were more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. Sri Prakasa related an interesting story that happened when he was the Indian High Commissioner (aka Ambassador) to Pakistan. Some Muslims appeared at his office demanding help to go back "home" to Varanasi (which is in India), Sri Prakasa's hometown. When he replied that Pakistan was their home after the partition, these men grew very agitated. The initial fiction of two-nation theory did not survive the bout with reality and these men realized that their lives were intertwined with Varanasi and not Lahore!

Within 20 years of partition, the residents of then East Pakistan felt supressed under the rule of West Pakistan and in 1971, they separated to form Bangladesh. They felt that while West Pakistan was also a Muslim-majority state, their Bengali culture was a bigger defining attribute than their religion!

Sadly, the three counties still suffer from grinding poverty in many parts. Yet their fears have led to massive investments in the military and wars. Parvez Musharraf, the current dictator of Pakistan, was a little boy at the time of partition and many of his family members were massacred as they moved from India to Pakistan. At that time itself, he pledged to become a member of the military and protect his family. Unfortunately, too many people are more interested in "protecting" than in realizing that such suspicion is not helping matters one bit. These three countries are tied together by history and geography. The sooner they realize that they need to co-operate to improve their own lots, the sooner this festering wound can start to heal.