What Would Life Have Been Like for Muslims Under United India?

14th August 1947. The day which saw the biggest mass migration in recorded history. The day which saw a nation existing for centuries divided into two separate nations; one for the Muslims and one for the Hindus. For many politicians, this day was the day which shattered their dream of a united India, with Muslims and Hindus living together peacefully. For others, it was the day which saw their greatest ambition being realized; the day which they had been waiting for had finally come. However, this day was filled with tragedy, as more than a million lives were lost during the cross-border migration, with both Muslim and Hindu fanatics trying their best to kill as many people of the other religion as they could find. It is a commonly held view amongst Indian politicians that Pakistan was brought about by the disappointed ambition, the vanity and the intransigence of one man, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. However, the view shared by most Pakistanis is that Jinnah was our saviour; who rid us from Hindu dominance, and created for us our own separate nation, where we are free to practice our religion, enhance our culture and further our own interests. 

There is no doubt in my mind that religion was not one of the main reasons for the creation of Pakistan; infact I believe that our leaders used religion to stir up the feelings of the masses and motivate them towards the Pakistan movement. The failure of Mohammad Ali Jinnah to declare Shariah as the official law of Pakistan immediately after partition showed the lack of desire to create a purely religious theocratic state, which is particularly why I feel religion was used merely as an excuse to excite the masses, and encourage them to work for an ‘Islamic’ state. Islamic brotherhood failed to prevent the division of East and West Pakistan; infact a primary reason for the division was the declaration of an official language, the East primarily spoke Bengali, while the West spoke Urdu, a fact that has been observed by various scholars.

In her doctoral thesis, submitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, Ayesha Jalal argues that Jinnah was infact against partition of India and it was the Congress which insisted on it. She goes on to say that Jinnah wanted parity between Hindus and Muslims in the Central Legislature and Central Executive to safeguard Muslim rights and prevent dominance by an overwhelming Hindu majority. Despite being disillusioned by Hindu behavior such as the Nehru Report in 1928 and the agenda of the Congress after the 1935 elections, Jinnah still felt that Hindu-Muslim unity was achievable. By accepting the Cabinet Mission Plan on 6th June 1946, Jinnah gave up the right for a separate Muslim nation for provincial autonomy but with a strong centre, dealing with important issues like defence and foreign affairs. The acceptance of this plan showed that Jinnah was extremely flexible on the issue of partition, and did not whole-heartedly support the Pakistan movement as he would rather accept autonomy rather than full partition.

It is my personal opinion that under undivided India, the Muslim minority would have been crushed by the Hindu majority. An indication of this can be seen when we observe the number of high ranking Muslim officials or civil servants in civil or military bureaucracy in India today. Further evidence can be obtained by comparing the degree of “advancement in life” achieved by people who migrated to Pakistan and by their relatives back home. As was proved time and time again, the Congress party had little or no desire to help the Musalmans of India to grow and prosper. Examples of this can be taken from the maltreatment of Muslims under the Congress Government in 1935 and from the Nehru Report of 1928. The Muslim ‘Middle Class’ would have fared badly due to their initial backwardness and stiff competition from the Hindus. They lacked profession training and education and hence would have lagged behind in jobs and businesses. This forms the basis of a popularly held view that Pakistan was created for the ‘Salariat’ (urban, educated classes) rather than for the religious and cultural freedom of the Muslims.

Since most of the positions of authority in undivided India were with non-Muslims, and keeping in view the fact that corruption and nepotism are an integral part of sub-continental culture, Muslims would have always been at a disadvantage. Lucrative job placements and promotions would be offered to the relatives and friends of the higher authorities, most of whom would have been non-Muslims. Constitutional safeguards would have been hard to implement.

However, on the other hand most of the initial difficulties that Pakistan faced after partition would have been avoided. Our lack of industry, health care, education, offices and most importantly our army was a major impediment hindering the early growth of Pakistan. Since we had these initial difficulties, it took the attention of the government away from forming a constitution, which should have been a foremost priority. The constitutional crisis has plagued us to this day, with three constitutions being formed by different governments and the independence of the judiciary, which is essential in any democratic state, never really taking a firm grip.

Under united India, land reforms would have been implemented immediately after partition, breaking the grip of the landlords and ensuring a healthy agricultural output. The issue of land reforms has plagued Pakistan ever since partition, with vast areas of lands owned by families who exploit the peasants or ‘haris’ who cultivate the area. Most landlords do not allow the people living in their villages access to proper education, healthcare and sanitation. They are paid meager amounts and made to work as slaves, leading to a fall in the standard of living, and tarnishing Pakistan’s image abroad. No single government has actively pursued the issue of land reforms, with only a few half hearted measures reluctantly implemented. This hinders Pakistan’s economy, which is mainly agrarian and hence is very dependent on agricultural produce. This problem could have been avoided had partition not taken place.

Looking at India today, we see a booming economy, with immense potential for further growth. India’s software exports are the highest in the world, exceeding Pakistan’s total export of goods and services. Foreign businesses are quick to establish businesses in India as they see an economy which can be harnessed into one of the worlds biggest. Indian entrepreneurs are famous the world over for their skill and creativity; Indians feature in the Forbes list of the richest men in the world. It is hard not to feel jealousy towards the Indians in their immense development and prosperity and wonder how life would have been like for us had we been part of the same society.

The essential definition of Muslims in India as a separate nation is highly debatable, as they do not fall under the very definition of one. Stalin defines a ‘nation’ as: “A historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a commonality of culture. None of the above characteristics is by itself sufficient to define a nation. On the other hand, it is sufficient for a single of these characteristics to be absent and the nation ceases to be a nation —. It is only when all the characteristics are present that we have a nation”.

Under this definition of nation, Hindus and Muslims are infact, one nation. They have lived together for centuries, first under the Mughal rule, and then under British rule. They share a common history, their languages i.e. Hindi and Urdu are quite similar, and share many cultural traits. Their history, heritage and identity are intertwined. Hence the concept of Muslims as a separate nation leading to the concept of Pakistan is a fallacy, however the question still remains unanswered, as to whether our forefathers made a mistake in opting for a separate nation, or whether we are infact better off in present times.


7 thoughts on “What Would Life Have Been Like for Muslims Under United India?

  1. I feel that had the partition not happened, we would have had one hell of a cricket team…provided ofcourse that the muslims actually got a chance to be in the team…imagine afridi and sehwag…other than that i do not feel there is any need to regret the partition-if it was not for the sacrifices laid down then, it is very possible that you and I would not have even got a decent education…so Pakistan Zindabaad!

  2. There is a very long-standing analogy that historians here in the Occident, especially on the Contintent, use to explain the, as it were, demiurgic forces behind Pakistan’s creation. It is that Iqbal was the ideologue, and Jinnah the implementer. It is, I would purport after studying some of these issues whilst in Berlin, still quite representative of the Western take on the genesis of Pakistan.
    To be sure, a nation-state’s creation does not lie solely in the hands of two men. However, the surreptitious motif underlying Ayesha Jalal’s The Sole Spokesman, of an opportunistic Jinnah who fished around for a cause to champion, to etch his name in the history books, is not exactly watertight, to say the least. Despite what Jalal and other commentators would have us believe, Jinnah and Iqbal did not trick millions of Muslims into pressing for independence. They fought or independence alongside Jinnah because they desired it. Semantically, if desire is taken at its fundamental meaning to be to have what one does not currently possess, this is indeed what Indian Muslims thirsted for.
    The writer of the above piece seems to have omitted the possibility that Pakistan was acknowledged readily by the Quaid as an ‘Islamic laboratory’, where new concepts could be tested out. That Pakistan is not a theocratic state today does not mean that this work in progress will one day materialize as such. History is not solely about being, but also about becoming- not just de lata, but also de ferenda. Indeed there are many people in Pakistan who would like to see a move to a more religion-based society. No doubt they are keen to enjoin the good and forbid the bad. Is it really our right to denigrate other people’s wishes?
    That Jinnah implemented the roadmap for Pakistan does not exclude the intellectual visions Iqbal has for this Muslim nation of the new century. Suffice to say, if we were still in an undivided India, we would have certainly missed Iqbal’s eloquent warnings of the perils in losing our sui generis Muslim heritage. We would have fought a tribal cause, not the uniquely Muslim cause that Pakistan is still capable of championing today.
    “And man creates an ever novel god
    Whose joy is shedding blood, whose hallowed name
    Is Colour, Fatherland, Blood-Brotherhood.
    Humanity is slaughtered like a sheep
    Before this worthless idol.”

  3. Asma,

    Thanks for your advice. Once we’re eligible for bloggers.pk we’ll get ourselves registered.

    Keep visiting and let us know of any ideas that you might have for the blog. Your comments are highly appreciated.

  4. Dear Tayyab:

    It seems to me that you still possess an extremely idealistic view of the particular ‘direction’ that Pakistan might take with regards to its drive for the upliftment of Muslims. If Pakistan was indeed created on the basis of religion, which was a continuing stream in most of Jinnah’s speeches, then dont you feel that the inherent lack of conformity with Islamic principles that our state continues to show is a basis for doubting this claim? If you feel that Pakistan is a ‘laboratory’ where hybrid forms of Islam can be tested, then my response to this claim is simply that the Muslims were cheated into opting for Pakistan. In no way am I saying that we perhaps should have remained with India as part of a greater ‘federation’, but I do feel that there were various forces that helped the transition to Pakistan, forces that may not have only been influenced by a drive to seek a seperate homeland on the basis of religion alone. While most scholars condemn Zia for introducing Islamic extremism into Pakistani society, I feel that the existence of certain institutions helped greatly in allowing for such elements to be introduced in society. The people of Pakistan welcomed and accepted this change, simply because they felt that the basis of creation of the state was religion. It is unfortunate that rather than incorporating a secular mindset, we were exposed to a more fundamentalist and extreme version of Islam. I feel that if a more liberal and secular version of Islam had been embodied into state ideology we would have managed to create a nation of englightened Pakistanis, which would have dispelled the notions that currently plague our country, and help to promote a view of a liberal and peace loving country, which Jinnah so desperately wanted to happen.

  5. First up, I would like to take issue with what you have noted as Stalin’s definition of a nation: you have to keep in mind that Stalin was Communist by belief and Communism per se refuses to believe any truth or benefit in religion. As such, it is not surprising that his definition includes no mention of it. As such, there might be other commentators whose definition Pakistan might fit better (though I’m not aware of them so I might be wrong).

    The thesis from my understanding seems to be that Osman you believe that Muslims would have been worse off in India and you support this claim by current statistics and perceptions of Muslims in India. One must keep in mind though that India’s provinces have sizeable autonomy and as such Muslims in India might actually have been better off in the regions that we currently call Pakistan and Bangladesh. Also, a number of the migrants were those who could afford to migrate: it was the poor and lower-middle class that was left behind (of both Hindus and Muslims). To say that all (or a majority) Muslims in united India would have had the same future as poor and lower-middle income Muslims currently inhabiting India is a little hard to believe.

    Finally, just the numbers would have meant that the Indian majority would not have been so great: Pakistan has over 150m people, Bangladesh an equivalent number and India also not far behind (if at all). That would have meant a total of 450m in a country of 1.3billion people. I would venture to say that that is very sizeable minority and except in certain regions difficult to suppress.

    Despite all these counterpoints, I am not sure if Muslims in united India would have been worse or better off than they are in Pakistan today (despite the economic growth and miracle of India, it still suffers from extreme poverty and other issues (roads, electricity, water, housing) that Pakistan does as well). All I am questioning is the oft-cited extrapolation of statistics of Indian Muslim society to extend to what could have been a united India. I feel to know whether Muslim would have been better or worse off, one might need to dig a little deeper.

  6. Perhaps Muslims are eating well in Pakistan other than that all indicators point to backwardness. Under united India there was persecution and bias but blame also goes to Muslims who shunned education, considered their White masters as untouchables and closed all roads to progress. After freedom they got a free hand to move forward but have they?
    Pakistan was a reality however it became a reality a bit too early. At the time of partition there were no statesmen, educators, bureaucrats to set the course for the country. It was an experiment that did not produce the intended results.

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