My father, the late Fariduddin Khan, was a large landlord. He passed away in 1929. He was very popular, not just among the local Muslims, but also among Hindus, so much so that people would come to him to have their disputes resolved. Both parties would accept his verdict without any argument. In our area, Hindus were in a majority, but my father never faced or was involved in any communal problem.
My father was a pious, noble and generous man. He would silently help people in need, without announcing it. For instance, if someone was building his house and he needed wood, my father would tell him to cut down a tree on our land and use it. If someone was getting married and needed grain to cook for the marriage feast, he would tell him to take as much rice and lentils as he needed form our house. One night, a Hindu marriage procession passed by our home. It was dark all around, and so my father said to them, ‘Where are you going in this darkness? Spend the night in our house and leave in the morning.’ The entire marriage party stayed over that night at our place, with my father made arrangements for all of them to eat and sleep.
My father had a strange way of resolving disputes. At one side of our village was a locality inhabited by so-called ‘low caste’ people. One day, two families from this caste quarreled among themselves. The quarrel carried on till evening, when, in order to resolve the problem, they came to my father. My father said to them, ‘You have been quarreling all day, and so you must not have had anything to eat or drink. First you eat and drink something, and then your quarrel will be resolved.’ Saying this, he gave them some things to cook and firewood and said, ‘Cook your food and eat your fill.’ When they had finished eating, the quarrel gave over on its own! After this, they returned to their homes very happily!
This was the sort of environment that prevailed in our country at that time—till the early 20th century. It was not just my father who thought and behaved like this. This was, in fact, how most influential people were in those days. This environment continued even after 1947 in many parts of the country that were not affected by the virus of Hindu-Muslim conflict. It still remains the same in many places.
There was a Muslim landlord in my village. He was younger to me. He died in 1994. His boldness had made him absolutely uncompromising. He owned a licensed weapon, which he would carry along with him at most times.
Adjacent to our village is a village called Bakiya, where a Hindu Rajput, Chhatardhari Singh, lived. He and the above-mentioned Muslim landlord had no dispute over wealth or property, but it appears that there was possibly a clash of egos, and so the two became enemies. It was perhaps in 1966, when the two of them were travelling by train to Azamgarh, that they happened to meet at Sanjarpur railway station. Here, the two confronted each other over some issue. The Muslim landlord was, as usual, carrying his gun. He whipped out his gun and shot Chhatradhari Singh, who died on the spot.
This news rapidly spread all over, like wild fire. Hindus began gathering in large numbers near Chhatradhari Singh’s house. They were very angry. They wanted to march on our village and extract revenge not just from the Muslim landlord but from the entire village.
When this crowd of furious Hindus entered out village, which was hardly one kilometre from Bakiya, where Chhatradhari Singh lived, they could easily have set fire to the whole village. But just at that time, something unusual happened. The brother of the slain Chhatradhari Singh stood like a boulder in front of the angry crowd, and said, ‘This can never be. We shall certainly take revenge, but not from all Muslims but only from the Muslim who murdered my brother. And our revenge will not be that we shall kill him for killing my brother. All we shall do is take the matter to the court and get the court to punish this man according to the law.’
And this is precisely what happened. A case was instituted against the Muslim murderer, and the court sentenced him to a long spell in jail.
This was how things were, not just in my area, but all over the Indian subcontinent. This is how Hindus and Muslims used to live together in peace. This is a historical reality that hundreds of thousands of people of my age have personally experienced and have seen with their own eyes.
So, the question arises as to how the deadly divisive politics developed, pitting Muslims and Hindus against each other, which resulted in the Partition of India in 1947.
The answer to this is that the Partition was not engineered by Hindus and Muslims, but, rather, by some leaders of the Hindus and Muslims. It was not a problem of the general public belonging to these two communities. Rather, it was a problem of some leaders, who staked the claim to the leadership of their communities. In the past, most Hindus and Muslims related to each other in the harmonious and natural manner described above. But later, things began to change, with the advent of the age of the newspaper. With the newspaper, a new leadership began to emerge. No longer did Hindus and Muslims relate to each other naturally, as before. Leaders took the place that nature had once occupied as their guide. This was the starting-point of all our political problems.
Who becomes a leader? Leaders are people who are cleverer than ‘ordinary’ people. And experience shows that someone who is more qualified, experienced and clever very often becomes, whether consciously or otherwise, an egoist. And so, almost every leader is, necessarily, an egoist. There was perhaps just one exception to this rule among the leaders of the subcontinent, and that was Mahatma Gandhi.
It is a fact that most communal tragedies result from just one factor—and that is, ego clashes between rival leaders. For instance, the break-up of Pakistan in 1971 owed principally to this sort of ego clash between Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujib ur-Rehman. Likewise, the fact that the Kashmir conflict remains unresolved was mainly because of the ego clash between Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah. And so on.
In this regard, a study of South Asian politics provides very crucial lessons for us. It is a fact that the Partition of the country was not the handiwork of the Hindu and Muslim public. Rather, it was done by Hindu and Muslim leaders but in the name of the Hindu and Muslim public. These leaders could not think beyond what their egos permitted. As a result, the whole country had to pay an enormous price for their egotism.
(This essay is a translation of an excerpt from Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's Urdu book Hind-Pak Diary)