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Separation of Political Institutions and Religious Precepts

Political institutions cannot be subordinated to precepts and criteria determined by the clerical elite of any religion/ faith. Clerics, yogis, priests, rabbis, and mullahs belong in temples, churches, synagogues, and mosques, while administrators and politicians belong in political institutions. Let’s not blur the line of demarcation between the two.

The political and social upheaval that followed upon the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947 has left legacies that continue to haunt the two countries. The Partition enabled the thunderous forces of violence and displacement to tear the preexisting cultural and social fabric so systematically that the process of repair hasn’t even begun.

The borders that were brutally carved at the time of the Partition of India have led to further brutality in the form of riots, pogroms, and organized historical distortions and cultural depletions with which the histories of independent India and Pakistan are replete. Mob lynchings, allegations of blasphemy, ghar wapsi, mass religious conversions in Uttar Pradesh are manifestations of the forces of yore that continue to eat away at the sociocultural fabric in both countries.

This molding of collective subjectivities by the evocation of pan-national religious affinities, particularly these days, results in the stifling of minority voices that express divergent cultural and social opinions.

I would argue that although the “Third-World” intelligentsia unceasingly complains about the manipulations and short-sightedness  of British imperial cartographers and administrators, the onus of the calamity engendered on 14 and 15 August 1947 does not lie entirely on the colonial power. The failed negotiations between “Indian” and “Pakistani” nationalists who belonged to the Congress and the Muslim League, the blustering of those nationalists and the national jingoism it stimulated, and the unquenchable hatreds on both sides contributed to the brutal events of 1947.

It is an unfortunate fact that all the historical and social events that led to the Partition can best be understood within the explanatory frameworks of religious and familial obligation.

In addition, “official” accounts of the Partition discount narratives that do not contribute to the deepening of the breach caused by the fracture lines of nationalist collective subjectivity and religious identity.

The Partition is a vivid manifestation of the claim that postcolonial nations are founded in a bloody severance of the umbilical cord, one that fortifies borders between nation-states with irrational and remorseless violence.

The mainstream concept of nationalism, which rules the roost in the subcontinent, deploys the idea of citizenship and fraternity that unifies the entire community in the pursuit of a common goal. The notion can be elucidated by Eric Hobsbawm’s analysis of the unprecedented rise of new nationalisms. As Hobsbawm argues, nationalism establishes an inclusion/ exclusion dichotomy in which those who belong can be winnowed away from outsiders. He observes that this binary was reinforced by the nation-state most forcefully in the post-Cold War era of post-colonialism, post-communism, and post-history. He points out that in the age of transnationalism, the social coherence created by the nation is filled by ethnicity, which forms the individual’s new epistemic perspective.

In order to assert itself a nation-state needs to draw clearly etched borders, so it can define itself in opposition to other nations. But ultra-right wing nationalisms in both India and Pakistan erase a shared past. Bloody maneuvers to destabilize the British Raj were employed by the Muslims as well as Hindus of colonial India in a joint effort to oust the oppressor. The composite culture constructed by the two communities was an inherent part of pre-colonial India as well, but is expunged by ultra-right wing nationalists in their attempt to disseminate the unitary discourse of nationalism.

Militant nationalism must evolve into critical nationalism, which is an awareness that unless national consciousness transforms into social consciousness, so-called “liberation” would merely be a continuation of imperialism. The realization that relentless violence and bloodshed cannot validate the “reality” of borders dawns on the wise sooner than later.

More articles by:

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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