Translating this book on the partition of the Punjab into Urdu, Hindi and Gurmukhi is part of an ongoing attempt to enable people to heal and move on
The Urdu translation of Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed’s award-winning book, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Oxford University Press, 2012), has just been published.
“With this book now available in Urdu in Pakistani Punjab, at least on this side, an antidote to one-sided narratives is now available,” writes Dr Ahmed, who spent nearly 12 years working on this book.
His research encompasses some 230 accounts of the hell Punjabis underwent in 1947, as well as British secret reports and newspaper accounts. The book also contains an account of the methodology used for the research to facilitate those who want to venture further into such research.
The Gurmukhi translation of the book is completed and the Hindi translation will soon begin, says Dr Ahmed. “As a Punjabi who grew up battling with the greatest tragedy that befell my people, my life’s mission will then be complete.”
Dr Ahmed is a visiting professor, LUMS, Pakistan, professor emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University, and honorary senior fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He terms this as a milestone not only by him as a researcher and an academic but also in terms of the research on the history and politics of the Punjab partition of 1947.
“I know of no other people in the world who are so grossly uninformed on either side of the Punjab border about their shared past. On both sides, nationalist narratives highlight the crimes and injustices of the other side and more or less absolve their own. For the first time now, the truth is available far beyond the narrow English-speaking Pakistani elite.”
The information available will enable people to “appreciate for themselves the enormity of the calamity that struck hapless men, women and children who were de-humanised and became legitimate targets as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.”
Nearly 30 percent of Punjab’s total population of almost 34 million (British-administered Punjab and the Punjab princely states), some 10 million had to flee their homes to save their lives.
“The first case of massive ethnic cleansing was achieved because virtually no Hindu and Sikh was left in Pakistani Punjab and no Muslim in Indian Punjab. Anywhere between 500,000 to 800,000 Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, men, women, the old and children were killed, and 90,000 women were abducted, oftentimes raped,” says Dr Ahmed.
A special section titled Izhar-e-Tashakur (thanks) serves as a second preface for the Urdu edition, and includes three additional stories — about Harbhajan Kaur and her five Pakistani Muslim children, who were reunited after decades due to the efforts of several individuals; about Dr Ahmed’s meeting with Lalit Jain in Delhi in 2013 who tells the tale of a pre-partition friendship; and the story of a West Punjabi Hindu family.
“The addition of these three stories underscores that the Punjab partition inflicted unbearable pain and sorrow, and yet there were those who held on to their humanity and took great risks to reaffirm it,” says Dr Ahmed.
In response the question of whether the wounds of the past should be reopened or left to heal on their own, he believes that “these wounds have been open all along and people have been suffering in silence.” If these stories are not told, “one-sided narratives will get entrenched in official and communal histories” as the directly affected generation passes on. This will lead to coming generations being brainwashed “to continue the victimhood syndrome, and blame the other side for the excesses of the past.”
Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed may be reached at: [email protected]