Original Articles

My Muhajir identity and partition: A burden for generations – by Naveed Ali


It was a mild winter day, as it should be in Karachi, I was standing in line to enter to the University.

We were almost daily ordered to enter only from a particular gate from four or five at the front side facing University Road, it was done in the name of security. But it was more like a psychological trick to teach who is in control, and that was Pakistan Rangers. We were not allowed to use any gate to enter our Alma Meter but the one chosen by authorities each day, it could have been the same gate as of yesterday or different, it was more like going to a labour camp. And it was a sight to see people running from one gate to another, as sometimes order was coming late and one gate was closed and another one opened for entry.

So there I was in the line, my turn came, Rangers’ Jawan (Soldier) checked my university ID card (not sure if he knew how to read it, he could have hold it upside down if there was not my photo on it), looked at it, then looked at me and asked “Hindustani ho?” (You are an Indian?). Well, for few seconds, blood stopped in my veins, I felt a cold running through my body and I looked at him with so much anger that he took two or three steps back. I did not say a word and he handed me my card back, I took few steps forward and then came back to him, “I am a Pakistani” he smiled nervously and looked at his senior for help who was standing few steps away, but he preferred to look away as well, that was a mistake which could cost them heavily and best way for them was to ignore as nothing happened. Students any way were challenging and unexpected for these human machines trained to obey and follow.

This was not first neither the last time I was called a Hindustani, Muhajir (migrant) was the usual identity I had to carry since I started to go out into society, in school, in hospitals, in bank or to any social event and gathering, I was and I still am a Muhajir, though I was born in Pakistan, though I have never been to India, but strange how many generations have to carry the burden of this decision.

Strange that decision to divide India was not taken by any of them, but millions had to carry that burden as well, I am sure a majority in those millions who were affected did not even understand the meaning of partition and so as their leaders and those who actually took the decision or agreed to it. And that is the tragedy of that partition, it was a decision taken on assumptions and fabricated realities, and its after effects were not even considered, no one was able to see how generations to come will pay the price of this decision, how whole region will be compromised, and billions of its inhabitants will be forced to adopt a psychology of hate and war and will be asked to sacrifice on their progress, health and education to defend this partition.

There is this story of Ghulam Ali in a book by Zamindar (The Long Partition by Vazira Zamindar, 2007 OUP, Karachi) ; a soldier in British Army who chose to join Indian Army at the time of partition, but he was not stationed in Chaklala which was to be Pakistan, for one or another reason he was not able to go back to India till the time his service was terminated by Pakistan Army on the grounds that he opted for Indian Army, they sent him back but by that time Permit or Passport had been devised and Indians refused to accept him as he was not an Indian ID holder, back in Pakistan he was imprisoned as an Indian without authorised papers to be in Pakistan. Then he was thrown on both sides few times till he ended up in Hindu camp in Lahore. I am not sure how his life was ended, no detail of it in the book and may be nowhere else, in no papers or documents.

I want to step in his shoes for a moment and understand how must be his feelings till the last of his breath, but I cannot, it is perhaps impossible for me and anyone else as we have long passed that historical drama, but is it the reality? If that episode of partition is over, why people are still haunted by it? Somewhere deep in sub conscious of every Indian and every Pakistani, there is this ambiguity, a psychological issue, a challenge of identity which expresses itself in our behaviour towards each other.

If it is thought that statement given in above lines are an exaggeration, kindly look at the treatment we give each other, browse through newspapers, check the headlines, listen to the politicians, check what scholars say, go to the cricket field to watch a match between Pakistan and India, do a research on the literature written on both sides which is mostly based on hatred and biasness and a conscious attempt to justify what happened (and it is here problem lies, why we want to justify? why fabrication is required?).

For instance take the syllabus taught in Pakistan; by calling Hindus and Sikhs murderers and imposters and omitting the crimes made by Muslims, what is really the objective? Why truth is a problem? Surely because truth comes as a challenge and raises questions which cannot be answered easily.

This partition is used by extremists and religious bigots on both sides as an excuse and a reason to convince people on militancy and violence. Indians and Pakistanis do not realize that the demons of religious extremism in this region are fed and brought up by this partition dilemma, and as such the debacle of partition is not over. It is not over, not for our generation neither for the generations to come, unless we understand what mistakes were made; devise a policy and agree to resolve them.

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Naveed

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  • While applying for passport renewal, the passport officer asked me about my father’s occupation. While going through his career, I naively mentioned that he was working in Dacca and came to Karachi from East Pakistan in 1971.

    The passport officer immediately suspended my applications and asked me to produce a “repatriation certificate” of my father. I objected that since I am born here and I already hold a valid passport and NIC, these documents should be enough to satisfy him. His reply was “This is not America where you can get nationality by being born there, to be a Pakistani national your father would have to be a Pakistani national too”.

    I was left speechless by this and went through the same emotions that you have described on being called a Hindustani. I was born in Pakistan, grew up here, and now I was told that I am not a Pakistani until I can show proof of my father’s citizenship!

    So this is what the Deep State gives us in return for creating Pakistan, opting for it and working towards its development. It seems that forty years and a generation later we are still not Pakistani enough!