A people are driven off the land they’ve called their home for centuries. The reason? They belong to a minority religion. A mania has gripped the land and they are chased off on pain of death.
However, even after being driven off, they still desire to come back. The poison of religious hatred, though, still courses thought the veins of the land they once called home.
A workaround is thought of: why not reserve separate enclaves for them, where they will feel safe? A gerrymandering of populations to create regions where a minority becomes a majority. An insurance plan just in case the religious mania raises its head again (many believe it never went away in the first place).
I am describing, of course, the ongoing controversy over whether Kashmiri Pandits should be settled back in Kashmir in exclusive enclaves or go back to their original homes in the middle of cities where they are a minority. But I am also narrating the plight of the Delhi Muslims in 1947-48, during which time an almost identical debate took place.
The Partition violence that happened in Delhi is not something that is discussed much in our mainstream histories and in the mass media. It was, however, horrific with almost the entire Muslim population of Delhi – then a largely Muslim city – being attacked and driven out to what is now Pakistan. Here is a poignant first person account of the violence by Vijay Rohtgi, a resident of Delhi at the time:
The partition of India brought many changes to Chandni Chowk. Sometime around 15 August 1947 all the Muslim owned shops were looted. I was too young to understand why. My father would not allow his children to be a part of the looters, and we never took anything home from these shops. Ahmad ka Mohalla was similarly looted. I remember seeing a large number of people walking away with large silver spittoons, utensils, bed head-boards and other silver articles from this street.
We wondered what happened to the people living in this street. There was no attempt by the neighbourhood leaders or by the police to stop the looting. The residents were evacuated either by the Government or by their Muslim protectors in the middle of the night. Perhaps they went to Jama Masjid. We never knew where they went, but it was a source of intensive speculation in our community.
The Muslims of Delhi were replaced by refugees from West Pakistan, escaping horrible charnel houses of their own in places such as Lahore and Rawalpindi. Rohatgi describes the changes this exchange of populations bought about (thus creating modern Delhi):
The influx of refugees changed the local scene in old Delhi. Streets became crowded. Many schools started running two shifts with several sections of each class. New words were added to our vocabulary and newer foods were introduced to our diet. Thus, kulche-chole and bhatures, unknown to us earlier, became common street foods. Even the shape of our beloved jalebis changed from thin golden crisps to large yellow pieces. The aroma of desi ghee in our streets was overpowered by smells of garlic, onion and vinegar. Even the language changed incorporating phrases such as kee haal hai (how are you), tusi dasa (you tell me),and changa (good).
In 1948, however, many Muslims tried to return back to Delhi. To make these Muslims feel safe, Nehru, supported by Abul Kalam Azad wanted to reserve whole neighbourhood for Muslims within Delhi. This, they assumed – following the same line of logic that people are following with Kashmiri Pandits today – would ensure greater safety for this embattled minority.
But like today, many disagreed. For Pandits, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front is bitterly against the idea of separate Pandit enclaves. In 1948, the main opponent to separate Muslim neighbourhoods was Vallabhbhai Patel. Patel was not very keen for Muslims to be allowed back at all – he wanted any empty houses in Delhi to be allocated to Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Pakistan first – and even if they did get accommodation, it would be distributed across Delhi, with no guarantee that the house would be in a Muslim neighbourhood.
There are differences here with the Pandit analogy, of course. The proposal in Kashmir involves wholly separate cities, it seems. Nehru was, of course, only proposing separate neighbourhoods within the same city. But even that, it seems, was something Patel would not agree to.
In the end Patel had his way. No separate neighbourhoods were reserved for Muslims. One of many reasons why hardly any Muslims came back to Delhi. Pre-1947 Delhi now exists in Karachi, if it exists at all, that is.
Patel is a complex figure but nowhere does his reputation get more mauled than in his handling of the Delhi riots. In his book, Patel: A Life, Rajmohan Gandhi writes, "Taxed by Gandhi with a report that said he was “encouraging the idea of Muslims going away to Pakistan” Patel denied it indignantly. However, he told the Mahatma that Muslims not loyal to India should leave...".
Rajmohan Gandhi then completes the narration of their conversation: "...and he [Patel] could not help adding that he suspected a majority of disloyalty".