Of Moral Fault Lines and Subjugated Wisdoms


‘Will the Falcon hear the Falconer?’ 

THIS  is an extremely distressing epoch in global politics on all counts. The shared crise de conscience and crisis of authority being central to these developments whether it is in judging, in speaking or in taking action: who has the authority to speak for whom and why? It brings to the fore new questions of security, natural resources, livelihoods, above all emphasising the need for intercultural dialogues to clarify ambiguities and dispel misconceptions that give rise to prejudice and hate. 

Current happenings in Egypt, the horrific civil wars in Syria, bombings in Lebanon and Nigeria, the tensions between the Ma’alia and Rezeigat people in west Darfur, Buddhists and Rohingas in Myanmar, the simmering rage  (despite the Partition) in the Sudan, the continuous firing along the India and Paksitan borders among other events elsewhere  have brought in its wake several conversations and journeys through time reminding us starkly that we remain besieged by damaging transgressions of the not so distant past: The falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold…to reminisce the poet Yeats. It makes me recall, in particular, a poignant conversation I had with an elderly Palestinian gentleman who described himself as an ancient mariner, and a poet by circumstance. He spoke with passion for the land, …the dates are the best here, they are naturally endowed with human qualities; it is believed a cut frond will not grow again like a severed human limb. The best dates, Zhaidi, Hayani, Ibrahim¡, Hijati, Khadari and Zakhloli varieties leave a fabulous taste in the summer heat eaten at sunset sitting under ripening olives and a few scented lemon trees; sadly, such insouciance is now lost to us. He and his friends had spent their boyhoods loitering without intent; sometimes he went with his granduncle, a shepherd: There were no walls, no barbed wires, no machine guns—-just the beautiful countryside wafting with the fragrant scents of lemon tea, friendly banter of people greeting each other oblivious of whether one was a Jew, Muslim or Christian. He recalled further with wistful nostalgia, Our sacred terrain was wide, open to be shared, a natural way of being, we belong to our land an ancient civilizations which respect not just the people who live here but also anyone else who wants to live here in togetherness, to share in the spirit of our environment where our ancestors breathed freely. We always have shared our lands and resources with so many people… such graciousness of the mind and the spirit has been crushed, we are being legislated out of our history by the callous, ill-mannered meddling’s of insane men with a touch of evil. There is now so much suspicion, so much hate, we cannot expect any longer what will be, we cannot give hope even the anticipation of hope we so much long to give our young. Similar emotions were echoed by a young Israeli girl in grim tones, We are taught to take for granted, we have no choice: we must join the army, we must learn to use guns… we are suspicious and angry. We cannot survive otherwise…can we be blamed? Yes said Yuri, training to kill is diabolical and we suffer traumas, so many of us. We travel away from our country to release this pain.”

Are there solutions? We need to swim back upstream, go back in time, in all contexts and compilations need to be made by locals everywhere. The callous, ill-mannered meddlings of insane men a century or three ago which the Palestinian poet describes has happened in many parts of the disturbed worlds we inhabit. Peoples continue to experience an uncertain existence, severe moral and social dislocations, implanted laws, frustrating and corrupt governance, a legacy of extraneous impositions of borders, of legal frameworks, forms of governance, of personhoods and identities, deep wounds that fester, wounds that will not heal. These happened during the time of the European empires where moral propriety, indeed etiquette was thrown aside; respect or goodwill was not extended towards local populations, or their leaders. Take for instance, an example, in 1914 whilst enjoying the hospitality  of the Emir of Yola and sipping his tea, Claude Macdonald  of the Nigeria Cameroon Boundary survey team (as quoted by Michael Kehinde) noted after, In those days, we just took a blue pencil and ruler and we put it down  at Old Calabar and drew that blue line to Yola…I recollect thinking  when I was sitting having an audience with the Emir of Yola surrounded by his tribe, that it was a good thing that he did not know that I with a blue pencil had drawn a  line through his territory. This act was not an isolated incident; such infringements had begun with the acquisition of territories in the African Continent, as indeed, also the Indian subcontinent. Thus, by 1914, 90% of Africa was divided between seven European countries caused by the arbitrary carving of territories between European powers from 1884-1919 during the Congress of Berlin. Large chunks of land came to be divided by blue lines; peoples were boxed into territories not of their choosing. In Rwanda, a high-ranking medical official told me, We have had not Caesarean sections but abortions! In our hearts we feel it is strange… Rwanda, Burundi, DRC…we are the same people not just Africans from the east but the south and everywhere else. Can we be called nations? We, Rwandans are part of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Congo, even Sudan also Ethiopia…have you seen us dancing? Another noted, the Ghost of Leopold paces our land, rohoni nyeusi, evil spirits- and we cannot be rid of them… once Tutsi and Hutu lived together, intermarried, spoke Kinyarwanda or Kirundi, laughed and poked fun and also quarrelled… c’est la vie..Well, then we were made to think of each other as different our lands divided and, we did not understand! Then, they (Belgians and the French) gave us arms to kill each other…the genocides which wipes millions of us every time, eliminating us, tell me is this civilisation we aspire to, what we had before they came was our civilisation now it is theirs in our lands. In Nigeria, Fatima a law graduate noted, We were forcibly measured as separate, Yoruba, Hausa Igbo… then, thrust together into nationhood, our values were trampled upon for over three hundred years. Then as everywhere, our lands were taken, new laws enacted, education combined the activities of the missionaries who were building hospitals and converting us, in other instances confusing us… any religion, madam is very sacred to each human being… and we have a dangerous combination; it has made something terrible happen since last year (2009) the Boko Haram, and now its loose cannon: anyone now gets another together and call themselves Boko Haram. Look we lived together, all faiths, not anymore and we will separate into two parts.  We worry we cannot co-exist any longer. And, that will make things worse. Although many parts of the colonised worlds are independent they continue to govern with infrastructures that were built for the Empire and with the same bureaucratic gaze in interpreting the Law, and these continue to trap frustrate attempts for responsible and good governance.

Canonisation of Governance

Elsewhere in the continent analogous tensions exist. The Sudan has been regarded as Arab and Islamic. What is overlooked is that over 500 languages prevailed and, various peoples practiced traditional forms of religion, and coexisted with Islam although conversion to Christianity was happening in the animist parts of the south. Intermarriage was common and a syncretism culture prevailed in this region. However, during the sixty years, the north and the south were forced apart and oral traditions of the peoples entirely overlooked. Three Acts stand out: the Closed District Ordinance Act of 1920, the Passport and Permit Ordinance Act 1922 and the Trade Ordinance Act of 1925. In essence, these ordinances strictly ensured for complete separate educational, socio-economic, political developments as well as required strict code on travel. The Rejaf Language Conference in 1928 approved English as the official language and, the indigenous South Sudan languages such as Dinka, Nuer, Bari, Latuka, Shilluk and Zande as recognised lingua franca but Arabic was banned. These Ordinances were conceived to maintain the South and the North as separate political entities, pitted against each other. Thus, the cultural movements between peoples, flow of knowledge, shared forms of governance and communications rapidly ceased. The violent conflicts in the Sudan trace its origins to these policies: the presumed Muslim north pitted against the Christian south. Such divisiveness needs to be addressed, as indeed, the manner in which the borders have been drawn. The same truths apply to so many parts of the African continent. Zainab, a diplomat from Sierra Leone noted at a meeting, one has just got to look at lines and then understand why we are in such terrible turmoil. In the boundary agreements of West Africa such as the one decided in Paris in 1895 between French Guinea and Sierra Leone, Christopher Fyfe notes that it was done entirely in geographical terms: rivers, watersheds, parallels and people were simply not considered. Thus, the once united Samu chiefdom, for instance was divided and the people on the frontier had to opt for farms on one side or, villages on the other. Governance and polity in these geographical units were tampered with and they were later forced into nationhood but they are not naturally nations. In Sierra Leone, for example, relationships between the Mende, Temne, and Creoles remain fraught. Further their Chiefs whose territories were deemed “Protectorate” had not entered voluntarily to sign treaties of friendship with Britain. They were misguided into believing agreements as being between sovereign powers contracting with each other where there was no subordination; it is doubtful whether they had understood the terms. Strictly speaking, a Protectorate does not exist unless the people in it have agreed to be protected. Thus, almost every chieftaincy in Sierra Leone organised armed resistance to the British arrogation of power with armed resistance. The Protectorate Ordinances passed in the Colony in 1896 and 1897 abolished the title of King and replaced it with “Paramount Chief”. Those who had been traditionally nominated by their people as chiefs and kings could be deposed or installed at the will of the Governor. Most of the judicial powers of the Chiefs were removed and given to courts presided over by British “District Commissioners and the Governor decreed that a house tax of five s to 10s was to be levied annually on every dwelling in the Protectorate. Thus, in 1898, when tax collection began, serious armed resistance known as the Hut Tax Wars led by Chiefs Bai Bureh Nyaguya, and, Be Sherbro  uprisings which were ruthlessly crushed. A minister from Algeria remarked, The camel always knows which way to turn, but few heed the wisdom of the camel, and we remain torn within. Elsewhere, nations are less torn within. For example, in Senegal where the national language is Wolof, Cheikh a soil scientist noted, we feel that we Senegalese are all on the same boat, Sunugal, refers to our hollow pointed boat. All of us practice common courtesy as  Indians do Namaste or greet each other, Salaam walikuum,  we follow the traditional codes of kersa (respect for others) tegin (good manners), terranga (hospitality). The French tried their tricks but, we hope every time we will get the better of them, even though we west Africans have been pitted against each other.”

Prior to colonisation in Africa, indigenous forms of governance existed, land and its resources were shared, movements of people were commonplace and, oral agreements were reached. There was no indigenous concept of race, tribe or people other than identification based on dialects, language and attire. Wars were fought between men, women and children were always spared. Social interactions between individual and within communities of people did not recognise tribe, but rather, strangers identified each other as belonging to clans mbeyu and not, their tribe, kabila. For example, the term of description, the Wagogo the name of a tribe in the Dodoma region, central Tanzania itself is a relatively modern one. As late as 1927, British colonial officers were mystified as they wished to create a tribal authority in central Tanganyika. It was doubted, whether any outline of the composition of the Gogo tribe or any exposition of its original constitution was possible, nevertheless the name was imposed on  the native chiefs of U-Gogo, the entire Dodoma region, the western half of Manyoni, eastern half of Mpwapwa and Kilimatinde in central Tanganyika. A new justice was meted out according to an officially codified Gogo law inspired by Utilitarian thinking, the Black Letter Law which is now the formal law; it bore little resemblance to the indigenous, democratic, egalitarian systems of governance. 

European considerations: Race/Ethnic Divide

What has not been taken to task as yet is how classification and statistics were compiled in these regions . Human beings were simultaneously redefined as analogous to animal and plant species, as ethnic types to be slotted in the pigeonholes of such questionnaires as Thomas has noted. Taxonomy, similar to Linnaeus was at the heart of the new “art of government,” based, as La Perriere said, on the “right disposition of things, arranged to lead to a convenient end.” As Pratt has observed, principles from Linnaeus botany created an international networks of scientists. It provided, for instance, Dutch, British, Portuguese, Russian expeditions with German naturalists, creating a circuit for the exchange of knowledge in which much colonial intelligence could be passed on from one empire to another; some argue that botanists pioneered the colonial deployment of statistics.

Dispassionate, colonial scholar administrators worked through various routines relied upon their valuations with little sympathy for local ways of relating: Race and colour was central to such thinking. A common one was anthropometry, the patterning Africans physical characteristics measuring skulls, height, skin colour, the nasal index, and skull shapes and in Indian Subcontinent, it also included, caste and religion. Thus, organised shifting conjugal, social distinct ethnic identities were fixed in order to regulate the control of labour and, required resources from the land. This appears to have had a critical bearing not just on impoverishment of livelihoods,  the removal of men from the household to work in far off regions, led to women being burdened with the responsibility for household expenditure and farm labour and transformed gender relationships. And, what has not been taken to task continues to inform. In the Indian subcontinent, for example, H.H Risley developed an official typology of racial types formulating grades in caste defined by the proportion of ‘Aryan’ blood and the nasal index, along a gradient from the highest castes to the lowest. In 1910 he influentially asserted that knowledge of facts concerning the religions and habits of the peoples of India equipped a civil servant with a passport to popular regard. He absurdly determined, “the social position of a caste varies inversely as its nasal index measuring the definition of a community as either a tribe or a Hindu caste or a Muslim. The nasal index, a method of classifying ethnicity based on the ratio of the breadth of a nose to its height, race remained one of the principal determinants of attitudes, endowments, capabilities and inherent tendencies among subject peoples and used in different parts of the Empire. Risley’s experience of administrative matters, including policing, proved to be useful to Curzon during the anti-government agitation that led to the first Partition of Bengal. Imperial classifications such as base Bengali Babu, dark-skinned Tamils, cunning Malayali, irascible Bhil, quarrelsome Pathan, warrior Rajput, loyal Gurkha inferiorized local populations. Another aspect was the introduction in the subcontinent of the codification of perceived inherited behaviour. Thus, criminality or professional criminal behaviour to be perceived as hereditary rather than on account of impoverishment and social circumstance,  and crime became ethnic, to be  biologically  determined entrenching new understandings of fixing caste and people and such sustained Utilitarian, administrator colonial scholarship inspired laws   such as The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 so forth to be enacted. From such political measures, those communities or people with peripatetic lifestyles or communities who chose to live in the forests, away from society were seen as a menace to the society, ‘dangerous classes’ thugs, vagrants, itinerants, gypsies and even Hijras (eunuchs) had to be sent to reformatory schools in the guise of mental asylums and prisons were equipped with these tasks. Although the Act was repealed in 1949 it was replaced in substance by the Habitual Offenders Act 1952 of Government of India indicating how colonial laws continue to inform attitudes in the Subcontinent affecting over a billion people in India. There needs to be serious re-thinking of the enduring impact of colonial legislation as these Acts along with the policing measures continue to damage measures for productive governance.

Applying the Stammbäume(charting family trees) model (not as used by Darwin) to grade levels, how  superior to inferior races were governed by selection, regardless of historical evidence, reciprocal influences between scientific thought and species  discusses how orders and levels came to represent an ascending staircase of social-cultural evolution, natives occupying the lowest rungs. Thus, terms to describe races ‘Aryan’, ‘Dravidian’ and so forth have been proven to be gravely erroneous: the entire race grading of people is indeed, erroneous. As the eminent historian Romila Thapar had observed that we do not know what the Aryans looked like and certainly these Aryan speaking peoples had intermarried with other peoples in their migrations for several hundred centuries. Similarly the term Dravidian conjured by a British linguist Caldwell is inaccurate in its usage. There are no Aryans or Dravidian people, and racial divides in scales are unscientific, arbitrary fixtures. Intermarriage and integration has been way of life for millennia. Here we have to note that phonology, syntax and vocabulary apart, in the Indian subcontinent for millennia various peoples settled following a timeless traditions of reciprocity and exchange. At any rate, there has always been so much interbreeding between human populations that it would be meaningless to talk of fixed boundaries between races in most parts of the world. Also, the distribution of hereditary physical traits does not follow clear boundaries. In other words, there is often greater variation within a “racial” group than there is systematic variation between two groups. Institutionalising such thinking has led to the hardening of inward-looking attitudes which formed the basis of classifications leading to continuous wrangling, and prejudice.

Current analysis seeks to label ethnic confrontation, communal turbulence and tribal conflicts but fails to look back into the recesses of the histories and cultures. Such painful confrontations which continue to reverberate   in contemporary African and societies of the Subcontinent, as indeed, the Middle-East have resulted, without a doubt, from an extraneous imposition of rigid systems of classification on otherwise flexible groups. Studying how such thinking came to be in addition to the physically measured racial differentiations of ethnic subjects, ethnic groups were presupposed to have a range of obligatory characteristics needs to be reassessed. Indeed, the term ethnic and ethnicity needs to be re-examined as it had very little to do with people’s understandings of their own identities and how they related to each other. Indeed, what ethnicity might mean in relation to Africans’,  Arabs,  Jews, Indians, Sri Lankans, indeed, Baluchis even, the NWFP appreciations of their own identities was simply not considered indeed, if anything, undermined: there are immeasurable ways by which peoples define themselves in relation to each other . 

To reflect on whether we can apply understandings of contemporary ethnicities we need to look at how they developed in relation to one another within each specific context; what is meant by immutable ethnic loyalties and indeed, primordial afflictions as such fixed terms of reference to dominate global political analyses. Informed by the philosophical underpinnings of specific forms of European culture and governance, for instance Anglo-Saxon where Utilitarian and Cartesian thinking was central to governance and polity of European empires, a consequence: making separate and dividing peoples on basis of invented race and colour schemata established anthropometry as a pivotal consideration. Thus, there was an explicit imposition of administrative infrastructure to make separate and distinct against assimilation in order to control and to guard the boundaries and exits of the body politic. These measures explicitly negated time honoured customs, how people related to each other, or accepted and understood their environments, or, the mutual interdependence with which these cultures had evolved naturally for millennia with indigenous forms of governance that had worked for them.  The loss of certainty led to new forms of strife and introduced communal conflicts: such estrangement has had the effect of foreclosing and truncating indigenous value systems.

The wisdom of the Ottomans

In conspicuous contrast, the Ottoman Empire which governed for over six hundred years allowed for the integration of large Jewish, Christian and other communities, who, despite some legal handicaps, found that the dispensation generally allowed them to live and worship in faithful adherence to their laws and traditions. Some religious heads even believed that the Turkish conquest had preserved the Greek Church from the threat of annihilation by the growing power of the Latin west. For instance, the Grand Duke Loukas Notarasis had stated on the eve of the conquest: It would be better to see the turban of the Turks reigning over the city than the Latin mitre. In later decades, active efforts were made through the tanzimat to incorporate various cultures within.  And, by embracing the Hanafi School the most accommodating of all the four schools and, drawing upon all four schools in its law making, it permitted maximum flexibility within the limits of Islamic tradition, thus was placating disparate populations of Jews, Christians and, indeed, various schools within the Sunni Islamic traditions; many of the spiritual exercises of the Hesychast movement championed by St Gregory Palamas, who had spent a year at the Ottoman court debating with Muslims, were derived from Sufi and Islamic practices. The institutionalising of Sufism, some scholars have argued in governance and military establishment sanctioned non conformism. Such latitudinarian forms of governance derived from the philosophical, religious and cultural syncretism’s cobbled together from Byzantine, Arab, and Central Asian as indeed, the Mughals traditions. Many of the Shia mosques in Iraq were built by the Sunni Ottomans. In 1856, the Hatt-? Hümayun promised equality for all Ottoman citizens irrespective of their ethnicity and confession, widening the scope of the 1839 Hatt-? ?erif of Gülhane. The reformist period peaked with the Constitution, called the Kanûn-? Esâsî (meaning “Basic Law” in Ottoman Turkish), written by members of the Young Ottomans, which was promulgated on 23 November 1876. It established freedom of belief and equality of all citizens before the law. “Firman of the Reforms” gave immense privileges to the Armenians, which formed a “governance in governance” to eliminate the aristocratic dominance of the Armenian nobles by development of the political strata in the society. Certainly, the military regulations meant conscription; they were also guaranteed protection providing the impetus for vernacular languages and traditions to develop unhindered within the Ottoman fold.  As another scholar has argued, its social organization and mechanisms of rule at key moments of its history, emergence, imperial institutionalization, re-modelling, transition to nation-state, revealing how the empire managed these moments, adapted, and averted crises and what changes made it transform dramatically. The flexible techniques by which the Ottomans maintained their legitimacy specifically the manner in which dissent was handled and/or internalized in the nature of state society respect of minorities; the cooperation of their diverse elites both at the centre and in the provinces, as well as their control over economic and human resources were responsible for the longevity of this particular empire over other empires.

What is often forgotten, remarked Ari Abulafia, a violinist with whom we journeyed with in Istanbul,  is that whilst people of the same religious traditions, be they Protestant, or Catholic or, belonging to Islam other older traditions such as Judaism were being systematically persecuted, driven away by Edicts or discouraged by repressive measures in Europe, in Asia be it south or central Asia, the Arabian peninsula, Middle-East, Iran and other parts of the Levant, they enjoyed great freedoms occupied high positions; they were regarded as integral to the contemporary societies in question, the Safavids, Mughals, certainly under the Ottomans: such open-ended cultural freedoms and economic security allowed for an unrivalled prosperity. Kurdish nationalism remains one of the most critical and explosive problems of the Middle East. Hakan Üzo?lu has consulted a wealth of primary sources, including Ottoman and British archives, Ottoman Parliamentary minutes, memoirs, and interviews. He argues that Kurdish leaders remained loyal to the Ottoman state;they withdrew only after it became certain that the empire would not recover did Kurdish nationalism emerge and clash with the Kemal Pasha‘s modern polity and development of Turkish nationalism. In later decades, the British inspired tumultuous break-up of the Ottoman Empire while allowing for the nation states introduced less tolerant governance, forged rivalry between peoples who once had prosperously co-existed and, financial instability: Greece is one  example as also,  the Balkans, where populations of Serbs, Slovenes, Magyars, Croats, Bulgars, Turks, others had intermarried and coexisted. Some measures of the Ottomans  need to be revisited to strengthen nations in these regions.

In Palestine, the Ottoman millat system under which all religious hierarchies had the right to govern their communities autonomously also came to be distorted under colonial rule. Instead of introducing the immigrant European communities into the existing structures of governance and polity in Palestine, the British authorities made concrete what was abstract and open-ended, by introducing ethnic divides and sectarianism which has now become the basis for all political participation. Such a move effectively unified the Jewish population of Palestine while dividing its Arabs along sectarian lines. And, as a result, residents along with other communities such as the Armenians, Coptics and Greeks were denied national’ representation in the governance of their communities. Similarly, the partition of Iraq led to the creation of Kuwait, and the British bestowed sovereignty on King Farouk, a non-Iraqi Sunni monarch although the population was largely Shia. And, as he was a foreigner and not familiar with the lay of the land or its emotions he relied upon  select  enclaves of power leading inevitably  to the seizure of power by the Baathist regime of Al Bakr and Saddam Hussein in 1968.  They were not tolerant of other groups, and did not recruit from the majority who were Shias to share power. For much of its time,the Ottoman Empire had nurtured creative genius at all levels allowing religious freedoms, and other cultural expressions as indeed, artistic expressions to flourish. 

Unfortunately, modern Turkey’s move to embrace westernisation by Kemalism undermined its very strength as it estranged itself from its rich syncretic history. Further ill-advised measures were introduced for example, the hasty abolition of Ottoman Turkish and Arabic script in 1929. The language revolution also known as Dil Devrimi was conceived of in the late nineteenth century where the Arabic script was replaced by Latin alphabet. Although a majority of the political members of the assembly favoured a gradual transition a period up to five years, it was overruled. Eager for Turkey to remain at the pinnacle, Kemal Pasha insisted on immediacy. Purification of the language became a national cause. Dictionaries began to drop Arabic and Persian words and sought to resurrect archaic terms or words from Turkish dialects or to coin new words from old stems and roots to be used in their place. The Turkish Language Society Türk Dil Kurumu, founded in 1932, supervised the collection and dissemination of Turkish folk vocabulary and folk phrases to be used in place of foreign words. Such short sighted developments severed inadvertently an extremely rich, syncretic philosophical heritage of learning and civility. It would not be far-fetched to observe that harmony and  tolerance could come to prevail between various peoples committed to the longevity and material success of the European Union, indeed,  be guaranteed if leaders and communities could  seek to reflect and, to learn from inclusive polity of the Ottomans.

The Indian Subcontinent

Possibly the bloodiest Partition in history has been the partitioning of India and Pakistan in August 1947, the ramifications of which remain largely unexplored, nor, properly explained. The process needs to be comprehended as the Partitioning of the Indian subcontinent, indeed Mughal and Maratha empires, which began with the Anglo Afghan wars. In May 1879, the Treaty of Gandamak, was signed that forced Amir Yaqub Khan to cede  the large areas west of the Indus -Khurram, Pishin and  Sibi and, hand over the control of the Khyber and Michni  Pass to the British. Two imperial Anglo-Russian Boundary Commissions of 1895-96 were set up without consulting the Amir or the Wakhanis fixed resolutely the frontiers in the north- east and the north- west, Russian Turkestan as Russian Central Asia came to be called. The Wakhan Corridor on the high Pamirs was to remain with the Afghans as it served to act as a buffer between British and Tsarist territories. Those tribes who suffered on account of this partition were the Kyrgyz and Wakhi tribes who were forced to discontinue their traditional pastoral practices. In the east, the Durand Line in 1893 was drawn by the British which came to separate communities on both sides of the border for the first time in millennia. Amir Abdul Rahman is recorded to have remarked, “How can a small power like Afghanistan which is like a goat between two lions, or a grain of wheat between two strong millstones of the grinding mill, stand in midway of the stones without being ground to dust?” 

There were, thus, in effect, seven geographical Partitions that happened of the Indian Subcontinent. They began with the Partitions of Afghanistan in 1879 and 1893, the Partition of Bengal in 1903-04, the carving of Burma in April 1937 and, from the Bombay Presidency, west Aden, Musta?marat ?Adan, in 1937, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in 1947, and the same year between India and Pakistan being the most violent covering as it did present day Bengal, Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, the United Provinces. 

In the Indian subcontinent, partitions happened in weeks. To the many millions, the Partition remains a heinous crime and drawing of the boundary line was in itself, faulty. As observed by one historian, the dividing line between the east and west of the province, wobbled from communal to economic to strategic factors’, followed no natural dividing features such as rivers or mountain ranges, cut across villages, canal systems and communication lines, in the process separating communities and bisecting homes. Large populations of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs found themselves on the wrong side of the border. At no point in time did the local people have any say in the matter; they felt betrayed and herein were the seeds sown of Hindu Muslim animosity primarily among the Punjabis and Sindhis; they were torn apart from each other, from their shared communities being forced to flee. The traumatic effects of territorial loss, moral and social dislocation and painful separation of human communities continue to reverberate in the Indian subcontinent with tragic consequences. Nationhood cannot be defined by enmity but by love for the land, for the joint custody of people of its resources. 

Ancient cultures of the subcontinent are renowned for their millennial syncretic and immanent traditions. For example, examine the nineteenth century Punjabi culture and its influence on the political expression of the times. It is common knowledge that the Punjab derives its name from Persian, comprising the words of Panj (five) and Ab (water) meaning land of five rivers, Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and the Sutlej. It consisted of rich alluvial tracts of land, or the Doab between two confluent rivers, the Sind Sagar, Jech, Bist, Rechna, and the Bari Doabs. The term Punjab was used during the reign of Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar. In the documents of Mughal period the use of the terms Sarkar-e-Punjab and Suba-e-Punjab and this region remained longest under Islamic influences. Indo-Islamic confluences inspired by the Sufis, Sheikhs, Pirs and Ulemas followed them in their wake. In many towns of the Punjab, they opened Khankahs and Jamait Khanas, amongst which those at Multan, Uch, Ajodhan, and Lahore were of great sanctity. The Punjab has acted not merely as a repository of the Indo- Islamic mystical traditions but a focal point in the process of its diffusion. All the classical mystic writings like Kashf al-Mahjub, AwarifulMaarif, Futuhat-e-Makkiya, Masnavi of Jalaluddin Rumi and other mystics were first received, accepted in Punjab and then transmitted to the rest of India. Even today the Sufi lyrics sung by of Abida Parveen, Fateh Ali Khan, Amarjeet Kaur and others,  Pakistani and Indian Punjabis  are based on the Sufi kalam of the mystic saints of Punjab (such as Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain, Sultan Bahu, Khwaja Ghulam Farid etc.) and Mughal poets Amir Khusrao. They sing in Punjabi, Urdu, Sindhi, Seraiki, and Persian, and enthral audiences in Delhi and beyond, many who claim ancestry from former west Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and Afghanistan. Similarly, elsewhere along the Radcliffe lines  traditions of hospitality such as: melmastia, mehrman palineh defining meraneh or codes of manhood such as imandaari (righteousness),  sabat (steadfastness),  ghairat (of property), namus protecting women  extended far beyond Pashtun cultural arena as witnessed in the Deccan regions where Urdu was more widely spoken as linguistics such as Tahir Rahman have illustrated, since the thirteenth century, well-integrated with local languages such as Telugu as indeed, Marathi. Similarly, in Kashmir, Allah and Lala symbolised the several hundred centuries of syncreticism as embodied in Kashmiriyat. The “pluralist, Sufi Bhakti- RishiTraditions has been elaborated at length by Madanjeet Singh.

Partitions are often understood as necessary boundaries that came to be drawn with the creation of nation states  of modernity. As boundaries function to separate and to exclude, the incidence of identical cultures on both sides of an international boundary holds significant implications for post-partition (post-independent) interstate relations in the Indian Subcontinent, African continent, South east Asia, Russian Steppes, as, indeed, deep rooted loyalties compel inter-community relations whether or not the community is wholly located within a single country or split between countries. There remains a lack of fit between ascribed ethnic identities, linguistic boundaries and patterns of allegiances. After all, for millennia there had been an entirely unselfconscious interaction across political, physical, linguistic religious, indeed, cosmological boundaries. And, extraneously imposed, monistic identities/ perceived allegiances continue to counter cultural diversity as it is regularly experienced and accepted.

What solutions can be offered? Resuscitating traditions of syncreticism, of subjugated wisdoms and disseminating such knowledge is vital towards redressing these moral fault lines. And, these attempts would subsequently guarantee peace not just to the citizens of aforementioned regions of the world, but also for citizens in Europe and north America. In India for example, even locals know that local cultures are not autonomous,  but interdependent  systems which have become influenced by global involvements that promote further exploitation, witness the decline of the rupee. The open-frontier traditions of immanent, syncretic cultures such as those of the subcontinent have always accommodated a global perspective — often not recognised. Thus, the formal colonisation of the native conscience (as one anthropologist has noted) so integral to the  subjection of indigenous peoples is not often grasped in most understandings of the divisive politics of post-colonial  societies. In defining gender, identity and personhoods, the Cartesian cogito, positivist and evolutionary thought continues to inform official understandings. It’s overwhelming importance in determining contemporary categories of the Self whether it is the dualistic presumptions that  guide everyday thought or the mechanistic way that dominates much of science. It also influences the manner in which symbolic, cognitive and aesthetic competences are judged via implicit learning processes –often at the cost of local cultural understandings. 

The way forward would be that experts in one culture can play a key role in increasing mutual understanding and eliminating prejudices in their own culture and in those which they study. Each culture needs to build up an understanding on the basis of its own specific characteristics -positive life experiences in inter-cultural contexts within the regional as a start working towards mutual interdependence and  conviviality. In various narratives the meaning of emotions/  feelings in  collective imaginations  vital in the  formation and development of those representations is simply not considered. Nor are themes of interdependence,  recognition of similarities  which are necessary for coexistence of cultures and persons-  indeed, focusing exclusively on diversity  overlooks the necessary condition for any type of dialogue the recognition of that which makes us similar to each other. There are considerations of humanity’s psychic unity: shared emotions and vulnerability- aims and ideals to which we all aspire in particular the shared dignity and knowledge  of each other vulnerability is something we all share- human frailty to provide hospitality, empathy sympathy and humility in intercultural relations. To achieve this we need to undertake an archaeology of the past working towards an ethnography of the present.

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Dr Kusum Gopal

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