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India's 'land' through the looking glass: how sane is your sanity?

“But they had no idea where Pakistan was. That was why they were all at a loss, whether they were now in India or in Pakistan. If they were in India, then where was Pakistan? If they were in Pakistan, how come that only a short while ago they were in India? How could they be in India a short while ago and now suddenly in Pakistan?”, pondered the inmates of the lunatic asylum at Lahore, in the short story Toba Tek Singh by Saadat Hassan Manto.

An expression that perfectly describes the chaos of the partition: Source

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be told, out of the blue, that your home is not your home anymore?

The place you were born; where you took your first steps; the house which still has your first drawings etched onto its walls; the school where you made friends and got into brawls; the local park where you went to cry when you were miserable; the town fair where you had the time of your life; the town where you loved and lost; the place where you started your married life; where you held your firstborn in your hands; how would it feel to be told that place is not right for you because it is located in the wrong country?

And, how does a country become “wrong” or “right”?

Manto says in his short story, “His name was Bishan Singh but everybody called him Toba Tek Singh.” This was a lunatic in the Lahore asylum who had forgotten everything, including what day it was, and that one could lie down to rest. He didn’t seem to feel the pain in his calves from standing straight for fifteen years, ever since he had gone mad. Yet, despite his delirium, there were two things he knew somehow: the day his loved ones were supposed to pay him a visit and the fact that he belonged to a place called Toba Tek Singh.

In his state of insanity, his home became his name.

How was it for the refugees of 1947 to be dragged across the country like herds of cattle? Did they lose their humanity? Did they lose themselves while trying to reach their new home in the “right” country? Was their country not their home then? Did they make it to the other side of the border that used to be India too? Or, did they perish on the way?

“Sialkot, which used to be in India, now was in Pakistan. At this rate, it seemed as if Lahore, which was now in Pakistan, would slide over to India. Perhaps the whole of India might become Pakistan. It was all so confusing! And who could say if both India and Pakistan might not entirely disappear from the face of the earth one day?” were the thoughts of the lunatics in Toba Tek Singh.

Could you make head or tail of their questions? Perhaps not; they’re called insane for a reason after all, aren't they?

Bodies turn to dust as others pass by: Source

Let us imagine a girl named Radha. She has grown up and interacted with the world with that one identity; as Radha. But, one ominous day when she is ten, she gets into a fatal accident; she loses all sensation on the left side of her body. The doctors convince her that she is not just Radha anymore; two people share her body now - Radha and Zubeida. Zubeida wakes up when Radha falls asleep; that's why Radha can't move her left arm and leg, since Zubeida is asleep.

Radha hates Zubeida now. She is always afraid that Zubeida would take over even more of her body; that one day, she won't wake up as Radha anymore, and would eventually disappear. She goes insane as the fear seizes her. And the fateful night, while Zubeida is awake, Radha goes to sleep forever; never to wake up again. The doctors implicate the instability of her mind following the paralysis, as the cause of her demise.

When Bishan Singh could not find out where his home (Toba Tek Singh) lay, he refused to comply with the deportation procedure. And, for the first time in fifteen years, he fell to the ground, face-first.

“On one side, behind barbed wire, stood together the lunatics of India and on the other side, behind more barbed wire, stood the lunatics of Pakistan. In between, on a bit of earth which had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh.”

The story leaves us with a feeling that Bishan Singh never stood back up again. As his hope of returning to Toba Tek Singh was extinguished, so was his reason for existence.

The stalwarts of nationalism would say it was just the antics of a crazy, old man. Besides, such sacrifices had to be made for the independence of the nation. And they would be right. However, a price was paid to free the nation. Did it really free the nation? Or were we forgetting something?

It is both the beauty and the curse of history, that it doesn’t let us forget.

People don’t forget the home they left behind for a promise of freedom. The 'freedom' which they weren’t free to choose. They don’t forget the storms of questions that raged in their minds; the unanswered questions which earned them the tag of “insane”: an assumed 'insanity' that made them available to be stripped of all humanity.

People can be turned into dust, but their history remains.

Radha still wants her body back.

And the tale of time repeats itself.

गर फ़िरदौस बर्-रूए- ज़मीन अस्त ! हमीं अस्त! हमीं अस्तो -हमीं अस्त !

Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.

If there is a heaven on Earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here...

These are famous lines by Urdu poet and singer Amir Khusrau, describing the beauty of the northernmost part of India, Jammu and Kashmir. While Punjab and Bengal saw the worst of the partition, as their people were dispossessed and dislocated, the population of Jammu and Kashmir faced a contrasting horror.

Both parts of the newly divided India wanted to take along a piece of its “paradise”. The struggle continued for decades as paradise was mangled into parts until finally one day in 2019, all autonomy was revoked and 'home' became a 'jail' for the people of this land. The "level-headed", "rational people" in power wanted heaven, so they made it into hell.

Kashmiri residents throw stones at Indian security personnel during curfew in Srinagar: Source

“I was beaten with sticks, rifle butts, and they kept asking me why I went for a protest march. I kept telling them that I didn’t, but they didn’t stop. After I fainted, they used electric shocks to revive me. Once they realized I was innocent, they wanted me to name a stone-pelter. I told them, I don’t know anyone. So, they continued beating and electrocuting me. They wanted all of us to give the names of stone-pelters. They began pulling my beard and even tried to put it on fire. Then, someone hit me on the head and I fainted. It is then they, perhaps, realized that I might die. So, they asked my friend to take me home. I regained consciousness after two days and it’s been 20 days and I still can’t walk properly”, said a Kashmiri, as reported by Aljazeera.

The horrific annulment of the treaty of trust (Article 370 and 35A) that had led to the accession of the princely states of Jammu and Kashmir to India, doesn’t need reiteration. However, what needs questioning is the silence of the inhabitants at gunpoint; what requires mentation is the terrorizing treatment of people under suspicion of terrorism.

How come the nation wants this paradise so badly but treats its people as less than Indians?

A Kashmiri boy walks past graffitied shutters of shops closed down during curfew in Srinagar: Source

“On August 6, a graphic designer for the Rising Kashmir newspaper, Samir Ahmad, (in his early twenties) had remonstrated with a CRPF man near his home in the Manderbag area of Srinagar, asking him to allow an old man to pass. Later the same day, when Samir opened the door to his house, CRPF fired at him with a pellet gun, unprovoked. He got 172 pellets in his arm and face near the eyes, but his eyesight is safe. It is clear that the pellet guns are deliberately aimed at the face and eyes, and unarmed, peaceful civilians standing at their own front doors can be targets”, reported Jacobin magazine.

The inhabitants of this land were never asked as to what they wanted. And when they tried to speak, their voice was suppressed.

Pakistan, China, and India have been at odds (to put it subtly) regarding this dispute for over 74 years now. And 74 years into India’s independence, there can be seen graffiti on the shutters of closed down shops in Kashmir, which still demands independence. Why?

When India became independent of British imperialism, did it start imprisoning and colonizing its own citizens?

Aren’t we all still colonized? Some in body, some in mind.

The violence we see in Jammu and Kashmir isn’t one of its kind, but rather a drop in the bucket. Today we see sheer greed in people’s eyes towards land and contemptuous disregard in their attitude towards other human beings. This irony begs the question: what is the worth of this land? Is it more than lives?

Take the Indian occupation of Nagaland, for example. The Naga tribes had declared their independence before the British left India but were forcefully integrated into the Republic of India in 1947. The Nagas have always wanted a separate flag and constitution; since time and again India has disregarded Naga national history and failed to integrate them within the rest of the country.

Delhi views Nagaland as a "disturbed area" and has kept the state under a draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The act extends wide-ranging powers to the army, including the use of force and arrests without warrants. Under this act, it is not uncommon for Indian soldiers to rape and murder Naga women and children, torture and kill the men, and set fire to their property. Today, even after years of insurgency and counterinsurgency, the fate of Nagaland is yet to be decided.

Not convinced yet?

Think of the land encroachment that the Adivasis of India have been subjected to. Thanks to the sacred marriage between the government and multinational industries, Adivasis have been displaced for ages and will continue to be exploited. Land that has belonged to the Adivasis for generations is snatched away from right under their feet; suddenly they have no land to live or farm on. Their lives are taken away. In return, they are given monetary compensation; sometimes, nothing at all.

All these instances put together are bound to make one question people’s sanity when it comes to matters of land and identity. Was Bishan Singh the real lunatic? Is there a paradise left on land anymore?

India disregards and denies Indians their basic human rights and dignity. When such marginalized people demand their independence from this systemic oppression, they are called anti-nationals. This begs a pertinent question: is India its land or is India its people?

Who is this “India” by the way?

Well, it’s certainly not some abstract entity sipping tea in the abode of tyrannical nations.

Is “India” its government then?

If so, what is a government? There is the whole convoluted textbook definition. And, then there is the simpler answer: people. The government of the country is its citizens. Citizens whose promises and vision are deemed fit, by the rest of the citizens, to run the nation. Yes, those people in power are citizens too.

The bigots and tyrants are as much India, as are the oppressed and marginalized people they torment. The people who elect the government are India, just like the people who constitute the government.

If there is a root cause to be discovered, it lies in the times past; when thousands of people disappeared into oblivion, and millions were okay to trade lives for land.

If there is a finger to be pointed, it is at the mirror.

If land is Earth, and Earth is home, why is it the site of such violence? There is enough space for everyone, and yet there seems to be a shortage of accommodation.

The following lines from Nobel laureate Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s poem Freedom come to mind:

“...Freedom from the insult of dwelling in a puppet's world,

where movements are started through brainless wires,

repeated through mindless habits,

where figures wait with patience and obedience for the

master of show,

to be stirred into a mimicry of life.”

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This Night Owl Original has been authored by Sreejani, She is a writer and a student of Comparative Literature based in Kolkata, trying her best to make the most out of life while writing about what moves her. She hopes that whatever she writes, can help one feel something, no matter where they are situated on the map of the world.


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