“Dushman marey tey khushee na karey, sajnaa wee mar janaa,
Deegar tey din gayaa Mohammad, Oorak noon doob jana.”
The names of perpetrators and victims keep changing, but the situation remains the same as we go back from one municipal riot to another: from Muzaffarnagar (2013) to Asansol (2018).
In times of Muslims fearing Hindus and Hindus fearing Muslims, Pippa Virdee’s latest offering is “From The Ashes of 1947 – A New Look at Punjabreveals the ‘details of Guru Gobind Singh’s blessing’ that kept the princely state of Malerkotla safe even at the height of community violence witnessed during the partition.
As eastern and western Punjab exchanged refugees and dead bodies in a wave of violence and retaliatory violence, Malerkotla, a Muslim-dominated principality, remained protected. The generally accepted reason for his calmness in times of bloodshed violence is a myth of the blessings of Guru Gobind Singh captured in her book by the author, who is also a teacher of modern South Asian history at De Montfort University, Leicester.
In an effort to shift focus from the “great men” like Jinnah, Mountbatten, Patel, and Nehru to the other key untapped voices during the divisive and broken times, she conducted interviews and on the pitch recorded voices loaded with “sentimentality attached to Guru’s word”.
After independence, the author continued to experience numerous violent episodes of communal violence, and it was notable when she encountered Malerkotla who defied the prevailing perception.
According to the records, the population of Malerkotla in 1941 was fairly evenly distributed among the three religious communities: Muslims were the largest group, comprising 38%, Sikhs at 34% and Hindus at 27%.
Muslims, however, dominated the town of Malerkotla. The population of the city was 29,321 in the following years with the Muslim community making up 76% of the population (Hindus made up 21% and Sikhs made up 1.5%). This trend continued in the post-partition period.
WHY WE SHOULD KNOW MALERKOTLA
During the partition disturbances, Malerkotla saw an influx of Muslim refugees. It was overrun with Muslims, but this trend did not retaliate for the community violence in Malerkotla. The book chronicles the time when, in an effort to consolidate Sikh-majority areas, Muslims were expelled from Alwar and Bharatpur, what Ian Coplan calls ‘ethnic cleansing’, and the British CID called the ‘Sikh Plan’ – which attempted a Sikh homeland in central and eastern Punjab by expelling the Muslims.
By looking at the tensions in neighboring regions of Malerkotla, the prevailing peace in Malerkotla becomes for the author a case of ‘research’ because little is written within Partition Studies about the absence of violence in Malerkotla in 1947, “partly because it questions the histories of the sacrifices the Muslims in Eastern Punjab made in reaching a homeland in Pakistan, and within the discourse of the Sikh Eastern Punjab it is an unfortunate reminder of a different and more tolerant multiple history.” , the author writes in the book.
She has argued that when we focus on the violent nature of common histories, both nations — India and Pakistan — are justified in promoting and maintaining the current position, which endorses division rather than reconciliation. So with the recognition of community cooperation, the chaotic state discourse faces “challenges and essentially helps build bridges across international borders,” she writes. The records of interfaith dialogue remain on the fringe of the wider high politics, which still dominates today, as it did then.
THE DETAILS OF THE BLESSING OF GURU GOBIND SINGH
The author discovered during the research of the book that Guru Gobind Singh had blessed Malerkotla because the ruler of the princely state protested the execution of his two sons. The story which has traveled for 300 years has also taken on mythical proportions and is well known in the Punjabi folklore which says that during the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707), many battles were fought between the Mughal armies and the Sikhs.
Prior to the attack on Chamkaur in 1705, Mughal authorities captured Guru’s two younger sons and asked them to accept Islam in exchange for freedom in the court of Nawab Wazir Khan of Sirhind. Guru’s sons refused and were suffocated by being bricked into the wall. Fateh Singh was six years old and Zorawar was just over eight when they were executed. At that time, the Qazi told Wazir Khan that the two boys were not guilty of any crime under Islamic law and could not be held responsible for their father’s crime.
The Nawab of Malerkotla Sher Mohammad Khan (1672-1712) wrote a letter protesting to Aurangzeb, claiming that this was against Islamic law because the enmity was with their father and not with their children. But his protest did not help. However, this call came to the attention of Guru Gobind Singh and he blessed the Nawab of Malerkotla and said, “His roots will remain green forever.”
Since then, the ensuing decades have witnessed invasions and disturbances in Punjab and a shifting balance of power from the dwindling Mughal authorities to the Sikh misls (the twelve Sikh armies in the 18th century, each led by a leader, the misls were associated with prominent Sikh families who controlled the area), but to a significant extent Malerkotla remained undisturbed by the Sikh forces. The blessing is considered the most plausible reason, although the author has used other versions of peace behind Malerkotla, including the syncretic history and “non-secular mode of government” identified by Copland in the Subsidiary Alliance.