"Partition" and "Minority Rights" in Punjabi Hindu Debates, c. 1920–47

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:40 AM
Scottsdale Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Neeti Nair, University of Virginia

A religiously defined minority in the undivided province of Punjab and part of the majority community in India, Punjabi Hindus grappled with a variety of proposals for safeguarding their rights in the decades before Partition. Sometimes they favored a redrawing of boundaries, both within the Punjab and all India; at all times they invested in the idea of a strong center in the India-to-be and hoped that such a center, with Hindus at the helm, would safeguard their minority rights in the Punjab. This is why, despite the forays of the Hindu Mahasabha in their province, and their occasional disillusionment with the politics pursued by the Indian National Congress, Punjabi Hindus put their faith in the Congress that, howsoever weak within the Punjab, was clearly going to inherit power at the center in Delhi.

However, when the Congress appeared to consider Jinnah’s demand for what had come to be called Pakistan by the early 1940s, Punjab’s minorities protested vehemently. Yet paradoxically, when the Congress agreed to the Grouping of provinces under the 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan - an alternative that would have preserved a united India - Punjab’s Hindus preferred Partition over Grouping. They were far more interested in preserving a strong connection to the center that was India than they were to the province that was Punjab. In highlighting demands for partition, I do not mean to suggest that the partition of 1947 was inevitable. On the contrary, I suggest that partition was not as deadly and tormented a proposal in the 1920s as it became two decades later. The meanings of ‘partition’ changed in subsequent decade: the critical, operative factor was always that of minority rights.