50th Anniversary of Independence
"Both India and Pakistan were to guarantee democratic rights to all its citizens regardless of their religion and cultural characteristics. Both have failed."
On midnight of August 14, 1947, Pakistan and India attained formal independence from nearly two centuries of British colonial rule and ushered the era of decolonization.
Each year Pakistan celebrates its independence on August 14 and India on August 15. For the last fifty years, these celebrations have primarily consisted of a display of military hardware, in which both countries have made considerable gains. On the fiftieth year in 1997, this display might turnout to be the ugliest of all.
On the other hand there is another side to the story. The story of a common heritage, a common struggle and a common destiny, which should lead to a joint celebration.
Even when correctly portrayed, history has many sides. These different aspects can be assessed in their proper context or from the vintage point of one against the other. The struggle for independence was novel both in form and content. In form because it was primarily based on mass mobilization. In content, because its platform envisioned a comprehensive guideline on political, social, economic and cultural fronts. The struggle had to at once confront one of the most experienced colonial powers, the British colonialism, as well as cope with the complex history of the Indian subcontinent made even more complex during the colonial period.
As is well known, whosoever came, with the exception of the British, treated India as their home and developed it with pride and grace. It was natural that in the process many cultures, many religions thrived in India. It was also natural that there was both a harmony and contradiction between these different facets. Yet as the history of 1857 showed, the first major rebellion against British rule, that harmony among its people was the principal theme.
Indian National Congress under the leadership of Gandhi and Nehru had a vision of commonality of the Indian people and did recognise the necessity of resolving any differences from a common perspective. On most scores it succeeded. However, the platform of the Congress, and even more importantly the composition of its top leadership, could not assure political, social and cultural rights to the Muslims who were a big minority in India and even constituted majority in many regions. Failure to resolve this important question, naturally led to a another platform, which under the dynamic leadership of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, developed into a demand for and then realization of a separate independent country, Pakistan.
Both India and Pakistan were to guarantee democratic rights to all its citizens regardless of their religion and cultural characteristics. Both have failed. Neither could Pakistan become the country of all Muslims of the region nor could India be the exclusive country of Hindus. Seen in this correct historic context, the division of India into India and Pakistan, in itself does not constitute a negative development. On the other hand, a lack of understanding for this development, which lead to a rivalry rather than friendship is a negative feature. This negative aspect needs reversal. The process has begun with similar thinking among the people of both countries.
Organizations like Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy have initiated many steps to bring people of the two countries closer together. Several political leaders have also expressed their desire to build a bridge of friendship. Although these forces are still small, they point to a brighter future trend.
CERAS is a part of this new trend. It will therefore be celebrating the independence of both countries beginning with the summer of 1997. The celebration will comprise of a major conference in Montreal to which will be invited distinguished political and social scientists and activists from Pakistan and India. Some of them will also be touring other cities in Canada. CERAS also plans to organize a documentary film festival in the summer of 1998 to which will be invited film-makers from several countries of South Asia. We invite you to send your suggestions to make this celebration a success and look forward to your active participation.