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141 1 Partition:NeitherEndnorBeginning “The main newspaper headlines these days are about bloodshed ,” Manto lamented. He was bewildered by the chaos and confusion attending the dawn of a long-­ awaited freedom. “Why have human beings become so thirsty for human blood these days?” he asked. “Should we wash our hands of humanity ?” “Have we lost faith in that thing called conscience?” He was at a loss as to how to answer these weighty questions. What had happened at the time of partition was a blot on the face of humanity. The unpardonable horrors of partition—­ women belonging to rival communities being paraded naked; several hundreds of thousands of people killed; and tens of thousands of women raped, maimed, and abducted—­ ought to have chastened the human instinct for bestiality. Yet there was an unwillingness to outgrow the psychological nightmare of partition. Not a day passed without a human being getting killed by a fellow human being. Scores ended up injured. “Why are these few individuals so murderous,” and “why are their hearts and minds so possessed by murder and violence?”1 142 III Histories “Something unique and unprecedented had happened.” Concerned as ever with the present, Manto was interested not in analyzing the causes of partition but in delineating its consequences . By looking at the finer details, all too easily hidden under loosely defined religious categories, he wanted to tease out the human impact of partition, something he thought was ultimately a task for experts in psychology. Taking appropriate measures could mitigate the pain of partition. “Unfortunately the concerned parties did not make any honest effort, with the result that today we see frightening criminals standing among us.” There were no methods in place to reform those who had become accustomed to the use of knives and guns. Newspapers were printing stories about the exploits of these dangerous men and turning them into popular heroes. The issue of “abducted” women was altogether different. It raised basic ethical questions. Who would safeguard the bricks in the buildings supporting these women’s yet-­ to-­ be-­ born illegitimate children?2 Manto wrote feelingly on the issue of “abducted” women and their rehabilitation. “When I think of the recovered women, I think only of their bloated bellies—­ what will happen to those bellies?” he mused. Would the children of their misery “belong to Pakistan or Hindustan?” And who would compensate these women for their nine-­ month burden, Pakistan or Hindustan? He failed to understand why these women were called “abducted,” a term that to his mind was associated with romance, in which men and women were equally complicit . What sort of abduction was this in which a defenseless woman was taken forcibly and locked up? But the times were such that logic, rationality, and philosophy were useless. It was like sleeping with the windows and doors closed in the heat 143 Partition of the summer: Manto had shut all the windows and doors to his heart and mind, even though keeping them open was more important than ever. “But what could I do, I couldn’t think of anything,” he professed. To him the two-­ way traffic of abducted women across the newly demarcated borders possessed all the features of a bustling flesh trade.3 He found it utterly distasteful that the two governments advertised their 19 Picture of distress—­woman consoled by a relative at the grave of her four-­month-­old child, by Margaret Bourke-­White, Time & Life Pictures/ Getty Images 144 III Histories success in recovering these “fallen” women, and he wondered why “we, who keep pets and embrace beasts, cannot give a place to these women and children in our homes.” The politicians of both countries needed to answer this before anyone else. “Our split culture and divided civilization, what has survived of our arts; all that we received from the cut-­ up parts of our own body, and which is buried in the ashes of Western politics, we need to retrieve, dust, clean, and restore to freshness in order to recover all that we have lost in the storm.” He thought it imperative to attend to those injuries that could become fatal if left unattended. Of these none was greater than the wounds inflicted on those fifty thousand raped, abducted, and subsequently recovered women, some of these outrages due to “our own cowardice” and others the result of the “unbridled debauchery of our rivals.”4 Manto’s mind was not numbed for long by the human depravity that marked partition...


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