Islamabad: Women, in general, are among the worst sufferers of the partition. But the Muslim women’s misery was further set off by the taboos that held them back from talking about what happened to them. In this age, historians are supposed to dig out this aspect so that the future generations are able to grasp magnitude of the tragedy.
These are the views of Dr Sajid Awan, former Head of the National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research (NIHCR), an autonomous organ of Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU). Dr. Awan is among those who set precedents instead of issuing hallow advices. He is now heading a research project titled “Cultural History of Pakistan”.
Talking to The News, he said that he intended to investigate the cultural barriers that kept Muslim women’s voice down after the Partition. He said, “You can find some great fiction on this issue. Saadat Hussain Minto and Krishan Chandar laid out miseries of women in their short stories. But a serious scientific attempt has long been lacking on academic canvass.”
He said Pippa Virdee is the first author to pen plight of women during and after the Partition of Punjab. Herself from Lyalpur (now Faisalabad), she tried to draw a comparison of her ancestral city with Ludhyana in Indian Punjab. Dr. Awan said Virdee, in her latest book “From the Ashes of 1947: Reimagining Punjab”, published by Cambridge University Press, interviewed Muslim women survivors of the Partition both in India and Pakistan.
He said Malerkotla is an interesting phenomenon in her book. “Malerkotla, earlier a state and now a town, is a place people of which helped a Sikh guru i.e. Guru Goband Singh. The guru in turn prayed that there be no bloodshed in this area. As a result, Sikhs took care of this area and Muslims from other localities found shelter there. The population of Muslims has swelled there while in other parts it has shrunk.”
Before Virdee, Veena Das, Urvashi Butalia and Ravinder Kaur contributed to the body of knowledge with regards to plight of women but their work was focused in large part on Sikh and Hindu women of India. Dr. Awan said he is interested to understand the culture of suppression that Muslim women lived through at the time of Partition and have been living through even today.
He said that during the British Raj, the rulers sponsored writing of history in such a way that depicted them as heroes and saviors. “After the Partition, we had historians with nationalist tendencies both in India and Pakistan. They wrote history only to prove their nationalist narratives. But now is the age of writing history of the people, not the rulers,” he said.
He said historians in this age are interested in investigating what has been going on with the marginalised segments of society, like women, children, minorities, and people who are deemed of lower social status. Earlier, Dr. Awan worked extensively on the saints of Sindh and Multan. His work has been acknowledged both at national and international levels equally.
An illumine of QAU, he is considered a symbol of resistance, always taking a bold stance on the matters related to excellence in research and learning.