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Dissonance Between Officialese And Ground Realities

Ian Talbot

By Raghuvendra Tanwar
Manohar Publication, New Delhi, 2006, pp. viii 622, Rs. 1195.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

Raghuvendra Tanwar’s weighty volume provides a wealth of material on developments in the Punjab during the period 1947-8. Despite its title, the work only in passing reflects on the different ‘spins’, news outlets imparted to the events of Partition. It rather uses newspapers and other documentary sources to piece together a detailed narrative. This begins with the breakdown in communal peace following the resignation on 2 March 1947 of the Khizr Tiwana Coalition Government and concludes with the impact on the Punjab of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. While the coverage is stronger with respect to East Punjab, there is considerable material also on West Punjab, especially on developments in Lahore. The volume does not only attempt balance with respect to coverage, but also in terms of its assessments. Professor Tanwar judiciously avoids one sided blame apportionment when covering such sensitive issues as communal violence and the abduction of women. Indeed what emerges from the study are the common experiences affecting all religious communities with respect to patterns of violence, migration, resettlement and rehabilitation.   Tanwar is concerned throughout not so much with the two geographical Punjabs of East and West, but the two worlds of Punjab made up of different social classes who were to experience partition in vastly different ways. ‘While one was able’, he declares, ‘to foresee the clouds of doom and act swiftly, grabbing prime opportunities on both sides, the other ignorant, superstition-ridden and fatalistic did little more than allow themselves to be pushed around, pawns, by all accounts’ (p. 96). While the author allows that exposure to violence had some levelling characteristics, (p. 473) he is clear that the privileged classes were best able to recoup their material losses and even profit from the social dislocation of Partition. Chapter Seven, ‘Peace Returns to Punjab’ is tellingly subtitled, ‘A Study of Corruption and Greed.’ It skilfully utilizes, newspaper editorials, reports and letters of complaint to lay bare the web of graft and corruption that ran from village patwaris to cabinet ministers concerning the allotment of evacuee property. This sorry state of affairs existed both sides of the Wagah border. ‘Attractive statements supported by huge statistics indicating the dimensions of the resettlement effort were routinely issued, sadly these statements concealed a whole body of corrupt decisions of injustice and unfairness’ (p. 473). The unsparing textual narrative is accompanied by carefully selected contemporary cartoons drawn primarily from Shankar’s Weekly. They reinforce the refugees’ ...

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