For how long will we blame the British for the ills afflicting us? From poverty to the Partition of India to bad laws to… maybe stubble burning in north India and female feticide—we heap all blame on our erstwhile imperial rulers. Even after seven decades after they quit India. A recent example is an atrocious movie, Begum Jaan.
The movie, which is exceptionally bad, shows that in the ultimate analysis cinema is an ensemble, a package, the most important elements of which are theme and rendition. The ensemble is the creation of the film director which Srijit Mukherji has failed miserably in this case. Begum Jaan’s theme is that the evil Brits plotted the division of country—a patent falsehood. But for them, Begum Jaan’s brothel would have continued as a multicultural, egalitarian paradise where feminist principles—enunciated in the tagline My Body, My House, My Country, My Rules—preponderate. The Radcliffe Line, which happened to pass through the kotha of Begum Jaan (played by Vidya Balan), seared that erotic arcadia.
The preachy, screechy dialogues, the unrealistic plot, and kitschy treatment pass for rendition. But just because the film makes right noises—very loud noises actually—about fashionable ideas like communal harmony, the director Srijit Mukherji didn’t bother about the basic principles of cinema. Sanctimoniousness swept him away. The result was that excellent actors and actresses like Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, Rajit Kapoor, and Ashish Vidyarthi couldn’t salvage it. Nor could the glamour of stunners like Gauahar Khan and Pallavi Sharda do any good to the movie.
What is pertinent for us is the movie’s underlying theme: that the British divided India. The truth, however, is that the imperial rulers had little to do with Pakistan. Who created the Muslim League in 1906? The Muslims, not the British. Who demanded Pakistan? The Muslims, not the British. Who birthed and nurtured the idea of Pakistan? The Muslims, not the British.
Not just the idea but also its execution. Who fought resolutely, brutally for Pakistan? The Muslims, not the British. Who made a call for the so-called Direct Action Day on August 16, 1946, that resulted in massive riots? The Muslims, not the British. It is an indisputable fact that Muslim League leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah exhorted Muslims to engage in direct action in support of the demand for Pakistan. The estimates of the death toll range from 5,000 to 20,000 Muslims and Hindus killed.
The 90 per cent people of which community voted for Pakistan? The Muslim community. Who is the Father of Pakistan? A Muslim, not a Brit. Who proffered the philosophical grounds for Pakistan? The poet Iqbal, a Muslim, not a Brit.
Left-liberal historians, along with the theoreticians of Hindu nationalism, have long portrayed Jinnah as a diabolical figure who disrupted the nationalist narrative. But the fact is that Islam is an exclusivist religion and its adherents in India, as elsewhere, want a life governed by their canonical law. As B.R. Ambedkar wrote in Pakistan Or The Partition Of India, “Among the tenets one that calls for notice is the tenet of Islam which says that in a country which is not under Muslim rule, wherever there is a conflict between Muslim law and the law of the land, the former must prevail over the latter, and a Muslim will be justified in obeying the Muslim law and defying the law of the land.” Hence the demand for Shariat wherever Muslims are in sizeable numbers.
Ambedkar wrote, “The only allegiance a Musalman… is commanded by the Koran to acknowledge is his allegiance to God, to his Prophet and to those in authority from among the Musalmans…”
Left-liberals, however, continue to rant about the nefarious designs of the British. Evidently, the makers of Begum Jaan have swallowed the chic lies of parlor pinks hook, line, and sinker.
It is time filmmakers—indeed all of us—stopped blaming the British imperialists for everything bad that has happened and is happening in our country. We shouldn’t forget that they ruled us for a very short period—technically fewer than 90 years, for it was in 1858 that India came under the British Crown. By any reckoning their rule cannot be said to be over 200 years.
This is not to say that the British did nothing wrong. They framed laws to largely further their own objectives; they set up institutions to perpetuate the Empire; they promoted the land revenue system to bolster the exchequer; they framed economic policy that bolstered the manufacturers of Manchester and Lancashire rather than those of Kanpur and Bombay; they created an administration to suppress and repress the natives rather than ‘organize liberty with order’; they established the police that had least regard for human rights; in almost everything they did, the interests of mother country preceded those of the colony. Yet, their predecessors were infinitely worse than them. For the history of Muslim rule in India is the history of massacres, genocide, destruction, benightedness, rape, rapine, and rapacity. In comparison, the British—despite the avarice of Clive, the expansionism of Dalhousie, the illiberality of Lytton, the arrogance of Curzon, and the brutality of Gen. Dyer—were angels.
At any rate, they cannot be blamed for the Partition.