Post-independence milieu and Ya Khuda
LITERARY perspective is often different from the views held by politicians. Contrary to the politicians, writers and poets do not base their beliefs on diplomacy or expediency. They feel the pain of humanity and often contradict the popular beliefs.
Numerous writers of Urdu fiction have reflected on the tragedy of riots and massacre that entailed Independence in 1947. And their view was basically humanistic. Urdu literature written in the aftermath of Independence seemed aghast at the cruelty of human beings. But before we talk about a few Urdu short stories and novels written against the backdrop of lootings, killings and rapes that followed Independence, it would not be out of place to mention here that some writers had opined that riots and massacre could not or should not be made the theme of literature.
But Mumtaz Shirin (1924-1973), one of Urdu’s foremost women critics, in her book Meyaar has rightly pointed out that good literature could not be produced if the theme only revolves around bloodshed, cruelty and agonies, but if the riots and massacre were seen — against the backdrop of a larger historical, social and political background — as a tragic incident experienced by a nation, it would be possible to create a literary piece of a high standard. And one such piece was ‘Ya Khuda’, the short story by Qudratullah Shahab.
She then criticised some progressive writers, especially Krishan Chandr, for depicting the riots and killings with an intentional “balanced” and “non-aligned” point of view. Shirin presents Krishan Chandr’s short story ‘Peshawar Express’ as an instance to prove her point wherein an equal number of Hindus and Muslims are killed on either side of the border on the train Peshawar Express running across the border. But literature has to be ruthless in the sense that it has to be detached and writers have to forget their own pain and affiliations in order that a national or human tragedy is painted in true colours.
One can cite Rama Nand Sagar’s novel Aur insaan mar gaya, too, as an example of this hypocritical approach that stressed that in the post-Independence riots no Hindu or no Muslim was killed, and it was only the human beings that were killed. The novel in a way denied the fact that it was the Muslims that had to bear the real brunt of the massacre that took place during migrations after Independence in 1947.
This kind of so-called “humanistic” (but in fact hypocritical) approach that refused to accept the hard facts for the sake of creating a perceived “communal harmony” between Hindus and Muslims can also be witnessed in the writings of some progressive critics and intellectuals who took refuge behind the cover of ‘impartiality’.
For instance, when Qudratullah Shahab’s satirical long short-story, or novella, as some would put it, ‘Ya Khuda’ first appeared in 1948, it was criticised by progressives despite its detached realism and impartiality. ‘Ya Khuda’ tells the story of Shamshaad, a Muslim woman sexually abused in eastern Punjab, western Punjab and then in a refugee camp established in Karachi’s Eidgah Maidan. Fleeing the riots and abuse in India in 1947, Shamshaad ultimately becomes a prostitute to earn a living in Pakistan.
In ‘Ya Khuda’, Shahab has ruthlessly exposed the disgusting role of some volunteers, rescue workers and government officials who were exploiting refugee girls and women. Thus Shahab satirised the plight of the womenfolk that had migrated to Pakistan to escape rape and torture at the hands of Indian Hindus but were victimised by their fellow countrymen: Muslim Pakistanis.
Shahab held a high post in the bureaucracy at that time and had knowledge of such ugly incidents, no matter they were few or many, and his ‘Ya Khuda’ is ruthless and portrays facts artistically. In the intro Shahab has mentioned that he was witness to the plight of many such women, apparently selling pakoras at Karachi’s Eidgah Maidan even many years after the creation of Pakistan, but were in fact, prostitutes.
Now this kind of literary piece must have been appreciated, but some critics, especially progressives, took it to task. One of the reasons for their wrath was the foreword written by Mumtaz Shirin since she was perceived as a rightist who demanded from writers the loyalty to their country: Pakistan. But in those days Pakistani leftists were more loyal to Soviet Union than their own country.
‘Ya Khuda’ is one of the scores of short stories that depict the milieu that prevailed after Independence and at times these pieces are heart-wrenching, making one realise that the span of 70 years might have blurred the scenes in the memories of many, but they are very much alive in such writings as ‘Ya Khuda’.