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India: ’Curfew in the City’, The novella written by a police officer that the VHP put a fatwa on

Book Review

Sunday 6 March 2016, by siawi3


Communal Disharmony
The novella written by a police officer that the VHP put a fatwa on

The background to, and an excerpt from, ‘Curfew In The City’.

Vibhuti Narain Rai ·

Feb 27, 2016 · 09:00 am

From the foreword by CM Naim

In response to the communal violence at the time of the Partition, a massive body of literature was produced in Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi and – what I directly know – Urdu. Urdu writers on both sides of the new international border produced countless short stories and several novels about those times.

One critical issue they faced was: how does one create a piece of fiction about a reality so horrible? Some responded by doing a “balancing act” – if five victims of one religious persuasion were mentioned in the beginning, they were matched by five victims belonging to the other religion at the end.

Some also felt that to bring the warring communities together they must put the final blame on a common enemy: the erstwhile colonial rulers. Other writers wrote as partisans; they saw their own community as being only a victim, and blamed the other community for being the exclusive perpetrator of violence.

Most of these writings emphasised the “magnitude” of the violence – the killings, the rapes, the destruction of property, the uprooting of populations. Only a small corpus explored the truly horrific – the casual betrayals, the meanness and cruelty in seemingly ordinary acts, the human capacity to routinise inhumanity – the evil in the “banal”.

Saadat Hasan Manto in his stories of the Partition riots neither blamed any single group nor tried to distribute the blame equally. His significance and the lasting power of his stories lie in his focussing on those moments when a man, despite having done horrible things, could be shown as still being capable of doing ordinary little things. This strategy did not lessen the horror of the man’s actions; in fact, it enhanced it by making them the acts of someone not unlike us. At the same time, it made it possible to envision some hope, some capacity in mankind that could be harnessed to fight against such horrors.

The hatred and violence of 1947 was blamed by most writers at the time on the machinations of our erstwhile colonial rulers. Almost all of them felt that to bring the Hindus and Muslims together they had to find a common enemy in the English. But the events of the 1970s and the 1980s are different. We must face the fact that “the enemy is us”.