Dastaan – story of India’s partition



Horse-drawn baggis on dirt parts, with mustard fields stretching on both sides; villagers discussing weather, the year’s crop, and marriages in town in crisp Urdu with a distinct Punjabi accent; the division of a land and people, punctuated with rapes, assaults, killings and mass displacement. And amidst all this, the turbulent love story of a young girl and her fiancée.

Dastaan is a 23-episode show based on Razia Butt’s acclaimed novel, Bano. Broadcast on Pakistan’s Hum TV in 2010, the serial is one of the finest works produced on partition in contemporary cinema and became extremely popular in the country, winning several awards and nominations for its content as well as stellar performances.

I stumbled upon Dastaan by chance, while looking for literature and cinema on India’s partition. Personally, it was the first time I was watching a Pakistani TV show and I must admit I was hooked even before the first episode was over. Not just because it deals with a subject extremely close to my heart, but the sheer beauty with which this tale has been narrated undeniably strikes a chord with its viewers.

The story starts with a close-knit Muslim family based in Ludhiana. It is 1946, and partition-related riots have not yet begun. Discussions about post-independence India and the various moves of the Indian National Congress and Muslim League are dinner-time talk in most households.

The story is realistically woven with the ethos of those times. The opening scene shows women sitting on takhats in a courtyard, examining jewels for Suraiya’s (Saba Qamar) upcoming wedding, fanning themselves with embroidered hand-pankhas. The leg-pulling, sarcasm, and snide remarks, the nukta-chini and nonk-jhonk between sisters-in-law and the affectionate Punjabi rebukes are so common that people from both sides of the border will immediately be able relate to them. Showing neighbours the dahej (dowry) and vari (gifts from the groom to the bride) was a popular custom fast eroding from the cities in both countries, though it still persists in many villages and small towns.

Pre-partition friendships are also vividly portrayed. Kamini Chachi’s presence at all hours in the wedding house is an example. In one scene, Suraiya’s loud-mouthed sister-in-law taunts the younger one about how their Hindu friends had helped them more in the marriage preparations than her. “Lalaji ki begum ne apne haath se gota taanka hai. Diwan sahab keh rahe thay main khud khada ho jaunga mehmaano ke istakbaal ko (Lalaji’s wife has sewn the lace herself (on the bridal dress). Diwan sir was saying that he would himself stand at the doors to welcome the guests).”

Similarly, the Hindu jeweller tells the family that he owes a lot to the bride’s father and it was impossible he would delay preparing her wedding jewellery.

Suraiya’s parents are dead. She has been raised by her brothers, sisters-in-law and elder sister, Rashida, herself a widow who was thrown out of her husband’s house after his death and denied a share in his property.

Rashida’s son and Suraiya’s nephew, Hassan – the main protagonist of the show – is a final-year engineering student in Islamia College. A member of the Muslim League, he strongly believes in the idea of a separate nation for Muslims and is an ardent follower of Jinnah.

The character was played by Pakistani model and actor, Fawad Khan of Khuda ke Liye fame who became something of a national heart throb following a stellar performance in another, more recent show, Humsafar. Though the reviewer has yet to watch his other works, Dastaan was definitely one of Khan’s finest performances, earning him the Best TV Actor award in the second annual Pakistan Media Awards and a nomination in the same category in the 10th Lux Style Awards. He essays the role of a lover, a dutiful son and a youth activist beautifully, portraying each shade with remarkable finesse. Nowhere does his acting seem to go overboard. Apart from his undeniably good looks, it is his restrained performance that makes Hassan so endearing to the viewers.

Suraiya’s husband, Saleem (played by British-Pakistani actor, Ahsan Khan), on the other hand is a member of the Congress who vehemently opposes the creation of Pakistan. He admires Gandhi and believes Muslims and Hindus have lived together for generations; so division on basis of religion is unthinkable.

Saleem’s younger sister, Bano (played by Sanam Baloch) is the female protagonist on whose life the novel is based. The serial revolves around the turbulations in Hassan and Bano’s love story in the wake of partition and the struggles she endures.

The first few episodes are filled with lighter moments, showing Bano and Hassan’s beautiful love story. Replete with catfights, sarcasm and funny jabs, it blossoms into stolen glances and silent nights spent watching each other from their terraces even as the light from the lantern and the moon above illuminates their features, while Sohail Haider’s theme song, “Aasmano se Utaara”, soulfully plays in the background.

Scenes such as Bano demanding a ring from Saleem, newlyweds Suraiya and Saleem sneaking out to spend alone-time in a park, and Bano’s spat with their maid, Lakshmi, when she teases Bano of being shy of Hassan are very well enacted.

Particularly hilarious are episodes when Hassan’s aunt, Sultana, tries to draw his attention towards her fourteen-year old daughter, Rabia, and of Bano asking Hassan what “honeymoon” means.

While normal life goes on, passion for Pakistan is gaining momentum. In colleges, young men clad in pathani shalwars and kurtas discuss engineering, “party” work, and the latest political developments in the same breath. The euphoria surrounding the 1946 win of Muslim League, quoting nazms of Allama Iqbal and the romanticism of the struggle to achieve their “cherished dream” shows how sacred and dear the cause of a separate nationhood was for so many Muslims.

In one scene, the newly-married Saleem wants to see his wife and is getting distracted from a discussion, which provides interesting insights in the mindset of the community at that time. Faheem says of Qaid-e-Azam’s statement that everyone in favour of Pakistan should vote for the Muslim League so that a country could be created where Muslims would be able to fearlessly follow Islam. Creation of Pakistan, it was believed, would also lead to greater security for Indian Muslims. Faheem argues that after the win of 1937 elections, Congress had failed to live up to its promises made to Muslims and asserts that Hindus, who had got an opportunity after ages to “rule” over Muslims, would make life hell for them.

Historical notes and background voiceovers intersperse the narrative. Ustaad Amanat Ali Khan’s song, “Aye Watan Pyare Watan”, plays in the background every time the Muslim League is mentioned.

This Pakistani patriotism reminds me of Indian TV and cinema. When shooting a seemingly patriotic scene, our filmmakers often use “Saare Jahan se Achha” as the background score. Partition happened. Land, property, people, hearts, and even poets were divided. Who, then, holds a greater claim to Iqbal today – them or us? They quote him, we quote him. They say Pakistan was his cherished dream. And we, at the drop of a hat, are ready to sing his “Sare Jahan se Achha” in morning prayers at schools, at Republic day and Independence day functions, at Gandhi and Ambedkar and Nehru jayantis, at Lokpal agitations.  So, who does Iqbal now belong to? It is this irony that Dastaan so beautifully portrays.

As the story progresses, the difference of opinion between Saleem and Hassan grows starker and eventually flares up into a full-blown tension. While Saleem is a “pakka Congressi”, Hassan feels Muslims will not be safe in a Hindu-majority India post-independence. He believes the two communities cannot live together, cannot marry into each other’s families and Muslims would be discriminated against by Hindus once British left. “From one slavery, we will go into another slavery,” he remarks.

Hindu-Muslim riots slowly become commonplace after Jinnah denounces the British Cabinet Mission and declares the Direct Action Plan for the formation of Pakistan. The announcement leads to carnage in Bengal, which later came to be known as the “Great Calcutta Killings”.

On a trip back home to see his ailing mother, when Hassan says that more than three thousand Muslims were butchered in Calcutta in just four days, Saleem retorts by asking if Hindus were not being killed too. As the heated discussion grows into a spat, Hassan says that the “do-qomi nazariya” – the two nation theory – is more important to him than any relationship or friendship. He is even ready to sacrifice his life for the dream.

With tension growing between him and Hassan with each passing day, Saleem forbids Suraiya from meeting Hassan and Rashida. Hassan, at that time, is trying to convince Saleem’s mother and Bano to attend a Muslim league rally that is supposed to take place in Ludhiana. However, Saleem denies them permission.

In a fistfight between the duo, Saleem’s Hindu friends beat up Hassan. Saleem’s father severely reprimands both sides, saying neither Jinnah nor Gandhi would have approved of their behaviour. Saleem raises a valid point that his father’s friendship with his Hindu friends is so deep that without second thoughts, he scolded all of them. Then how can he consider them his foes now just because “these rebels” say so?

One of the most beautiful scenes is when Bano, pressured by Saleem, tells Hassan that she supports Congress if Saleem supports it. That night, as she picks up the lantern and goes to the sill for their daily ritual of gazing at each other, a visibly angry Hassan goes away, unsuccessfully trying to sleep. Bano, caught between her Congressi brother and Leagui lover, returns to bed. The dilemma is portrayed very realistically by Sanam Baloch. To say Fawwad Khan was good in the scene is an understatement.

It is only after a Muslim from Bihar – having lost his entire family before his eyes – comes to their house escorted by Hassan and tells them how twenty thousand Muslims were “martyred” that Bano begs her father to allow her to join Muslim League. Bano’s father is extremely progressive – he allows Bano and Faheem to follow Muslim League even as Saleem remains a Congress member.

Suraiya wants to give away her jewellery for Muslims who lost their homes in riots, not caring if they root for Pakistan or Congress or Muslim League. Here too, Saleem’s ideology is more inclusive: why help just Muslims? Even Hindus, Sikhs, and other communities lost their homes.

Saleem is my show-stealer. The character comes across as exceptionally strong and way ahead of his time. Not only highly supportive of Hindu-Muslim unity, he is also ready to marry off his sister to his friend, Ram. When objected, he asserts both Ram and Bano can follow their own religions without converting. “Ram has a job, a reputed family background and is well-off. Will you turn down the proposal just on the basis of religion?” he asks his father.

However, his angry father decides to marry Bano off to Hassan despite Saleem’s protests.

Hassan and Bano finally get engaged. Though initially reluctant, Saleem later accepts Hassan for Bano’s sake. Soon after, Hassan lands up with a job in Rawalpindi PWD and leaves with his mother, promising to return in five months for the marriage.

After the declaration for independence of India and creation of Pakistan is made in June, 1947, the period of brutal violence unparalleled in history begins. The background narrative claims that Hindus and Sikhs decided to wipe out the entire Muslim community from the face of India, and the killings reduced the number of Muslims from 25 percent of the population to mere 9 percent. While the numbers may or may not be exact, what is more important to note here is that nowhere in the narrative is it mentioned that non-Muslims also lost their lives, families, and homes. It is typical of the propaganda that media on both sides resorts to when discussing partition, even within the realms of art and cinema.

Soon enough, the political discussions that had formed dinner-time talks are replaced by news of daily killings, murders, loot and rapes. Though Saleem is still positive that all will tide away with time, a sense of insecurity creeps in and he repeatedly tries to procure a pistol. However, he is sure that in case of eventuality, his Hindu friends will protect the Muslims in the area.

Saleem starts getting suspicious when he goes to meet Diwan sahib one day and finds the attitude of the latter changing towards the Muslim community. On his way back home, he spots his childhood friends and fellow Congress members Ravi and Ram in a street corner examining some ornaments. He then meets a Muslim neighbour whose family has been butchered by Hindu rioters. A little further, he notices a house that once belonged to a Muslim but now taken over illegally by Hindus, the owner having threatened dire consequences if he attempted to return. Another Muslim friend tearfully tells him how he has handed over poison tablets to women in his household to save them from dishonour at the hands of rioters.

One of the most chilling scenes for which Ahsan Khan deserves twenty out of ten is when Saleem returns home and finds all the Muslim women of the locality gathered there. He tells them to stay back, as it’s unsafe outside and asks Faheem to make arrangements for the women to sleep on the terrace. Under no circumstances are they to come down, he instructs. The men would all sleep in the courtyard to face any attack. He then asks Faheem to collect every single weapon in the house – knives, daggers, lathis to face any eventuality, all the while trying to put up a brave front, hide his insecurities, and reassure the women that everything is alright. Nobody could have portrayed Saleem’s insecurity as intensely as Ahsan has. His talent as an actor truly comes out with all its force in this one sequence. The Best Supporting Actor Award at the second Pakistan Media Awards that Khan won was truly well deserved.

Later that night in his bedroom, alone with a pregnant Suraiya, he breaks down as his folly slowly dawns upon him – that those whom he had considered friends were not really his own.

However, the point which reflects hard times ahead is when an old family friend comes home one day to drop his wife. Sikhs had ransacked their locality the night before, dragging their two young daughters by their hair. The old father, almost on verge of losing his sanity, says he would go to every single village in Punjab to look for his daughters. His wife, who is in shock, dies hours later.

With all communications lines snapped, Hassan’s letters go unanswered and he becomes tense.

On a fateful night, the doors are locked from inside when Bano’s family is attacked by Sikh rioters. Cries of, ‘Jo bole so nihaal, sat Sri Akal’ reverberate in the night air. Saleem sneaks out to seek Ram’s help but they turn him away saying he should not expect them to give their lives for Muslims. The reality then strikes Saleem – that the creation of Pakistan was essential for the future of Muslims.

In what could be called the most intense episode of the series, the entire family is killed. Suraiya watches a Sikh stab Saleem in the back and jumps from the terrace. She holds his hand, both breathing their last. Their hands, however, are trampled by a Sikh, who cuts open Suraiya’s belly killing her unborn child. Before being killed, Faheem shouts to his mother, “Bibi, Bano ka gala ghont de (Bibi, strangulate Bano).” While some young women jump to their deaths from the terrace, others are taken away forcefully by the Sikhs who are oblivious to their cries for mercy. With Bano’s consent, Bibi tearfully tries to strangulate Bano with her dupatta when Ram suddenly comes and rescues the two.

Ram escorts Bibi and Bano out of the house safely but later tries to rape Bano. Bibi begs Ravi – the son of her best friend Kamini – to fear God and save Bano. A remorseful Ravi then stabs Ram and saves her.

In much of the series, the director has tried to present a realistic account of those times. For example, by showing Ravi killing Ram when he tries to rape Bano, the director has successfully told the story of both good and bad people existing in every community. Through Ram’s actions, he has told the story of scores of such people who forgot humanity in name of religion. And through Ravi, the show also told the story of those whose conscience was clear.

A heart-wrenching scene is when Ravi is taking Bibi and Bano to the refugee camp so that they can join other Muslims going to Pakistan and be with their “own” people. Bibi asks why she should leave when her house, family, friends, childhood, youth, memories – everything is in Ludhiana. Tearfully, she and Kamini stare at each other before Kamini shuts the door and breaks down.

Bidding them goodbye, Ravi tells Bibi to forgive the “Hindu jaati”. According to me, this was the only shortcoming of Dastaan. It fell short of acknowledging the atrocities on non-Muslims.

On their way, the group comes across several wells whose water has been poisoned – a true depiction of the situation on both sides of the border. Such tales form the bedtime stories of all whose grandparents were witness to those horrific times.

Sikh rioters attack the group, and both Bano and Bibi are gangraped. Bibi later dies of her injuries. The next morning, a Sikh farmer sees Bano lying naked, unconscious and takes her home where he and his sister nurse her back to health. He also performs Bibi’s last rites. Though urged by his sister to convert Bano and marry her, he refuses saying he does not want to take advantage of her helplessness. Later, he takes Bano to the train going to Lahore so that she may be reunited with her relatives there.

The train, however, is attacked by rioters again. All men on board are killed and women raped and kidnapped. A Sikh goon, Basant Singh (played excellently by Babrik Shah) kidnaps Bano and takes her home. The director aces at creating a perfect setting of a Sikh family in terms of the house, the way the tandoor is always out in the courtyard, the manjhis, patiala salwars andparandas that women wear in their hair. Singh renames Bano as “Sundar Kaur” and over a period of time, he and his mother sweet-talk her, slowly trying to convert her to Sikhism. They try to take her to the gurudwara, make her read the Granth Sahib, wear the holy kada as an identity of Sikhs but in vain. Each time, Bano keeps looking for opportunities to offer namaz. Basant even falsely promises to post her letters to Hassan but tears them. On pretext of a function in the family, Singh and his mother arrange for Bano’s “amrit chakhna” – a ceremony performed to declare a person as a follower of Sikhism. Bano, however, learns about their plans from a Sikh woman who sympathizes with her. She tries to run away but is caught by Singh, brought back and forcefully married.

In a scene, Bano tells Singh’s mother that she can forget she is Naseer’s daughter, Saleem and Faheem’s sister, Hassan’s amanat but she can never forget she is a Muslim. For the five years she is confined in the Singh household, Bano is regularly subjected to physical, mental and sexual violence.

Hassan is still unsuccessfully trying to get in touch with his family in Ludhiana. Eventually, he comes to believe that everyone including Bano is dead.

Many years pass. Bano becomes pregnant with Singh’s child and gives birth to a son. Her torture continues but Rabia Butt’s “Bano” is a woman of exemplary courage who fights all odds – only to fulfill her dream of seeing Pakistan once in her life. In a scene, Singh’s mother tells her, “Never forget you are Sundar Kaur.” Bano, however, repeats her name to not let herself forget her identity. She hates her son.

Meanwhile, Hassan is trying to overcome his grief over Bano’s death. During this time, Rashida’s old friend, Sultana, comes to visit them along with her daughter, Rabia (Mehreen Raheel), who had last met Hassan when she was fourteen, during Suraiya’s wedding. She has grown into a real beauty. Though Hassan is still in love with Bano, Rabia is attracted towards him. He initially tries to avoid her but soon starts falling in love too. Eventually, Hassan proposes to Rabia.

Basant Singh dies after accidentally falling from the terrace. Sanam Baloch’s portrayal of Bano’s relief – dancing with joy, laughing like a mad woman after enduring years of pain – are moving.

She travels to Lahore with her son, whom she considers a “stain” and an “abuse”. She is taken to a women’s shelter, and her mental condition is fragile. The managers try to search Hassan, who is in Karachi for his engagement with Rabia. Love is again blossoming in his life.

As soon as Hassan reaches Lahore, he receives the letter informing him Bano is alive and rushes to the shelter home. Hassan’s reunion with Bano is one of the most touching scenes. Clad in tattered, ill-fitting clothes, as Bano walks towards him – having been reduced to a shadow of her former self due to years of torture – Hassan is reminded of the first time he had set eyes on her.

He brings her home and breaks off his engagement with Rabia, planning to nurse Bano back to health and marry her. Despite opposition from his friends and mother, he is ready to even accept Bano’s child citing that she needs his love and support, while Rabia – being young, beautiful, and rich can get scores of suitors.

Hassan’s college friend writes to Rabia’s parents informing them that Bano is back. Rashida sees Hassan embracing and consoling a weeping Bano and disapproves the growing closeness between the two. She starts ignoring and misbehaving with Bano when the latter tries to talk to her. When Rashida confronts Hassan on how he can think of marrying a girl who has spent five years with a Sikh, Hassan asks his mother not to insult Bano’s sacrifice that she made for Pakistan. He further tells her to inform Sultana that he cannot get married to Rabia. Rashida says that she cannot be “sharminda (embarrassed)” before Sultana; Hassan replies that he cannot be “sharminda” before his God.

When Sultana receives Rashida’s letter, she comes to Lahore with Rabia so that her daughter can win Hassan back.

Initially, Rabia does not understand Hassan when he tries to explain that Bano is not just his love but also his responsibility. However, when she meets Bano, she is moved by her plight and the hardships she has gone through. Rabia is convinced that Bano’s marriage to Hassan can cure her completely. Sultana advises Rabia to take care of Bano so that Hassan can realise she can be his wife while taking care of Bano.

Rabia genuinely feels for Bano and starts taking care of her. One day, Hassan decides to take everybody for an outing. While Rabia takes Bano away to get her ready, Sultana is irritated and discusses how foolish her daughter is in suggesting that Bano go with them. Hassan overhears this conversation and gets furious that Rabia is merely taking care of Bano to impress him. He goes inside and tells Rabia that he is happy he broke off his engagement with her and that he would remain unmarried forever but will never marry her. What he does not realise is that it is Bano, dressed in Rabia’s clothes whom he is talking to.

Later, when Rabia meets him in his room, he pours out his anger against her mother, telling her that after his marriage to Rabia, Bano’s status would be reduced to “an old furniture” in the house. Rabia tells him that he is not a medal that she wants to win, and even if he wants to marry her now, she would not marry him. She also says her love for him is greater than his love for Bano.

Bano overhears the argument and tells Hassan that he must not make her feel like a “burden” by rejecting Rabia for her sake. She then goes away without telling anyone and Hassan blames everyone, including Rabia and Rashida for it.

Bano meets a lady who gives her shelter. Sometime later, Bano starts working in a rich household as an ayah. Slowly, she realises that the Pakistan she is living in is not the country of her dreams. Ills such as dowry, corruption and nepotism have plagued the society, much to her surprise and dismay. At a party hosted by her employer, when the children of the house sing an Urdu song, her employer is enraged at Bano for teaching the children Urdu rather than English. Bano is thrown out of the job.

Her mental condition deteriorates. At a mosque one day, Hassan spots Bano who has come with a friend. On seeing him, Bano runs away and her friend tells Hassan that he should forget Bano, who has become a living corpse now. Hassan says that he will go away if that is Bano’s wish, but he will never forget her.

He comes back home and puts the engagement ring back on Rabia’s finger.

Meanwhile, Bano meets a man at a function who is trying to float a political party to “serve” people and joins his office, believing she would be able to contribute in the rebuilding of the country she had fought and sacrificed so much to reach.

By a stroke of luck, she meets Rabia who convinces her to marry Hassan. On the day of the wedding, Bano goes to her party office to submit some important documents. There, the man is sitting alone, drunk in the empty office. When he tries to rape Bano, she starts seeing Basant Singh in him and all her past torments flash past. She picks up a sharp object lying nearby and stabs the man multiple times. She then goes to Hassan’s house in blood-smeared clothes and tells him Pakistan is a pure land now because she has killed “Basanta”.

In the end, Bano becomes mentally ill due to all she has seen. She is admitted in a mental asylum where Hassan and Rabia, now married, come to visit her.

Throughout the show, Sanam Baloch’s acting is remarkable. Each scene, each dialogue is portrayed with utmost sensitivity bringing out her talent as a performer. The actress had won the Best Actress Award at the Pakistan Media Awards and a nomination in the same category for 10th Lux Style Awards.

The directors get full marks for the setting, so reminiscent of the times gone by. Muslim women wear shararas, ghararas, salwar-kameez and chooridaars. Punjabi-accented, Hindi-speaking Hindu women are shown wearing sarees, while Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs wear kurtas with multi-pleated salwars. Similarly, Muslim male characters wear black achkans and sherwanis over white and off-white shalwar-kurtas, while their Hindu counterparts are mostly shown wearing middle or side buttoned, embroidered Kurtas with pajamas or tight-fitting chooridaars (similar to the ones worn by Rajput men in Rajasthan).

Even jewellery is styled to reflect the tastes of the communities in those times. Muslim women mostly wear chaand baalis in different styles and triangular jhoomars on sides of their heads. Hindu women, on the other hand, adorn themselves with baalis and chhatri earrings, bindis and sindoor.

The unique architecture of Punjab – brick houses inlaid with stones – is realistically rough, with slight punctuations of sophistication in jaali work on windows, screens and parapets. Flowy muslin curtains, upholstered divans and embroidered cushions and bolsters add to the grandeur, as do intricately carved copper and silver utensils and sandukchis (jewellery boxes).

The usage of language – Urdu with the typical Punjabi accent among Hindus and Muslims and crisp Punjabi among Sikhs – is perfect. Muslim characters commonly call their mothers “bibi”, while Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs call mothers as “amma” or “bebe” and grandmothers as “biji”.

The marriage songs in Punjabi reminded me of our own wedding songs. For most Punjabi-speaking Hindus of my generation, who have never visited Pakistan and did not have the opportunity to make friends there as our grandparents had, these come as a pleasant surprise. It is through these small narratives that the makers of the show bring home probably the most brutal of all truths about partition – that a land and people, with the same language, food, culture were divided and forced to leave their homes and friends behind to start life afresh.

The issue of women’s education is raised at several instances. In a conversation with her neighbor, Bano’s mother says the girl wanted to study after completing her matric but had clearly been told to learn household chores. In response, the Hindu neighbour lady complains how her own daughter does not even know how to hold a needle.

The show raises some very valid points – opinions that formed a part of my growing up years. Suraiya rightly says that most Hindus believed Pakistan would not exist even for 5 years and would seek to reunite with India. The creation of Pakistan has always been a sore point for most Indian Hindus. They never wanted the creation of Pakistan and the fact that the country, with all its political tribulations, has survived for decades has never been easily accepted by Indians.

Dastan not only conveys the prevalent sentiment in little things (such as Bano once telling Hassan that every namaz she offers is only to seek a separate country where Muslims do not have to live on the rehmo-karam of Hindus) but also raises several critical questions. Where did this idea of Hindu rehmo-karam crop from? What was the socio-economic and political situation in India before independence? A community that had ruled over all of Hindustan for centuries – from the era of Qutub-ud-din Aibak to Khiljis, Tughlaqs, Lodhis and eventually, the great Mughals – how could such a community harbour such strong apprehensions of being subjugated? After the decline of the Mughal Empire, all Hindustanis – Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs – were tortured and discriminated against by the British. No one community in India could be called to be better off than the other, except of course, individuals who were close to the empire. Hindu rajas, Muslim nawabs, munshis and patwaris could certainly be called better off than their fellow countrymen. But that had more to do with their allegiance towards the British than their religion. Then what caused such strong fears in the Muslim community – what circumstances or events led them to believe they would be subjugated by Hindus and not allowed to follow Islam in its true form. Is it then a given fact, an unsaid rule of sorts that a majority will unquestioningly, unreasoningly try to crush and dominate the minority?

What also made me curious were the underlying feelings that Pakistan would be a land of pious Muslims, where women would get the status that Islam gives them, where nobody would sacrifice women for dowry, where there would be no inequality. The assertions that Hindus collaborated with British and cleverly divided the provinces with the largest population of Muslims and the consolation that “at least, their seven crore Muslim brothers and sisters were safe from the Hindu rule” again raise the question: what were the socio-economic and political conditions of those times that made the Muslims believe this to be so? Is it so then that the claim that Hindus and Muslims had co-existed for years together is just a claim? But if it is so, then what about all those pre-partition friendships that Dastan showed? How did the feelings of Muslims transform from being friends and neighbours to such an extent that they demanded a separate nation? Is there a missing link somewhere? were Muslims wronged or discriminated against in pre-partition India? Dastaan makes one ponder and seek answers to all those questions.


Sumegha Gulati is a Correspondent with The Indian Express. Views expressed are author’s own, and doesn’t represent the organisation she works with.

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