Gandhi, Jinnah and Novels on Partition of India

Many novels have been written on partition on India. While stories differ, theme remains same- prior to partition Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were living in harmony, then partition was declared and situation changed, Muslims fell in love with League and enamoured with idea of Pakistan, while Hindus soon realised that partition was not a short term arrangement, and from citizens they had become unwanted guests. Muslims didn’t want Hindus and Sikhs in their “pure land”, while Hindus and Sikhs wanted to get rid of Muslims, so that their land could be given to refugees. People who suffered were those who had to leave their possessions overnight and flee to either India or Pakistan.


Transfer of population was not confined to just sane people, even insane were classified as per their religion. In Saadat Hasan Manto’s Toba Tek Singh, lunatics in Lahore’s asylum are divided into Hindus and Muslims for transfer of population. Bishan Singh a Sikh lunatic is to be transferred to India. But his village Toba Tek Singh is in Pakistan, so he refused to leave Pakistan and dies on the border of two countries.

toba tek singh

“There, behind barbed wire, was Hindustan. Here, behind the same kind of barbed wire, was Pakistan. In between, on that piece of ground that had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh”

-Saadat Hasan Manto in Toba Tek Singh

train to pakistan

Khuswant Singh’s novel “Train to Pakistan” deals with relations between Sikhs and Muslims in a village called Mano Majra in India. While Sikhs consider Muslims as their brothers, situation changes after train full of massacred Sikhs comes to Mano Majra, Sikhs now want Muslims to leave.

“Muslims said the Hindus had planned and started the killing. According to the Hindus, the Muslims were to blame. The fact is, both sides killed. Both shot and stabbed and speared and clubbed. Both tortured. Both raped” 

-Khuswant Singh in Train to Pakistan

Unfortunately, the transfer of population was not smooth. British bureaucracy and army did nothing to handle the situation, they were keen to leave India and anyway, the problem was beyond their capacity.


“Yes, they (the British) are the real villains, they had let the country down, and they had let him down, he who put such faith in them”

-Chaman Nahal in Azadi

If British were incompetent then other two players Congress and League were no better.  So dynamics of transfer of population was left to people. People decided to do it in their own style- murders, rapes, looting etc. Thousands were killed or died during journey, women were kidnapped, raped and killed, and people lost their property- Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan and Muslims in India.

In Chaman Nahal’s “Azadi” , the central character Lala Kanshi Ram is resident of Sialkot, he has a well settled business there and believes in Gandhi. He feels that Congress will prevent partition. But subsequent events show that Gandhi was helpless to prevent partition and killing of Hindus.

Lala also has great faith in British, but soon realises that they too are unable to do anything. From heroes they become villains.

“They are a nation which cannot be easily beaten, he thought. A handful of them have kept us under their feet for over two hundred years And now that Hitler too has met the same fate at their hands-An absolutely invincible race. Lala Kanshi Ram also praised the controlling power of the British rule and police officers.”

-Chaman Nahal in Azadi

Bhisam Sahni’s novel “Tamas” tell us about the modus operandi of starting riots. The principal character of novel Nathu is asked by Muslim to kill a pig, Nathu does it and gives it to someone and next morning the dead pig is found near mosque- riots start.


All novels cover these aspects of partition but some also comment on Gandhi and Jinnah through characters in their novels.


Bend in the Ganges is written by Manohar Malgonkar. The novel mainly focusses on the transformation of three young men—Gian Talwar, Debi Dayal and Shafi Usman—as a result of their involvement in the events of the years preceding and following the Partition of India.

bend in ganges

Gian is Gandhian and believes in non-violence whereas Debi and Shafi, members of a terrorist outfit called the “Freedom Fighters”, believe in violence. Shafi is critical of Gandhian style nonviolence.

“Freedom has to be won; it has to be won by sacrifice; by giving blood, not by giving up the good things of life and wearing white caps and going to jail. Look at America—the United States! They went to war. Turkey! Even our own Shivaji. Non-violence is the philosophy of sheep, a creed for cowards. It is the greatest danger to this country”

-Shafi Usman in Bend in the Ganges

Though three are friends, soon Shafi feels that Pakistan is a necessity for Muslims if they wish to live dignified life post independence.

“…We don’t want freedom if it means our living here as slaves of the Hindus. If we succeed in driving out the British, it is the Hindus who will inherit power. Then what happens to us? We are heading for a slavery far more degrading … struggling for it. That’s what Jinnah is worried about. That’s what all of us are worried about”

-Bend in Ganges

Another hard hitting novel on partition is Raj Gill’s “The Rape”.

Dalipjit, the hero of the novel, dislikes Gandhi for accepting the partition of the country. He dreams of shooting him and so later on the news of Gandhi’s assassination greatly agitates him and he does not believe it.

“How could Gandhi be shot dead? He was not living. I had shot Gandhi long back, years ago. They could not shoot a dead Gandhi. It was nonsense. He chuckled to himself in his unchallenged superiority over the men around him who were gullible enough to believe in someone’s claim who just craved the credit that he already held. He chuckled again and swam around gleefully in this ocean of warmth”.

-Raj Gill in The Rape

Dalipjit is in love with a Muslim girl Leila. While Leila is saved from Hindu mob, danger comes from within family; she gets raped by Dalipjit’s father.

“Ashes be on the head of such independence… they burn your houses, they take your women and they kill your women and they kill your children, and you call it independence. Making people homeless is independence!”

Raj Gill in The Rape

Authors mentioned so far are from India. It will be interesting to examine how Pakistani authors viewed partition. Bapsi Sidwa has written about partition in her book “Ice candy man”. It is about relationship between people of various religions in city of Lahore. Story is told by a young Parsi girl Lenny- central characters are Lenny’s eighteen years old maid Shanta and man who lusts for her, the Ice candy man.

ice candy man

But more interesting here is views of Bapsi Sidwa about Gandhi. Gandhi is no longer a great leader, but an expert on giving enemas.

“Flush your system with an enema, daughter…Look at these girls, says Gandhijee, indicating the lean women flanking him. I give them enemas myself there is no shame in it- I am like their mother you can see how smooth and moist their skin is look at their shining eyes! Flush your stomach! Your skin will bloom like roses.”

-Bapsi Sidwa in Ice Candy Man

Her character Lenny finds Gandhi clownish.

“Lenny fails to understand as to why people call him a saint. To her, he appears to be ‘half clown and half-demon’.”

-Bapsi Sidwa in Ice Candy Man


While critical of Gandhi, she has high regards for Jinnah.

“Within three months seven million Muslims and five million Hindus and Sikhs are uprooted in the largest and most terrible exchange of population known to history. The Punjab has been divided by the icy cards- sharks dealing out the land village by village, city by city, wheeling and dealing and doling out favors……..For now the tide is turned- and the Hindus are being avourd over the Muslims by the remnants of the Raj. Now that its objective to divide India is achieved, the British avour Nehru over Jinnah. Nehru is Kashmiri; they grant him Kashmir……they grant Nehru Gurdaspur and Pathankot, without which Muslim Kashmir cannot be secured. ”

-Bapsi Sidwa


While novels mentioned above deal with Punjab, Bengali film maker Ritwik Ghatak made three films – Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komal Gandhar and Subarnarekha , on condition of refugees who had to leave their home in East Pakistan ( now Bangladesh) and settle down in West Bengal.




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