‘Begum Anis Kidwai’s memoir captures the social anguish of Partition and its aftermath far better than any novel or academic study. Previously known only to readers of Urdu and Hindi, through the loving labours of Ayesha Kidwai, it is now available to a wider world. To a sensitive and compellingly readable translation, she has added a substantial biographical essay. This landmark work should be read by every thinking Indian’ – Ramachandra Guha, author of India after Gandhi
‘This memoir of Partition brings to life the unknown people and the hidden stories behind the making of India. It relates a story of anguish and courage that belongs to each one of us. And every page of this vivid translation brings us closer to an extraordinary woman, Anis Kidwai, brutally honest but humorous, challenging but hopeful’ – Githa Hariharan, author of the Thousand Faces of Night and Fugitive Histories.
Appearing for the first time in English translation, In Freedom’s Shade is Anis Kidwai’s moving personal memoir of the first two years of new India. It is an activist’s record that reveals both the architecture of the violence during Partition as well as the efforts of ordinary citizens to bring to a close the cycle of reprisal and retribution.
Beginning from the murder of her husband in October 1947, with a rare frankness, sympathy and depth of insight, Anis Kidwai tells the stories of the thousands who were driven away from their homes in Delhi and its neighbouring areas by eviction or abduction or the threat of forced religious conversion. Of historical importance for its account of the activities of the Shanti Dat, the recovery of abducted women and the history of Delhi, In Freedom’s Shade also has an equal contemporary relevance. In part a delineation of the roots of the afflictions that beset Indian society and in part prophetic about the plagues that were to come, Anis Kidwai’s testament is an enduring reminder that memory without truth is futile; only when it serves the objective of reconciliation does it achieve meaning and significance.
Cover painting by Arpita Singh
‘My painting is about presence and absence, of departure and destination, and the marks that histories leave upon the landscapes of the heart.
ANIS KIDWAI was born in 1906 in Barabanki, Awadh, into an impoverished but cultured zamindari family. She received a rigorous education tilt she was eleven; then her father died and she was sequestered behind purdah until the late 930s, when she managed to join India’s freedom struggle. The murder of her husband, Shafi, in Mussoorie in October 1947 catapulted Anis into an activist’s role, That very month, she came to Delhi and offered her life to Gandhi; she wanted to live out the rest of her years in service to the nation. In just a few months, working alongside Subhadra Joshi, Anis became closely involved with the efforts for peace in Delhi is neighbourhoods and surrounding rural areas; and with Mridula Sarabhai she helped in the recovery of abducted women. Anis Kidwai wrote her memoir of the first two turbulent years of independent India, Azadi Ki Chhaon Mein (In Freedom’s Shade) in Urdu in 1949. But it was only in 1974 that it was first published by Subhadra Joshi to great critical acclaim.
AYESHA KIDWAI is Anis Kidwai’s granddaughter and teaches linguistics at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
I first truly read Anis Kidwai’s Azadi [G C/1/mon Mein (from now, Azadi) in April 2002, in the wake of the Gujarat violence. In the subsequent expressions of anguish and outrage, l heard often that these were no “riots° but pogroms orchestrated by the Gujarat government, and that the unprecedented scale of sexual violence perpetrated on Muslim women signified a genocidal design. The question that haunted me was how different this massacre was from the slaughter of Sikhs in 1984 marked by similar unilateral, state- sponsored aggression.
My initial stimulus to read Azadi was the need to understand the anatomy of a ‘true’ riot, to contrast this with the many programs witnessed in independent India. Partition riots have been enshrined in popular imagination as violent eruptions in a civil war where Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus were evenly matched in religious fervour and bloodlust. I hoped that Anis Kidwai would help me to find the point of departure between °then° and ‘now’.
To my surprise, Azadi told quite a different tale. It did not speak of Partition communal riots in the sense l had expected, but of an array of conflicts—from battles to localized pogroms. Then too, religious identity was the pretext for murder, rape, extortion, eviction and abduction, with the benediction of state institutions and functionaries. Its communal violence was different only in that the aggressions were simultaneous across a large geography, each a refraction of the other, victims here turning perpetrators there. Then, as now the price for returning to a state of calm was amnesia about the complicity of the powerful in abetting the pogrom, along with recasting of the memory of ‘riots’ as a clash of religious identities.
Azadi is a key that frees us from the imprisonment of our popular imagining of Partition. In its frank delineation of the violence in Delhi between September 1947 and June 1948, this invaluable record of an activist attributes the same temporal depth to the forces of secularism that we ascribe to division and hatred. Partition’s victims were not only Hindus and Muslims but also children, lovers, rustics and city- dwellers, refugees and the internally displaced, ‘Harijans’ and Jats. And those that rescued India were not only Gandhi and Nehru but also widows and unmarried women, students and teachers, pandits and Harijans, swamis and ulemas.
Azadi is a gift of memory that both inspires and liberates. To every story of atrocities committed in the name of religion, one of organized resistance by citizens is added—when Harijans are evicted from a Delhi village, Subhadra Joshi and Anis Kidwai restore them to their homes; when the city is rife with tension between refugees and the remaining few Muslims, students and teachers of Jamia Millia open a school for Hindu and Muslim children to study and play together; when rumors of a fresh wave of rioting on 15 June 1948 course through the province of Delhi, the frenetic efforts by Shanti Dal activists ensure that the date passes by without incident.
By offering us this different perspective on Partition, Azadi also points to many important lessons that we should have learnt. Perhaps the most pressing is this one—while we have thus far focused on the forced migration across borders, Anis Kidwai’s account foregrounds the issue of internal displacement. As she tells us, a sizeable number of people that took refuge in Purana Qila and Humayun’s Tomb camps between September 1947 and March 1348 did not ever leave for Pakistan. Sadly for many of them, their homes no longer awaited their return, having been destroyed or appropriated by strangers or the government. Where did they go? The answer is perhaps lost for all time to come but the lesson that independent India should have learnt, at the very least, was to recognize the reality of internal displacement caused by communal, sectarian and ethnic violence. That the lesson is as yet unlearnt is evident—as people languishing in camps in Gujarat, Kandhamal, Chhartisgarh, Jammu and the north-east will confirm— in the lack of legislation guaranteeing the state’s commitment to the rights of the internally displaced to protection, relief, rehabilitation and reparation.
Anis Kidwai begins Azadi with a moving account of her husband Shafi Ahmad Kidwai’s murder in Mussoorie in October 1947, and ends it with the fervent appeal that her book reaches the young hands of succeeding generations before they lift the burden of new India. In this journey is enshrined the quest for an ideal of restorative justice, akin to that at the heart of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission—a justice that seeks to repair damage, not by retribution but by directing attention to the victims’ needs and participation. As Joe Slovo, one of the Commission’s chief architects, said, the best revenge he could have had from the men who murdered his wife was that they be made to live in peace in a system that they had fought so brutally against. While all Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi victims of Partition will agree that this goal is yet to be achieved, the readers of Azadi will turn the last page with, I hope, a renewed conviction that such justice is indeed possible and necessary.
Although Anis Kidwai wrote Azadi in 1949, the book did not find a publisher until twenty-five years later, when Qaumi Ekta Trust (QET) published it in Urdu in 1974. This was followed by a National Book Trust (NBT) edition in 1978, and a Hindi translation in 1981, also by NET. These three editions, which differ in minor details, have formed the main texts for my translation. I have also referred extensively to Anis Kidwai’s handwritten manuscript of Azadi and the draft writings that she recorded in two notebooks. These last two sources were only privately available to the at the time of translation and have since been donated to the University of Jamia Millia.
When compared to the three published editions, the handwritten manuscript differs most radically in terms of chapterization. For reasons that cannot be fully understood now, QET published the eighteen chapters in twenty-one, and NET in twenty-three—this expansion obscured the text’s basically chronological architecture. This translation seeks to restore Azadi to its original chapterization, supplemented by subtitles to indicate the months each chapter refers to. Some chapters of the handwritten manuscript have been reorganized to fit in with this design but, as Anis Kidwai’s own use of a hi-monthly reference frame was at best indicative, I have refrained from adding supplementary information about actual dates and times of events (wherever they are available).
In addition, some passages that are not to be found in any published editions have been incorporated into this translation. These include short passages deleted in pencil in the handwritten manuscript, in the service of discretion perhaps. As many of these passages find their way back into the NET edition as footnotes, 1 have incorporated them all into the main text. The longest addition is an extract from Anis Kidwai’s draft notebooks (in Chapter 3). I rake this latitude with some confidence, as it appears that she handed over her notebooks with the handwritten manuscript to the QET publishers in 1974 as well. Although not part of the handwritten manuscript, selections from the notebooks—in particular the visit to Alwar in 1949—were already included in this first edition.
In fact, there are reasons to believe that the handwritten manuscript is itself an amended version of the one written in 1949. One indication is the occasional lapse of memory that Anis Kidwai has; most telling of anus one in which she mistakenly refers (in Chapter 12) to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as the Jana Sangh, that came into being only in 1951. Also, in some passages, the text shifts to a 1970s’ perspective; in Chapter 8, she says she ‘still goes to Rajghat every year’.
in terms of language, the translation exercise has been one of some difficulty. Kidwai’s lexicon is extremely rich, and in it Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Persian, English and Awadhi words form complex relationships. In some cases, the choice of one particular synonym is sharply valued, in other eases it is not. in the former ease, I have retained the non-English word. The latter choices go largely unrepresented, however. Although this loss is unfortunate—particularly because this multilinguality is an important aspect of the narrative voice that constitutes the text—it is the price that the translation of any such text into English exacts.
Further, and more important, translation has the potential of levelling (lie register shifts the choices of words and syntactic constructions tail. For example, if a Hindi or Urdu speaker were to read the chapter on Gandhi (Chapter 2) in Hindi/Urdu, she would intuitively grasp that the style is one used to narrate the sacred. ‘While a translation into English can perhaps attempt to reflect its architectonics of a narration of fragmentary episodes, its other aspect—the use of the barest form of language—is not so effortlessly captured.
Similarly difficult is the issue of translating form with function. In a language with as free a word order as UrduHindi, how one arranges words in a sentence adds another layer of meaning to the sentence itself. I have attempted to establish a correspondence between forms wherever possible, but benchmarks of felicity and readability ensure that at least some aspects of Anis Kidwai’s style and intent must remain occluded from readers of this translation. For those among them who have access to either Hindi or Urdu, I can only hope that this translation will encourage them to read the book in either of the languages.
Although this is the first English translation of Azadi, selections from the text and citations of its insights have been available in English for two decades. Anis Kidwai would have liked me to express her gratitude to Gyanendra Pandey, Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon, Kamla Bhasin and Mushirul Hasan for generous references to the book in their published works on Partition. A particular word of thanks is owed to Urvashi Butalia for her endeavours to bring Azadi to a wider audience. P>
In conclusion, a few words of acknowledgement of my own arc in order. Without the labours of Ania Loomba, Githa Hariharan, Madhu Sahni, Mazhar Hussain, Rajeev Sharma, Rahul Roy, and Subhashini Ali, the translation and the impressionistic sketch of Anis Kidwai’s life that I have appended to it would not have seen the light of day. All these individuals have contributed substantially to my understanding of the book and its relevance, and I am deeply grateful to all of them for their extensive comments, critique, contrariness, and skepticism that I could get anything right at all. The fact that this project has been so whole-heartedly endorsed by my siblings, Rafiq, Sonia, Sabina and Atiya, and my cousins, Seema, Bobby and Kamal, means more to me than 1 have words to express.
Most of all, however, this book would have been impossible without my mother, Amina Kidwai, whose loving engagement with the process of this translation has also revealed to me the extent to which she is Anis Kidwai’s true legatee. I am also in Arpira Singh’s debt for the painting on the cover and for her (and Anjum’s) unwavering belief in me. A word of gratitude also to Rekha Kidwai, my grandaunt, for her many kindnesses on my last trip to Masauli, but most of all for the efforts she has made to keep Anis Kidwai’s Home for destitute women and children in our ancestral village alive and functioning. The royalties from this book will provide for the Home’s upkeep.
Thanks also to Sabeena Gadihoke for interceding on the books behalf with the inspirational photographer Homai Vyarawalla, and to Debatosh Sengupta of the Photo Division. The extensive use made in this book of these respective archives bears witness to the magnanimity of these two individuals. Thanks are also due to Halim Rahi and Maansi Sharma for their assistance in research.
Last, but by no means the least, I am also grateful to the New India Foundation for the fellowship I was awarded for this project. In particular, I thank Ramachandra Guha for his generous guidance. 1—lad it not been for his sensitive and insightful comments—and later those of Ranjana Sengupta and Richa Burman at Penguin and Mudita Chauhan-Mubayi—Anis Kidwai’s wish that her voice be heard in all Four corners of the country would still be unfulfilled.
Chance can sometime play the oddest tricks, and circumstances can sometime take on such ludicrous aspects that one is left bewildered as to how what holds today ever came to be. You may set out on an endeavour with a particular intent but what transpires is something else entirely. When I look back upon it all, I am amazed to think that all the aspiration I once had from life was to idle away the years, snuggled in some corner in the garden of books. Never in my wildest dreams could I have conceived that someone like me would have a role in the horrific drama that was to be played out on this nation’s stage. Or that event would take such a turn as to set me down on the blazing scorching earth of Delhi, at a time when Delhi walas themselves were all turning tail and running for their lives.
In 1857 as well, Delhi had suffered so much. In fact, even before this, the city changed places, was abandoned, settled, deserted, resettled, scores of times. In 1938, Lucknow All India Radio asked me to host a programme in its Kya Se Kya (‘From What To What’) series, on the advances in social, cultural and educational conditions that marked our times in comparison to those of 1857. So I struck up friendships with aged women of Lucknow and its surrounding villages, hoping to cull from their memories some anecdote about the way of life then, some account of the chaos of the Mutiny, some flavour of the colour and culture of the period, some saga of the changing political milieu.
My disappointment knew no bounds when all my queries were left unanswered and all my efforts came to naught. All the old ladies came up with, their toothless mouths chomping frenetically in the effort of speech, was this: ‘At First, the Icing reigned. Then there were the English. In the middle, for some time, Nawabs ruled. And then the English came back again.’ Or this: ‘There was an attack on the village. In the city, the guns went boom-boom. The platoon of the whites attacked and all ran and hid in the wheat fields. And Allah preserve him, my Munne miyan was horn.’ (At such times, silver- haired Munne miyan would be standing by, one foot dangling in the grave, glorying in his mother’s fervent prayers that he live as long as the earth continued to revolve.) Or this: ‘He was saved by the village barber. And that man, he was hidden by the baniya in the granary.’
This was the sum of their knowledge of events, of history, of the world. It exasperated me. Did the women then live on another planet that the winds of time never touched them? Today, when I think back over what I saw and heard of what our nation underwent in its first two years, I am convinced that these women were not of this world; they lived in complete alienation from the world outside the home and from the politics that made our nation.
Perhaps this was also because the Hindustan that these women lived in was so different, inhabited by bold Pathans, brave Rajputs, learned Brahmins and honourable Hindus and Muslims. Women belonged not to Hindus or Muslims, bur were the collective honour of the community the nation. A daughter from one’s village was one’s own daughter. A sister had full right to make a passer-by her rakhi-brother; he, in turn, would not hesitate in pledging his life to defend her.
Historical records attest that when Delhi’s princesses and noblewomen fled towards Gurgaon, Jhajjar and other places, then the bands of Gujjars who came to loot them comprised only women. No man laid a hand on their bodies. Moreover, when the Gujjar women robbed these noblewomen of their silken garments, they thoughtfully gave them their own shabby clothes in exchange. And after all the plunder, if someone gave a noblewoman sanctuary in his home, she was kept as an honoured guest. For months and years thereafter, she lived in the comfort, respect, freedom and happiness that she would have enjoyed in her own place.
If, as historians corroborate, this was the atmosphere of the times, it is then not so surprising that the old women I spoke to did not know much of political upheaval; the home and the personal circumscribed the limits of their experience.
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