The Pakistan Declaration: January 28 and the Pakistan National Movement
Updated: Feb 9
On January 28th, 1933, Choudhry Rahmat Ali published a document that would forever mark the birth of an idea that would change the course of history.
It came with Ali's publishing Now or Never: Are We to Live or Perish Forever?, a pamphlet that proclaimed the need for an independent state for Muslims living on the Indian subcontinent.
Now known as the Pakistan Declaration, the small document is now regarded as a major event in the history of the country and the subcontinent as a whole.
The Movements of History
In the early 1930s, India was in a state of flux. After two centuries of British rule, a nationalist movement had grown to fight for sovereignty, and it was beginning to feel like the country would know freedom from colonialism.
There was debate inside the movement between Purna Swaraj (total independence) or dominion status (home-rule while still under the British crown). But neither side of this debate had an answer to the question that many Muslims were asking at the time: what will happen to us when power is handed over?
The Two-State Question
As a sizable religious minority, Muslims were too powerful a bloc to be ignored, but they still didn't have the numbers to elect a party that would ever lead in government or select a Prime Minister. In short, the prevailing sentiment was that they needed a separate Muslim homeland.
Many prominent Muslim thinkers originally believed in Hindu-Muslim unity, but this was beginning to break down. As an independent state became a real possibility, fears of repression built.
The Round Table Conference
In 1930, King George V inaugurated the first Round Table Conference, an official peace talk between Indian leaders and the British Government. These conferences were held three years in a row, but little forward movement occurred. The divisions between the two countries appeared far too deep.
But at the third Round Table Conference, the attending British and Indian statesmen were handed a pamphlet. The cover letter read:
I am enclosing herewith an appeal on behalf of the thirty million Muslims of PAKSTAN, who live in the five Northern Units of India--Punjab, North-West Frontier (Afghan) Province, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan. It embodies their demand for the recognition of their national status, as distinct from the other inhabitants of India, by the grant to Pakistan of a separate Federal Constitution on religious, social and historical grounds.
-- Now or Never: Are We to Live or Perish Forever? Choudhary Rahmat Ali
The pamphlet was written by Ali, then a law student at the University of Cambridge.
The Idea of Pakistan is Born
In Now or Never, Ali outlined the idea of an independent Muslim nation. He coined the word PAKSTAN to refer to the northern region that was already predominately Muslim. It was an amalgamation of the names of each province that would make up the new nation: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan.
The document came out of the cauldron of political events that seemed to be occurring beyond the control of Indian Muslims. Fearing that they would be left with nothing once the British handed over some kind of home rule to Hindu-majority India, they knew they had to act.
They needed their own nation, one established based on the common heritage of, as Ali put it, India's "thirty million Muslim brethren." The pamphlet asked this unified ethnic group be given an independent state, free from the proposed Indian Federation that might become a reality soon -- one that seemed to risk Hindu domination.
The attendees of the third Round Table Conference considered the demands in the pamphlet a nonstarter, and it was rejected out of hand as simply the ideas of a rebellious student. But with the Pakistan Declaration, the young intellectual Rahmat Ali had sparked a wildfire Pakistan National Movement.
The Tides Turn - Pakistan National Movement
Back in India, the now famous pamphlet created a controversy. The Hindu press denounced the idea of Pakistan -- the name began being spelled with the i (Pakistan) for easier pronunciation. But the more they criticized it, the more popular it became with those Indian Muslims already reading thinkers like Muhammad Iqbal and Syed Ahmed Khan who were supporting the idea of a separate nation.
In this hotbed of political debate and the seismic shifts of history going on under the feet of the subcontinent, the Pakistan National Movement was born.
Dreams Becoming Reality
Over the next decade, the Pakistan Declaration became a launching pad to a movement, one that led to real change. And in 1947, India and Pakistan were partitioned into two separate countries. But Partition proved to be a brutal and harrowing birth for both.
Artist Pritika Chowdhry has created several artworks in her Partition Memorial Project that examine various facets of the Indian Partition of 1947.
Nevertheless, there was a Muslim state independent and sovereign over its own affairs. One pamphlet started a conversation that met with a large group of people eager for its message, and that grew into a new political reality.
Ali, however, was not pleased. He believed the Partition to be an "incredible betrayal," as leaders agreed to a much smaller Pakistan than was originally called for.
In 1948, Ali visited the nation he helped create with his Pakistan Declaration. It was his dream to live out the rest of his life in the country, but authorities had other plans. Apparently threatened by his criticism, Ali's things were confiscated and he was forcibly removed under orders of Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan.
He returned to England only six months after first stepping foot in Pakistan. He died three years later.
The Pen and the Sword
Let us make no mistake about it. The issue is now or never. Either we live or perish for ever. The future is ours, if we live up to our faith. It does not lie in the lap of the gods: it rests in our own hands. We alone can make or mar it. The history of the last century is full of open warnings to us, and they are as plain as were ever given to any nation. Shall it be said of us that we ignored all those warnings, betrayed our ancient nationhood into the Indian Federation, and let our Islamic heritage perish throughout the Sub-continent of India?
-- Now or Never: Are We to Live or Perish Forever? Choudhary Rahmat Ali
The Pakistan Declaration remains one of the most important political documents of the 20th century. While words can only do so much to change the world, the right words spoken at the right time can give birth to entire nations.
In the nearly 100 years since the pamphlet was published, the horrors of the Partition of India and the Bangladesh Liberation War still reverberate. And all over the world, the nation-state has repeatedly proven itself to require oceans of blood to form and maintain its borders. And yet, the treatment of Muslims in India has also made its own case for the protection of an independent state.
Despite these complicated and terrifying realities, on January 28th, we remember that political dreams can become a reality. The world only exists this way because we have made it so, and what if we made it differently?
Jonathan Clark is a writer and organic farmer living in the Burned-over district of New York. His work appears widely across the internet and in print. You can find more of his work at www.jonathanclark.net.