Congratulations to my desi brethren celebrating Independence over the next couple of days. And so they should, it’s a fine thing: Freedom!
Freedom to practice our own corruption, oppression, subjugation, warmongering and to allow dangerous radical extremism to exist, develop and flourish, with a healthy dose of destructive propaganda.
Sorry, sorry. Am I being unduly negative on this joyous occasion? Silly me. How outrageous. Let’s wave flags and eat laddos, recite patriotic poems and Bhangra into the night.
Or wait. Let’s at least pause for a moment, acknowledge, recognise and remember the horrific, terrible and haunting Price of Partition. Over the next couple of days the streets of the subcontinent will be awash with green, white and orange, but 70 years ago, they were awash with red, blood red.
A peaceful release from British rule could have happened a decade or two earlier, instead the seeds of separation were sowed and 1948 was to be when Freedom would finally officially exist for the former Raj. Except that Mountbatten decided he wanted out straightaway and it was all rushed out a year too early.
Too early because nothing was ready. The official independence for both India and Pakistan is 15th August 1947 – although the ceremony in Pakistan was held a one day before so that Mountbatty could attend both official ceremonies – hence Pakistan marks its Independence on the 14th.
In fact the borders weren’t finalised by Radcliffe until 17th August. In any case the tickertape had barely finished falling when the bloodshed began.
Estimates vary, there’s no confirmed figures – which in itself is a tragic lack of recognition for what could be as many as TWO MILLION lives lost during partition. It’s easy to just write that number and for you to skim over it – but think about it, TWO MILLION!
Two million slaughtered in the streets of their ancestral home towns and villages, butchered on trains that arrived at their destinations having scarred the earth between the countries with tracks of sickening scarlet.
Around 12 million people – families, children, our elders, were uprooted from their homes and lives and displaced – the largest mass migration in modern recorded history. A couple of years later a census would reveal about 7 million refugees on each side of the border.
People lost everything. Arrived to nothing. Lived in refugee camps for years. Started from scratch, amid the horror of loss, injury, and families torn apart. I met a relative once whose wife was taken and he was left without his hand during this time. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma of something like that.
Half of Karachi left, a third of Delhi moved out. In Lahore people were left to burn in a city on fire.
Just read this description of the partition by historians Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh and it might just sober up your reverie a little:
‘There are numerous eyewitness accounts of the maiming and mutilation of victims. The catalogue of horrors includes the disembowelling of pregnant women, the slamming of babies’ heads against brick walls, the cutting off of victims limbs and genitalia and the display of heads and corpses. While previous communal riots had been deadly, the scale and level of brutality was unprecedented.
‘Although some scholars question the use of the term “genocide” with respect to the Partition massacres, much of the violence was manifested with genocidal tendencies. It was designed to cleanse an existing generation as well as to prevent its future reproduction.’
And the two fledgling nations went to war over Kashmir almost immediately – a conflict that has embittered relations between two peoples of the same colour, culture and land for seven decades.
Okay, sorry, I really don’t mean to put a dampener on proceedings today and tomorrow. I just mean to put a little perspective on things.
But I also pray, hope and plead that the huge and horrific price of this Partition can be paid back with a pledge to honour the lives destroyed and lost, through pursuing peace, commonality (of which there is much), understanding and cooperation.
There is huge potential if the differences could be dropped and the subcontinent moved forward together, but I fear that we are nowhere near any hope for that. And in 70 years the nations’ people are as ill-informed, misled, manipulated and distrustful of each other as ever.
Please also read this: