My previous blog post was about Indian Prime Minister Modi's involvement in the Gujarat massacre of 2002, where about 1,000 people (mostly Muslims, I assume) were killed by Hindu nationalists.
But that death toll is nothing compared to what happened after the British partitioned India into a Muslim territory and non-Muslim territory in 1947.
I don't know a lot about the Indian Partition. However, I learned something about it in an article in the January 2 & 9 issue of The New Yorker. The magazine article is called "Blood Lines: Seventy-five years after Indian Partition, have we learned how to say what happened?"
The online article is called, "Seventy-five Years after Indian Partition, Who Owns the Narrative?: Literature once filled in archival gaps by saying the unsayable. Now a younger generation is finding new modes of telling the story and finding new stories to tell."
Here's a PDF file.
Download Seventy-five Years After Indian Partition Who Owns the Narrative? | The New Yorker
It's heartbreaking to read how the partition was described by people who lived through it and in novels that cast a light on the horrendous happening through the lens of fact-based fiction.
A Wikipedia article about the Partition of India says that Ghandi was opposed to the splitting up of India. In retrospect, he probably was right. However, for a variety of reasons the British rushed through a not very well thought-out plan for partitioning along religious lines. Wikipedia says:
The two-nation theory is the ideology that the primary identity and unifying denominator of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent is their religion, rather than their language or ethnicity, and therefore Indian Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nations regardless of commonalities. It argued that religion resulted in cultural and social differences between Muslims and Hindus. The two-nation theory was a founding principle of the Pakistan Movement (i.e., the ideology of Pakistan as a Muslim nation-state in South Asia), and the partition of India in 1947.
The ideology that religion is the determining factor in defining the nationality of Indian Muslims was undertaken by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who termed it as the awakening of Muslims for the creation of Pakistan. It is also a source of inspiration to several Hindu nationalist organizations, with causes as varied as the redefinition of Indian Muslims as non-Indian foreigners and second-class citizens in India, the expulsion of all Muslims from India, the establishment of a legally Hindu state in India, prohibition of conversions to Islam, and the promotion of conversions or reconversions of Indian Muslims to Hinduism.
There are varying interpretations of the two-nation theory, based on whether the two postulated nationalities can coexist in one territory or not, with radically different implications. One interpretation argued for sovereign autonomy, including the right to secede, for Muslim-majority areas of the Indian subcontinent, but without any transfer of populations (i.e., Hindus and Muslims would continue to live together).
A different interpretation contends that Hindus and Muslims constitute "two distinct and frequently antagonistic ways of life and that therefore they cannot coexist in one nation." In this version, a transfer of populations (i.e., the total removal of Hindus from Muslim-majority areas and the total removal of Muslims from Hindu-majority areas) was a desirable step towards a complete separation of two incompatible nations that "cannot coexist in a harmonious relationship."
Opposition to the theory has come from two sources. The first is the concept of a single Indian nation, of which Hindus and Muslims are two intertwined communities. This is a founding principle of the modern, officially-secular Republic of India. Even after the formation of Pakistan, debates on whether Muslims and Hindus are distinct nationalities or not continued in that country as well. The second source of opposition is the concept that while Indians are not one nation, neither are the Muslims or Hindus of the subcontinent, and it is instead the relatively homogeneous provincial units of the subcontinent which are true nations and deserving of sovereignty; the Baloch have presented this view, Sindhi, and Pashtun sub-nationalities of Pakistan and the Assamese and Punjabi sub-nationalities of India.
In the end, religion was the primary criterion for dividing India into Muslim and non-Muslim nations. Of course, many Muslims still live in India, and I assume some Hindus, Sikhs, and members of other religions live in Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh.
What's beyond sad is how communities where Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs used to live together harmoniously were afflicted by massive outbreaks of violence, which led to one of the largest migrations in human history. Here's how The New Yorker story by Perul Sehgal starts out.
Before it was an edict, and a death sentence, it was a rumor. To many, it must have seemed improbable; I imagine my grandmother, buying her vegetables at the market, settling her baby on her hip, craning to hear the news—a border, where? Two borders, to be exact.
On the eve of their departure, in 1947, after more than three hundred years on the subcontinent, the British sliced the land into a Hindu-majority India flanked by a Muslim-majority West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), a thousand miles apart. The boundaries were drawn up in five weeks by an English barrister who had famously never before been east of Paris; he flew home directly afterward and burned his papers. The slash of his pen is known as Partition.
A tidy word, “Partition.” Amid what the Punjabis call the raula—the “uproar”—the region convulsed with violence, Hindus and Sikhs on one side, Muslims on the other. Entire villages were massacred. Neighbors turned on each other. It’s estimated that a million people were killed, and that seventy-five thousand women and girls were abducted and raped, a third of them under the age of twelve. Millions of refugees fled in one of the largest and most rapid migrations in history.
“Blood trains” crisscrossed the fresh border, carrying silent cargo—passengers slaughtered during the journey. Cities transformed into open-air refugee camps, like the one in Delhi to which my grandmother escaped in the night, alone with her children, feeding the baby opium, the story goes, so he would not cry.
Bhisham Sahni’s “Tamas,” a 1973 Hindi novel set in that period, brings such a camp to life. The exhausted refugees are greeted by a functionary of the Relief Committee with the unpropitious nickname Statistics Babu. “I want figures, only figures, nothing but figures,” he instructs. The refugees mill around him, unhearing. They weep, stare blankly. They repeat, in exasperating detail, every step of their journeys. “Why don’t you understand?” Statistics Babu pleads. “I am not here to listen to the whole ‘Ramayana.’ Give me figures—how many dead, how many wounded, how much loss of property and goods. That is all.”
Is that where the story lies? What do “figures, only figures” convey of the full horror and absurdity of 1947? Of a border that cut through forests, families, and shrines, that saw wild animals apportioned between the two countries and historical artifacts snapped in half?
In “Tamas,” the testimonies of the survivors reveal all that records omit and conceal. A refugee is desperate to recover his wife’s gold bangles: won’t Statistics Babu help him? Those bangles still circle his wife’s wrists, however, and she lies at the bottom of a well. It is a detail perhaps lifted from the case of the real-life village of Thoa Khalsa, now in Pakistan, where almost a hundred Sikh women drowned themselves and their children.
We don’t have the figures for women killed by their own families or forced to kill themselves in the name of protecting their honor. There are no records of those who died of heartbreak. My family migrated from an area not far from Thoa Khalsa. Only my great-uncle remained; he lay beheaded in the courtyard of his home. Three months later, his wife died—of grief, some say. Their children were scattered. There are no firm figures available for orphaned children, or for children abandoned along the journey because they were too small to walk quickly enough.
What I find difficult to understand, from my perspective here in the United States, is how it can be that India is still convulsed by Hindu-Muslim violence, with Prime Minister Modi's political party being devoted to Hindu nationalism.
Don't the people of India realize that the horrors of the Indian Partition must never be repeated, even on a much smaller scale? The United States has had to come to grips with the horror of slavery and the injustices African-Americans have had to deal with from 1619 to the present.
But at least there's an almost universal consensus that discrimination against Blacks has to be a thing of the past, though there's a lot of debate about how this is to be achieved. In India, though, my understanding is that Modi and his political party are dedicated to the proposition that Muslims are second-class citizens, and that India is basically a Hindu nation.
Sure, we have Christian nationalists in the United States. However, they are a fringe political movement. Some Christian nationalists get elected to political positions, but they're nowhere close to controlling the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party, which controls the presidency and Senate, totally rejects Christian nationalism.
Which is why I worry about India. If Modi retains power in the 2024 elections, which recent polling says seems likely, Hindu nationalism will have even more of a foothold in India. That strikes me as really unfortunate, if it happens.