The Indian Partition: A Legacy of Lingering Scars

by | Oct 10, 2020 | Opinion | 1 comment

In Britain, we tend to suffer from a selective amnesia regarding our history. Everything is viewed through rose-tinted glasses and we shy away from anything that is not hagiography. In Germany, there are no qualms about teaching schoolchildren about World War Two and the atrocities of the Holocaust. So why don’t we learn about the British empire, and the deaths of millions in the partition?

In WWII, thousands of British Indians enlisted in the army and fought against the Axis powers. With the partition looming just two years after the end of the war, you would imagine the British would have thrown all they had at the situation considering its importance, right? The transfer of power from the British to India was supposed to take five years. But the Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, cut it down – to four months. To make matters worse, the man put in charge of the border commission, Cyril Radcliffe, had never even visited India before going there to decide on the new border boundaries. And when he left, he never returned. 


More than seventy years later, the wounds are still there. In 2018, an episode of Doctor Who, called ‘Demons of the Punjab’, focussed on the partition. Some viewers were critical of the episode’s content, dismissing it as unnecessary and too ‘woke.’ If you want to change opinions, the mediums of film, television, and literature are vital resources. Unfortunately, an issue that was not being discussed much before is now being ignored altogether.

The events of the partition were painful, but even more painful is what both countries have since become. In Pakistan, there are discriminatory blasphemy laws that target non-Muslims, while India has experienced a rise in Hindu Nationalism and the Modi government has introduced laws that specifically target Muslims, making it more difficult for Muslim refugees of nearby countries to move to India. 

Very few countries share the similar culture that India and Pakistan do. If you go to the alleys of Lahore, and the alleys of Amritsar, you will smell the same spices. You will see similar clothes. Hindi and Urdu are mutually intelligible. Both cities are part of the Punjab; the former is in Pakistan and the latter is in India.

Anyone who is of a Pakistani (me!) or Indian background feels a pain inside their hearts when they read about the events of the partition. Before the events, people would go to each other’s weddings, birthdays, funerals, and celebrate other festivities. Now, the divide is widening, a fact proven by the so-called ‘cow vigilantes’ in India, a lack of religious freedom, and widespread persecution. And yet some people, like me, still have hope: hope for Jinnah’s pluralistic vision for Pakistan and hope for Nehru’s vision of India.

There is a certain privilege in not coming from a society that was negatively affected by colonialism. You do not have to think about how your country could have been better. For people like me, however, that legacy is a part of us. 

(For some more context on the partition, watch Jinnah (1998) or Gandhi (1982), although I have not watched the latter. I have watched the former and one of the producers felt that Gandhi put Jinnah in a negative light.)