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We’ve Come So far, Apart: Partition was never an end, its aftermath continues to unfold

3 September 2018

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The Telegraph, August 26, 2018

by Pratishtha Singh

As the last of the British troops - the Somerset Light Infantry - left India in 1948, Indians and Pakistanis were still to understand the true meaning of "Independence". The border that split the country three ways was sketched on a map by Sir Cyril Radcliff during his very first trip to India in July 1947, a month before Independence. A whole civilisation which was to be eternally conjoined by the name of the Indus river, now lay divided into two countries. This border had broken the hearts and hopes of those who called this land "home". August 17 has been declared as Partition Day since it took two additional days after August 15, 1947, to draw the Radcliff line in all its details.

I strongly believe that what happened on August 14 and 15, 1947, should be termed the Unification of India and the Unification of Pakistan. Real freedom from the English is still a distant dream in our country where fair skin and fluency in English are considered indisputable virtues. The British attempt to break bonds of fraternity between Hindus and Muslims reverberates even today with varying intensities.

Partition fuelled the fires of hatred. Even today, we get questioned about what transpired during those deadly years. But is Partition really complete? Are we through the storm of shrieks and anger which marred the years around 1947? Partition, in all certainty, is not a noun. It’s a gerund and, thus, can never reach a culmination. The better, more habitable world, which refugees looked for is still far from sight. That better life has become a mirage that we are still pursuing with angst.

There have been many authors who have written about Partition including greats like Joginder Paul, Bhisham Sahni, Sadat Hasan Manto and Amrita Pritam. Last year, about this time, the noted poet Gulzar came out with his first full-length novel, Two. The novel sings the woes and the triumphs of humanity during the years of active Partition. In the characteristic style of a master poet, he writes about those who wonder where Pakistan is. The answer which they get is uncannily true for the idea of the unattainable Promised Land, "It will be somewhere. Someday."

This dream of a peaceful land of abundance has, hitherto, evaded us, the people of the Indus on both sides of Radcliff’s line. The theme of a diluted personal identity runs throughout the novel as a reminder of our shaky identity. "There were many who managed to reach Hindustan with their families intact, but lost each other in the chaos here." The basis of Two is the falsehood which divided one population into two pieces: the self and the other. These stories are being read on both sides of the border in constant attempts to exorcise the memory of the unending Partition.

Alas, the political establishments on either side can’t be bothered about the loss. Those who supported the murder of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, the same RSS ideologues, are today powering lynchings and hatred in the name of establishing communal identity. We are being programmed to define ourselves by identifying the "other" and eliminating them. Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, infamously said during the court trail that when he saw the love and attention with which Gandhi dealt with Muslims "my blood boiled and I could tolerate him no longer". Today, men who share Godse’s mentality seem to have a vice-grip on power. Their "blood boils" even today and they kill in the name of cow vigilantism and punishment for beef-eating.

The true value of patriotism, in the Indian sense of the word, is defined by how all-inclusive our nature and presence can be. Purity of race and community has never been an Indian idea and we must discard the thought at all costs. The way to the future does not solely depend on passing of the years. It actually depends on how the years conduct us forward to an evermore secular society.

Gandhi’s assassination and its aftermath have distanced themselves from us. His disappearance has become a point of reference for scholars of history but that for which he lost his life continues to loom large over us even today. Gulzar, in Two, says, "The passage to the border is not an end. It is what follows that lends their journey the nature of an odyssey, one that has not stopped." Similarly, the Indian Odyssey of self-definition continues. And I daresay, the direction it has taken in the last four years is not what the world recognises as "Indian".


The above article from The Telegraph is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use