Wednesday 16 August 2017

India's independence: The story of Partition

During the last week, I've been reading a few magazine articles to commemorate the 70th anniversary of India's independence. There's also been a number of documentaries on the BBC featuring British Asian's whose family were directly affected by the events of Partition.

India's independence in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan is one of those stories that I've always been aware of but reading and listening to people's stories made me realise it's a story we don't hear enough about.

Partition isn't simply an event from India's history, it's very much British history as well. Sadly it's a story from the 20th Century which is overlooked. We're constantly reminded of events from the Second World War but the start of Britain's loss of Empire remains unfamiliar to many.

What stands out for me is the loss of life and religous violence that took place in the lead up to independence. Partition created a newly independent Muslim dominated Pakistan while India remained mainly Hindu dominated.

It meant that Hindus and Sikhs who found themselves on the wrong side of the partition line living in what would become Pakistan had to migrate to the new independent India. Meanwhile Muslims living in India made a similar journey in the opposite direction to Pakistan.

During this process millions of people lost their lives as religious sectarian violence escalated. I read really sad interviews with survivors of the violence who are now living in the UK. Despite the years that have passed, many still found it hard to forgive.

One Muslim women interviewed in the Sunday Times found it hard to understand how her grandchildren could be friends with Hindus and Sikhs. There were similar stories from Hindus who could not forgive Muslims.

What I find so shocking is that before independence, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims lived side by side for generations in peace. Then suddenly in the space of a matter of months these same people began murdering each other!

Here in Britain in 2017 we like to think we live in a peaceful, civilised and secure society. Different religious and ethnic groups don't go around killing one another. What's worrying is that none us truly know how close we all are to descending into mass violence and murder should circumstances change.

Britain's role in India's independence story doesn't make great reading. It seems that with the end of the Second World War and the country exhausted and bankrupt, we couldn't wait to get out of India.

In the interwar years of the 1920 and 30s as India's independence movement grew in strength, it seems Britain played a role in encouraging greater religious divisions - the old divide and rule strategy.

There's no doubt that fostering religious difference and tensions helped create the conditions that led to so much violence and suffering. Having created this tension, Britain was quick to let India and Pakistan deal with this violence as Britain brought an end to 300 years of rule in India.

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