Moving away from Partition’s Legacy of Violence 

As always, the game of cricket provides the most accurate barometer for gauging the state of play between Pakistan and India. Renowned journalist Mihir Bose’s mere suggestion of a resumption in matches between the two countries on a popular Indian talk show sparked angry consternation. Writing in the Guardian newspaper, he explained, “My argument was that despite India seeing Pakistan as virtually a terrorist state, and Pakistan perceiving Indian rule in Kashmir as colonial oppression, sport and culture can defuse tension. This was the point that my uncle, a Congress MP, made in 1964 after horrific religious violence in both countries threatened war. But I was shouted down. It was clear that anybody suggesting contact with Pakistan was a traitor.”

After 70 years, the fault lines between Pakistan and India appear to run deeper than ever as the shadow of an unresolved past continues to loom large. Perhaps some of this stems from imperial motivations for withdrawal from India after 300 years of rule. According to the late Narendra Singh Sarila, diplomat and former aide-de-camp to Lord Mountbatten: “The British adopted the policy of divide and rule in India after the bloody revolt or the Great Mutiny of 1857. This was a policy to control Indians, not to divide India.”

Britain’s hurried withdrawal meant that six thousand kilometres of new boundaries were demarcated in just five weeks with 15 million people uprooted.

As writer and historian Patrick French observes in Liberty or Death: “The documentation of the last years of the Indian Empire provided an unexpected tale of confusion, human frailty and neglect, moving from the florid incompetence of Churchill’s wartime India policy to the feeble indecision of Atlee’s post-war government.”

French highlights the cavalier manner in which crucial decisions regarding the future of India and its people were made, stating: “Many of the key events of the 1940s were the result of chance, or even of error, and some of the most important decisions of the period were made on an almost random basis.”

The consequences of critical decisions made 70 years ago resulted in violence on an unprecedented scale — the ramifications of which are still deeply felt today in the form of ongoing territorial disputes, nuclear stockpiling and reciprocal accusations of cross-border terrorism.

The violence, displacement and religious polarisation unleashed in 1947 continues to reverberate across South Asia to this day. However, a neat summation of the past is never possible.

This is illustrated by the experience of my mother’s uncle SibtainFazli, a Muslim filmmaker who lived in Delhi in 1947. Riots between Muslim and Sikh communities during the unfolding process of Partition had resulted in unimaginable bloodletting. When news of an imminent attack on the Muslims of Delhi spread through the city, SibtainFazli’s Sikh friend took him in, placed a kara on his wrist to identify him as a Sikh and told enquirers that he was his nephew. The next day, he arranged for him to be spirited out of Delhi.

Though the searing experiences of Partition have adversely influenced relations between the two countries for the last 70 years, perhaps both countries can remember the stories of courage and selflessness — no matter how few and far between — as these memories pay tribute to the unsung heroes of humanity who symbolise the spirit of both countries.

Though written in the context of the 1971 war between West Pakistan and East Pakistan leading to the creation of Bangladesh, the great poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s words remain profoundly relevant to the state of Pakistan-India relations: “We remain strangers to each other, despite our warmth and hospitality; Let us attempt to be friends again, now, after all these encounters. When will our gaze be relieved by the sight of pristine spring; how many rains will it take to wash away the bloodstains?”

by Mashaal Gauhar

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