Pangs of Partition
Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom… Before the birth of freedom, we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now”, (Excerpts from Jawaharlal’s Nehru speech in the Constituent Assembly)
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.(Excerpts from Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speech in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.)
The 2012 award winning movie Filmistaan, ends with a spirited medley of these two speeches delivered in a resounding baritone when the two protagonists of the movie, an Indian and a Pakistani, try to escape from the clutches of death as they flee from India from Pakistan, amidst a flurry of bullets fired on them by the Indian forces who have them mistaken for intruders and the Pakistani terrorists who consider them traitors. The film highlights how the fear of death and the subsequent renewed desire to live forges a bond of friendship between an Indian and a Pakistani.
Despite the fact, that the two nations share similar cultures, languages, beliefs and mannerisms, the harsh reality remains that 69 years back, India was cracked into two halves and as time progresses, the split only gets wider between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Countless number of families, who underwent the wrenching experience of partition, have their ancestral roots in India and Pakistan. Experts when spoken to, suggested that the haphazard formation of the two nations due to a painful partition has been one of the main reasons because of which, the cracks between India and Pakistan could not be repaired. This was further exacerbated by a murderous greed for wealth and acquisitions in the masses which caused a greater divide.
Often considered to be one of the most traumatic chapters in the nation’s history, the partition witnessed nearly fourteen million people leaving their homeland and is considered to be one of the largest ever human migrations to have taken place in world history.
Unlike the West, which celebrates its triumphs and mourns its losses from World Wars I and II, the tradition of handing down legacies to the future generations to learn from, has dissipated in our country. Even as there have been various books written on the subject of partition and several popular films and dramas made, the critique has often been this, that the subject of partition has only ever been used to stir nationalist sentiments and blame others for the losses suffered by the economy.
When asked about the reasons behind the lack of discussion and discourse on the issue of partition, former journalist and renowned author Kishwar Desai, who is also the chairperson and trustee of Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust which initiated the partition museum project, said, “For a long time people were reluctant to talk about what they went through during partition because of the trauma they had experienced. They did not want the trauma to seep into the lives to their children. Then came a time, when the children grew up and faced their own problems in a rapidly changing country. These children neither cared about the stories told to them by their parents nor did anyone from the government try to memorialise the experience.”
Desai, however, sounds optimistic about the interest of youth on the subject of partition.
The Partition Museum Project which has held exhibitions in Amritsar and Delhi, has received tremendous response from the youth who have been involved in the project as researchers. Desai states, “The third generation of the partitioned family is more confident asking questions. Even in Europe, following the world wars, people needed some time before they could begin to memorialise their losses. Even today where there is a situation of hysteria prevalent, there is still a space for introspection and empathising with each other and citing those instances where communities have lived in harmony and helped each other.”
In the contemporary times, when media has become an open forum for intelligent discussion, Urvashi Butalia author and publisher says, “Speculating and reconstructing scenarios from the past will change nothing. We need to concentrate on the future, on building our strength based on the cultural similarities. This will happen only when we have open discussions, share ideas, and really understand our true identities, shunning the stereotypical image we have been hiding behind. In the past, the political voice triumphed because the general public had restricted or no knowledge, and therefore no voice.”
Ashok Khanna, an Old Delhi resident who finds his ancestral roots from Lahore and had visited the place during 1987, at a time when the rule of General Zia Ul Haq was at its peak, says, “Even as Pakistan was formed on the basis of religion, I observed that it drew inspiration from age old Punjabi customs rather than just religion. Many customs that are followed here, like touching the feet of elders for blessings, are followed there as well.”
A city where the Punjabi Khatris once had a sizable presence, Khanna recounts how the temples situated on the outskirts of Lahore still had names like Kapoor’s, Malhotra’s inscribed on the stones at that time. Ashok Arora, whose family ancestors hailed from West Punjab’s Dera Ghazi Khan remembers some unique customs and traditions followed by their clan. Those customs will soon be forgotten, he feels, as the present – day generations do not have knowledge about them. Arora tells us that in the region of West Delhi, certain communities having a huge number of Punjabi migrants have undertaken the task of keeping the past relevant in changing times.
The concept of two nation theory which led to the division of India, may have failed with the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Like an individual’s identity that has been stereotyped based on one aspect of his/her personality, the Indian society. in the past and the present, grapples with the challenge of putting an individual first before his identity. In the acrimony between Hindustan and Pakistan, for many, Filmistaan is the dream that ultimately triumphs.
"For a long time people did not talk about what they went through during partition because of the trauma they had experienced. Then came a time when children grew up and faced their own problems in a rapidly changing country - Kishwar Desai, ACH Trust
"It’s only when we try to have an open discussion and share ideas, that we really understand our true identity. The political voice triumphed because the general public had restricted no knowledge and therefore, no voice - Urvashi Butalia, Author
"I have observed that Pakistan also draws inspiration from age old Punjabi customs rather than just religion. Many customs that are followed here, like touching the feet of elders for blessings, are followed there as well - Ashok Khanna, Old Delhi resident