It’s the eve of India’s 72nd Independence Day, and divisive India-Pakistan rhetoric is at an all-time high.
The Partition of India was one of the largest migrations in human history. Millions of Muslims migrated to Pakistan, and millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed towards India in 1947. Hundreds of thousands of people made it to their destinations. But hundreds of thousands did not – they were killed in the violence, arson and looting that erupted. Many of these people were raped, abducted, disfigured and forcibly converted.
A third generation of Indian and Pakistani writers is rising above hateful rhetoric to preserve stories of survival and resilience. These writers document the pain, losses and worthlessness of the Partition, while staying miles away from the hateful language often adopted by pundits on both sides.
Prerna Bakshi dedicates her Partition poems “Burnt Rotis, With Love” – “to all the children of Partition” including her own grandparents, and “to all the stateless people. To all the people on both sides of the border. To the people of India, Pakistan and beyond”.
She writes beautifully about – “Broken glass bangles, abandoned homes, segregated neighbourhoods, all legacies of Partition. Partition – asks more questions than it answers.”
Bakshi defends the renewed interest in Partition, saying it is important to preserve those memories, no matter how ugly or how divisive.
Radhika Swarup is another young writer, who has explored the themes of Partition in her debut novel “Where the River Parts”.
“Hazy memories of adults discussing the past when they thought us children asleep. Passing conversations. A throwaway comment. A lament on a changed Delhi. Greater detail slowly emerging from the shadows as I grew older. Acknowledging all those who have contributed to my personal sense of Partition would be impossible,” Swarup writes in her book.
“It was my grandparents who made the move from Western Punjab to Delhi, and my parents’ generation that was suffused with the drive to build a secure future for themselves. My generation, however, feels the need to know where our family comes from, and to understand what drove that horrible, frenzied, traumatic exodus on both sides of the border,” Swarup tells Asia News Network.
The goal of Swarup’s book, she says, is “to not only capture the Partition, but to put a human face to the violence, and to convey the aftershocks of that horrific schism”.
Swarup writes bravely about difficult subject matter. Asha, the book’s protagonist, a Hindu, falls in love with Firoze, her Muslim neighbour in Pakistan. Asha’s family is forced to flee Lahore and that journey changes her life’s course. Her family is killed, and in India she is forced to marry someone she doesn’t love to ensure a roof over her head.
Asha is a faithful wife who tries not to entertain any memories of Firoze, till her granddaughter falls in love with a Pakistani boy in New York.
However, in real life that is seldom the case. Indian-Pakistani marriages can be tricky in many ways. Zainab, a woman who spoke with Asia News Network and requested her real name not be used, is now in her 90s, had an unfortunate marriage in Pakistan and was not allowed to return to India after her divorce.
She met her husband in the UK where they were both studying, and after marriage she decided to move to Pakistan. To live in Pakistan she had to give up her Indian nationality. After Zainab and her husband parted ways she decided to return to India, the country of her birth. However, she had little idea how difficult it would be for her to regain her blue passport.
She continued to make several trips to India over a period of 10 years (by now she was 50), but all her efforts proved futile. She argued with Indian authorities that she had no family in Pakistan and that she was old and wanted to be back where her roots were. On one of her trips to India she overstayed. She hoped to see them bend rules for a woman who was now in her sixties, and quite harmless. Instead, she was deported.
Indian-Pakistani marriages are logistical nightmares – with women having to relocate and give up on their nationalities.
“Though for the couples concerned, the marriage and the move is a natural enough thing to do if you care for each other…for society at large it’s an act of insanity,” Sara, whose name was also changed, said.
However, having taken the plunge Sara says she now sees her husband and herself as “cultural ambassadors”.
“Me marrying an Indian or him marrying a Pakistani is an act of courage and of huge historical relevance – much more important than any ministerial exchange, wouldn’t you think?” she added.
Nida, another woman who spoke the condition of anonymity, has made India her home, as well. “I have set up my home and have great friends here,” she said.
“For three months at a time, I can forget that my status is temporary. But then at the end of three months, I have to pull out my ticket and passport and leave. On the other hand if I apply for a resident permit, I can’t leave at all. Why should it have to be this or that?” Nida added.
Both Nida and Sara articulate their angst – not through their writings – but through visual art.
Narinder Singh witnessed the bloody carnage when she crossed over to India from Pakistan in 1947. She was seven years old at the time.
“When we were leaving Lahore we were asked to carry all our valuables to the camp, which we did, and they took it all. When we reached India we had nothing. My family used to sell caps and envelopes,” Narinder, who now lives in Jalandhar, told Asia News Network.
Balbir, her brother, regrets the Partition. “The bigger a country, the better. If Pakistan and India were one country, we would not have had a crisis like Kashmir, which is a never-ending dispute. Or other disputes with Muslims.”
Pakistan’s Anam Zakaria has spent the last few years documenting such bitter-sweet stories – an effort that culminated in a book “Footprints of Partition”.
She tells Asia News Network, “While many Partition memories are soaked in bloodshed and violence, survivors will also speak of being rescued by the other community, of leaving behind their properties and life savings in protection of the ‘other,’ of joint festivities and communal harmony.
“It is essential to uncover the multitude of stories Partition survivors hold deeply buried in their hearts for they can offer the only challenge to the jingoistic and myopic state narratives bent upon juxtaposing one community as triumphant over the over.”
Thanks to the third-generation, who knows India-Pakistan’s future Independence Days will celebrate only their sameness, their oneness – and kill the hate, that is exuded every August 14-15.