Social Issues

India’s partition, a wound that continues to ooze 75 years later

By Hugo Barcia and Shah Abbas

New Delhi/Srinagar, India, Aug 13 (EFE).- The memories of the partition of the Indian subcontinent, which led to the creation of the separate nations of India and Pakistan, continues to resonate 75 years later, with the British drawing a hurried line on the map that led to horrific massacres and one of the largest migrations in modern history.

Nearly a century of British rule ended with a hastily imposed partition that resulted in chaos for the Hindu and Muslim populations that lived on the “wrong” side of the border, and forced millions to begun a long and dangerous journey in which many perished on the way.

Both those who decided to cross over to the other side and those who chose to stay, faced brutal repression and violence by the religious majority in their respective regions, with the death toll by the violence estimated to be between 200,000 and one million.

“It was a human tragedy in which there were no winners, only losers,” Kishwar Desai, the chairperson of the partition museum in the Indian city of Amritsar, told EFE, adding that around 20 million people were affected by the violence.

The lack of transport for the massive evacuations, as well as the isolated and far-off locations of many minority populations, made the journey to the border and across an arduous one, and even on the other side, the refugees often had no place to stay.

Thousands of refugees had to live in ramshackle camps for years and faced lack of food and other amenities, with the camps eventually becoming the permanent residence for many, as the tents turned into houses.

Meanwhile those who did not decide to migrate at first, witnessed their houses being burned or razed to the ground by the majority as mobs went on rampage, and were forced to flee at the risk of their lives.

Facing widespread sexual violence and rapes, many families chose to kill their own women members, thinking “this was better for them,” said Desai, adding that “at least 2 million women were abducted and raped and many, many children went missing.”

Amol Swani witnessed the violence and threats faced by Hindus in an area that became part of Pakistan after the division, and her testimony has been recorded and displayed in a brief video at the museum.

“One day we heard, near the doors of our house that a Muslim leader, Mullah Manki, was coming. (…) My father came upstairs with a can of petrol and matchsticks in his hands. He said, ‘if anything happens, you set fire to your yourselves’ and handed them to my mother,” the women said while breaking into tears.

The Kashmir conflict, which symbolizes the continuing dispute between India and Pakistan since the partition, can also be traced back to the problematic division plan made by the British before their departure.

The region was a princely state at the time of the partition, and the king of Kashmir had the choice to choose which country to annex his kingdom with, but his Hindu faith was at loggerheads with the wishes of the Muslim majority population.

As he decided to accede to India, Pakistan intervened militarily and triggered a war that continued for 18 months and displaced millions, analyst and a former history professor at Harvard University, Siddiq Walid, told EFE.

“(The impact of partition) has resulted in traumatic political and economic uncertainty for the peoples of the Jammu and Kashmir State for 75 years. And it has been lasting because, if truth be told, the conflicted dispute has delayed development in South Asia, a region which is home to more than a quarter of the world’s population,” he said.

The 1948 war in the region sowed the seeds for subsequent conflicts between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and divided hundreds of families on opposite sides of the Line of Control, the de-facto border between the two sides.

A family from India-administered Kashmir told EFE that a member of their family had fled to the Pakistan-controlled side at the age of 20, and they had never been able to reunite with him, only getting to know later that he had left a family behind on the other side before his death. EFE


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