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The Partition of India: Times of Violence

  • 13 Jul 2022

A time of sorrow and hardships, mistrust and deaths, the Partition of India will forever be remembered as this.

India’s history is filled with struggles and shackles, throughout its course. The British Raj happened to be one of the biggest shackles that India was in. For 200 long years, the struggle for freedom and complete independence resonated within the walls of our beloved country.

When the First World War ended, the entire world was shaken. Countries were stocking up on rifles and ammunition. The triggering of the Second World War with Hitler's invasion of Poland sparked divisions among the people. Indian freedom fighters realised that the Japanese were advancing toward India, adamant about getting back at the Britishers by conquering their state (India). This led to various movements and rallies to overwhelm the British into leaving India.

After a series of rebellions and strikes, Indians managed to rally and rattle the Britishers enough for them to leave, after the Second World War. However, the Indian Independence Act issued by the Parliament of the UK asked for a partition within India’s borders.

This Partition demanded the division of India into two countries - Pakistan and India.

The British Monarch gave its assent on July 18, 1947, and the Independence Act came into effect on 14th August for Pakistan and 15th August for India.

Little did we know that this joy would be extremely short-lived and more violent than what was called for.

Some say the violence that descended on the day of the independence was because of the hastily drawn borders. Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a Britisher who lacked knowledge about the borders of India was given only five weeks to decide the borders of India and Pakistan. Moreover, some say that the unexpected power handling, almost 8 months earlier than expected, was a reason for the massacre and pillaging that took place in all parts of India. Some also believed that the religious discrimination, or the divide and rule policy of the Britishers led to the downfall of India. The partition only seemed to fuel the fire they had already set.

It caused the forced separation of families, friends and loved neighbours. People and children were torn away from their parents and millions were subjected to unrealized violence. It was a time when death, riots, brutality and violence were at their peak.

Violence During the Partition

In 1947, the partition caused widespread terror and fear among the members of the Indian community. Anyone moving in large crowds or with hoards of their belongings was murdered by men on horses with swords in their hands. Anyone moving in small groups or without any belongings was spared.

Hamida Bano Begum (born in 1936) said, "We heard stories of massacres along the way, but didn’t witness any violence. The one incident I can never forget happened right after we crossed the Ravi River – while walking, we saw in front of us in the distance, a bare leafless tree from which hung the bodies of five dead men.”

During the Partition, it is estimated that 2 million people lost their lives in the communal riots and violence that ensued. Moreover, around 25 million (i.e. 1% of the world’s population) were further displaced with no place to live and find shelter at.

When the Partition was announced, there was anger as well as joy. Neighbourhood riots soon turned out to be very common with armed men attacking innocents.

Who would’ve thought freedom would come at such a great price which innocent people had to pay with their lives?

Violence Against Women

In their paper, “Unveiling the Layers: A Journey into the Covertures of Women Partition Survivors”, published in the Delhi University Journal of Undergraduate Research and Innovation, Neenu Kumar, Punita Gupta and Neena Pandey write, “Partition, as a whole, affected the social lives of everyone. However, it affected the women contrastively. Women were not the ones who were deciding their fate, their killing or living or migrating. Women faced violence at various levels; communal, family and macro levels. They were being abducted, molested, kidnapped, raped, and killed. They were forced to commit suicide in order to protect the ‘family's honour.’ Furthermore, in the name of recovery, they were disowned by their families, and their children were tagged as illegitimate and were deprived of basic rights."

There were approximately 1,00,000 women who were killed and raped, kidnapped and abducted, publicly humiliated and genitally mutilated as a result of the post-partition communal riots. There were instances of women being publicly raped and burned alive as a way of communication between the opposing communities.

Andrew Major, a scholar, noted that the abduction of women in the Gurgaon region near the outskirts of Delhi was regarded as a part of the ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Women from all communities were subjected to public stripping, nude processions and various other derogatory forms of humiliation. They were forced to convert their religions.

Several women jumped into wells and were coerced to kill themselves to ‘protect their honour’ and avoid ‘forcible conversion’. This was just the tip of the iceberg of the terror that was unleashed on women in 1947.

Kamla Bhasin and Ritu Menon wrote a book called “Borders & Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition” mentioning that the count of women who were abducted on their way to Pakistan stands at roughly around 50,000 whereas the count of women who were abducted for trying to migrate back to India stands at 33,000. However, the real number of abductions and atrocities is uncertain as many accounts went missing amidst the Partition.

Women's breasts were branded with religious slogans and signs, their bodies were tattooed without their consent. The abducted women on both sides of the border were turned into domestic slaves and sex workers.

After the Partition of India

The loss and grief were so adverse that the Indian and Pakistani governments agreed to recover their women from the other sides of the border with the Nehru-Liaquat Agreement (1950). Within the first year of this agreement, 9,000 women from India and over 5,000 women from Pakistan were freed. However, the recovery rates eventually decreased.

The Nehru-Liaquat agreement (1950) only worsened the situation of women who were returned to their homeland on both sides of the border. The Hindus and Sikhs refused to take back their women because they were ‘defiled’ and they believed that the number of Muslim women abducted was less than the number of non-Muslim women. They were held as hostages. Moreover, there were numerous instances where women refused to go back to their hometowns in fear of being humiliated or they had already settled in their ‘new homes’.

The recovered women were subjected to humiliation and objectification. Pregnant women were forced to get abortions and leave their children behind. This resulted in thousands of displaced children and mothers. The children born to these women were not considered legitimate and were often put up for adoption without their mother’s consent. Those who adopted the children were often doing so to use those children as domestic labour.

The partition displaced people from their ancestral homes, uprooted their lives and forced them to flee leaving all behind to save their lives. It also caused women to be seen as objects of honour and possession. It fueled the patriarchy and caused disruptions among thousands of families. In the world of loss and heartache, two separate countries arose- Pakistan and India.

Years after this massacre, there are still grandparents meeting their children for the first time and spouses finding each other after long wars. It has become a part of history that we could never be proud of, with blood and destruction at every step of the way. One can only pray that this history never repeats itself and that communal riots don’t see the dawn of light in future.

In the end, these lines by world-renowned poet Nida Fazli which he wrote on his first visit to Pakistan, perfectly capture the essence of the Indo-Pak Partition:

Insaan mein haiwaan yahan bhi hai wahan bhi, Allah nigehbaan yahan bhi hai wahan bhi

Khoonkhaar darindon ke faqat naam alag hain, Shehron mein bayabaan yahan bhi hai wahan bhi.

(The beast within the human is at both places, Allah is the protector in both places,

Only the names of barbarous monsters are different, Wastelands within cities exist in both places).

 Jess Doshi 


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