BOOK REVIEW. Divided Hearts and a Lack of Healing Continue After Seven Decades

Dr. Bhai Harbans Lal

Revisiting India’s Partition:  Essays on Memory, Culture, and Politics. Edited by Amritjit Singh, Nalini Iyer, and Rahul K. Gairola.  Lanham, MD, London, 2016. Price: $110.  xxxvi + 365pp. Order at www.rowman.com.  Discount code LEX30AUTH16 for 30% discount. Inquires/orders at 717-794-3800. Within the US, one may reach the publisher at 800-462-6420.

In August 1947, there was joy and excitement of India’s freedom from colonialism, but it was to be accompanied by the horrors of the country’s partition into India and Pakistan.

QAD73
Figure 1. The Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi smile during talks.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, Chairman of the Boundary Commission, arrived in India on July 8 1947, with instructions to draw up a boundary line between India and Pakistan by August 15, 1947, ignoring his objections to the short time frame. In the Punjab, Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims were living so close to each other that no boundary could divide them without massive disruption, bloodshed, and destruction of valuable assets.

For the Sikhs, it would mean leaving behind their holy places and lands of origin, along with the footprints of their founders.

The Commission had four representatives; two from the Congress and two from the Muslim League, and an observer from the Sikhs. The Sikhs had no credible voice before the commission. However, the disagreement among three nations meant that the final decision was Sir Cyril’s alone.

Mountbatten_announce_award
Figure 2. Lord Mountbatten announces the British Government’s plan for the Partition of India. Photo Courtesy National Archives Islamabad.

Now, when we remember the partition of India, we feel the intense pain of a tragedy. It was the mass killing of over 2 million people besides rendering 15 million homeless. That was an enormous mass of human displacement – a population larger than some West European nations combined, indeed a displaced population that may inhabit more than half of the State of Texas or a little less than half of the State of California.

Indeed, a tragedy of that magnitude, and without precedent, must take some doing to heal. Alas, very little is being done. Seventy years have passed, and we must make an account that the wounds are not healing. The volume I am reviewing exactly narrates that.

Revisiting India’s Partition is a multi-author appraisal of the 70-year old political event turned into a tragedy by inept Indian politicians and short-sighted British rulers.

The senior editor, Amritjit Singh, is the Langston Hughes Professor of English and African American Studies at Ohio University. Singh has well over a dozen books to his credit on African American, Ethnic American, and South Asian topics. He has received many awards for his scholarship and prestigious fellowships. His collaborators—Professor Nalini Iyer of Seattle University and Dr. Rahul K. Gairola of IIT-Roorkee, India—are also well-published scholars.

The book explores the consequences of the Partition in nooks and corners of South Asia. The authors express concern with the continued negative impact of the 1947 tragedy upon all of South Asia today, especially India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  As Singh put it in an interview with the Ohio University Arts and Sciences Forum: “We are still bleeding with daily acts of violence and hatred, still coping with what happened in 1947 and again in 1971. Besides, there continue to occur new tragedies of sectarian violence. Either we are in denial, or we take shelter in a non-stop blame game.”

There are 19 essays on diverse topics ranging from the Northwest of the Indian subcontinent to the Northeast, and from J&K to Hyderabad. They underscore the continued prejudice, violence, and mistrust among groups of people displaced as well as among their newly designated hosts. The unwelcome and unfamiliar faces became sudden neighbors to millions of hosts in the strange lands.

For Singh and his co-editors, this unique interdisciplinary volume aims “to shed new light on how British India’s 1947 partition and its sectarian consequences have had an enduring impact on the peoples of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.” Thus, the volume brings together not only new readings of many literary and film texts associated with the Partition, but it also covers topics never explored in this context.

The unique interdisciplinary volume aims “to shed new light on how British India’s 1947 partition and its sectarian consequences have had an enduring impact on the receiving hosts. ” Thus, the volume brings together not only new readings of many literary and film texts associated with the Partition, but it also covers topics never explored in this context. These topics include Sindh and Sindhis, the challenges of Kashmir, border and refugee issues in the Northeast, the Long Burma March of 1941, the “police action” in Hyderabad and on the post-colonial politics in Pakistan and Bangladesh. It recasts Partition narratives in commercials by Google and Coca-Cola.

Two companion books, LOST HERITAGE: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan and THE QUEST CONTINUES; Lost Heritage – The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan by Amardeep Singh, recently described the irreplaceable Sikh heritage that was all left behind in Pakistan by millions of Sikhs due to the painful partition of India. These books “delved into the vestiges of a community, which was impelled to move eastwards” from the land where the Sikhism was born’ and where the Sikh ancestors flourished between the 15th and 20th centuries.

quest_continued

Cover _lost_heritage)

In the book under review, five sections comprise nineteen chapters. The section titles speak for themselves: I. Approaches to Partition; II. Nations and Narration; III. Borders and Borderlands; IV. From Pakistan to Bangladesh; V. Partitions Within. There is plenty here to mull over. Each reader will find his or her favorite essays.

I was especially impressed by the feminist perspectives offered by Parvinder Mehta in Section I and by Tarun Saint’s analysis of partition memoirs in Section II.  The essays on Sindh, Jammu & Kashmir, the Northeast, and the “the Forgotten Burma March” in Section III highlighted aspects often not deliberated as the shadow of the 1947 Partition. Similarly, the five essays in Section IV on Pakistan (issues of national identity) and Bangladesh (the 1971 massacre of East Pakistani Muslims by the Army) attempt to frame issues surrounding the Partition in new ways.

Poet Kaiser Haq’s essay was exceptionally informative and moving in its commentary on the 1971 tragedy. That tragedy inspired Intizar Husain to write his novel Basti and other writings—the subject of the beautiful essay coauthored by Dr. Tasneem Shahnaaz (Delhi University) and Amritjit Singh. My colleague, Dr. Masood Raja of U of North Texas, introduced the multiple messages of Baazigar—apparently the longest serialized novel in Urdu.

For me, the fifth and final section is especially critical to the goals of the volume under review. This section contains essays by Jeremy Rinker on Banaras, Nazia Akhter on Hyderabad, and Nalini Iyer on South Indian novels on the Partition. It demonstrates that the impact of the Partition has traveled well beyond the areas defined by undivided Punjab and Bengal, the two regions that were directly affected by the Partition violence.

Partition_train_loads

The final section helps us in some ways to understand what happened sadly to Sikhs in North-West India including Delhi in 1984 and to Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Ethnic hatred, greed, and opportunism are diseases that have infected both Pakistan’s and India’s body politic. The book’s message is clear: such repeated cycles of violence are both tragic and dangerous not just for India and Pakistan but all of South Asia.

I wholeheartedly endorse the aims the editors have had in mind. I hope their work will create new conversations and perspectives not just on Partition and South Asian Studies, but also about patterns of violence and unresolved border disputes throughout the world. Like Singh, I too hope that Revisiting India’s Partition will “help combat the erasure of cultural tragedies like genocide and displacement, especially for historically marginalized peoples” throughout the world. We have all been watching the fate of Syrian refugees and Rohingya genocide in recent months. However, the challenges of refugee populations are common in many other parts of the world, including Palestine and Southern Africa.


Send all communications to:

Harbans Lal, Ph.D.; D.Litt (Hons)

Professor Emeritus & Chairman, Dept of Pharmacology & Neurosciences, University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Professor Emeritus, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.
President, Academy of Guru Granth Studies.

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email:   Japji2050@gmail.com


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13 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW. Divided Hearts and a Lack of Healing Continue After Seven Decades

  1. As a child of the Partition, I also experienced the tragedies and horror of the events. I still suffer from the deep scars inflicted by violence, killings, and pain endured from hunger, malnutrition and from scarcity of everyday needs. The biggest tragity of all was the denial of our basic rights including our desire to stay in a land nurtured by our forefathers and founders of our religion, the Sikhs. Some of the most poingent stories are collected by the Partion Project at California’s Stanford University. These new books as reviewd by Dr. Harbans Lal and the partition project oral histories are learning lessons for generations to come. we need more studies like these on this subject. Thank you for focusing on this neglected subject.

  2. Thank you Bhai Sahib Ji for this review and information about this book.
    We, as Sikhs, are still being affected by the Partition. It was an unmitigated disaster from which we are still recovering. We were poorly served by our leaders at that time and subsequently and have not addressed the mistakes made at that time.
    As a minority community we have failed to articulate a coherent vision for the future of the community. Books like this should make us reflect on the past and how we can learn from it. Going forward we will have to build new institutions or revamp the old ones. The present system of corruption and nepotism is a dead end . How are we going to change it to prevent another 1947 ?

      1. There are some major requirements for establishing a creditable university. The first and foremost is the staffing of a well established founding faculty known for their expertise in the subject matter and research potentials. Additionally, a research center of learning and library is a required foundational tool. It can be an online source, and third a functional mission statement on community, national or world service. The Sikh University has a noble mission; however, it needs the most important cement–the faculty for its foundation.

  3. Dear Bhai Sahib Ji Read your very well written reviewDivided Heart I sincerely hope you send it for publicationto Sikh ReviewI was in Gr 8And saw the fear and frustrations of all of us whoops were rendered powerless by the ELITE AND ELECT POLITICIANS EXPECT GANDHI. NOTHING GOT SOLVED SIKHS HINDUS MUSLIMS WERE RUINED DUE TO EGO FUNCTIONING OF NEHRU /JINAH RESULTING INPRESENT TOXIC R S S ATMOSPHERE OF INDIA MUSLIMOF INDIA HAVE BECOME SECOND CLASS CITIZENS IN THEIR OWN country PAKISTANI MUSLIMS ARE ALSO MISERABLE UNDER MILITARY OR FUNDAMENTALIST MUSLIM BUT LOOK AFTER THE POST PARTITION india IT IS NOW BEING AMERICANIZED (THE CHANGE WHICH BRITISHERS COULD NOT BRING ) OTHER COMMUNITIES HAVE GAINED ROOTS BUTSIKH COMMUNITY IN PANJAB PAKISTAN AND ABROAD HAVE BECOME ROOT LESS AND GRADUALLY GETTING DESTROYED BY OUR OWN LEADERS THANKS FOR EVER ENLIGHTENING ARTICLES. REGARDS DR SS SODHI IF HALIFAX NS

  4. Most unfortunate and unnatural partisan of a country but more than that of the people who lived together for centuries and were caught in communal hatred and frenzy, leading to unprecedented blood shed, loss of human life and property and migration of human population leaving every thing most dear to them behind. Sir , thankyou for sharing the pain that at least there must have been some healing of the wounds after 70 years rather than continued mistrust and hatred with dark shadows for the future too. It pains…

  5. A very good review. Books like that are required to preserve history.
    Here is another aspect of Partition which needs urgent attention. ‘ Bloodshed of Our Heritage’. Archaeological Departments dig to find out the old monuments of history. But what about the Modern Monuments of History? They are being ignored mercilessly.
    I have been lobbying for the last many years that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh should mark and preserve the ‘Modern Monuments’ of our history. I even raised this issue in the Rotary Club of Lahore Pakistan. Houses, Buildings, Schools, Colleges and Places associated with the leaders of these 3 countries should be given the status of heritage.
    They should be marked and preserved. The Kothi of Quid-e- Azam in Bombay should be made the museum which should contain all the documents associated with him. Welcome to the village of Nusrat Fateh Ali khan.Welcome to the village of Imran Khan. This is the Kothi of Mr. Zia-ul-Haque President of Pakistan.The coming generations will accuse us of the bloodshed of our heritage.

  6. Instead of Healing the old would of 1947 the Governments dominated by Nehru Gandhi dynasty have Given us much moor deeper wounds in past seventy years reaching the Apex of government tyranny State terrorism in Genocidal attacks on Sikhs beginning in 1984 and continuing. The ONLY difference of then and now is that then it was Religious fanaticism of Hindu & Muslims, and Now it was state Terrorism combined with Hindu Fanaticism.
    Ajit Singh

  7. Thanks Bhai Harbans Lal Jee for this well written Review. I may add that Dr Guneeta Singh Bhalla, a Physicist from UC Berkeley, has created an archive 1947 Partition Archive and recorded 10K interviews, including mine, of persons who experienced the Partition holocaust. The interviews are intended to be part of Oral History to be archived in UC Berkeley & Stanford Universities.

  8. The information provided is priceless. The Punjabi language and culture were the biggest sufferers. The Hindu and Sikh population displaced from the districts of West Punjab were settled in far off Urdu and Hindi speaking areas of UP, Rajasthan, MP and other places. They lost touch with their language, culture and heritage. The first generation stagnated, but the second generation forgot their language and culture and the third generation is totally alien to Punjabi culture.

  9. Thank you, Harbanslal ji bhai for introducing us to this new book. The partition, in fact, was not ,the partition of the land, it was partition of the Subcontinent nation–an orchestrated division between fellow Indians of different religions who had been living together for generations. For personal gratifications of a few selfish leaders, a seed of hatred was sowed and this seed has now become a big tree and it is spreading its branches all over the Subcontinent. Many efforts have been made to ease the tension between the two rival “siblings” and whenever there was any chance of achieving success concerted effort were made to sabotage it. We have seen it again and again. We have to keep trying to invest our energies in building the nation, not killing each other. Woh subah kabhi to aaye gi.

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