Will we ever put Partition behind us?


New Delhi, July 3 I”m a child of Partition, being born five years after the event but never in all the years that my parents were alive did I ever hear them speak nostalgically about Hyderabad or Karachi, the citiies they were born in, studied in and began their careers. I was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) and have lived in New Delhi for 60 of my 66 years but have no sense of belonging to either city.

So, what”s the point I”m trying to make? Would things have been different had Partition not occurred? Would I have been better off in Karachi? Hard to say, but at least I”d have been on my own land, not hemmed in by individuals across the spectrum who have gravitated to New Delhi by virtue of it being the national capital.


But then, we Sindhis have always been a resilient race – moving on instead of harkening to the past. And so it is with the Punjabis, the worst affected by Partition, who might ocassionally talk about the stories of Lahore and Rawalpindi they have heard from their elders. And Bengali migrants were only to happy to live on South Delhi”s EPDP (East Pakistan Displaced Persons) till it was renamed Chittaranjan Park. Everyone has moved on.

Thus, it was with a certain sense of trepidation that I approached “Looking Back – The 1947 Partition of India 70 Years On” (Orient Black Swan), first published in 2017 and reprinted this year – only to face familiar reruns.

“The Holocaust and the Partition, even after 70 years, have not become settled issues of the past,” Margit Koves, a visiting Assistant Professor at Delhi University”s Department of Slavonic and Finno-Ugrian Studies, writes in an essay titled “Photo-framed Installations – Second the Third Generation Narratives about the Partition and the Holocaust”.

Even though the generation which was immediate witness to the Holocaust and the Partition “has mostly passed away, these events affect us in some way or the other and force us time and again to rethink out basic notions of victimhood, trauma and memory,” Koves writes

Why bring the Holocaust into this? Condemnable as it was, why link it to Partition, given the absolutely different circumstances of the two events?

“Looking back, but not in anger,” asks Tarun K. Saint, a former Assistant Professor in English at Delhi University”s Hindu College, and one of the three co-editors of the book along with Rakhshanda Jalil and Debjani Sengupta.

“Is it really possible after seventy years to engage in a dispassionate stocktaking to the events of 1947-48? For years, selective historicisation and holes in collective memory on both sides of the border (often as a result of nationalist pressures to forge the memory of the past in predictable ways) have impeded the process of coming to terms with the pain and suffering experienced by many during the Partition and after?

“Nevertheless, over the last 20 years, especially after the fiftieth anniversary of Independence-Partition, an incremental resistance has taken shape to the censorship and sideline of the collective violence that took place at the time,” Saint writes in the Introduction.

And what of Bengal?

Noting that the 1947 Partition of Bengal is “significantly different in its aftermath in comparison with the sudden cataclysmic division in Punjab”, Sengupta, an Associate Professor of English at Delhi University”s Indraprastha College for Women, says the writings that emerged were “varied and multifarious”.

“The Bangla literature that is based on the experiences of Partition is therefore varied and multifarious in its responses to 1947, not simply as an event, but as a metaphor or a trauma or a site of articulation for people living through or resisting communal polarisation , migration, rehabilitation and resettlement in diverse geographical sites,” Sengupta writes.

At the other end of the spectrum, says writer, critic and literary historian Jalil, the generation of Urdu writers most affected by the events of 1947-48 “did indeed show a bloodcurling predilection for focussing on the communal violence that spiralled out of the Partition”.

In other words, whipping up a frenzy rather than appealing for calm.

History does need to examine wars, electoral losses, business debacles and the crash of stock markets to name just four – for the lessons learnt and the corrective measnures that need to be taken. But what gain is there from the constant rewinding of the Partition story? Isn”t it time to put this behind us?


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