The Partition of the Indian subcontinent was one of the major upheavals of the 20th Century, resulting in large scale riots, killings and displacements of millions on both sides of the newly drawn borders. It continues to be a festering wound in normalising ties between India and Pakistan, even 70 years on.
In Narratives of Partition; Partitioned Narratives , held recently at Atta Galatta, stories and conversations dealing with partition and its aftermath were presented by Deeptha Vivekanand and Nisha Abdulla, who started with an oral rendition of Saadat Hasan Manto famous short story, Thoba Tek Singh , a tale of mental asylum inmates caught up in the partition mess. Anil Sethi, a historian and Professor of History and History Education, Azim Premji University, read out three stories from the Class 12 NCERT textbook that covers partition and its aftermath.
In a discussion post the reading, Sethi says, “Partition was very sudden and it was only in the last 10 years of the Raj that the idea of two nations came to the fore. This was the reason for most of the issues. I do not think any of the politicians imagined that an exchange of people would happen on a large scale. Many people and politicians believed that partition would be in nomenclature alone, with people from both sides being able to cross the border easily. Some even imagined that Mohammad Ali Jinnah could stay in Bombay (Mumbai) and commute to Karachi every day.”
He adds, “Some scholars see Partition as a culmination of a communal politics that started developing in the opening decades of the 20th Century. They suggest that separate electorates for Muslims, created by the colonial government in 1909 shaped the nature of communal politics. I do not buy that argument. Reserved constituencies have existed in India since independence, though it has not spurred talk of a partition.”
Sethi says, “It was pushed through quickly by the Raj and accepted by the principal players including the Congress and the Muslim League, barring Gandhi and Gaffar Khan. Gandhi was against the idea of partition from the start. The Congress’ refusal to admit the Muslim League into government in 1937 and some controversial policies also paved the way for the idea of Pakistan to flourish. It is unfair to blame Jinnah and the Muslim League alone. The final break happened when both sides rejected the idea of a confederation with a weak centre and strong provinces.”
Gandhi played an important role in bringing down frayed tempers in Bengal.
“It was arguably one of his finest moments, when he toured violence hit villages and ensured that communal tensions come down tremendously. His role at this juncture has not been analysed.”