By Iffat Ikram
British Rule in the greater part of the Indian Subcontinent saw a rapid rise in the 19th century. Defeating the redoubtable Indian ruler, Tipu Sultan, the British established Colonization, or “British Raj” as the locals called it, in India. Like many countries, colonialism was traumatizing for India in many ways. Along with poverty, malnutrition, and economic exploitation, there was a huge cultural upheaval and creation of social and racial hierarchy and inferiority.
In 1939, the British took India to participate in the war without consultation, causing backlash from rising nationalists. The Indian National Congress led this backlash, which resulted in the imprisonment of revolutionary figures like Gandhi, Nehru, and thousands of other Congress members. However, this was not where the struggle for independence had begun, the struggle began more than 80 years before this backlash.
The first uprising began in 1857 when the ‘sepoys,’ as the soldiers were called, revolted against the colonial rulers, whose religious sentiments were hurt when being asked to use cartridges greased with cow and pig fat, whose covering had to be stripped out by biting with the mouth before using them in rifles. This revolt, however, was controlled by the British within a year but it paved the way for future revolutionaries to revolt against the colonial rulers.
A new awakening was marked in the Indian Independence movement with the launch of the Non-Cooperation Movement by the Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji came to this conclusion after the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, where he realized that there was no prospect of fair treatment.
What was the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre? ‘Bagh’ is the Hindi word for a garden, and the Jallianwala Bagh was just another garden in Amritsar, Punjab, but this name became famous for one of the most ruthless massacres that happened in the history of humanity. On the 13th of April, 1919, a peaceful crowd had gathered in this garden to protest the arrest of two leaders of the independent struggle: Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal. The peaceful crowd was trapped in the garden when General Dyer walked in with his troops and closed the only exit of the garden. Without any warning, the troops open-fired on the crowd for several rounds until they ran out of ammunition. Though it is unclear to say exactly how many people died in this brutal incident, reports say that near about 400 people died that day.
The outrage of the Indians grew when news about the massacre spread across the country. The Jallianwala Bagh is now one of the historical sites that people visit when they explore India.
Muslims were India’s biggest minorities under British Rule. The Muslims who were a part of the Indian National Congress, created their own political party, the All India Muslim League, because they believed that they were not well represented. In the 1945–46 elections, the Muslim League led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah won a majority vote from the Muslims but failed to win the elections. This gave rise to the notion of a separate state for the Muslim minorities, who viewed the idea of Gandhi’s one secular nation with suspicion.
With many revolts, upheavals, and backlashes, the British Raj finally came to an end in 1947 but at the cost of Partition. Lord Mountbatten announced independence, creating two separate nations. Pakistan, as the new nation was called, was separated into its eastern and western frontiers with a 1700 sq. km Indian landmass in between. India celebrated Independence Day on the 15th of August that year, and Pakistan celebrated a day before on the 14th of August.
The partition brought with it a colossal wave of migration. But migration was not the only thing that happened then, there also occurred mass casualties. Millions of people travelled from one province to the other on foot, on bullock-cart or on trains in search of a safe haven. Crimes were committed not just based on religious sentiments but also territorial sentiments. Around two million people died in this movement, some were killed by people from other communities, some were killed by their own families even, and some were killed by disease outbreaks in refugee camps.
However, not all Muslims of British India decided to move to the new formed Pakistan which was unexpected for the Muslim League. Many Muslims wanted to stay in the land where they were born, for whose independence they fought for.
Even to this day, there are riots over the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The state of Jammu and Kashmir lives in domination from both sides of the partition. Muslims in India are still suspected to be loyal to Pakistan, and minorities in Pakistan are still dominated in many instances.
The legacy of this horrific partition still remains in the memories of the survivors. An 8 year old girl during the time of Partition, Sudershana Kumari, shared her experience of the terrifying night of the massacre in an interview with The Washington Post. She explained her traumatizing experience was watching her uncle and his family being killed by men with spears. Kumari floods the pages of her journal with poems, and one of them reads:
“Mind, don’t dwell on things of the past
What do you get from it?
Your eyes will have to cry.
Your eyes will have to stay awake all night.
Your eyes will have to cry.”
The effects of the partition can still be seen around both countries. Muslims still face discrimination in India, and non-Muslims meet intolerance in Pakistan. Taking a look at events that happen around both the countries even now, we can see that we live in the shadow of the partition till date.
However, with the youth becoming more and more aware, there is a hope for the relationship of the countries to mend once more for good. But this hope will only see its light when more and more people start building up empathy, when they promote harmony and love over hatred and for all of these to happen, awareness must be spread.
Here is our effort to spread awareness, we are including some reading material that go deeper into the roots of partitions:
- The Woman’s Courtyard by Khadija Mastur, translated by Daisy Rockwell
- Savage Harvest: Stories of Partition by Mohinder Singh Sarna, translated by Navtej Sarna
- Pinjar by Amrita Pritam, translated by Khushwant Singh
- Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh
Iffat Ikram is a high school sophomore from Assam, India and a blog writer for Youth Upholding Democracy. The views reflected in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Youth Upholding Democracy.