A Divide That Still Bleeds – Partition Of 1947

I was nowhere near born when the Partition of 1947 happened. Yet, it is a topic that has intrigued me ever since I learnt about it through the mundane pages of my History books that rarely leaked anything beyond crude political facts, dates and timelines. Actually, if I think about it, I had my first tryst with the Partition when I came to know as a child that my ancestors originally belonged to Bangladesh. Till then, it was nothing more to me than a neighbouring country sharing our language and national animal.

As we all know, Punjab and Bengal were the only two provinces hit hard by the blow of Partition. Gruesome riots were fuelled, millions of lives ended quicker than the fictional Red Wedding in “Game Of Thrones” that haunts Gen Y. The reality was far more deplorable than what was depicted in Srijit Mukherjee’s dramatized venture “Rajkahini“. It is almost unbelievable that these two zones have still preserved a secular outlook even with the rest of North India being bamboozled into religious fanaticism.

Most of my idea about the Partition has emerged from the literature of Khushwant Singh, Manto, Ismat Chughtai and a series of Bengali writers. Today, I was reading William Dalrymple’s “City Of Djinns” where he expressed how the aftermath of partition led to the death of elegance and exclusivity of Delhi that the Mughals had so carefully maintained. I realised that Partition is a subject that will find diverse explanations from millions of its survivors.

Like every other Indian, I grew up with an overly-concocted essence of nationalism, with a special inclination towards the national anthem, Indian Army (as depicted by Bollywood) or anything remotely related to ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’. So, at a tender age of seven, when my uncle first revealed my ancestral roots and attributed my origin to another country, I sternly rejected it. It was only when I got verbal confirmation from my grandparents that they were indeed refugees once, that I had to accept the facts half-heartedly.

Over the years, my nationalistic sentiments mellowed and a general interest sprouted to know about their lives before 1947. Picking grains of Muri (puffed rice) from her bowl, I leaned onto my Thamma’s lap, as she shared bits and pieces of her life before she became my grandma.

My grandmother was a little village girl, eldest of so many siblings that it gives you a headache to remember all their names. She spent her days playing, running around, and learning the basic Bengali alphabet when she got a break from housework and looking after her little brothers and sisters. When Partition struck in 1947, all she remembers was the frantic running, the screaming and the blood; before long she lost everything. She endeared and found herself huddled into a large barge that brought her family to Kolkata. For some days, her family lived in temporary refugee shelters that would later turn into the present dingy colonies of South Kolkata. Thankfully, she was too young to endure post-traumatic stress disorder; or maybe it happened at a time when it couldn’t be diagnosed.

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Soon, she was sent off to live with a relative in Kolkata, where she was admitted to a school for a few years, before being married off as a liability. Here, luck favoured her, big time. She found her soulmate. My Thamma and Dadu make the sweetest couple I have ever seen in my life. After a low-key wedding joining two refugee families, the two of them moved into a small town and that hometown is still my peace abode.

My grandparent’s bedroom has a series of old studio photographs. There is one gentleman whose attire resembled my silver screen ideas of the quintessential Bengali zamindar. My father pointed him out to be my great-grandfather. He was a colourful man, as the saying goes in my family. His son, my grandfather, had seen a darker shade of Partition, which I believe, still haunts him at times, even at the age of 94. When the Partition happened, Dadu was a teenager with little understanding of the world. His father, as mentioned before, was indeed a very rich man once. He staked a major chunk of his mortal possessions for fighting a legal battle with another filthy rich landlord over some land dispute. His enormous ego overshadowed his family responsibilities. Inevitably, he was ripped off his proud wealth. Amidst this calamity, the Partition happened.

Dadu is a self-made man. He didn’t share much with me about the Partition, his words mostly resonated around how hard he had worked to recover from nothingness into a decent livelihood. And kudos to that man.

From childhood, I have seen my grandparents avoid meat. Weirdly, they categorized onions and garlic as non-vegetarian. I never got a satisfactory explanation behind this. It was not until a few days ago that I realised that these foods feature heavily in the Islamic cuisine. Despite teaching their children the basic tenets of secularity, my Thamma and Dadu could never really forget the horrors of religious riots. Hence, their small revolt lay within their food habits that changed overnight.

Today any Bengali would find the terms Ghoti and Bangal familiar. To the non-Bengali readers, Ghoti refers to the ‘original’ inhabitants of West Bengal and Bangals are the refugees who poured in from beyond the partitioned borders, bringing a different dialect, a rural-based culture and palate. The Ghoti-Bangal pseudo-rivalry goes a long way, ranging from Ilish-Chingri (Hilsa vs Tiger Prawns) to East Bengal-Mohanbagan (football clubs).

When I was a child, these differences were subtle and suited a lazy Sunday evening Adda (gathering). But, recently I have started to spot derogatory posts on social media with each group trying to throw insensible muck on the other. Needless to say, the creators of these memes are born and fed on the Indian soil. They have zero traces of the elegant nineteenth-century Kolkata or a scarring partition in their bones. This pains me. A former friend of mine used to taunt me for carrying the blood of “refugees” – since he believed himself to be a notch better from me just because his ancestors could afford more Posto (poppy) in their food, while mine survived days in makeshift tents, cooking leafy greens growing in shady bushes. No wonder he is a “former” friend.

Partition is a scar that still bleeds in the heart of the limited number of survivors. It is a memory more painful than your breakup. It is an emotion more tragic than you not being able to buy an iPhone X. It is a shadow darker than the god-awful jokes you share on Facebook terming as dark humour. So I send out an appeal – do not mock it, please.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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