Trigger Warning: This article mentions sexual assault and violence.
I can compel you to attend, but I can never compel you to listen until you heed my words with your own free will.
A rabble-rouser is successful only when you allow him to exploit your insecurities.
August 15th is one of the most recognizable days in the history of the Indian subcontinent. Sadly, it also coincides with the darkest day in modern history, one of the first horrific episodes of ethnic cleansing in the documented history of the world: Partition Of India. The unprecedented events that have marred the history, present and future of the Indian subcontinent.
Expended from World War II and consequently unable to handle the increased pressure of demand for immediate and complete independence, the British decide to withdraw its presence from India as soon as possible.
Amidst the political power struggle and haste of getting independence, loosened Administrative lines were etched, dividing India into two states based on religious identity. Religious inclination was now to become nationality for people: a Hindu majority state and a Muslim majority state. As communal tensions increased, an outbreak of riots in various parts of the country such as Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1946, killing 4000 people, further fuelled the propaganda of separate states.
The events that followed saw the exodus of millions of people in the documented history of the world. Despite the lack of proper transcripts or documentation, it is estimated that a total of 12 million people were uprooted from their ancestral lands on either side and forced to make the journey to the other side of the borders.
When the British finally handed the freedom to India, they did not want to waste resources to maintain proper administration and accord during the movement of people. Instantly, 12 million became refugees in their own country. Increasing communal tensions broke past the barrier of sanity and gave way to macabre and madness. What could have been the biggest triumph of liberal ideology against the colonial raj was shadowed by the pogroms that engulfed the entire nation in a rage. It is estimated that about 2-3 million perished, and 100,000 women were raped and abducted.
The British forces were given orders to abstain from getting involved in the fight. They were reluctant to maintain law and order in the country. The state of Punjab suffered the worst. Not even children or pregnant women were spared. Their stomachs were cut, and unborns were ripped from the belly. Raped, tortured, decapitated and burnt.
Generations of ancestral inter-religious culture and heritage lost.
I am not a pessimist. I understand the importance of independence and the long struggle that led to its success. But the grotesque outcome that followed would make even the most indifferent to shed a tear.
The whole episode is now buried under the history books. But did we learn from it? Nothing, it seems it only gave an excuse to the next generation for further bloodshed in the name of religion in 1984 and 2002 Gujarat, 1992 Bombay, and many more. The unfortunate thing is that we are still the slaves of our religious identity. We still pester the scars of the bloody legacy of our grandparents.
How often and for how long we will get provoked by the demagogues of the society whose only aim is to ‘Divide and Conquer’ as the Brits?
Even more surprising and shameful is the utter negligence towards the story of victims for an ostentatious display of military prowess on 15th August every year. To add to the insult, there are no detailed lessons in the school curriculum to teach the children about the partition—no erected monuments in the memory of the victims. There is not so much as an acknowledgement towards the victims of the frenzy.
There have been only recent scarce attempts to provide reparations or to record testimonies of those who faced the horrific tragedy. It is as fearful as it is painful to think that in the next 5–10 years, the plight of an entire generation would disappear without uttering their words. While we pretend to be an ostrich with its head buried in the writings of religious scriptures and look towards the sky for blessings from an invisible saviour, the testimonials of the living creatures with the most useful moral lessons for our progeny would go into the ground without making a sound.
The questions that I ask and try to find the answers are:
Are the lessons truly gone forever?
Are we or are we not still carrying the burdens of our grandparents?
And where does this hatred come from?
We preach cultural and traditional values as building blocks of our society when an entire history of religiously intertwined traditions lie beneath the corpses of millions of innocents because of insecurity and inability to adapt to the changes. We may carry the blood of the ancestors, but we are not supposed to be bound to the same manacles that entangled them.
It is not wrong to celebrate the Independence Day, but it is sad not to take a moment of your thoughts to heed the voices of those who perished in the madness of the aftermath and learn from them the importance of freedom—not only from invaders but also emancipation from false ideologies that separate people.