TW: Rape, Graphic Language
“Ai ham nafas fasana e Hindustan na pooch, apna gala kharosh e Tarannum se phat gaya; Talwar se bacha, to rang e gul se kat gaya ( o friend, don’t ask me for the tale of Hindustan, our throats were torn by the scratching of our songs. When we escaped the sword, we were beheaded by the veins of the rose) – Josh Malihabadi
The partition was one of the largest examples of mass migration, along with which came extreme forms of gendered violence.
The year was 1947. After more than 200 years of British colonization, India attained its independence on 15 August 1947. However, the happiness of finally attaining freedom after years of struggle was quickly dismantled when independence was accompanied by the partition of the Indian subcontinent into east and West Pakistan and India.
it was the biggest mass migration in the world of about 12 million people, with around 1 million dying in the process and about 75000 women were thought to have been raped, abducted, and killed. In this article, I tried to focus on the issue of “Gendered Violence” in the communal riots with the help of experiences shared by the abducted women during the partition.
From the beginning, there was a large number of people who were crying over their missing daughters and wives either snatched from them or separated in their flight from violence.
Some women died by suicide of their own to keep their “purity” and were later glorified as Martyrs. Urvashi Butalia in “Other Side Of Silence” mentioned the mass suicide in Thoa Khalsa, Rawalpindi, with 90 women jumping in the well. The Statesman in its report also compared this act to the Rajput tradition of Sati.
Through the interview of one of the survivors (Basant Kaur) of the Thoa Khalsa incident, Urvashi Butalia deconstructs the conventional view of women being always perceived as victims in an ethnic conflict. She also said that according to the experiences shared by the women, some of them were forced to die while some of them preferred to do this with their own will.
The sanctuary seekers took shelter in two camps in Delhi, one of the two camps was Purana Qila camp which had not begun as an official establishment, it was an area settled by the injured, ill, aged, Children and women and another camp was the Humayun tomb’s camp. Anis Kidwai in her book “In Freedom’s Shade” mentioned the experiences of several women and one of them was Jan Bi.
There was a young Mewati Ausaf, he had been married only over a year but his wife and two months infant had gone missing. He spent all day searching for them, until he learned that she’d been captured by a Jat named Mitthan, in a house in Bhogal. Mitthan made her toil in the fields all day. Finally, with the help of social workers, she was rescued. In Delhi, the number of recovered women didn’t cross 200.
Even when terrible things are happening between two countries, people can still fall in love; can still have relationships across religions. According to Urvashi Butalia, by the time the rescue team went out and found women who had been abducted, they were already in relationships, coercive or otherwise.
They had children and families, and they didn’t want a second displacement. Many such women said that marriages were abduction anyway. They said, “they would anyway get punished into marriage with men whom they didn’t know and have sex with them, have children“. For them, marriage through abduction was very similar.
In conclusion, it can be said that silence is not the same as forgetfulness. But silence does affect the way we remember partition and the way we talk about partition. There are many things left unsaid, many subjects left untouched. And in this silence, it becomes easier to forget. It becomes easy to forget how modern South Asia came to be, where the root of this communalism began, and what legacy British colonialism has brought to fruition. It is much easy to overlook the violence of partition when no one talks about it.
But if we don’t remember our history, are we doomed to repeat it?