Pakistan became a free, sovereign, independent state on August 14, 1947. India became a free, sovereign, and independent state on August 15, 1947. Just one day divided the two joyous declarations. But the months before and after these declarations were filled with massive upheaval and tumult. The British drew the dividing lines between India and West and East Pakistan. (East Pakistan broke away and became an independent nation-Bangladesh--in 1972.)
After drawing the lines, the British left, and the two nascent governments of India and Pakistan were completely unprepared to deal with the fact that this division led to the transfer of 15 million refugees, deaths of 1 million people, riots, murders, looting and rapes on a massive scale. All three communities affected by the Partition, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs participated in unspeakable atrocities on each other (Hindus and Sikhs on one side, Muslims on the other). Trains between Amritsar (on the Indian side) and Lahore (in Pakistan) carrying refugees returned on the other side filled with butchered corpses. As always, this violence was accompanied by sexual savagery, about 75,000 women were abducted and raped by men from religions different from their own.
Both of my parents are from Pakistan and came to India as refugees. While they met and married in Delhi when they were in their twenties; during Partition, my dad was 12 years old and my mom was 9. My dad's family was one of the lucky ones, they escaped in an Indian army convoy before the real bloodshed began, spent a couple of years in a refugee camp, eventually settling down in Delhi in a refugee resettlement colony built by the Indian government. My dad's mother was persuaded to leave the house and all her belongings only when she was told that the move was temporary. She locked up everything very carefully and kept the keys with her all her life. In fact she became a bit obsessive about all keys after that, and an open door made her very nervous throughout her life.
My mom's family did not leave till after the violence erupted. Her grandfather was a city magistrate and they all thought they would be safe. Sadly, however, he was knifed to death when he was returning home from the court. By this time leaving was very difficult and completely unsafe. A few of my mom's aunts and uncles escaped on the trains, hiding in the toilets. Some of them were killed and raped. Eventually one of her uncles chartered a private plane and flew them to safety. They had a much harder time settling again; the refugee camps were all full, so they stayed with friends of family and other family members (who had always been in India) for 4-6 years, before they were able to afford to rent a place for themselves.
In 2002 in the state of Gujarat, under Chief Minister (sort of like a Governor of a state in US) Narendra Modi, there were systematic riots against the Muslims in the state. 2000 Muslims were killed, women were raped and killed, Muslim children were burnt alive, and of course widespread looting and destruction of Muslim properties. The savagery was unbelievable. Not only did Mr. Modi do nothing to stop the violence but various credible sources have suggested that he instigated and directed the rioters. Mr. Modi belongs to the BJP (a right-wing Hindu nationalist party). Because of his complicity in the riots he has been refused a visa to the US.
Now however, he is contesting national elections, and if his party wins, which is widely believed to be the case, Mr. Modi will become the next Prime Minister of India, and US has indicated that he will be given a visa if he does win. The idea of this man becoming the next Prime Minister of India fills me with dread. Indian institutions, such as the judiciary or the press have proven completely unable to deal with inter-communal violence that periodically convulses the state. None of the chief perpetrators of such violence have ever been convicted and punished appropriately. The press happily gives them a pass. The weakness of these institutions means that when (there is little 'if' about it) Mr. Modi becomes the Prime Minister, there will be very little resistance to his communal policies.
Sorry to inflict this on you this Saturday; it has been much on my mind and I wanted to share with you all.
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