Remembering Partition Essay

Gyanendra Pandey’s book Remembering Partition explores the implications of state-fostered religious cleavages (and the violence stemming from them) during India’s Partition.

In Chapter One, Pandey begins by introducing Partition as “violence, a cataclysm, a world (or worlds) torn apart” that led to a “radical reconstruction of community and history” (7). In describing Partition as a “radical reconstruction,” Pandey accurately captures the scope of the transformation entailed by Partition. Moreover, by using the term “violence,” Pandey emphasizes that Partition was not a peaceful reconstruction of Indian society. (Interestingly, Pandey remarks on Page 13 that the terms used to describe Partition that were encoded into various South Asian languages tended to reflect the violence of the event). Instead, Pandey suggests that we should think of Partition as a type of Indian “civil war,” as it contained a “combination of organized forces on both sides” and a “concerted attempt to wipe out entire populations as enemies” (15).

Moreover, the violence present in “incredible acts of rape, torture, and humiliation” inherent in Partition extends far beyond the policy’s stated purpose of being a “constitutional” and “agreed upon” division of Indian territory (15).

Although Indians of different backgrounds had managed to coexist relatively peacefully before Partition, the lingering effects of British colonialism led to violence and the formation of strong ethnoreligious nationalisms. Although India was now liberated from English rule, divisions between Hindus and Muslims (which had been present under the British Raj) had now grown in significance. “Every liberation in history” Pandey explains, “has come at the establishment of new hierarchies and new kinds of bondage” (19). Though India was now liberated from English rule, a “hierarchy” based on religious (as well as the “bondage” associated with it) became prominent, as Hindus and Muslims maintained differing visions for their newly-founded country.

In Chapter Two, Pandey argues that India’s Partition was comprised of three smaller components (or “partitions”). Pandey’s “first partition” concerns the establishment of Pakistan.  Because India’s Muslims felt increasingly alienated by their country’s Hindu-dominated mainstream politics, they sought to create an independent state uniquely dedicated to fulfilling their needs (Pakistan). Under the leadership of Jinnah’s Muslim League, they articulated this desire under the (paradoxical) slogan “Divide to unite’” (28). In using this slogan, the Muslim League suggested that the capacity for religious self-determination (the focus of Pandey’s “second partition”) could only be obtained through territorial autonomy from India: differences between Hindus and Muslims were irreconcilable through other means. Lastly, through the lens of a “third partition,” Pandey highlights the interreligious violence in the Punjab occurring between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The possibility of peaceful religious coexistence under a unified Indian state had faded away as the gains of any one group were to the detriment of others. As mass migrations of Hindus and Muslims began (and created enormous tensions), “terror and violence” in the form of riots broke out during Partition, killing many.

By separating Indians based on ethnoreligious grounds, Partition sought to establish stability through division. Yet, Partition only served to strengthen ideological tensions as well as foster interreligious violence (instead of trying to create peaceful coexistence under a unified Indian state).


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