Wednesday, April 08, 2009
1947: Some Images
Sunil Khilnani memorably called the Partition the "unspoken sadness at the heart of the idea of India" in his book of the same name. Indeed, it is a measure of its abiding importance (and relevance, in terms of understanding so many of the sub-continent's issues today) that most Indians and Pakistanis I know of typically refer to the transfer of power from the British Raj to the two successor states not as "azaadi", "freedom", "independence", but simply as "Partition". That last word testifies not just to an ideological issue, but a human catastrophe, and mass migration (lubricated by ethnic cleansing, forced transfers, and mass rape) on a scale hardly ever seen, whether before or since.
One is reminded of Hannah Arendt's observations on the all too depressing, and familiar, modern phenomenon of refugees, displacement, and statelessness:
After the war it turned out that the Jewish question, which was considered the only insoluble one, was indeed solved — namely, by means of a colonized and then conquered territory — but this solved neither the problem of the minorities nor the stateless. On the contrary, like virtually all other events of our century, the solution of the Jewish question merely produced a new category of refugees, the Arabs, thereby increasing the number of the stateless and rightless by another 700,000 to 800,000 people. And what happened in Palestine within the smallest territory and in terms of hundreds of thousands was then repeated in India on a large scale involving many millions of people. Since the Peace Treaties of 1919 and1920 the refugees and the stateless have attached themselves like a curse to all the newly established states on earth which were created in the image of the nation-state.
The Origins of Totalitarianism, pg. 289.
[Many thanks to sepoy, of Chapati Mystery fame, and to vikschshkhr, for pointing me to the pictures in this post, all by Margaret Bourke-White (and published in LIFE.)]