The Partition of India in 1947 marked the birth of two modern nation-states and the end of British colonialism in South Asia. The move towards the ‘two nation solution’ was accompanied by an unprecedented mass migration (over twelve million people) to and from areas that would become India and Pakistan. It was the defining event of modern independent India and Pakistan, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that Partition continues to be the defining event of modern India and Pakistan. Partition narratives have shown us that the experience of partition still influences in producing a certain temper of mind, a certain way of thinking and feeling about contemporary events and their relation to the past and the future. Even the literary narratives, whether in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali or Punjabi, are an eloquent witness to ‘an unspeakable and inarticulatable history’. Evoking the sufferings of the innocent, whose pain is more universal and ultimately a vehicle of more honest reconciliation than political discourse, they provide a framework for developing an alternative discourse on inter-community relations. The consensus generally seems to focus on a particular point of criticism: that historians have primarily dealt with describing the Partition in terms of facts and figures, and have been unable to capture its impact on the lives of ordinary people.
If we hop around the city of Delhi, talking to refugees, we find many contrasting and striking revelations about the perceived notions of human behavior and how we, after several decades of partition emulate the thought processes of the people involved and affected by the event. The most striking of all findings on conducting these interviews was the almost hypnotic transformation of people who were friends since ages into blood spilling mobsters and when people from opposite sects of religion helping during the most unexpected of times and people also flipping out when help was most required. Another rare yet contrasting reality that was unearthed by this initiative was that not everyone had to go through emotional trauma and physical hardships during this chaos and there were some isolated pockets where the violence was not widespread and sanity prevailed.
Another noteworthy aspect was that the Indian Government post partition did everything from registering them into a database and allocating special areas to refugee families coupled with special fields and job opportunities to help them prosper and flourish economically. Even though migration was mainly due to emotional trauma and social hardships that these families faced but a very small fraction of families based their decision solely on personal choice rather than any hardship socially or economically.
During the course of our interviews we learnt new realities. The predominant refugees, have in fact had a significant amount of power in shaping the politics and culture of New Delhi. Half a century has blurred the categories of ‘refugees’ and ‘residents’, more so when the ‘refugees’ have come to dominate most facets of the city from business, politics, media, to artistic and literary expressions.
And here I would like to quote an excerpt from the interview of late Shri P.P. Chander Juneja, who expired two months back and was a refugee from Gujranwala. He said,” Refugees are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle, or zoos but people who want to live respectfully.”