After ruling the subcontinent for almost 200 years, the British left in August 1947. This led to the existence of Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The 1947 partition not only resulted in one of the greatest migrations in human history but also uprooted Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim communities. The abrupt announcement of the partition created a sense of insecurity among the local communities giving birth to a hostile and violent environment. It is worthy of attention that the exact number of casualties that occurred during the whole process of partition is still unknown due to mismanagement and lack of law and order in the two countries. However, according to British Civil Servant Penderel Moon, the figures range between 2,00,000 to 2 million (Talbot and Singh, 62).
As the 1947 partition process started, riots became more violent, and complete chaos broke out across the sub-continent. The sense of insecurity made the communal fault lines more vulnerable. Hindu and Sikh groups attacked Muslims and vice versa. Thousands of Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan but most of them failed to reach their destinations due to severe violent attacks by the Hindu and Sikh community.
In this paper, I will analyze the 1947 partition violence on women, the transition from traditional to communal violence in the newly formed states, and the violence by region in the light of the reading, Violence, and the Partition by Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh. Ion Talbot and Gurharpal Singh explain the different aspects of partition-related violence. The authors provide a detailed insight into the riots supported by historical evidence and figures. They then proceed to explain the possible reasons for such a large-scale violent attack by the communities. One of the main arguments provided by the authors is that the partition-related violence was politically organized and caused greater fear and havoc among the public than the traditional riots. None of the two countries take responsibility for the severity of the riots. Even after the partition, the communities blamed each other rather than focusing on improving the management of the newly formed states. The authors conclude by explaining in detail the political organization and the strategic planning of the violent riots during the 1947 partition.
Women have always been the main target of violent activities throughout the world. The societal expectations and the unequal gender roles leave women as powerless beings in society, making them vulnerable during riots and violent attacks. Moreover, the honor that is associated with women has led to most of the violent killings and suicides. The fact that our society sees women who are raped as a black label to their “honorable families” speaks volumes about the severity of the fear that was instilled in women. Muslim women purposedly jumped into the wells, killed themselves with knives or their brothers and fathers killed them in order to protect the “honor” during the migration of 1947.
The violence against women, accounts of sexual abuse, and its consequences have been witnessed firsthand by my grandparents when they migrated from a small village in Hoshiarpur, India to Faisalabad, Pakistan during partition. The family of my maternal grandmother has faced intense hardship of separation and betrayal. Most of the heartbreaking stories that I grew up listening to revolved around the narrations of how Muslim women jumped into the wells to save their honor and hid their children in the bushes. My maternal grandmother also experienced violence when her father was attacked brutally by the Sikh Community. Her father was on great terms with the Sikhs in his neighborhood and she narrates that he thought his family was safe. But as soon as the riots began, he was attacked, and their family had to migrate immediately. This resulted in leaving all their belongings back in India.
Talbot and Singh throw light on the major differences between the traditional riots and the partition-related violence in both countries. According to the authors, the partition-related violence was not only more brutal and extensive than the traditional one but also it was politically organized (Talbot and Singh, 60). Whereas, the riots were traditional and less organized. The authors provide their arguments in light of the Great Calcutta Killing of August 1946. This can be considered the beginning of the transition which lasted for forty-two months. Talbot and Singh present a well-crafted argument in light of the five distinguishing features. One of the many political dimensions of partition-related violence is ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ which was first observed in the Great Calcutta Killing of 1946. It refers to a genocidal tendency to wipe off the minority group from a certain region.
According to the authors, this was observed again in the August 1947 Punjab violence. The violent attacks on women were also observed for the first time in the Great Calcutta Killing of 1946. Here Talbot and Singh explain the impact of transition by giving an insight into the brutality of the killings against women. The traditional societal values hold domestic spheres honorable and during riots, even today, tend to provide protection to women and children. However, during partition-related riots and attacks, the domestic circle was violated, and women were attacked on a massive scale. Rapes, murders, and torture are a few examples of the severity. In order to keep their honor and their family’s honor intact, 105 Sikh women collectively committed suicide (Talbot and Singh 68). This attack and the violation of traditional values which made women the “chief sufferers” (Talbot and Singh, 68) explains the massive transition and changes in the way women were treated. The Hindu and Muslim communities lived together in the sub-continent for ages and they lived in harmony till the British colonized the sub-continent. The hostility grew among the communities and the riots based on religious reasons became more common.
Even today, in India and Pakistan, religious riots are a common occurrence. Disputes on the sacred places, sacred Quran, sacred Cows, and worship areas have a huge history in the sub-continent. Having said that, the Great Calcutta Killing of 1946 was not based on any religious disputes; it was largely supported by political parties. The participation of political parties in violence was an anomaly. These riots were not a display of the public’s outrageous opinion on conflicting topics but were politically organized and executed. The British rulers created a havoc and panic situation due to their strategic militarization of the riots in the sub-continent.
Another pattern that was observed during the 1947 partition was that the intensity and severity of the violence varied across the regions. Even though the most affected region by violence was Punjab, however, the violent riots were constrained to some parts of the province. One of the few enabling factors of these regional disputes was the unequal distribution of wealth and power. The wealthier regions were more likely to be protected than the slums. The distribution of power is a very crucial factor in determining a region’s violent groups and opposing groups. Having said that, the areas where non-Muslims were in power were more violent than the other parts of the sub-continent. Talbot and Singh provide historical evidence and statistics in support of their arguments. For instance, in Sindh, the non-Muslims compromised almost a quarter of the population and there was utter calm in the weeks after the partition whereas the Punjab and Amritsar were burning in violent riots (Talbot and Singh, 78).
The 1947 partition was a major and life-changing event in the history of India and Pakistan. However, the violence that took place in 1947 was unfortunate. The militarization of violent attacks and strategic violence caused millions of precious lives. The exact figure is still unknown because most of the statistics could not be traced. Even after more than 70 years of partition, India and Pakistan are still on the verge of war and violence. It is time both countries started to look past their differences and helped each other in development projects because the number of casualties suggests that war does not help any nation.
Talbot, Ian, and Singh, Gurharpal. The Partition of India. Cambridge University Press, 2009
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