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India-Pakistan Partition: An Indian perspective

India-Pakistan Partition: An Indian perspective
From Al Jazeera - August 12, 2017

Seventy years have passedsince the partition of India and Pakistan. But its imprint on my life and how I think persists, taking different forms as time moves on.

Strangely, I do not think it bothered me so much when I was young and its memory was fresher. My parents had lost everything, but they rarely wanted to talk about the break the partition had caused in their lives. That was the general mood during the 1950s.

The partition must have cast a shadow overJawaharalNehru, the then Indian prime minister, and his government as well.But national reconstruction was all that we, the children of that era, heard about. Our nation-building was focused on the distant future and did not include teaching the young about the then-recent history of our country.

Filmmakers and song writers had spotted the great value of neighbourly hostility and suspicion. Bollywood picked up the idea of "gaddars" (the unfaithfuls) and continues to cash in on it. So, when war broke out with Pakistan in 1965, nobody was supposed to be surprised or upset.

Endangered liberal values

Our countries' post-independence histories are mutually ignored, while the partition is no more than a memory poster, featuring gory details and little else. Understanding it and moving beyond it is nobody's priority.

Neither the leftist nor the rightist view permits you to accept the partition. In neither Punjab nor Bengal - two states directly and brutally affected by the partition - is the history of it taught in schools in any depth. In other states, it has been reduced to a piece of information passed from one generation to the next, with a bunch of statistics about rapes and murders.

In Pakistan, school children are taught about the thousand-year-old roots of the partition and how Indian leaders tried to stop Pakistan from being born. A flat narrative centred on the inevitability of the partition is followed by melodramatic stories of wars with India and the sacrifices Pakistan made to protect itself.

Children studying in high-end elite schools have the advantage of better-quality textbooks, so are somewhat protected from the heady brew served to those attending government schools. Joint declarations were made in the early days of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) about the importance of examining textbooks, but no major effort has been made in that regard.

As Pakistani researcher, author and columnist Rubina Saigol has shown in her work, the nationalist fervour instilled in Pakistani schools is imbued with masculine militarism.

Until recently, India has done better in shaping its nationalism around the humanist vision of the writer, composer and artist Rabindranath Tagore, who condemned political nationalism worldwide.

But in some parts of the country, that ethos is changing. Of late, it has changed a great deal in the north. Attempts to imbue nationalism with militaristic fervour are currently in fashion. One example is the decision by M Jagadesh Kumar, the vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru Universty (JNU), to install a tank on the campus. He argues that it will enable students to overcome the effects of the critical pedagogy they have been subjected to for years.

The idea of displaying an old battle tank at JNU sits well with the current wave of majoritarian politics. It is the outcome of many decades of propaganda against secular liberalism.

This is not the first time that Hindu majoritarian ideology has met political success. But each time it regains dominance, it triggers anxiety about the future of liberal values like tolerance for diversity and minority rights.

Moral objectivity

The partition remains relevant as a moral reference point in popular memory in India and Pakistan. It enables each to essentialise and stereotype the other.

The images of the two fit nicely together, thereby keeping both stuck in the past.

Moving on from the past

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