New Delhi, Feb 24: The Partition of the Subcontinent remains a traumatic experience for its victims as well as continues to poison relations between India and Pakistan and Hindus and Muslims but its toxicity is also due to several misconceptions that persist and not seeing it in a wider, contemporary perspective, says British historian Yasmin Khan. “What information we have (about the Partition in 1947) is through family stories, cliches... but when you read the scholarship on it, there is a different view. Among the misconceptions is the conflating of the demand for Pakistan with the violence that was seen,” Khan, an associate professor of history at Oxford University, told IANS in an interview.
“The demand for Pakistan was not a call for a violent carge... if you take the case of Muslims’ displacement only, it nearly wrecked the Pakistan project. “But both these issues have been linked, virtually fused together, thus making the demand offensive and upsetting with consequences that are well known. “Disentangling both (the demand for Pakistan and the violence that accompanied Partition) is difficult but important,” maintains Khan, whose debut work “The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan” (2007) makes a compelling case that while there was both wide support - and opposition - to Partition, virtually no one had any understanding of what it would entail or what its results would be.
The author, who was in India to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival, also notes that the leaders on both sides were shocked by the level of violence and tried to take steps to curb it, but it is also important to remember that they were also human and faced many pressures and compulsions that prevented them from reaching any compromise solution, despite several opportunities. “The Cabinet Mission Plan (of 1945, recommending a loose confederation) was one,” she said.
Khan says it is also important that Partition should be seen in the “broader” intertiol context of the late 1940s, as the Second World War had ended recently, most of Europe was in ruins, with colonial powers themselves having sustained heavy damage and expenses and there were refugees all over Europe and Asia - as well as a large number of returning, demobilised soldiers. This was the milieu in which moves towards decolonisation were initiated, but colonial powers like Britain in the case of India were themselves weakened and in a hurry to transfer power, she said.
“The focus for the British government was rebuilding the country... setting up the British welfare state, and there was a strong inclition to reduce the Empire’s commitments and bring soldiers home,” said Khan. The situation in Palestine, also ruled by the British and seeing similar tension between two religious communities, also had many “commolities” with the situation in the subcontinent, she said. (ians)