The Partition of India in 1947

The importance of international borders can not be overstated. Despite predictions that the combined forces of globalization would undermine the importance and political meaning of borders, the territorially-defined state remains the world’s predominant form of political organization. As multi-national empires/states collapse, much of the violence that ensues is the result of efforts to draw and redraw what had once been internal borders. Here is a fascinating documentary about the partition of the Indian sub-continent, into India and Pakistan. The narrator observes:

As a British barrister draws a line on a map, the once peaceful land implodes. People are forced out of the villages they have lived in for generations. Fifteen million scramble to be on the right side of the border. At least one million die in the process.



2 thoughts on “The Partition of India in 1947

  1. It’s very interesting to think about the concept of ethnic identity as an entity that is constantly changing, not fixed, especially in the context of the India/Pakistan partition. Regardless of the fact that Jinnah’s conception of a nation for Muslim’s was such an appealing idea to the Muslim’s of India, the fact remains that a new “ethnic” identity was formed, and no one was sure what being a Pakistani actually entailed. Both my grandfathers and one of my grandmothers migrated from Uttar Pardesh in India (Lucknow specifically) to Karachi, Pakistan, during the partition. Their previous generations considered themselves Indian, and now they had to give themselves over to this new “Pakistani” identity. I myself have never considered myself a “muhajir” but as ethnic identity becomes an increasingly contentious subject, I find if I identify myself as just a “Pakistani”, that is not enough. People respond with, “well I’m a Pathan-Pakistani, what are you?” I recall the first time I asked my father what I was supposed to say to respond, because I wasn’t aware I had another identity. I didn’t know what a “muhajir” was and that it was an identity, and initially I found it odd that my descendants were Indian, those same people who in school I was taught were my enemies. My grandfather was an admiral in the Pakistani Navy, fighting those very forces (in two of the wars with India) who he used to associate with. For me, since learning more about ethnic identity and construction of this identity, I really wonder whether it’s just something that is sporadically important? A lot of us aren’t aware of our identities until we are told about them, and many more are able to forsake their ethnic identity and take on another one almost as if it was like changing clothing. Can something so ephemeral really matter? Clearly it does, but should it?

    • I think you bring up a really good point here. I also find it really interesting how ethnic identity is often in a constant state of flux, whether it be the nature of ethnicity that is changing or the degree to which people attach themselves to it. It is also hard for me to to grasp the fact that people can react so violently to defend their ethnic identity despite it often changing over time. I guess it is particularly hard for me to understand, since I am third generation Canadian and have no strong attachment to any ethnic group…unless you count “Canadian” and I’m not quite sure what that means other than my citizenship.
      When I read this, I was reminded of the Maalouf article we looked at on the the class of IS 309. I think Maalouf mentioned that even though everyone has many different allegiances that form their identity, sometimes those loyalties come in conflict and people are pressed or ordered to take a side or reduce their identity to one affiliation. Almost like you feeling that saying “Pakistani” is not enough, and that you need to be more specific in your response. And the fact that you weren’t even aware of this other identity and felt you had to ask you father what you should say, to me, shows how often it is the influence of others that essentially determines what our affiliation to a given group is. An example from Maalouf’s book that stuck with me was the one about the 50 year old man in Sarajevo who at different times in his life went from proudly saying he was Yugoslavian, and then Muslim and now Bosnian first but also Muslim. The partition of India seemed to have led to similar evolution of identity of people now residing in Pakistan.
      The more we learn about ethnic identity in this class, the more it seems there’s almost always a political issue and historical context that determines the identities people hold and how much value is placed on each. I think it is the particular context that can also, to some degree, explain the scope or extent to which different identities can come into conflict.

Comments are closed.