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Remember partition to learn lessons and move on
By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal
Seventy years after the world's bloodiest and most bitter partitions, India and Pakistan continue to live in acrimony as politicians on both sides continue to perpetuate hostility and animosity by stoking the hatred of 1947. Ever since 1947, India and Pakistan have nurtured a deep-rooted mutual animosity. They have fought three wars, one resulting in the second partition and creation of Bangladesh. During the limited Kargil war they came close to a nuclear exchange. Besides several other bilateral disputes the two countries are involved in, the lingering Kashmir dispute with both sides staking their claim to the state and controlling parts of the territory remains the major bone of contention. Kashmir has become the nuclear flash-point and India-Pakistan dispute has the potential of becoming one of the most dangerous ones in the world.

In the last seven decades, both states have displayed a retarded tendency to build their respective narratives around the memories of the gory bloodshed of 1947 and thereafter, the wars. There are no exact numbers of people killed and displaced in 1947, but estimates range from a few hundred thousand to two million killed and more than 10 million displaced. Over these corpses was raised the military discourse, by both the sides, that continues to shape the politics of enmity, mistrust and hatred for the entire South Asian region.

Collective memory plays an essential role in shaping the socio-political future of any community and nation. In the context of the sub-continent, the memory of 1947 is deeply ingrained in the hearts and souls of the two nations, transmuting itself from one generation to another. The problem is not the memory itself but how things are memorialised again and again. Gabriel García Márquez wrote in Love in the Time of Cholera, "……. the heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past." Memory compartments in every mind always have the ability to filter out some part of memory and reserve the rest for posterity.

Sadaat Hassan Manto famously wrote that the tragedy of the partition was not the division of the country into two but the "realization that human beings in both countries were slaves - slaves of bigotry, slaves of religious passions, slaves of animal instincts and barbarity." The same haunting memory of 1947 can thus be invoked to perpetuate hatred and it can also be employed to learn a lesson. It is this choice that determines whether as a collective, South Asians wish to move towards peace or remain soaked and burning in the desire of hatred and hostility. It is important to remember 1947 but equally important to know how to recall that past. There was a past before 1947 - a history of the struggles and resilience of the people, of shared spaces and cultural bondings, a past that is as much an inherited treasure for India as it is for Pakistan or Bangladesh. The collective memory of bloodshed of 1947 cannot be imposed to distort or deny any of the other historical trajectories.

Noted Pakistani writer, Ayesha Jalal, describes partition as "a defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future."

Partition is unforgettable and irreversible but it is important how the memory is preserved so that it serves to bridge divides, not to further fill the gap with a sea of hatred, and paves way for moving ahead. Last year, a woman whose family suffered the pangs of partition opened a museum in Amritsar that serves that end of recalling partition with a positive spirit. The museum is recording and preserving the experiences of those displaced by the partition of India in 1947. It houses oral recordings of personal histories, photographs and paintings, letters and objects that people brought with them when they left their homes. It is just the beginning but the final plan is for seven galleries spread across 16,000 square feet. It will be thematically divided into syncretic Punjab, independence and partition, migration, research, rehabilitation and resettlement and the gallery of hope. A hope tree is the centre-piece of the museum.

The increasing jargon of bellicose rhetoric in the last few years, however, diminishes hopes. The hawkishness of New Delhi and Islamabad is pushing the sub-continent to the brink of war. Even without that, a horrifying saga of ceasefire violations, slain soldiers, displaced and killed border villagers is unfolding. Both countries spend a disproportionate amount on their military expenditure, at the cost of keeping their countries poor and deprived of basic necessities like health care and education. The military focus is necessitated by the strategic insecurity that breeds on the ongoing acrimonious narrative. Ideally, New Delhi and Islamabad should have taken the initiative to turn the tide by initiating a sustained and meaningful dialogue as there is yearning for peace among the people on both sides of the borders.

In this dismal scenario, a glimmer of hope is provided by an ongoing peoples' campaign launched on July 1 in several cities and towns of India and Pakistan under the banner of 'Peace Now & Forever Campaign'. Eminent personalities Admiral Ramdas (former Chief of Indian Navy), Sayeeda Hameed, Tapan Bose, Harsh Mandar, Kamla Bhasin, Asad Iqbal Butt, Anis Haroon and Sheema Kermani are part of the campaign. Apart from signature campaign, invocations for peace and condemnation of the attempts to vitiate the atmosphere in both countries by vested interests, the programs included peace songs, lighting of candles, film festivals, live paintings on partition and performance by musicians.

As the campaign nears its culmination and grand celebration on August 14-15, it has picked up steam. It is unlikely to alter any major policy decisions. Yet it creates hope and generates that tiny space on which dialogue can be built with a people-centric approach. The Berlin wall, after all, fell as there was yearning among Germans living on both sides of it to demolish not just the brick and concrete structure but also the walls of hatred.

News Updated at : Sunday, August 13, 2017
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