Remembering Partition

August 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the partition of India – and Dr Yasmin Khan, Associate Professor in History and author of the book The Great Partition: the making of India and Pakistan, has been much in demand as partition commemorations struggled to make sense of one of the worst humanitarian crises in living memory.

A day school, Partition and the Making of India and Pakistan: Seventy Years On, will take place Saturday 4 November at Rewley House in Oxford.

Seventy years on

On 15 August 1947, Britain gave up its Indian Empire, and partitioned it into two independent countries, India and Pakistan. But astonishingly, one week prior to this date, the British had yet to announce where the border would be drawn.

‘The British did not announce the border until after Independence,’ said Dr Khan. ‘Everyone knew that the borderline would be contentious and cause more violence, and so the celebration of Independence Day was prioritised.’

During that final week prior to 15 August 1947, one of the biggest migrations in human history got underway. Families were torn apart, cities decimated. Some 12 million refugees fled their homes and up to a million died.

Writing in The Guardian earlier this month, Dr Khan said ‘The enduring tragedy of partition is that the stories of extreme violence in 1947 have provided fodder to opposing perspectives ever since, and myths have crystallised around the origins of India and Pakistan. As Gandhi put it in the summer of 1947, “Today, religion has become fossilised.”’

The British government had repeatedly delayed granting freedom in the 1930s, when it might have been more amicably achieved. After waiting decades for freedom, this was a moment of intense anxiety and fear, which spiralled into one of the bloodiest events of the 20th century.

Dr Khan said, ‘Lots of people draw parallels with other colonial cases of Partition: in Ireland, Cyprus and the Middle East. Decolonization was very difficult to manage well and we are still living with many of the legacies. In South Asia, for instance, in the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.’

The day school

The November 4th day School Partition and the Making of India and Pakistan: Seventy Years On, features four leading authorities: Dr Ravinder Kaur of the University of Copenhagen, historian and author Alex Von Tunzelmann, Professor Iftikhar H Malik of Bath Spa University, and Dr Andrew Whitehead, Journalist and Historian.

‘We are fortunate to have such a great group of speakers here in November,’ said Dr Khan. 'Andrew Whitehead was a BBC South Asia correspondent and is an authority on Kashmir, Ravinder and Ifthikar are some of the most renowned scholars of the subject of Partition and Alex is a well-known writer and broadcaster who has written on India, South America and the Cold War – most recently she wrote the script for the D-Day movie Churchill – so they will all have contrasting views on 1947 and plenty to say about this historical period.’ 

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Published 11 September 2017