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The Great Partition: The Making of India and…
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The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (original 2007; edition 2008)

by Yasmin Khan

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Member:marfec2012
Title:The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan
Authors:Yasmin Khan
Info:Yale University Press (2008), Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Read Non-Fiction
Rating:***1/2
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The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan by Yasmin Khan (2007)

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Painful Beginnings

There are so many ways in which this story can be told, the truth, is often not one of them. Because the truth is too painful and too hard to imagine, because the truth doesn't give us hope in humanity. In "The Great Partition", Yasmin Khan takes us as close to the truth about this most tragic chapter in the history of South Asia as we will probably ever get. It is on the surface a simple story about post-WWII decolonization and the birth of two modern nation-states that tragically descended into a catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions.

The story of the Partition of India and Pakistan is unfortunately not a new one. There were several historical precedents that all had been marked by tragic consequences, such as the mass migrations between Greece and Turkey following WWI, or the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Turkey, also following WWI. Which makes this exercise all the more tragic, knowing that history was being repeated.

Partition was not the first solution presented in their liberation from the British Raj. Khan's book is especially strong in describing those meetings between the British officials (Mountbatten), Muslim League (Jinnah), and the National Congress (Nehru) in the months before 1947. However, this initial proposal of an Indian federation didn't last long and Khan's interpretation is that all sides agreed to Partition as the "easy way out". It is perhaps useless now to think what if, but still one has to wonder if there was an alternative to the eventual solution that resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands.

The story of Partition is a lesson in how not to delineate territorial borders. Much like how the protagonists at the Paris 1919 peace conference arbitrarily carved up nation-states, the Partition of the province of Punjab in particular was an exercise in ignorance. Communities cut off from pilgrimage sites, factories divorced from their source of raw materials. The rush by British colonial administrators to make an expeditious exit is mostly to blame here which Khan describes as the "unforgiving calculus of Partition" (p.127).

It is the tragic irony that in the end, it took the shock of Gandhi's assassination which "immediately helped to stabilize and enforce national feeling and undoubtedly gave ascendancy to secular policy" (p.180).

What makes this story so important is it's lasting consequences. Khan writes: "The permanent separation of Indians and Pakistanis from each other, and their inability to cross the new border, was the most long-lasting and divisive aspect of Partition" (p.194). Families ripped apart, lives forever shattered.

In reading "The Great Partition", that familiar but dangerous theme of ethnic nationalism rears its ugly head. People didn't all of a sudden decide to kill, torture and rape their neighbors, they were coaxed into doing it. A deadly mixture of demagogue leadership and paranoid xenophobia drove good decent people into hysteria, turning them into the most heinous criminals. It's the "Lord of the Flies" theory.

Anyone who wants to learn more about modern history of South Asia should read this book. Khan, Professor at University of London, herself a product of and a generation or 2 removed from Partition has managed to weave together the tragic personal narratives with interpretations of primary source documents of the political leaders to produce a highly nuanced and insightful monograph of this monumental event. ( )
1 vote bruchu | Aug 31, 2008 |
Violence must sit at the core of any history of Partition," argues Yasmin Khan in The Great Partition, one of many books published this month to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the independence of Pakistan and India. The division of imperial India into two nations – secular, Hindu-dominated India and Muslim Pakistan – produced "one of the worst human calamities of the 20th century", leading to the displacement of 12 million people and the deaths of up to a million. The rape of women and girls from one community by men from another was frequent. Some men killed their own relatives to "protect" them from the other side. Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus suffered equally, insists Khan, and can be blamed equally.

Partition is a loud reminder, warns Yasmin Khan, of "the dangers of colonial interventions and the profound difficulties that dog regime change". It stands testament "to the follies of empire, which ruptures community evolution, distorts historical trajectories and forces violent state formation from societies that would otherwise have taken different – and unknowable – paths". She never mentions Iraq – but the parallels are clear.
 
Sixty years ago this August one of the greatest and most violent upheavals of the 20th century took place on the Indian subcontinent. It was an event whose consequences were entirely unexpected and whose meaning was never fully spelled out or understood either by the politicians who took the decision or the millions of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs who were to become its victims. In 1947, faced with irreconcilable differences over the demand for a separate state for India's Muslims, Britain decided, with the consent of a majority of India's political leaders, to partition the country and give each bit its independence. Tragedy followed.

The break-up of Britain's Indian empire involved the movement of some 12m people, uprooted, ordered out, or fleeing their homes and seeking safety. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, thousands of children disappeared, thousands of women were raped or abducted, forced conversions were commonplace. The violence polarised communities on the subcontinent as never before. The pogroms and killings were organised by gangs, vigilantes and militias across northern, western and eastern India. They were often backed by local leaders, politicians from Congress and the Muslim League, maharajahs and princes, and helped by willing or frightened civil servants.

Yasmin Khan, a British historian, has written a riveting book on this terrible story. It is unusual for two reasons. It is composed with flair, quite unlike the dense, academic plodding that modern Indian history usually delivers. Second, it turns the spotlight away from the self-posturing in the British viceroy's palace and the well-documented political wrangling between Congress and the Muslim League leaders. Instead, it focuses on a broader canvas that leads the reader through the confusion, the uncertainties, the fear and eventually the horror faced by those who were soon to become citizens of the two new states, India and Pakistan.
added by kidzdoc | editThe Economist (Jul 19, 2007)
 
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South Asians learned that the British Indian empire would be partitioned on 3 June 1947.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300143338, Paperback)

The Partition of India in 1947 promised its people both political and religious freedom—through the liberation of India from British rule, and the creation of the Muslim state of Pakistan. Instead, the geographical divide brought displacement and death, and it benefited the few at the expense of the very many. Thousands of women were raped, at least one million people were killed, and ten to fifteen million were forced to leave their homes as refugees. One of the first events of decolonization in the twentieth century, Partition was also one of the most bloody.

 

In this book Yasmin Khan examines the context, execution, and aftermath of Partition, weaving together local politics and ordinary lives with the larger political forces at play. She exposes the widespread obliviousness to what Partition would entail in practice and how it would affect the populace. Drawing together fresh information from an array of sources, Khan underscores the catastrophic human cost and shows why the repercussions of Partition resound even now, some sixty years later. The book is an intelligent and timely analysis of Partition, the haste and recklessness with which it was completed, and the damaging legacy left in its wake.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:15 -0400)

"The Partition of India in 1947 promised its people both political and religious freedom - through the liberation of India from British rule and the creation of the Muslim state of Pakistan. Instead, the geographical divide brought displacement and death, and benefited the few at the expense of the very many." "Yasmin Khan examines the context, execution and aftermath of Partition, weaving together local politics and ordinary lives with the largo political forces at play. She exposes the widespread obliviousness to what Partition would entail in practice and how it would affect the populace. Drawing together fresh information from an array of sources, Khan underscores the catastrophic human cost and shows why the repercussions of Partition resound even now, some sixty years later. The book is an intelligent and timely analysis of Partition, the haste and recklessness with which it was completed and the damaging legacy left in its wake."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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Yale University Press

Two editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300120788, 0300143338

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