The 14th and 15th August 1947. For those who don’t know, these are dates that are infamous with the Indian and Pakistani community worldwide. It’s the date of Independence, where the state of Pakistan was created (14th) and India was granted independence from British rule (15th). The state of Punjab was carved up leaving thousands of people, on both sides of the newly created border, displaced and journeying to their new homes.
Thousands of innocent people were caught in the crossfire of this mass migration. People who once lived peacefully and side by side, suddenly turned on each other and committed atrocities. An estimated 200,000 – 500,000 people died, but today the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that a total of 14 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were displaced during Partition.
Since then, many Indian and Pakistani communities, in their respective motherlands and in the diaspora, celebrate Independence Day. Facebook is suddenly inundated with “Happy Independence Day” posts and that One-Day-A-Year-Indian/Pakistani-Secret-Patriot on your Facebook friends list suddenly makes an appearance. In a nutshell: it’s generally well received by British born Asians and their parents. And why shouldn’t it be? It was a day where colonial rule officially ended, people were free from their white colonial masters and Indians could finally rule India after centuries of being dominated by foreigners.
There may be Independence, but there is no freedom.
For many Punjabis, including myself, it’s a bittersweet day. It’s a glorious day, which should rightfully be celebrated and marked, but it’s also a blood soaked day. Millions of innocent people were butchered in the name of “azaadi” (freedom) and there’s not one Punjabi who isn’t affected by Partition. You only have to mention “Partition” to some Punjabis and that’s enough to unsettle them for a few days or even weeks. In one strange way or another, the fate of an ancestor ties us to Partition. For some, Partition is the reason as to why they cannot trace their family lineage.
Whilst many Asians in the diaspora are hyped on the thrill of Independence Day, the impact of Partition can still be seen and felt. Pakistan and India are – and have been – at loggerheads. My grandad used to joke that “the end of the world will come, but Pakistan and India will still be bickering on the way to Hell.” And the sad thing is that it’s true. Whilst the people of both states don’t have an issue with each other, it is politicians and both armies who forcefully keep those divisions alive.
In addition, gaining Independence is a very different thing to gaining freedom and social justice. One only has to type in “Pakistan India conflict” or look at recent News to see how both societies are doing. In many ways, they are both strong and have the potential to become great. Yet their path to greatness is blocked by corruption. Whilst the physical presence of white colonial rulers is absent, their attitudes and social behaviours are still present in both nations’ societies. You don’t have to be an expert in Anthropology to work that one out.
Celebrate Independence Day; it is an important day for both Indians and Pakistanis. But do not forget the history behind 1947 and do not forget that both nations still have a very long way to go before they can truly be free.