Tear me apart at the seams
November 26, 2008 9:45 PM   Subscribe

India, as she is today, was carved out of British India, in 1947 when the left and right hand sides of the country became the new nation of Pakistan (East and West) respectively. While the history of Islamic influence and subsequent tolerance and intolerance goes back centuries to the first advent of the Mughal invasion, it has been said that the post Independence troubles of the modern nations of India and Pakistan stem from this sundering. In 1971, war brought forth Bangladesh from the former East Pakistan on India's eastern border. The Partition, as this holocaust is known, embedded in current day Indian memory, history, culture, movies, books, TV serials and music, was an unimaginable horror of slaughter and bloodshed. This separation was not in the plans of the Mahatma, and it is said he was assassinated by Hindu fundamentalists for letting it happen. What future awaits the Hindus and Muslims who have lived side by side for hundreds of years?
posted by infini (36 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I've been to the border ceremony referenced in the last link, and I found it a sort of mock-up reinforcement of nationalism on both sides. There were many more Indians than Pakistanis in their respective "bleachers" or whatever you call them. I linked to this in the previous thread of today's events, but I recommend Roy's article "Land and freedom".

I once saw some Hindi children playing cricket on a rooftop in Jaipur. One particularly ambitious little player knocked the ball all the way over to another rooftop, right onto the mat of a Muslim in the midst of bowing towards Mecca. The child ran over to the edge of the roof and almost began to yell out something but his friends quickly silenced him and pulled him back, the oldest wagging his finger at the young boy. They patiently waited for the woman to finish her prayer, and when she was done, without them even having to ask her, she smiled and picked up the ball, smiled, and tossed it back to them. "Dhanyawad!"
posted by ageispolis at 10:08 PM on November 26, 2008 [11 favorites]

posted by stirfry at 10:13 PM on November 26, 2008

The hindihindu kids be more likely to say dhanyavaad, no? Maybe not in Jaipur.
posted by metaculpa at 10:20 PM on November 26, 2008

Yes, but in responding to a Muslim's kindness, "shukriyaa" would be nicer, no?
posted by stirfry at 10:28 PM on November 26, 2008

My parents lived through the Bangladesh Liberation War (which, according to the Wikipedia article, was the impetus for the Indo-Pakistan war since India helped Bangladesh with safe haven). Dad was in Turkey and apparently helped send pro-Bangla propaganda over (though Dad doesn't really talk too much about his involvement, if any); Mum told me stories about her parents sheltering everyone, having to cope with curfew and strife.

One thing that stood out about my parents' stories, and the other stories I've heard about the war, was how Bangladesh's best minds were all murdered by the Pakistan army. They went to the main universities, had all the top students stand up against a wall, and shot them dead. This horrified me - I'm a university student, likely the same age as those who were killed, and the thought of myself or my peers being killed mainly because we wanted to help our country was something I could not fathom (then again, Malaysia has this tendency to jail random young activists, so who knows?). It was due to this rampage that Bangladesh was stuck in poverty; not only was its physical infrastructure damaged, its manpower was all but lost.

As mentioned earlier, India was very helpful with Bangladesh, and lots of Bangladeshis escaped to Calcutta or nearby areas. There was mutual respect between the Hindus of India (as well as the Hindus in Bangladesh) and the majority-Muslim Bangladeshis. This was an issue of language, first and foremost; Pakistan, which was also a majority Muslim country, wanted Urdu to be the main language and did not want to acknowledge Bangla - none of the Bengalis were having it. World Language Day was inspired by the Bangladeshi commitment to language and cultural heritage.

It saddens me that there is now major strife between Hindus and Muslims in India, particularly since there had been strong friendships and support in the past. It's probably mixed up with other issues of language, caste, class, and who knows what. Will more bright young minds be sacrified? Who will inherit the beautiful South Asian lands - if they ever stay beautiful?

I know very little about my supposed homeland (I'm pretty much a foreigner there), but I still feel its pain.
posted by divabat at 10:29 PM on November 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

stirfry: Depends which Muslim country it's bordering - the Pakistanis would say "syukriyah" but the Bangladeshis would likely say "dhonnobhat".
posted by divabat at 10:30 PM on November 26, 2008

Great post infini, thanks.
posted by tellurian at 10:43 PM on November 26, 2008

What future awaits the Hindus and Muslims who have lived side by side for hundreds of years?

I've seen the future, brother:
it is murder.
posted by chimaera at 10:44 PM on November 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

At this moment, someone is attacking Mumbai. Supposedly targeting foreigners in Mumbai, though everything is tentative right now.
posted by pracowity at 11:11 PM on November 26, 2008

Says the BBC:
Indian security forces have been exchanging fire with gunmen holding dozens of hostages in two luxury hotels in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay).

Troops surrounded the premises shortly after armed men carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks across the city, killing 101 people and injuring 287. [...]

Eyewitness reports suggest the attackers singled out British and American passport holders staying at the hotels.

If the reports are true, our security correspondent Frank Gardner says it implies an Islamist motive - attacks inspired or co-ordinated by al-Qaeda.

A claim of responsibility has been made by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen. Our correspondent says it could be a hoax or assumed name for another group.
posted by pracowity at 11:15 PM on November 26, 2008

im gonna be up for a while reading through this. thanks a bunch infini!
posted by Glibpaxman at 11:17 PM on November 26, 2008

hi pracowity, yes that thread was what inspired this post
posted by infini at 11:25 PM on November 26, 2008

Ah. Thanks.
posted by pracowity at 11:39 PM on November 26, 2008

Yeah, stirfry, good call. It would be nicer.
posted by metaculpa at 12:22 AM on November 27, 2008

I wanted to put this in the thread on the ongoing Mumbai terrorist attacks in response to assertions of the robustness of Indian democracy, but that isn't really the place. This one, OTOH, seems tailormade.

The claim was put forward in the other thread, if not in so many words, that the persisting integrity of the Indian nation-state in the face of various internal and external strifes throughout its young history testifies to the resilience of the Indian polity. I beg to disagree.

For starters, simply from the empirical perspective - first, the erstwhile British India did breakup into two. The proponents of that development came from within the population and had to appeal to it, even if they were manipulators for the cause of their own personal agendas (or not). Second, further on, Pakistan also did breakup into two. Since Indian independence, internally, many principalities did break up again: the state of Bombay was partitioned into Gujarat and Maharashtra, along ethnolinguistic lines. There may be similar cases elsewhere but my school history hasn't covered those in detail. More recently, a few new states were carved out in the northern part of India within the last few years. One may ascribe these developments to self-serving narrow political interests manipulating the larger public but the fact is that India is, more or less, a democracy, and like above, these partitions had to have an undercurrent of popular support to progress to fruition.

There are two core reasons why I think the continued existence of the Indian nation-state is not evidence of the strength of Indian democracy:

1)the divisions along the core faultlines have already manifested and occurred long ago viz. the India-Pakistan two states along religious lines, and the various states along ethnic lines. Some of these happened within the last 4-5 years. Only divisive forces that suggest a clear geographical reconstitution can truly test Indian integrity. If the tensions in Indian society are primarily between Hindu & Muslims, well, then there's no clear further geographical breakup to pacify them. If one ethnic group or geographically cohesive groups were intent on separation, then there would have to be sufficient motivation to seek greater political power than that already devolved to them via the current ethnically-partitioned states. Which brings me to the second reason

2)For whatever base reasons, tempting to locate in folk Hindu philosophy, the Indian psyche has a fatalisque que sera sera attitude. This disposition to swerve around obstacles can be a wonderful trait in terms of survival and accommodation, but it also explains the Indian tolerance of corruption and inefficiency in government, as well as the greater threshold for motivation to do something as radical as secession or rebellion. So this isn't a feature of Indian democracy but of Indian society.
posted by Gyan at 12:41 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

gyan, your point # 2 put it better than I would have, "we're just too lazy to get worked up over such stuff" aka "chalega, yaar" attitude kinda innit?
posted by infini at 1:48 AM on November 27, 2008

infini: Ha, this reminds me of when pipe bombs were going off in Dhaka in 2005. I was on an international tour at the time and my tourmates kept asking me if my family was OK. I asked my parents (who live in Malaysia) about it and they told me "Dhaka gets stuff like this all the time! This isn't anything new. It's not a big deal; just the usual." And sadly, that's true - if the cyclones and floods don't get you, the near-weekly hartals will.
posted by divabat at 1:53 AM on November 27, 2008


btw, derail, I grew up in PJ and attended the Garden School and ISKL. lived in M'sia between 1970 and 1986
posted by infini at 1:56 AM on November 27, 2008

Rediff says it is Pakistanis.
posted by the cydonian at 3:05 AM on November 27, 2008

Great post infini, and a really good example of what Metafilter can be.
posted by Hartster at 3:35 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Every time I hear about India and all how all its troubles supposedly stems from British occupation at one point in its history, I think of a scene from The West Wing, during the episode 'Lord John Marbury.'

The set-up for the scene is that President Bartlet has summoned the Indian ambassador because they've essentially attacked Pakistan. The President, obviously, would like to ask them to stop because of the threat of nuclear war. The response from the Indian ambassador is that India must and will be a nuclear power so that they "will never be dictated to again." After the ambassador leaves, the following exchange occurs between the President and Leo, his Chief of staff;

BARTLET: Every time he talks about colonial Western imperialism, I always want to remind him that the United States is also a revolutionary country that threw off its colonial masters.

LEO: Why don’t you?

BARTLET: I keep forgetting.

I'm sure the situation is probably far more complex than the scene alludes to, but I do like the scene, nonetheless.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:05 AM on November 27, 2008

This separation was not in the plans of the Mahatma

Maybe not overtly, but I stick the the theory that he was largely responsible, because he was so obstinate about Pandit Nehru being his successor, instead of coming to a more equitable power-sharing arrangement with Jinnah.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:00 AM on November 27, 2008

These quotes from Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008) completely changed my image of Gandhi:
Few political figures have been so widely misunderstood as Gandhi, in his own time or today. He emerged at a time when monarchies were falling and communism loomed; he was contemporary with Lenin. To many listeners, aware of the march of events in Russia, Gandhi's speech sounded like a rallying cry to Indian socialism, with its talk of the casting off of jewels and the power of the workers. This was, indeed, the reason that young radicals like Jawahar [Nehru] were so attracted to him. But a closer examination of Gandhi's words reveals something different, and much more profoundly religious. He had confronted the moral behavior of society, not its structure. Gandhi called for the princes to stop wearing their finery and instead "hold it in trust" for their subjects. This is not the same thing at all as telling the masses to rise up and seize it. Gandhi was not challenging the princes' right to hold wealth, nor even their right to reign. He was asking for a change of heart.

Gandhi's condemnation of princely luxury was part of a much broader preoccupation with returning India to what he supposed had been a prehistoric "golden age" of godliness, simplicity and humility. He had begun to reject Western ideals of progress and technology, and insisted that India's future lay in a return to simple village life, not industrialization. As a symbol of this, he adopted hand-spinning on a wooden wheel and used only khadi—hand-spun—textiles. He developed a distaste for the synthesized drugs and surgery which he associated with Western medicine, describing them as "black magic." Doctors, he believed, "violate our religious instinct" by prioritizing the body over the mind and curing diseases that people had deserved by their conduct. Lawyers, meanwhile, had propped up British rule by espousing British law and were like "leeches" on the people, their profession "just as degrading as prostitution."

This position had fueled continual conflict in his own family life. Unsurprisingly, he was far from supportive of his sons' ambitions to pursue careers in medicine or law. "I know too that you have sometimes felt that your education was being neglected," Mohandas wrote to his third son, Manilal. But, he contended, "education does not mean a knowledge of letters but it means character building. It means a knowledge of duty." His eldest son, Harilal, fared worse. After Mohandas denied him a legal scholarship to London, he ran away from home, married a woman without his father's consent, was disinherited and ended up unemployed, destitute and bitter. When Manilal tried to lend Harilal money, Mohandas was so furious that he banished Manilal from his presence for a year. Manilal ended up homeless, sleeping on a beach.

It is not easy being a saint, and it is perhaps even less so to live with one. "All of us brothers have been treated as a ringmaster would treat his trained animals," Harilal wrote to his father in the course of a twelve-page letter deploring Mohandas's treatment of his wife and sons. And yet, to a wider audience beyond his immediate family, Gandhi's charisma, determination and fearlessness were inspiring

But probably the most surprising obstacle to Indian independence was the man who was widely supposed to be leading the campaign for it: Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi's need for spotless moral perfection hamstrung his party's progress. His principal object was to make the Indian people worthy of freedom in the eyes of God. The object of actually achieving freedom from the British was secondary. Gandhi's most influential work, Hind swaraj, published in 1908, set out very clearly his point of view: that European civilization was corrupt, atheist and destructive, but that merely driving the British out of India would not serve to make India free. To be free, Indians needed to relinquish violence, material possessions, machinery, railways, lawyers, doctors, formal education, the English language, discord between Hindu and Muslim, alcohol and sex. It is for this reason that his campaigns so often faltered. Gandhi stood for virtue in a form purer than politics usually allows. Whenever he had to make a choice between virtue and politics, he always chose virtue. He strove for universal piety, continence and humility, regardless of the consequences. Even if a person were faced with death, or a group with obliteration, he would sanction no compromise of moral integrity. It is impossible to assess how the Indian nationalist struggle might have proceeded without Gandhi, but there are ample grounds for thinking that a more earthly campaign led by a united Congress, perhaps under the joint leadership of Motilal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, could have brought dominion status to India in the 1920s. Gandhi 's spiritual style of leadership was a source of inspiration to millions, but, politically speaking, it was erratic. Within Congress, too, it created divisions. Congress was not a church, and Gandhi's mystical judgments were often difficult even for his closest followers to accept.
posted by languagehat at 6:51 AM on November 27, 2008 [15 favorites]

> hi pracowity, yes that thread was what inspired this post
> posted by infini at 2:25 AM on November 27 [+] [!]

Yes, I saw in the other thread where you said you were putting a big India post together, and I was looking forward to it. Thanks for following through!
posted by jfuller at 7:04 AM on November 27, 2008

We only took it over by accident, ok?
posted by Artw at 8:17 AM on November 27, 2008

languagehat: Thanks for that excerpt. Gandhi was a great man, no doubt, but like all great people, a profoundly complicated and flawed one.

I too have been to Wagah Border for the ceremony. My relatives spoke of it as a positive thing: the Indians and the Pakistanis can get together for a bit of pageantry fun.

Outside of the religious fundamentalists, I think the Muslim/Non-Muslim strife in India/Pakistan is largely generational. My grandfather, a Sikh, believes that Muslims are inherently untrustworthy and vicious people. My aunts and uncles are wary of Muslims but willing to cautiously work with them. My cousins don't care about religion. Anecdotal, yes, but hopefully if the younger generation can impose its will, there may be hope.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:17 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Great post, and deeply needed after yesterday's confusion. Thanks, infini.
posted by rokusan at 1:29 PM on November 27, 2008

We only took it over by accident, ok?

Do you have a flag?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:32 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wonderful post infini. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 1:58 PM on November 27, 2008

"My dream is that the borders should become soft - from Afghanistan to Burma - and we can have a common market like Europe. Identities will remain, but we will work on fighting poverty."

just finished ploughing through the post. thats from the last link, nice ending. can we look at mumbai not just as a challenge but also as an opportunity?
posted by Glibpaxman at 2:09 PM on November 27, 2008

Thanks for the pointer to that book, languagehat; it sounds excellent. Love the opening paragraph:

"In the beginning, there were two nations. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swath of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semifeudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.
posted by mediareport at 4:16 PM on November 27, 2008

Awesome last link, great post - best of the Internet, indeed.
posted by SoFlo1 at 5:12 PM on November 27, 2008

Isn't it more than just "it is said he was assassinated by Hindu fundamentalists?"

Isn't it very clear, Wikipedia seems to have no doubts.

Are there any other theories as to who killed him?
posted by sien at 5:33 PM on November 27, 2008

Are there any other theories as to who killed him?
No one's disputing who killed him, but the motivations of the killer are hardly crystal clear. If you look at the post again, you'll see that the last line reads:
it is said he was assassinated by Hindu fundamentalists for letting it happen.
The for letting it happen part is what the it is said refers to.
posted by peacheater at 6:04 PM on November 27, 2008

peacheater: mrs taylor (my O level english teacher whose thesis advisor was Ted Hughes as she never forgot to remind us) would be so proud, both of you, and of me (for not forgetting how to write ;p) thanks!
posted by infini at 6:26 PM on November 27, 2008

Ooops. My bad.
posted by sien at 9:01 PM on November 27, 2008

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