A crowd gathers at Wagah—a village that was split in half during Partition—to witness a flag ceremony that marks the closing of the border between India and Pakistan every evening
‘The world knows nothing of its greatest men’ goes the old saying. Or women, of course, since it is men who tend to write these things.
I was reading a blog post by a friend earlier today, on the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and we swapped a couple of comments that made me realize the significance of documenting good deeds just as avidly as the world records bad ones.
Those of us who did not live through that time cannot imagine the full horror of it all. The figures alone are dreadful. 14 million people were displaced—forced to move from their homes to either what remained India or became East or West Pakistan—by any means of transport available, frequently on foot. Those that survived the journey, often one of tremendous hardship, carried memories that were heartbreaking. Most lost their possessions. Families were split apart and separated, many of them never to meet again.
Up to 1 million were killed in what were effectively religious killings—the actual figure is unknown. Trains were set on fire. Men and women, adults and children lost their lives in what became a frenzy of killing. Much, of course, has been written about this over the years, and the blame placed on many shoulders. The British were extremely culpable in this case, mainly through neglect and thoughtlessness. Those that assumed power in India and Pakistan need to take their share of the blame too.
But the world, as I remarked at the start of this post, knows nothing—or very little—of its greatest men. Or, in this case, its greatest men and women.
On both sides of the new borders, whilst most people succumbed to fear and many to hatred, whilst innocent lives were taken and dreadful acts carried out, there were many, many people who sheltered and saved those of other religions, often at great personal risk. They gained nothing from it but simply displayed their common humanity.
I have read a few examples of this, a few stories from both sides of the border, and I have seen it mentioned briefly in documentaries. Before the last players in that tragedy pass away, it would be marvellous if there were a concerted effort to collect these stories and record them as an inspiring example of people reaching out to each other across what is, once again, becoming a depressingly familiar religious divide—and most importantly—remembering and commemorating their bravery.
Photo: Susheela Menon