The Indo-Pak Partition in 1947, which divided the Indian subcontinent into two independent sovereign nations namely the Dominion of Pakistan and the Union of India, saw a massive destruction of life and property on both sides of the “yet to be announced” border. There were severe conflicts between the three religious groups: the Hindus, the Muslims and, the Sikhs resulting in mass killing, arson and, rape and abduction of women. In the movie Earth 1947, the director Deepa Mehta very illustratively shows how religion became as a driving force for people of the subcontinent leading into an unmatched communal violence in the mid twentieth century. The nature of the partition—as thought by many historians—didn’t restrict itself solely to the political issue of forming a separate nation-state (Pakistan) for Muslims, who feared the domination of Hindus in the numerically Hindu majority nation. It turned out to be a conscious effort to detach two religious groups from each other where religion was used as a tool to create violence among them.
First cause as to how religion was used as a tool to fulfill the political aspiration of creating a separate nation lies in the already partially bitter relations that developed between Hindus and Muslims during the time preceding the actual movement for partition. The idea of the separate electorates inserted very cunningly by the Britishers in the political system led to the vested interests supporting the idea of the formation of the Muslim League (NCERT 129). This newly formed notion that Hindus would dominate the Muslim minority made the common masses believe in the political aspirations of a few gentlemen interested in acquiring power.
The fear of Hindu domination was yet strengthened by the communal clichés that prevailed in pre-partition times. Although, both the sections of the society shared an experience of harmony in the past, the religious pride and prejudice remained instilled in the people. The Muslims called Hindus as “dark” and “cowardly”; whereas the Hindus considered Muslims as “bigoted” and “cruel” (NCERT 129). These clichés were prevalent during the medieval history of India, especially during the time of Muslim invaders. People had had a taste of brutality during the reign of rulers like Aurangzeb. A study conducted on the partition of India says that “the stereotypical image of the Muslims as a figure of hatred, although dating back to the colonial period found its full crystallization in the aftermath of the partition” (Gooptu). For Muslims it was the quick spread of Hinduism ideas through across the subcontinent that threatened their identity as a part of the subcontinent. This inter-community hatred turned into a wild fire when the partition gave people a chance to shed their long cherished hatred. In the movie Earth 1947 the character of Ice Candy Man (played by Amir Khan) reveals his hatred when he sees the Muslims killing the Hindus, while in the first half it is not shown explicitly. These inter-community stereotypical ideas contributed very much to the violence created during the time of the partition very well exploited by the pro-partition people.
Besides the communal clichés, another cause that led religion to contribute so much in the violence was that the process of partition rendered religion no more a personal issue; it became public as well as political in nature. The very formation of the Muslim League made it explicit that Muslims was an entity very different and separate from the Hindus. The clichés that weren’t actively involved in the partition now had a name tag of being different from one another socially as well as politically. This made the killings and destruction seem viable and (so as to say) “ok” to the people on either side of the religious community. Religious sentiments were so politicized that people, who hardly knew about what was happening on top, had no time to react but to express their anger on each other or blaming each other. It was religious confusion and chaos that contributed more to violence than the actual partition itself. People were driven to action to see each other. There were groups of people who would literally go around and hunt down the people of the enemy group to kill them. This is very clearly shown in the movie when a group of Muslims seek for Shanta who sits hidden in her master’s house and also when a train at Lahore comes filled with the dead bodies of passengers.
The religious violence took a more severe turn when the Muslims called for the Direct Action Day in order to hasten the process for partition. This meant more religious riots in many parts of the country. This led to the halving of the state of Punjab into two halves (NCERT 137). This meant that the Sikhs, who did not want to leave their land, would be driven directly in to the inter-communal fight. The involvement of Sikhs called for religious outrage in a larger scale. The Sikhs were not either on the side of the Hindus or the Muslims. They were an entity on their own fighting as Sikhs. The creation of these three groups growing from two led to more religious hatred and consequently violence.
Religion had been an important reason as to why partition of the subcontinent had to experience so much of violence. The inter-religious hatred became very prominent during and after the time of partition. It seems that partition came as either a threat or a rescue to the religious sentiments of the people of the subcontinent who hardly had an idea of the political implication of the partition. The violence was inspired by religion that told people not to necessarily fight for the nation but for the people of the community that they were part of.
Earth 1947, Deepa Mehta, Eros Entertainment, 1996.
Gooptu, Dr.Nandini. “India And Partition”. St. Antony’s College. Web. 28 June 2013.
Uppal, Shweta.Themes in world History.Delhi: National Council of Education Research and Training, 2008. Web. 28 June 2013. http://www.examrace.com/NCERT-Books/History/NCERT-Class-12-History-Part-3.