Review Blog

Jul 13 2020

Partition voices by Kavita Puri

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Bloomsbury, 2019. ISBN: 9781408899083.
(Age: secondary/adult) Highly recommended. The partition of India along religious lines in 1947 will be remembered as a monumental disaster as 10 million people tried to get to the country of their religious majority with about 2 million losing their lives. Many fled the place they were born, and of these, thousands came to England where they buried what had happened and made a new life for themselves. Until recently their voices had not been heard. Two years ago award-winning journalist and broadcaster Kavita Puri produced a three-part series, Partition Voices for BBC Radio 4, winning the Royal Historical Society's Radio and Podcast Award and its overall Public History Prize. This has now been made into a book, "to remember the time before separation, so future generations understand that there were Hindus in Lahore, and Muslims in Amritsar".
Puri has divided the book into three sections, End of Empire in which she summarises the British Raj and its place in India along with the growing resentment of British rule, Partition, and Legacy. Each story is unique, from Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Christian, all keeping silent for seventy years about what they had been involved in or had witnessed, many wanting to forget.
Ken from an English family which owned a jute mill, now living in Dundee, recalls seeing body parts blocking the waterways, and twelve year old Ramen, a Hindu living in Dhaka calling out 'hunt the British' with others in the streets, Muslim Bashir having to leave his house in the Punjab, knowing it would be looted as soon as they left, but after seeing the train carriages full of dead bodies in Lahore Railway Station, he knew he could not stay.
Story after story crowd around the reader, and anger about partition increases, but I was surprised to find that some of the interviewees thought it a good thing.
Some girls were killed by their male relatives saving them from rape and murder but also forced marriage. It was estimated that some 30,0000 women and girls were removed by Hindu and Muslim men, many ending up in the Ashrams set up across Northern India for destitute women, those whose families would not longer accept them, and those orphaned by the violence.
In the midst of the violence and mayhem some acts stand out as beacons of humanity. A Muslim family, the Begums, took weeks to get to the refugee camp at Behram there to be helped by a friend, a Hindu teacher, to get across to Pakistan.
Mohindra Dhall recalls his father rushing in to get them packed and away. He had opted to stay in Pakistan but seeing violence escalate, they headed for the railway station. There the train was crowded so they waited for the next, realising in a few days that they would all be dead if they had taken that first train.
Getting to the basics of why these people chose to emigrate to Britain after Partition is difficult; some hate Britain for what it did, dividing the country, but still chose to live there, some thought Partition a bad idea, some a good idea, some want to return, while others have returned often to the place of their birth. The book is enthralling in showing such a range of stories and experiences, a range of opinions and points of view about an event put into effect with little planning and unforeseen, far reaching consequences. Themes: India, Partition, Religious conflict, Massacre, British Raj, Migration.
Fran Knight

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