Fifty-two years after the partition of India, which created Pakistan, millions of people are still trying to find peace with the trauma they experienced. About 12 million people were uprooted. Among the refugees were Muslims moving to Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs to India. Along the way, an estimated 200,000 died. They were murdered, died of malnutrition or contagious diseases. An estimated 75,000 women were raped by men of religions different from their own.
Homes were destroyed, families divided and crops left to rot. [Muddy Waters : A Critical Assesment Of The Benefits Of The Sardar Sarovar Project - Rahul Ram]
These horrific facts come from a book by Urvashi Butalia exploring the stories of people affected by the partition called, The Other Side of Silence. Ms. Butalia is co-founder of the Kali for Women's Press in New Delhi, India, an organization which has long been a friend of MATCH.
Ms. Butalia's family on her mother's side was divided because of the partition. They had lived in Lahore (now in Pakistan) and most of her aunts and uncles and her mother moved to New Delhi. Ms. Butalia's uncle Rana and maternal grandmother remained in Lahore and relations with the siblings who left became strained. Among other things, it became dangerous to correspond or travel between the two countries. The Saga of Dharmapuri (Dharmapuranam) - O. V. Vijayan "My mother's grief at losing her home, her mother and brother gave way to bitterness and resentment and eventually to indifference," writes Ms. Butalia. Time passed and they lost contact.
For Ms. Butalia, who grew up in a middle-class family in a time of relative calm, her elders' stories of the partition seemed remote and meant little to her. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by one of her security guards, a Sikh, in 1984. All over India, people sought revenge, killing thousands of Sikhs, "often by dousing them with kerosene and setting them on fire," says Ms. Butalia. She found herself among the citizen groups providing food and blankets, compiling lists of the dead and missing and listening to the stories of those who had suffered. Hearing the words of refugees from 1947 who had thought this could never happen in India, Ms. Butalia was struck by the fact that "people from the same country, the same town or village could still be divided and do terrible things to each other."
Two years later she began working on a film about the partition with a British television channel and began collecting stories of survivors. She later met her uncle Rana and visited him many times. He had stayed on in Lahore because he was young and poorly educated and saw no future for himself in India. In Lahore, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs had lived alongside each other for centuries and Rana could not foresee the violence that would come, nor his eventual need to convert to Islam to survive.
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In India, there is no institutional memory of the partition - no plaques or statues to show the dark side of independence. As Ms. Butalia points out, to do so would be to admit the state's complicity. So the memories live on in people's minds and are handed down to their children. And this is what Ms. Butalia documents in her book. Gandhi: A Prisoner of Hope (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) She believes it is essential to confront the partition and the impact it has had, yet understands the reluctance of people to speak about it. There is the historical silence of the state; the silence of those who fear they may be held accountable for what they did, and the silence of families who have colluded in hiding their histories or developed an indifference as Ms. Butalia's had. Then there are those who are too traumatized by what they experienced to talk about it at all. And those who have resigned themselves to their fate and believe that talking about it would be futile. Sartre On Cuba : A First-Hand Account On The Revolution In Cuba - Jean-Paul Sartre
In researching her book, Ms. Butalia was careful to respect silences while at the same time offering opportunities for people to record what happened.
Urvashi Butalia, a co-founder of the first feminist publishing company Kali for Women in India, has been working for women's rights for over two decades. Her best known book, The Other Side Of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India, is a worldwide bestseller. At the IHEU conference she focuses on the role of women in humanism. A few provocative statements by way of introduction. He Conquered The Jungle - Kesav Reddy 'However people understand Humanism, and whether you're in Europe or America or looking at the Renaissance or more modern times, the definitions and understandings will be different. But I think there is a need for a philosophy that focuses on the human being, that recognizes the difference human beings bring with them to their lives and that respects those differences.
The only label I have ever claimed is 'feminist'. For me, that covers everything that I believe in. If we learn from the values embedded in philosophies like humanism and feminism, we will not take the line that President Bush took. The so-called 'War on Terrorism' is nothing but America's assertion of its power. The tragedy is that my country India, and also Pakistan, have swallowed this line and now use it against our own people. This is inhumane, as was Bush's action in Afghanistan and the curbs he is putting on freedom in the US. There is still a lot we can learn. Not necessarily from Humanism, but from the experiences of being human and living like humans.'
Around The World In Eighty Days With Michael Palin - Michael Palin 'Feminism is the recognition that women, like everyone else in our society, are human beings. And have a right to a life of dignity and humanity. This definition is very close to that of Humanism. It is not located in religion or some other kind of narrow politics, but in the lives and feelings of ordinary people. This is what I think humanism can offer to feminism or the struggle for women's rights. And this, equally, is also what feminism can offer to Humanism.' In An Antique Land - Amitav Ghosh
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