Monday, August 13, 2007

Almost a senior citizen

India will celebrate the 60th anniversary of her Independence this year, two days from now, on August 15. Sixty years ago the Union Jack came down from the top of Red Fort, and the tricolor shimmied up the pole, heralding that famous tryst with destiny, drenched in the bloodbath of Partition. [(Youtube) I've heard that crackly recording so many times. Gives me goose-bumps every time.]

This is the third year in a row that I've been in India over Independence Day. This year seems a bit more special, mainly because there's retrospectives and analyses and stories (and I-Day sales) everywhere for the big six-o. On the streets the beggars at the traffic lights are hawking paper flags and plastic dash-top ones. These ones, I am pretty certain, are not (unlike similar things I've purchased in the US), made in China.

The headlines right now are dominated by the devastating floods in the northeast (and in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and parts of Gujarat too.), which have killed over 2000 people, and have affected some twenty million and, yet again, have exposed just how the callous Indian state fails so spectacularly in its basic duties. The Pope has appealed for international aid. The bigger culprits seem to be a near complete lack of planning by the authorities, infrastructure that has just disappeared, lack of coordination. And it's not yet over. This story from Sunday's Indian Express introduces us to one village which is now an island, and the lives of its residents in the past few weeks.

The other big story is the fate of the 123 Agreement (as it's being called hear), the historic India-US nuclear deal. And more than that, the fate of the government hangs in the balance. The Left parties, which support the coaliting government from outside, have made increasingly threatening noises opposing the deal (and thus, ironically, putting themselves in the same camp as their arch-rivals, the right-wing BJP! But irony is completely lost on India's politicians.) The Prime Minister has called their bluff: we're not budging. If that means you try and topple the government, so be it. This afternoon, I flipped the idiot-box on, and there was Dr. Manmonhan Singh valiantly addressing the Lower House, completely drowned out by idiots from the Left who were standing across the rotunda from him, shouting slogans. It was spectacularly absurd. Shekhar Gupta takes the Left to task in the Indian Express.

What a bizarre reality is India. As part of that small, Westernized, urban, English-speaking elite (and part of the even smaller subset in the diaspora), I feel like such a firang at times. Well, I am, of cousre, in so many ways. Still, this is desh. Native land.

Azadi Mubarak


UltraCrepidarian said...

Well I am an Angreze Ferengi, with a bit of a strong interest in India.

One thing I'm curious about: How do people in India feel now, about Partition?

It seems to occupy a similar place in the consciousness (at least if the filmi world is any indication) of Indian people, as the American civil war in the USA, or the legacy of Apartheid. The sectarian violence between the majority Hindu and Muslims, and the minority religious communities suffering as well, the Sikhs, the Christians, and others.

There was a picture in the newspaper today of Gandhi embracing a Pakistani leader, at the time he agreed that there should be a muslim state.
Did Gandhi do the only thing possible, or did he participate in creation or continuation, of internecine slaughter?


Gashwin said...

Hoo boy. Let's see.

Is Partition still in peoples' consciousness? Oh very much so. Much more so than the Civil War is, even in the American South. (The South lost, but the country wasn't divided.) Perhaps more like the legacy of Apartheid (though I have no first hand knowledge of the ground realities in South Africa).

The effects of Partition at one level, continues to divide families, for instance. The Mohajirs in Pakistan (the refugees who came over) are an important political force, especially in Sind. (Preaident Musharraf is himself a mohajir). (OTOH the refugees in India have assimilated and integrated, there's no separate "refugee" identity)

There's Kashmir, Partition's ugly child, still as intractable as ever, though things seem to be a bit better than say five years ago.

And of course Partition haunts the main religious divide. Muslims are constantly required to prove and re-prove their patriotism, are suspected of being closet Pakistanis, are urged to "get up and go to Pakistan." The "secular" parties continue to ghettoize and pander to Muslim leaders (parts of the shariah are civil law in India. India was one of the first countries to ban Rushdie's "Satanic Verses." And while India gave refuge to exiled Bangladeshi writer Tasrima Nasreen, she was attacked by Muslims in Hyderabad last week and she is now facing legal action for inciting religious hatred!) in order to secure the Muslim vote, even as a large number of Muslims lags behind on every social and economic indicator there is.

Could Partition have been avoided? I think not, even though its effects have been disastrous. Gandhi is excoriated for agreeing to Partition, especially by the Hindu-right. I don't know. I think by the 1940s, Jinnah's Muslim League had made and sold a case for a separate Muslim homeland pretty successfully. Would things have been less violent had there been no Partition? I don't know ... certainly the actual violence in the immediate aftermath would not have occurred, but who knows how else sectarian politics would have taken advantage of and preyd upon peoples' fears?

People speak of Partition's ghosts. They're not ghosts. They're alive.