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Partition - The Human Cost

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Mushirul Hasan looks at the reflection of the trauma and tragedy of partition through literature and personal histories.

The sun had risen fairly high when we reached Amritsar... Everytime I visited Amritsar, I felt captivated. But the city, this time, presented the look of a cremation ghat, eerie and stinking... The silence was so perfect that even the faint hiss of steam from the stationary engine sounded a shriek. Only some Sikhs were hanging about, with un- sheathed kirpans which they occasionally brandished... The brief stoppage seemed to have lingered into eternity till the engine whistled and gave a gentle pull... we left Chheharta behind and then Atari and when we entered Wagah and then Harbanspura everyone in the train felt uplifted. A journey through a virtual valley of destruction had ended when finally the train came to a halt at Platform No. 2 – Lahore, the moment was as gratifying as the consummation of a dream.
Mohammad Saeed, Lahore: A Memoir (1989)

Few writers reveal such poignancy and tragedy of nationally- contrived divisions and borders. India's partition cast its shadow over many aspects of state and society. Yet the literature on this major event is mostly inadequate, impressionistic and lacking in scholarly rigour. Even after fifty years of Independence and despite the access to wide-ranging primary source materials, there are no convincing explanations of why and how M.A. Jinnah's 'two-nation' theory emerged, and why partition created millions of refugees and resulted in over a million deaths. Similarly, it is still not clear whether partition allowed the fulfillment of legitimate aspirations or represents the mutilation of historic national entities.


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