The Division of a People

Yesterday I watched the film "Earth" by Deepa Mehta and it made me think more about the partition of India and all things that have happened since then. First off, my family does not come from India, so I only have a VERY LIMITED understanding and knowledge about how the 1947 partition/independence of India effected people. So, from my "outsiders" perspective it gave me some more insights into some of the hate and division between the different religious communities of the region. It was so heart wrenching to see what so many people went through during that period, all the lives that were lost, and how these events still impact us today.

As a youth going to school in India (Mussoorie/Dehradun) and even today I always noticed subtle hate and division between some Sikhs and Hindus/Muslims. I never understood where this came from.

The story of Earth is true. Its effects are still reverberating throughout India and Pakistan today.

On August 15, 1947, India gained Independence from Britain. Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ movement and his relentless struggle for ‘Home Rule’ by all Indian communities had finally become a reality. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, India’s largest religious groups, who, under Gandhi’s non-violent mantle had struggled together against the British, began to clamour for pieces of India for themselves, a Muslim Pakistan and a largely Hindu-Sikh India. The idea of a separate Muslim state, a Pakistan, gained favour despite opposition from Gandhi. As the Division of India became imminent, the euphoria over Independence turned into despair. Violence erupted between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in an atmosphere of unease about the future. What followed was a catastrophe brought about by politicians who failed to grasp the implications of dividing a country along religious lines. The British, before leaving India, determined the new boundaries between Independent India and the would-be Pakistan. Viceroy Mountbatten announced the new borders on the 13 August, 1947, just two days before India would become independent. This announcement escalated the brewing violence into a bloodbath. It is estimated that over one million people were killed in sectarian violence as up to six million Muslims moved towards Pakistan and up to five million Hindus and Sikhs moved towards India.

The province of Punjab, with its mixed religious populations, saw the worst of the migration and its beautiful city of Lahore became a focal point for the carnage. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, who had lived together for centuries, became the bitterest of enemies, causing wounds that, fifty years later, have still not healed.

The story of Earth is told through the eyes of Lenny, an eight-year-old Parsee girl growing up in Lahore in a wealthy, loving family. Each day Lenny travels to the nearby Queens Gardens with her beautiful Hindu Ayah (nanny), Shanta, who attracts a great deal of male attention. The men in Shanta’s circle include Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Similarly the staff in Lenny’s house are a harmonious group representing different religious groups in India. Read More…

I watched the film which started showing the above characters as friends and then as time got closer to the Independence of India things got more and more full of hate and violence, and eventually tore the friendships apart. It makes me wonder if these events are the major reason for many of the inter-religious problems today between Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus.
I can only imagine how deep these wounds are for everyone; How much rage and hate is bottled up inside people. Other than the violence of the partition this also makes me think of the 1984 riots in Delhi. I wonder how people can have so much hate that they could do such horrible things to fellow humans.

The only thing is that we cannot get caught up in this hate/revenge/violence cycle which only will create more of the same. It’s the "eye-for-an-eye" mentality that just makes things worse. I think more people have been killed in the name of religion than any other cause in the entire human history.

So how can we as Sikhs help heal the wounds from the past and build partnerships for the future? This is the answer that I am seeking. It is too easy to get caught up in the hate. Ultimately we are all people of God, the one creator. Guru Nanak spoke so much about this and how we are all one and not really "this religion or that one". I think a good start is trying to see every other person as part of you, and being part of God. Normally the tendency is to put each person into some category which divides and separates us all. "He/She is black, white, hindu, muslim, this sikh, that sikh, jatt, amritdhari, mona, sehajdhari, good/bad person, etc". Just within the Sikh community there is so much division, so I know it’s a big challenge to take the leap to see a person of another religion or who is different than you, as a person of God like yourself.

I guess the point is, how do we start to see the sameness, the human-ness of everyone around us, rather than finding the differences. No matter what the person is like, I always try to think of the other person as a mirror of myself. Like they are a different cell in a larger body (God). Just as in your own body there are trillions of cells that are different, and work together to be a whole person and create the miracle of the human body. Every human around us has it’s own role and path. I think we merely need to start recognizing that the other person is YOU and you are THEM (Even though we are different!). This helps me to not look at the other person as something other than me/God…and gives me more compassion and understanding towards others, no matter what they do.

I think the answer to these issues starts with each one of us. We can blame others for the rest of our lives, but the ultimate responsibility is on each of us to create change in our own life, in our own family and in our own community.

I know this topic is probably a very sensitive one, so I apologize if I have offended anyone in my ramblings. I am just sharing my thoughts and what little I understand about the past situations, and what I see today. Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments relating to these issues, however PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE keep comments civil, productive, and solution oriented (rather than hateful/critical). Thank you!