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!

16 Responses to “The Division of a People”

  1. singhu says:

    Khalsa Jee, Thanks for sharing all the posts with us.
    I suggest whosoever can respect and treat dhan dhan SGGS Jee as our living Guru and listen to satguru hukmai (which is very difficult indeed) …Well, then that individual people will have all blessing auto.

  2. Harpreet Gill says:

    Thank you for your views on 47

    May I ask what course of action you would prescribe if a similar scenario/environment erupted today (there are sizeable Sikh populations in Muslim majority states even today)

    My personal view is that if we are all one great big proverbial body, then to cut of that incurable diseased limb or cut out that incurably diseased organ with surgical precision, lest it destroy the life within this proverbial body

    [2.178]…retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain… [2.179] …there is life for you in (the law of) retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may guard yourselves.

    [2.190] …fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you…[2.191] And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.

    taken from “The Koran’s 164 Jihadic Verses”

  3. One of my points was not loosing your “self” in hate. It is one thing to defend yourself as a conscious soldier saint (sant sipahi), and another thing to blindly kill and hurt others in avengance. I think it is when people get caught up in revenge and hate that causes them to not see things so clearly.

    There will always be good and evil. It is just part of the balance of the life. One cannot expect to just “cut out the bad part”. Who is to say what the bad part is? Who is right and who is wrong? I think it is more about trying to find commonality and trying to work together as best you can. Instead of focusing on the differences, we should focus on what we have in common. This may not be possible with everyone, but the effort should be there.

  4. Ishtmeet says:

    Gurumustuk Singh,
    Whenever you get a chance read Khushwant Singh’s “Train To Pakistan” it brilliantly portrays the partiton time and how hate takes over people and how easy it is to instigate people over religion.
    One particular scene that is etched in my memory is when a Sikh youngster goes to a Gurudwara in village and instigates them to cut the Muslims fleeing their villages as a retaliation to the train full of Sikh/Hindu corpses coming from newly formed Pakistan. Finally he is able to gather the support he needs,mind you all this is happening inside a Gurudwara, and then they do Ardass in front of Guru Granth Sahib for success 0f their mission ( which is to kill Muslims fleeing the Indian Punjab villages to Pakistan with their families) and then loudly say “NANAK NAAM CHARDHI KALA TERE BHANE SARBAT DA BHALA” and then procedd on their killing spree.


  5. veerji
    you should speak to Valarie kaur..
    she has done a lot of research on this topic…

  6. Jaspal Singh says:

    My grandfather who is at the ripe old age of 96 can clearly recall 1947 and 1984.

    He was responsible not only for the safe passage of his family from Balochistan, but responsible for several other families.

    The was part of a team of “babbers” as he called himself and all his other friends who were on horse back, with their swords READY to protect and die.

    He was side by side with Master Tara Singh and told me how Ghandi failed the Sikhs, how anti-sikh he was. How he did not want a seperate Sikh homeland and how “they” convinced Tara Singh not to ask for it. Some say he did, but according to my grandfather Ghandi was “in bed” with the british.

    Mohammed Ali Jinnah done good, as the Hindus could not be trusted. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was not a stupid man, after being insulted by Ghandi, he knew what he had to do. If you look throughout history the Hindus have never sided with the Sikhs.

    Gurumustuk Singh ji, this is not hatred, it is FACT. I know we as Sikhs should not hate, but when there is an enemy infront of you who will not budge at all, then there is only one route.

    How many more 1947’s, 1966, and 1984’s will it take for us to wake up and unite.

    I agree with you Gurumustuk and I believe that Guru Ji has a bigger plan for us, but we cannot avoid History.

    My Grandfather still talks about his home and the people who were killed, raped, all of which he knew.

    He tells me of this time when he had to strip down to his Kachera because the Muslims had stripped the women of their clothes, how he and all other Singhs cut their turbans into pieces so the women can cover themselves.

    I have talked to alot of people about 1947 and 1984, and it is really sad.

    But we must walk in the Hukam of Waheguru.


    If I have offended anybody, please forgive me.

  7. naveen says:

    Thank you Gurumustuk ji for your thoughts on this. Another way to see the sameness in all is to see the suffering each one of us is going through due to the Ego. Ego is the root cause of hatred and other emotions you talked about; and due to this Ego we are all suffering in its many manifestations such as anger, hatred, frustration and so on. We don’t need to face situations like 1947 to practice this. Let’s bring our compassion out next time we see an egoistic action in others. As long as we keep the stories of our past, stories of our tribe, our religious group, our nation in our minds and see the world and others through those stories, we are in grip of Ego. Next time we see someone, let’s assume we are meeting them the first time, let’s treat them as another human being not some concept that we have in our mind such as sikh, hindu, muslim or any other label. Labeling others is a type of violence. Guru Rakha.

  8. Jaspal Singh says:

    Naveen, I agree, yet with some of your views I disagree.

    How do we get rid of Ego? I know I must follow Waheguru’s path to destory it. What about those other “humans” who follow their scriptures and according to them their fellow humans are “lost” and shall rot in hell?

    A Sikh is always true to Waheguru.

    Its a slow but sure process and we shall get there in the end.

    But some people just don’t listen. So what do you do? you sort them out!!

    However I shall respect Gurumustuks request and not start a stupid debate here.

    Take Care.

  9. naveen says:

    only light can destroy darkness. more darkness does not destroy darkness. Do simren, be in presence, ask Waheguru to show light to everyone. Resistenace to other’s Ego only brings more ego in them and in us. First we have to accept that this is how people are, most of us are in grip of ego. The next step is to remember Waheguru each moment, every day. Even when we are in contact of people who we disagree. Our presence will have an affect on people around us.

  10. Leah says:

    I have been reading a while, but this is the first time I have posted. I am not a Sikh myself, but your blog has definitely taught me a lot.

    What this post has compelled me to say is…the real cause of all this strife was Colonialism.

    Same with Israel/Palestine, same with South Africa, same with the Americas, same with any place that has been colonized by an outside party (usually Europeans/Westerners since the 1400s, but it probably happened before that).

    Viceroy Mountbatten drew some arbitrary line according to his idea of how things were or should be, when the Western concept of the nation state is not universal, and even if it was, he shouldn’t have been the one to decide.

    That was after years of condescending, paternalistic, racist, and exploitative rule.

    See, in Western style colonialism the point is to dehumanize the subjects and to divide and conquer them.

    So, they were leaving, but they still wanted control and they still thought they knew best like some kind of Great White Father.

    I agree that violence begets more violence, and that’s exactly what colonialism is. Violence in the outset, violent suppression of people’s culture and right to self definition through both physical means and social conditioning, at the same time taking bits of that culture that they like like scavengers (see curry, tea, etc., with many parallels in other regions), looking down on people and treating them as subhuman or servants, and redrawing their lives at will.

    Out of all that comes an explosion of one type or another.

    And with reagrds to Gandhi not being perfect, well he wasn’t. When he was in South Africa he tried to distance himself from black Africans and wrote racist articles about them. He didn’t really care about the Sikhs, as someone mentioned. He also had other faults too. This is not to say that non-violent protest isn’t a brilliant thing. It is. It’s just i want to illustrate that under colonialism there are resisters and there are collaborators and a combination of both. People are forced to somehow ingratiate themselves to the ruling elites in order to get anywhere, or they are forced to initiate armed struggle, usually unsuccessfully.

    It’s like crabs in a barrel.

    So, things are not so simple.

    I enjoy what you write. I just wanted to highlight another aspect to things. Thank you for having this blog!

  11. D says:

    Leah I agree with you. Good points there.

    ps. where did you get that info on Ghandi? Can you email me the link or information? ([email protected])

  12. Leah says:

    Hi D!

    That is an article online about his early statements on Africans. But, I saw someone on TV quoting his early statements first.

    It’s probably true that he changed over time.

    I just used it as an example of divide and conquer and people competing to not be on the bottom rung of the hierarchy.

  13. Leah says:

    Ack wrong link. That was the website of an apologist.

    This is the Guardian:,,1065103,00.html

    That’s the article I meant.

  14. Prabhu Singh says:

    Leah, I would highly recommend the following article recently posted on Sikhnet:!OpenDocument

    Sat Naam.

  15. Leah says:

    Thank you so much for recommending that article!

    I admit I had not known about the man.

    What a fine example of people who are in the favored group of a situation truly commiting themselves to equality and justice no matter what the personal cost.

    Sat Naam!

  16. Pardeep says:

    i understand that many people are confused about the 1947 partition, but the vast majority of people did not kill or hate one another, many Muslims and Sikhs helped each other, they sold each others lands and helped one another, and left prior to august 1947 because they knew something was going to happen. Some people also remained in their villages because they were skeptic about Punjab actually becoming divided. There was also no rule of law, no one to control anything, people were free to go on killing sprees. Also, many Hindu Brahmins culturally were very discriminatory to Muslims during that period, they considered Muslims to be the lowest of the low and they would not want to share anything with them, including water wells, food, be touched by Muslims, etc. Movies about partition usually only focus on the killings and hate, also, there is always some "love" story about a Muslim boy and Hindu girl or Muslim and Sikh, etc., but most films about partition always fail to depict the larger reality of partition and the culture of Punjab.

    Gurmustuk, if you are ever free and feel like watching a good movie, I suggest you watch a film called Shaheed Uddham Singh: Alais Ram Mohammad Singh Azad (2000), this film is in Punjabi but it has subtitles. It is a great Punjabi film and it is about a true story. It's about a young orphan from Punjab, Udham Singh, and how the Jalianwala Bagh massacre affected him and lead him to assassinate the General O'Dyer in London. This story shows how he did this for all of the people of Punjab, whether they were Sikh, Muslim or Hindu, he did not want Punjab to be divided. Although Sikhs were a very small minority, they gave their lives for all of the people of the Indian subcontinent, they even volunteered to fight against the Nazis in WWII while most Indians would not want to join the war because they thought it was a "white" mans war and they did not want to die for such causes. Even today, thousands of soldiers who died who were mostly Sikhs, but also many Muslims and Hindus from Punjab, don't get much recognition and respect from the rest of India as they deserve because most people in India think they died for the British. Imagine fighting in WWII then coming back home to Punjab and the politics have divided your homeland and there is a civil war, Sikhs and Muslims who fought side by side in WWII had to defend their own families and villages because there was no army or police to protect them against the violence that was mostly caused by politicians who were spreading lies that Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus wiped out a whole village of a certain religion then some people who followed that faith would go and attack the other faiths village, and vice versa. The relationship between Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus prior to 1947 is very complex to understand, especially for people who are not ethnically Punjabi. Punjab is such a complex story because although it may have been divided between Pakistan and India, the Sikhs in Indian Punjab actually have more in common with Muslims in Pakistan Punjab in terms of beliefs, language, culture, food, surnames, lineage, etc. There are also so many historical gurdwaras in Pakistan and technically, Sikhism originates in Western Punjab, which is now part of Pakistan. Even in the Punjabi diaspora, Sikhs and Muslims, go to each others shops, businesses, homes, etc., because the commonality is language, they are simply able to communicate with one another in their mother tongue, which is something a Sikh cannot do with someone from Gujarat, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, etc.