Thanks to Conrad Barwa who recommended this book to me.
This is a good book which collects some stories of the riots and migrations that accompanied independence and partition of India in 1947. The book focuses on the Punjab, rightly so in my opinion since the Punjab is where most of the “action” happened.
Partition was a cataclysmic event which affected millions of people. Most other migrations, riots and ethnic cleansing in the 20th century pales in comparison to the numbers who were killed or migrated at the founding of Pakistan.
In the space of a few months, about 12 million people moved between the new, truncated India and the two wings, East and West, of the newly created Pakistan. By far the largest proportion of these refugees —- more than 10 million of them —- crossed the western border which divided the historic state of Punjab. […] Slaughter sometimes accompanied and sometimes prompted their movement; many others died from malnutrition and contagious diseases. Estimates of the dead vary from 200,000 (the contemporary British figure) to 2 million (a later Indian estimate) but that somewhere around a million people died is now widely accepted. As always there was widespread sexual savagery: about 75,000 women are thought to have been abducted and raped by men of religions different from their own (and indeed sometimes by men of their own religion).
Butalia has about a dozen narratives of people who lived through the hell that was Punjab in 1947. She especially focusses on women and children. Lots of women were abducted, raped or killed at the time. There were also cases of women and children killed by their own families to save their ‘honor.’ Some women committed suicide or were ‘encouraged’ to commit suicide for family honor.
In the case of abductions, the governments of Pakistan and India signed a treaty to recover such women. These operations continued well into the 1950s. According to the treaty, abducted women were defined as any women who were “seen to be living with, in the company of, or in a relationship with a man of the other religion” after March 1, 1947. This did create problems for interfaith relationships (which were not very common, but not nonexistent either). There were also issues regarding the consent of the women themselves in such recovery operations.
Though Butalia has written a good book on an important topic, sometimes she goes too much into meta-comments and her own thought processes.
The Other Side of Silence is also important because not many good books have been written on the topic of the riots and the migrations that accompanied partition.
Strangely, however, there is much good literature which is based on those events. For example, there is the short story Toba Tek Singh by Manto (English translations). There is also the book Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh.
I have previously posted about my Dad’s experience of the riots in Jammu and his migration to Pakistan.