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This article is an edited transcript of The Partition of India with Anita Rani, available on History Hit TV.
The Partition of India was one of the most violent episodes in Indian history. At its heart, it was a process whereby India would become independent from the British Empire.
It involved the division of India into India and Pakistan, with Bangladesh separating later.
Since different religious communities ended up on different sides of the border that they were supposed to be on, they were forced to move across, often travelling long distances. It’s shocking when you read accounts of what was taking place.
First of all, there were caravans of people walking to try and get across the border, and these people would often be walking for long periods of time.
Then there were trains, packed full of people, who might have been Muslims, leaving India to get into Pakistan or maybe vice versa – Sikhs and Hindus trying to leave what became Pakistan and get into India.
Entire trains of these people were slaughtered.
Thousands of women were also kidnapped. One estimate puts the total at around 75,000 women. Maybe those women were converted to different religions and went on to have completely new families, but the truth is we just don’t know.
I was told that my grandfather’s first wife jumped into a well with her daughter to escape being murdered and there are accounts of thousands and thousands of women doing the same thing because it was seen as the most honourable way of dying.
Men and families were also choosing to kill their own women rather than have them die at the hands of the other. It is unimaginable horror.
I met someone who was 16 when partition happened. He was a Sikh man who had been trying to get into India from Pakistan when his family’s village was surrounded.
Now, his story is just one example of violence, and I should say that it was happening both ways – Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were all doing the same thing.
But the Muslim men said to this particular family, “If you give us one of your daughters, we’ll let you go”. You have to remember that these families lived together in joint household. So you’d have three brothers, their wives, and all their children, and everybody would be living in a joint house.
The eldest of the family decided that rather than letting their daughters fall prey to Muslims and being raped and murdered by them, that they would kill them themselves. All the girls were put into a room and I was told that the girls bravely stepped forward to be beheaded by their father.
The death of my grandfather’s family
My grandfather’s family, who ended up in Pakistan as a result of Partition, must have realised that trouble was brewing. And so they went to the haveli (a local manor house) in the next village where a very wealthy Sikh family was giving refuge to Hindu and Sikh families.
The Hindu and Sikh men who were hiding there had erected a series of defences around the house, including a wall and a moat.
The moat was really interesting because basically overnight these men had channeled the water from one of the canals in the area to build it. They also barricaded themselves in with some guns.
There was a standoff with Muslim men outside – the majority of people in the area were Muslims – who continually attacked the haveli.
That lasted for three days before the Sikhs and Hindus inside the house just couldn’t hold out any longer and they were all brutally murdered. Everybody perished, including my great-grandfather and my grandfather’s son. I don’t know exactly what happened to my grandfather’s wife and I don’t think I’ll ever know.
Although I was told that she she jumped down a well we have no way of knowing for sure; she might have been kidnapped.