Partition, Gender, and Mass Violence: Globalization and the Bloody Road to Pakistan’s Independence

Most people have heard of the partitioning of Pakistan from India at some point in their lives. Those who went to high school at least in New York would have heard about it in global social studies in high school. Even if we did learn about it, how many of us remember any details?  What high schools don’t cover is the amount of violence that erupted out of dividing one nation into two.

Pakistan officially became it’s own independent nation on August 15th, 1947 ( This came right after India had gained its independence from the British earlier the same year. The reasoning behind separating into two countries (and later more), was the areas around what became Pakistan had a Muslim majority, whereas the rest of India had a Hindu majority and many were worried about the amount of representation Muslims would get in the new parliament.

Pakistan’s independence is a byproduct of globalization. The British colonizing India is an example of globalization, and so it’s not a leap to say that India’s independence from England was a product of globalization. Their independence came right after WWII when a lot of countries were being given independence and breaking off from countries that they had been a part of for hundreds of years. Globalization is what caused the Muslims to want their own country after living among Hindus for all their lives together under British rule. This was their chance to govern their country the way that they thought would benefit Muslims best, and ensure that they were given a voice.

As you can see from this image, Pakistan wasn’t just given a single large mass of land, but two pieces of land that were separated from each other. This separation later caused the eastern part of Pakistan to become Bangladesh after 1971.

One of the biggest problems with the partition is that it caused many to leave their homes because they were of the wrong religion and to relocate to either India or Pakistan. While most of the people moving were Hindu or Muslim, many were also Sikh, Buddhists, or Christians. This migration is actually nicely depicted by this graphic:

As is the case with any massive amount of people forced out of their homes and forced to move to a completely new place, a large amount of violence exploded. This is the largest amount of mass migration of people in history (10 million people). The estimated amount of people killed during the riots that ensued range from 200,000 to 1 million, depending on the website or source used.

When reading about the partition, or Pakistan’s independence, it’s important to note that there is no “good side” or “bad side”. Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs all used large amounts of violence towards each other after living peacefully together in the same communities for hundreds of years.

As is the case among many conflicts (whether they are wars or riots), women were specifically targeted for violence by both Muslim and Hindu men.  A great fictional novel that highlights the way in which women were brutalized differently than men during partition is Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa. While it is a fictionalized account of the partition (as in the characters aren’t actually real), the violence in the novel is completely real. One of the biggest and possibly most dramatic forms of violence that is seen in the novel is the migration trains.

This is the way these trains looked when everyone boarded the train. These trains actually existed and many of them ended up the way they do in Cracking India. These trains have earned the nickname “the death trains” in which by the time they got to their next stop everyone on board was completely slaughtered. . Here is an actual account by a man who witnessed one of these death trains. In this article is said

“Morning newspapers on September 25 reported 349 Hindus were slain on the train, with many more injured and maimed. “

This is just one way in which the violence erupted out of this move that was enacted out of globalization. Women were particularly brutalized throughout the riots on both sides. Women were raped, had their breasts cut off, kidnapped, and sold into prostitution.As Anne Hardgrove writes,

Communal rape, kidnapping and forced conversion was a major part of this upheaval and it occurred in many contexts, ranging from border crossings to events in a single neighbourhood or apartment house. One estimate suggests that 1.00,000 women had been raped on each side of the India/Pakistan border. India’s loss of land to Pakistan, combined with the sense that violated women represented the violation of religious and national communities, led to rescue missions and rescue operations. The same thing happened in Pakistan. Through the chronologies of kidnapping, rape and repatriation, women became symbolic markers of territory,communal identity and nationality.

I think that her point that women had been made symbolic markers of territory and nationality is one of the most interesting points that she makes in her article, “South Asian Women’s Communal Identities”, which would be great to read up on (find on JSTOR) if this subject interests you (information will be given at the end of this blog). Another place that would be good to look at if this subject interests you is a documentary called “The Day India Burned”, which you can actually view on YouTube right now.

The violence that came out of the partition of India is something that should never be forgotten, and certainly should not be skipped over in history classes. It should serve as an example of how separating a country can go horrifically wrong. Testimonies can be found on this really neat site, The 1947 Partition Archive. This site has videos of people who experienced or witnessed the mass migration and violence and also offers a library of sources that talk about the partition.

Further reading:

Hardgrove, Anne. “South Asian Women’s Communal Identities.” Economic and Political Weekly 30.39 (1995): 2427-430.

Pandey, Gyanendra. Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism, and History in India. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. Print.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. chelsiehinck
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 13:13:09

    This was really interesting to read. It had a lot of information I was unaware of, even if my high school did glaze over the subject!


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