Empires and Metaphors
As noted last time, through its strategy – deliberate or not – of eloquent silence, ‘Demons of the Punjab’ almost says that Partition represents the British in India killing millions. It establishes that the British are the ones drawing lines and then running away. Later, the Thijarians say “Millions will die.” The episode aligns the parts of a statement… but never quite joins them up.
In a way this is fair enough, since the statement it never quite makes is both true and an oversimplification. Like many simple truths, it is one important part of a complex reality. It is true that the British authorities didn’t mean to cause the horrors of Partition, didn’t themselves take part in the atrocities, and didn’t foresee them. It is true that most of the violence was committed by Indians attacking other Indians. It is true that there has been – both before and after Partition – plenty of violence between Hindus, Muslims, and the other ethnicities in India. It is true that intractable political arguments and gameplay between the Indian parties – mainly Congress and the Muslim League – helped stymie British attempts to avoid Partition. It is true that the Muslims had real and understandable concerns about their future in a Hindu-dominated independent India, not least because of fascistic Hindu movements, with which some upper-caste Hindus in the nationalist movement had ties. Such fascistic elements were involved in organising the violence of Partition as we saw last time.
(Sadly, India today is still cursed with such things. India’s current Prime Minister, Modi, is the authoritarian leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist party, and a member of the BJP’s ‘core cadre’, the right-wing paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). There are terrifying concerns about the rise of state-sponsored, racist, right-wing authoritarianism in India today that most of us here in the West have, with Eurocentric purblindness, failed to pay enough attention to as we gaze with horror at our domestic monsters as if they’re the only ones that matter. For more about the RSS, their foundational role in Modi’s politics, their involvement in the violence of Partition, and their connections to Congress, please see here. I’m indebted for this link, and for other suggestions, to TobermorianSass via the ever-wonderful Sam Keeper.)
All that being said, it is also the case that the explosion of violence and displacement in Partition was foreseeable, and that the inevitability was there for the British to see and understand, had they only cared to do so, or ever bothered to install a proper government in India, as opposed to a vast system of bureaucracy designed to give lucrative careers to English public school boys. Mountbatten – a well-meaning but vain and ostentatious man who made a fetish of decisiveness – recklessly brought forward the date of Partition by about ten months so that it would happen on the anniversary of him accepting the surrender of Japanese forces in Asia. Even so, the timetable he was given was already rushed.…