Special marking 70 years since the Partition of India in 1947. With first-hand accounts from the British and British Asians who lived through the Partition.
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At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India
You are free to go to your mosques, or any other place of worship
Welcome to this special edition of Newsnight.
70 years ago, British India was partitioned.
Today was the first day of India's independence
and the birth of a new country, Pakistan.
It was also the beginning of the end of the British Empire.
Tonight, we'll be hearing stories of those who lived
through one of the most convulsive moments of the 20th century,
exploring the reasons why the political legacy in India
and Pakistan is still so troubled, even poisoned.
We'll be discussing whether we as a country have come
to terms with Empire and how it ended,
and asking young British Asians why the split 70 years ago
This is Partition, 70 years on - a Newsnight Special.
With us is an audience including people who lived
through the partition of British India 70 years ago.
When the British left hastily and chaotically,
and with the drawing of the new borders, millions
of lives were changed overnight, and people who had lived together
side by side turned against each other.
We'll be hearing some shocking stories in a moment.
First, a reminder of how events unfolded.
Victory in Europe had left the country bombed,
With the task of rebuilding an exhaustive nation
With the task of rebuilding an exhausted nation
and repaying billions of dollars to the United States,
running an empire was the last thing the new Labour government needed.
In India too, which had supplied 2.5 million soldiers and had
geared its economy to the war, there was a new urgency.
The decades of nonviolent resistance to British rule,
led by the now octogenarian Mahatma Gandhi, had failed.
Now he was overshadowed by two men who vied for control
Jawaharlal Nehru, the leader of the Congress Party,
and Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League
had different visions of what would come next.
Nehru wanted a united India, but Jinnah felt India's
100 million Muslims, a quarter of the population,
would be marginalised by the Hindu majority.
He demanded safeguards, even a separate homeland,
Britain had been the dominant power in India for 200 years.
Now the proponents of Indian independence found that they were
In late 1946, the government of Clement Attlee announced
Britain's withdrawal from India by June 1948.
But in the face of rising sectarian tensions and violence which had
erupted around northern India, in June 1947, the last viceroy,
Lord Mountbatten, in agreement with Nehru and Jinnah,
decided the country would be partitioned.
He brought forward the date for Britain's exit.
There would now be just ten weeks to prepare for partition.
Jinnah celebrated independence on 14th August in Karachi.
Nehru's dream of a united India had failed, but on August 15th,
Independence Day, in Delhi he celebrated long-fought
At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps,
India will awake to life and freedom.
The provinces of Bengal and Punjab, under the partition plan,
For centuries, communities had lived together in relative harmony,
making a smooth geographical division near impossible.
What followed was mass migration and dreadful violence.
It amounted to an attempt at ethnic cleansing.
Around 12 million people were on the move...
Muslims to Pakistan, Sikhs and Hindus to India.
Approximately a million men, women and children died
The authorities on both sides were completely unprepared
and appealed for calm, but it was too late.
The British relinquished responsibility for the region,
leaving India divided and their leaders trying
to get a grip on the bloody reality of partition.
That division had unforeseen consequences, which still shape
Joining me now is Gurbakhsh Garcha, Raj Dswani and Iftkahr Ahmed,
all of whom witnessed first hand the birth of the two
First of all, Gurbakhsh, you were a Sikh boy growing up
It was a small village with a population where a quarter
were Muslim and the rest were Sikhs, mainly, and a family of Hindus.
It was an open village with streets for us to run around in,
We could go wherever we liked,
and it was a wonderful life as children.
We had lots of trees around the village and there wasn't
And you celebrated festivals together?
At the time of Eid, the Muslim community
And when we had Diwali, we sent sweets to their houses.
My grandmother was very close friends with a Muslim lady.
Iftkahr Ahmed, you were a young Muslim living near Delhi.
How did it feel to you when independence was declared?
Well, around independence, Delhi was all lit up
and we all got together, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh,
we all got together and celebrated on the 15th, Independence Day.
We didn't know what would happen tomorrow.
We were just one India, Hindustan, and we celebrated together.
Because it was a day of huge celebrations.
Yeah, we all were together to celebrate on 15th August.
Raj, you were a Hindu boy living in Sindh province and overnight,
everything changed, it became part of Pakistan
Tell me what happened and what that meant to you to leave?
From Sindh, 1.2 million people migrated.
The day we left was a dark day, we would say.
But when you were there as a boy, you had a very close friendship
with a young Muslim girl called Jasmine.
As my friend said, on Eid and Diwali, we used
to exchange sweets and on other festivals, we used to be together.
Now, for the brothers in Punjab and brothers of Bengal who suffered,
But your personal calamity was because you left your
That was also a personal thing, but I am talking of Sindh itself,
We didn't get a single inch of the soil.
Bengal got half of Bengal, but we were landless.
We had to leave our friends, our relatives, our materials.
Whatever we had, we just came in our clothes.
Iftkahr, it was dangerous for you to be a Muslim in Delhi
You got there and then what did you see at Lahore station?
I came through and the train was there and I asked
one of the soldiers, "Take me with you".
He said, "OK, if you're on your own, come over".
So I jumped on the train and they hid me.
And because for three or four days I hadn't eaten anything,
We reached Lahore and the soldier said
"There you are, son, you're in Pakistan,
Then he got off the train and left me on the platform.
Because I hadn't slept for so long, I just put
And I woke up about four o'clock in the morning.
I heard people talking, and realised that all the platforms
There were cut off women's heads, God knows, little babies.
And Gurbakhsh, you also saw the horror of corpses on trains,
mutilated bodies in the village in Punjab, but also,
and this is a particular story, you also saw a moment
This was something that happened side by side.
There was cruelty on one side and horrible scenes,
but on the other side there was compassion, and even love.
We saw the train passing by a village, very close.
And a woman with two small children fell out,
I think she was dreading another massacre.
And she was met by people in the village and she was taken
to a shed just outside the village and she was given a place to sit.
So your family protected her from the possibility
Yes, and they brought food and milk for the children,
They were really sad to see this happen to just an ordinary woman
So the Sikhs protected Muslims in that area.
And she was taken to a safe camp afterwards with her children.
Many never returned, but Raj, you did return eventually.
You went back to Sindh after decades.
Actually, when I boarded the aeroplane, I couldn't sleep.
I couldn't think of anything but my childhood, which street
was where and what were the roads, who were my friends.
Now I am returning back to my land, whether those same things
So when I landed there, I touched the soil, kissed it.
Put down my forehead and went inside.
My friends were there who were recent friends.
So they took me and I was very happy.
I went to my place also, where I used to live.
But I couldn't go inside, because I didn't dare to go inside.
You thought you would have collapsed because it would have emotionally
Iftkahr, as the years have gone past, do you ever
close your eyes and visualise where it was as a child?
For that reason, I have never told my children my story,
because my older son has often said, "Why you never told us?"
Because when I look back, the streets were
You don't want to remember this sort of thing.
Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed.
Unlike Raj, millions never saw their homeland again.
Even today, there are no direct air links between India
That's just one example of the lasting divide and inability
of the two nations to forge a modern relationship.
And the most obvious place to see this is at the border.
You are watching conflict transformed into ritual.
Every day, this exquisitely choreographed ballet
is played out at the border between India and Pakistan.
But the ongoing enmity between the two countries has
There are strict restrictions on movement.
All trucks have to be offloaded at the border.
Twice as much trade goes via Dubai than across the land border
It is just too much trouble to trade direct.
Economists say if it was made easier, there could be as much
as ten times the business between the two countries.
Whilst, as Justin says, physical trade between Pakistan
and India might be limited, there is a free-flowing cultural
exchange between them, most notably Bollywood.
Despite past attempts to ban Indian films here,
they have always been hugely popular, and many, like this one,
now feature Pakistani actors and Pakistani musicians.
But a love of Bollywood doesn't mean a love of India.
Many here believe India is trying to sabotage Pakistan.
TRANSLATION: Most of the Pakistanis like Indian movies
because they are good quality and have the best plots.
But they think of India as their enemy.
Otherwise, the attitude of Pakistanis is always against India.
These films cannot change that attitude.
All the best scenes, dances and songs, packaged up
Bollywood has traditionally been pretty much blind to religion.
Despite India's large Hindu majority, some
of the most popular stars are Muslims, even Pakistanis.
There were calls for a ban on Pakistani actors after a militant
in Indian-administered Kashmir last year.
India was founded on secular principles, with protection
for religious minorities, but many fear that India's secular
That's something the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi denies.
But Mr Modi is a Hindu nationalist, and under his government
tensions have been growing between communities,
heightened by a series of murders of Muslims by Hindus.
TRANSLATION: There is some attack on Muslims
The only option for us Muslims now is to pick up arms.
We will fight to survive, or we will die here.
If they want us to leave India, that is not possible.
We were born here and it is our right.
This isn't something you see every day in Pakistan.
Today, over 60 Hindu couples are getting married in a mass
ceremony in the southern province of Sindh.
Most Hindus left Pakistan during partition, worried about how
they would be treated in a Muslim dominated country.
But there are still around 2 million living here.
Today is a day for celebrations, lots of celebrations.
But until recently, Hindu marriages like these were not legally
Many in the community complain that they face discrimination.
As a result, over the years following partition
thousands more Hindus have left Pakistan, many heading to India.
TRANSLATION: Around eight to ten people leave every week
My relatives left in 1991 after there was communal violence.
So 70 years on, the communal tensions that drove partition
are still very much alive in both India and Pakistan.
So what hope is there of that changing?
How many people think there will be a solution
between India and Pakistan and there will be peace?
Why do you think there is such a conflict?
The real power is in the hands of the army.
The democracy is nothing to do with terrorism.
So the army promotes the terrorism that leads to the death
Pakistani pupils are taught that the country was create under
the two-nation theory, that Muslims and Hindus are separate
What's your understanding of why Pakistan was created?
TRANSLATION: There was nothing common between Hindus
and Muslims other than the fact that they shared a land.
There was a lot of difference between the two, religion-wise,
creed-wise, their values, their culture, so that was why
a new country was needed to get their rights and to succeed.
What do you think could be done to improve the relationship
TRANSLATION: If our politicians stopped bashing India
just to get votes, that can help improving relations.
If cricket matches are allowed to continue between the countries,
I am not sure about politics, but that will help improve relations.
It would decrease the hatred between ordinary people on both sides.
Ultimately, this is really just a story about feuding families,
because so much more unites India and Pakistan
than divides them, like, for example, the food.
The problem is that there are some in both countries who believe
it's in their political interest to continue the hostilities.
After all, there's nothing like an external enemy
So at the moment, it seems there is no sign
I'm joined now by Professor Sunil Khilnani from King's College
London's India Institute, who has a written number of books
on India, including his most recent, Incarnations: India in 50 Lives,
and Dr Farzana Shaikh, an academic at Chatham House and the author
It is a difficult day because of course it's
a celebration, in one way, but it's also a memory
And I wonder, first of all, Professor Sunil Khilnani,
how does a vision for the nation 70 years ago add up to the reality?
Well, I mean, I think what's very interesting about this subcontinent
is you really have had two very different views of the
You had the idea of Pakistan, which has been just talked
about in the film we just saw, which was you have to
have a separate nation for a different religion.
In the sense, that's the European idea of a nation.
Which is that you have to define a nation by a single religion
But then you had the Indian idea of a nation, which was the idea that
I think Nehru and Tagore and Gandhi tried to develop which was could you
I think he was in the sense that he wanted to build
protections for minorities, and that's a very secular
But I think he also began to use religion in order to advance
Doctor Farzana Shaikh, do you think, of course,
That kind of legacy of the empire which was divide and rule,
was it ever going to be other than what it has appeared to be,
Well, there was nothing inevitable either about partition or indeed
But decisions were made at key moments.
The consequences of which we are living with today.
The decision to divide up India on lines of religion.
There were many moments, particularly in the 1940s
when leaders on both sides were trying to come to some
So, had independence come earlier, say even in the late 30s,
this idea of a religious divide would not have been so embedded
because it came to be embedded earlier than partition had?
One can't say for certain but there was certainly moments
when the course of history might have been very different.
We are in a situation where we've got the Indian president saying
today in his speech there is no to be no attacks on Muslims.
There is almost as many Muslims in India as there aren't Pakistan.
There seems to be a move to more reconciliation just at the time
when you think Hindu nationalism is on the rise.
I think there have been cycles of reconciliation and hostility.
I think you're absolutely right and I think it is an important point
to remember that India is about the second or third
largest Muslim country in the world, and that's a very,
I think what Prime Minister Modi has said today is a kind of more
conciliatory Independence Day speech but, at the same time,
he's also spoken from the other side of his mouth or rather not spoken
at all, it is his silences in many cases when there's been violent
against Muslims and minorities in India which has been telling.
But if you look at what is best indeed, for the future both
of the nations on a purely economic basis, you saw Justin Rowlett saying
there that, actually, more trade goes via Dubai than goes
And that's a huge opportunity for both countries, isn't it?
But, you know, here history and present-day
We have the history, of course, of communal violence.
Which marred and scarred millions of families, Hindus
We have the unfinished business of Kashmir which, again,
remains a burden on the Pakistani side and, of course,
the role of the military, whose political fortunes in Pakistan
have been built on keeping this conflict alive.
We are now in a situation where the last generation who lived
together is moving forward and we won't have them in ten years'
time but they are also the generation that saw
So, does that lead you to believe that there will be...
There's never been a process of reconciliation but with
the passing of that generation, is it going to make reconciliation
Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, is the first
Indian Prime Minister who was born after partition.
So, already the political class are now moving beyond and don't
In a way, I think that can also be much more dangerous.
I think the previous Prime Ministers, Manmohan Singh,
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it was really part of their integral
being to try and find a reconciliation with Pakistan.
I think today politicians in India see religion
as something they can play with, really, much more in a way
because they haven't had that burning experience of having
It is interesting because in this particular anniversary,
more than I think ten years ago, we are hearing these voices
We are hearing shocking stories now which should, in a sense,
give people pause to think we never want to have that kind
And I think those stories have a place.
But I think we also need to bear in mind the risk of perhaps losing
sight of why things turned out the way they did.
In other words, why did it happen rather than just what happened.
And I think finding the balance is going to be quite a challenge.
I think what's happened is that partition is this founding moment
of the kind of myths of the two nations today.
And so much of what happens in the retelling of the stories
of that confirms those stories, that myth, really.
So I think until each of these nations starts to think
of itself differently, and imagines its possibilities
differently, I think you really are not going to be able to see
And there's a way in which, unfortunately, each of these
national governments today feeds off each other.
And, for me, as an Indian, one of the troubling things is that
India is now becoming more like Pakistan in the way that it
thinks about the relationship between religion and power
And that's a very troubling development.
At the moment of independence, the two men who had led
the negotiations with the British, Jawaharlal Nehru and
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, addressed their people
and the world in words of great idealism,
Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny,
and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge,
not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.
At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India
A moment comes which comes but rarely in history when we step
out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when
the soul of a nation long suppressed finds utterance.
At the dawn of history, India started on her unending quest
and trackless centuries have filled with her striving and the grandeur
Through good and ill fortune alike, she has never lost sight of that
quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength.
We end today a period of ill fortune, and India
The achievement we celebrate today is but a step,
an opening of opportunity to the greater triumphs
Now, if we want to make this great state of Pakistan
happy and prosperous, we should concentrate
solely and wholly on the well-being of the people.
If you will work in cooperation, forgetting the past,
burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed.
If you change your past and work together in a spirit
that every one of you, no matter what community he belongs
to, no matter what relation he had with you in the past,
no matter what his colour, caste or creed, he is first,
second and last a citizen of this state.
Equal rights, privileges, and obligations.
There is no end to the progress that you will make.
You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques.
Or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan.
You may belong to any religion or caste or creed.
That has nothing to do with the business of the state.
We are starting with this fundamental principle
that we are all citizens, all equal citizens in the one state.
Those speeches signalled the emergence of two new nations
and the beginning of the end of British Empire.
At its height, it controlled 23% of the world's population,
But in the decades since Empire came crashing down, have we ever properly
examined its effect and legacy for us all?
With me now to discuss this are the historians, Yasmin Khan,
Joya Chatterji and Alex von Tunzelmann.
But before I speak to them, I'd first like to call
upon Dennis Wilde, who was an officer in
the British Indian Army in Lahore on the day of partition.
What, Dennis Wilde, did the end of the British Empire look like to you?
Well, I don't think, as a young army officer,
I don't think we were really old enough to think strongly
But, having said that, I think we all realised that it
It took place in dreadful circumstances, where Sikhs
and Hindus murdered Muslims and vice versa.
It made an impact on me because I happened to be in Lahore
at the time and I couldn't get away back to Burma,
And one heard terrible stories of the chaos
and the slaughter that had gone on, which was being cleared up
while we were sitting, waiting to get a train back
You didn't have much of a good word to say about Mountbatten.
my opinion, Mountbatten was too precipitate.
I think he was a man who had made a huge name for himself.
He was the Southeast Asian command supremo,
He was approached by Attlee to become the Viceroy of India
and speed up the whole process, which she did.
I think it all happened too horribly.
We're just coming now to look at a talk about Empire.
Do you think we've ever really come to terms, Joya,
I'm not sure who we are, in your question.
Interestingly, I think all of us in different ways, actually.
If we're talking about the subjects of British Empire, curiously,
I would say to a greater or lesser extent, we have.
I think this generation growing up probably doesn't
about the issues that bothered us so greatly about colonial
When it comes to looking at British people, I think perhaps the answer
I think even so, again, here we have to be careful
about disaggregating between different sections
of British opinion, I would be inclined to say that,
no, there hasn't been that much moving on.
There's a great deal of nostalgia for an imagined Empire
about which people are hugely and strangely ill informed.
They are not taught about what it was or what it actually
Unwillingness to understand that Empire was not
So, actually, one of the ways in which one can think
about the meaning of Empire today is to bring up that awful word
which you probably don't want me to bring up,
When I woke up this morning, or when I woke up on the morning
of Brexit, I thought, this is probably what 15th
Is there any defence, do you think, of Empire that can be
mounted when you hear people saying it was all about infrastructure and,
in fact, the law in India was well made law, and it was the biggest
democracy in the world, and still is one of the biggest
democracies in the world, can you mount that kind of defence?
Not very convincingly, in all honesty.
It wasn't the biggest democracy in the world
Yes, but that's got very little to do with the British.
In terms of defending the British Empire, I think...
Current research really points much less to it being a sort of coherent
project and much more to it being very chaotic throughout,
Of course, it was begun as a private company,
We are in a situation now, and you absolutely make
the distinction about who remembers Empire and in what way.
Just before I come onto Yasmin, I want to talk about this because,
actually, it's not just, as it were, the idea the British
It's also the Belgians and the Congo, it's also
You know, Empire's something the British just don't
I mean, it's lots of different things and I think the confusion
sets in when people think it is a moral slur on individuals
because there were plenty of people's parents and grandparents
who were working as irrigation officers
And I think they feel sensitive about that.
The thing is, ultimately and fundamentally, it is structured
That is the basic premise of Empire, is that one group of people has
the right to rule over another and have more responsibilities,
And, so, I think when you look at it from a modern perspective
of supporting democracy and racial equality, it's just really
Britain's littered in strange municipal parks with statues to men
of Empire who nobody wants to remember now.
I wonder, just bringing Andrews in here, because you've studied
all this, the sociology of all this, tell me, when we're looking
at Empire, we find it very difficult in this country.
I would say white people find it very difficult to imagine
what Empire actually has done for them now.
What it should be is, it should be a stain
Unfortunately, 59% of British people believe it was a good thing
because of the deficits in our school system.
And I think partition's a really good example
So you have that colonial arrogance that you can redraw a map and it
doesn't matter if 12 million people have to move, the same way
You have the callous disregard for black and brown lives.
You see the slave trade, you see it in Africa,
you see it in India, and this is what Empire is.
This whole idea about drawing lines, there was this great
You can also see that in the following year, 1948,
Palestine was partitioned, which has also not turned
And also, Iraq that year was stuck together, which also hasn't
So I think we can probably say on the evidence
of that year that this kind of very high level line drawing
on map and then run away state building isn't very successful.
But, Yasmin, in order to move forward in this country,
do we have to address Empire and in a way
I think atonement is a different thing but I think it's our history.
When people think about British history in segregation from Empire,
to me, that's just unthinkable because the institutions of state,
the economy and the people who are here living in Britain,
We are all children of Empire, so just to put it in a box
as somehow a separate subject denies its fundamental
importance to the origins of the modern British state.
I think we also need to get away from ideas about it
We have heard from some people tonight who did experience it.
And they may have their own opinions, but very few of us had
It's more about trying to understand why it happened,
Why do we find it so difficult in this country to talk about Empire?
It's something that is 300 years of the way we behaved and,
yet, we set it aside because it's too difficult.
I mean, I think there are lots of ways one could try
and start moving towards discussions about Empire which perhaps focus
more on the positive contributions that we see for instance in this
room, of diversity, of flows of goods and people.
It was partly incoherent, but it was also largely an economic
And as we sit today through a moment of deglobalisation, we can
reflect in interesting ways on what it was and what it wasn't
and what its legacies have been and what they might
And also, there is a new narrative now, which is that India
And we are actually going to be looking,
going as supplicants to India, in a way, for a lot more trade.
But there's also, I think, a misapprehension in many minds,
at least in terms of what I've seen, about the approach that Britain's
When it goes as a supplicant, there is an assumption that Britain
is going to be embraced as long lost friends.
That is not how Britain is perceived out there.
The sooner the British recognise that, the better.
But there is some friendliness towards the British.
The term global Britain that Theresa May used the term
that is her very differently around the world.
They remember global Britain differently.
I have spoken to some Indians who say, ask me about Europe.
They want to deal with big blocks of commercial power.
Now, Empire may be long gone, but its legacy is imprinted
In 1948, the government passed an act allowing all citizens
of the former colonies to live and work in Britain and help
rebuild after the ravages of the Second World War,
That open invitation lasted until the early 1960s,
and these British citizens that came from South Asia were among those
who began the transformation of the way Britain looks today.
Canon Roden, what did you know about what happened?
Well, I was at secondary school in the 70s, and I learned
about Clive of India, and I learned about
And then I learned about Gandhi by watching the film.
That was the sum total of my historical knowledge.
So you decided to do something about it.
I thought, I am sure my children, who were at school, I am sure
they will be learning all about India and Pakistan
and Bangladesh in their history, and then I realised
they were learning less than I was learning.
The sticking point seemed to be the terribly sad story
And that was making teachers very shy of teaching Indian history.
So we then tried to set about a method by which we might be
able to try and put the Indian history into the school curriculum,
And when you tried to educate people, what was the response?
Well, I think people would say, "We just didn't know this stuff."
At the moment, the history curriculum is Hitler and the Henrys,
essentially, and it's not good enough.
We have millions of people of South Asian descent in this
country, and it's not serving us well.
So if partition is the most difficult thing that is stopping us
telling the South Asian story, the key thing seemed to be to find
So we have been using drama, a very fine play written
We got various children in from Luton to watch the play,
and then we got the Runnymede Trust in to evaluate how that went.
Luckily, we got an Arts Council grant and that play
But, really, the government ought to shove this onto the National
And to discuss this further, I'm joined by the composer
Nitin Sawhney, Shelina Jan-mohamed, author of Generation M and Love
in a Headscarf and the writer and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor.
These narratives that we have about partition in British Asian
I think it is partly about whether they get heard.
One of the interesting things about the 70th anniversary is that
My mum's 84 and never talked about any of this stuff.
I think part of it is these stories are so traumatic people didn't
want to talk about it but also I don't think there's as much
of this oral tradition, in a way, of storytelling so,
the only way you can sort of own the part is if you know it.
At the moment, I don't feel kids are taught it in schools,
and for a long time they haven't been taught it in
It's interesting you're saying your mum's talked
Has that been very difficult for her?
What has been quite interesting, in a way, is that often you see...
One of the things that's been interesting about the Radio 4
documentary and these programmes, and some of the people you can see,
you see these people, they look old, and they look like if you just
walked past them, you might just think they are sort of, you know,
And you hear their stories, you see there is horror and pain
When I listen to my mum, it made me think about her as a 13-year-old
girl and seeing all this stuff and hearing these kinds of things.
In a way, you're brought back to what these people
were like as children rather than as old people.
Nitin Sawhney, these stories in your family must
I mean, my dad was 20 during the time partition.
He came down from Lahore at that time into India and my mum was 11.
And they do have very dark and awful stories of bloodshed, and so on.
But, at the same time, I think they came to England
And I guess one of the legacies is that there is a real sense
of resisting racism, to be honest, which I think
they passed down to us, to actually really understand
Shelina, there is an issue with conversations between the different
British Asian communities to discuss this.
I've really felt over the last week or so with all this coverage
of partition that actually the barometer's felt very emotional.
I've sat in front of the TV and cried tears at some
of these stories and, actually, what other side,
whatever country, origin you're from, your heritage,
there's been something about loss and heartbreak that has brought
people together and, actually, I think that's rather
poignant and ironic given that, actually, we talk about partition
but, actually, we ought to talk more about independence.
Because this ought to have been a moment of great joy for people
And it's very interesting in the UK we talk so much
about partition and we don't talk about independence.
In a way, that's part of the discussion of trying to think
about Empire as this benevolent good thing.
Actually, when independence was granted, it could have been done
in a completely different way but instead we talk about partition
as a sort of trouble of the colonised that made it all go
wrong when the seeds of this terrible man-made disaster
were in the way that independence was granted.
It is good now to have this particular anniversary
where we are hearing, as you say, so many more stories.
But I wonder, I'm now going to go to the audience
You are a Hindu woman married to a Muslim in this country
and still the communities, on many levels, are still entirely
separate and lots of people within the communities themselves,
I wonder what your story is and how your family dealt with it.
So, my story is my mother was 17 when she left Lahore.
And I guess the genesis of who I chose to marry is the seeds
are there in her story, which is that her life was saved
by a Muslim neighbour, so he was her brother.
He enabled my grandmother and my mother and her sister to escape,
The train after everyone was slaughtered.
They arrived where they were sheltered by Sikh family,
and then she was harassed by Hindu men for being on her own.
What she showed me was the complexity of conflict and violence.
So she kind of stepped away from saying Muslims do
this, or reducing people to their identity, and she spoke
of horror, but she also spoke of compassion.
And, in a sense, was that a way in which you felt at ease
It is a very clear message in any Hindu-Sikh household,
do not marry somebody who comes from a Muslim background.
It's the whole history of Hinduism, Islam in India, seekers.
So, the idea is that partition still reverberates in the lives
One of the things I think is very interesting about the potential
ripples through it are one of the things when you hear
people talk pre-47, you hear people saying,
as you've heard, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus barely
knew what their faith was when they turned up to each
Pre-9/11, and definitely pre the Iranian revolution,
there was a sense of migrant communities basically being Asian.
What's happened since 9/11 and after 7/7 is there has been that
increased fragmentation and identification by religion,
which is exactly what happened after '47,
so there are these parallels of identification by
The way that we frame the story of independence and partition is...
And I speak as somebody who's of Indian heritage,
that India is seen as the great inheritor of the greater India
and somehow Pakistan and Bangladesh, which,
by the way, hasn't been mentioned today.
They are somehow the problem children.
They're seen as the problem children and that reflects back
on the way that we talk about subcontinental communities.
This week the Sun published a column about the Muslim problem.
So these echoes have regenerated through the years.
One of the youngest numbers of the audience is here.
You're going to be very honest and I'm going to ask you, what did
you actually know about the homeland that your family inhabited?
I only knew when I was eight years old that
my grandmother came from India to Pakistan.
Before then, I had no idea that they were one country before.
And I didn't know anything about empire.
No one taught it to me, so I didn't learn about it until I was eight.
And your family never talked about the idea that they had come
from one country and that it had been divided?
Well, they might have done, but I probably wasn't
It is not taught in schools, Nitin, and I wonder if the divisions exist
because many families don't talk about it to their children and they
think, all I know is that I am not to marry a Muslim.
My parents were very complimentary about other religions.
But at the same time, they always said, you should embrace all
religions and all different ways of thinking.
And I grew up listening to great music like Ravi Shankar and lots
As somebody mentioned earlier, food is something we all have in common,
but music is also a great celebration of life.
So, do you think that divisions in the British Asian
community can be closed without a reconciliation
I personally think that this amnesia or ignorance that people
have, partly through education, I think there is an opportunity there
as well, because if people realise that there was a time pre-1947 when
they were together, if people realise the role that the British
had in creating some of those problems,
if they also realise the ties that bind Britain
perhaps some of the existential issues of identity facing the second
and third generation could be alleviated.
We were talking about the idea of the
Indians having this idea of a greater Indian.
Coming from Pakistani heritage, there is an
existential crisis of, how do you feel loyal to a country
How can you feel proud about something which is
So there are existential questions on that side as well.
Do you think this is a defining moment and that the trauma
of partition will never go away, but there is something in this
I think there is an opportunity because of the way these human
It doesn't matter which side of the divide your family came from,
There was huge trauma, and that trauma continues
It is important when we have the conversation about,
what was empire, that the broader British community is in that.
This is a discussion that everybody needs to have with honesty.
We have to understand that actually, the place we are in today
and recognising our place in the world depends
That's it from the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House.
From all our guests both on the stage and in our audience,
Weather-wise, August is the month that keeps on giving. A cool and
fresh start Wednesday morning after a chilly night, but at least lots of
A BBC Newsnight special marking 70 years since the Partition of India in 1947, presented by Kirsty Wark. With remarkable first-hand accounts from the British and British Asians who lived through the Partition, the programme explores the relationship between India and Pakistan, the importance of Britain's role and the legacy of the Empire.