Partition: parallels between the Indian sub-continent and Palestine.
This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the partition of India. Yet this tragedy, which resulted in over a million deaths and the displacement of 15 million people, has not been commemorated. Indeed there is no permanent museum marking this watershed event in India…writes Suzanne Rutland.To mark this occasion an international conference on Mass Violence and Memory was held at Jindal Global University near Delhi in mid-May. Sponsored by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and organised by Drs Rohee Dasgupta and Navras Aafreedi as well as Professor P. R. Kumaraswamy (who was not able to attend because of the death of his father) papers covered topics from the Armenian genocide to violence in India to the Holocaust: https://www.academia.edu/25758301/Conference_on_Mass_Violence_and_Memory
There was also one paper dealing with responses to the decimation of the Australian Aborigines from a health perspective given by public medicine specialists, Australian/Israeli Dr Peter Honeyman and Israeli Dr Eilhu Richter. European diseases had a devastating effect on the indigenous population. Dr Honeyman lives in Israel but returns regularly to Australia to work with indigenous health. Dr Adam Sutcliffe of King׳s College London gave the keynote address on the evolution of Holocaust memory.
The conference finished with a panel relating to education with presentations relating to the South African Holocaust Museum in Johannesburg by Tali Nates, UNESCO Holocaust awareness by Karel Fracapane, USHMM by Krista Hegburg, India by Prof. Samik Bandyopadhyay, and Australia by Professor Emerita Suzanne Rutland.
The parallels between the end of British rule on the Indian sub-continent and Israel are clear, and some of these emerged during presentations. In both cases the British wanted out as quickly as possible; in both cases the decision was made only a few months before the British left – in India’s case, in March with the two new nations being formed in August 1947; with Palestine the UN Resolution was passed on 29 November 1947 and the British withdrew in May 1948. And in both cases there was religious violence – in India between Hindus and Muslims, and also involving Sikhs, and in Palestine between Muslims and Jews.
The result for both was loss of life and displacement. In India over one million were killed and 15 million displaced. In the 1948 Israel-Arab war 6000 Jews, 1 percent of the population died, with around 7000 Arabs killed, and around 700,000 Arab refugees displaced, together with a much smaller number of Jews forced to leave the areas in the Old City and around Jerusalem conquered by the Jordanian Legion. In addition close of a million Jews were displaced from the Arab world in the years following the 1948 war, so that today there are less than 4,000 Jews left in the Arab-Muslim world.
With the millions of Hindu refugees the newly formed Indian government set to work to integrate them. In the period 1947-1951 camps were set up, loans for homes provided and the refugees assisted with finding employment. This was done with a minimum of drama – the government officials simply got to work. The same was true with the survivors of the Shoah and the refugees from the Arab world flooding into Israel. There was much hardship and suffering in both countries but eventually new lives were created.
The integration of Muslims into Pakistan has been less successful but the world does not hear about this. There was further violence and dislocation leading to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 whilst Kashmir has been a running sore with ongoing violence. Since 1995 there has been systematic ethnic cleansing there with 200,000 Hindu refugees fleeing the area. Yet the world is silent, an issue discussed at the conference.
In contrast the Arab world has ensured that the Palestinian refugee problem remains unresolved but not forgotten. Thus, 1948 was indeed a Naqba for the Palestinians but had Israel lost the war it would have been a disaster for the Jews of Palestine. What is more, the tragedy of the Palestinians is the failure of their own leadership and the Arab world to deal with the refugee problem, which has manipulated the situation for their own political ends.
India is only now beginning to talk about the trauma of 1947. Its focus was rebuilding lives but trauma does need to be acknowledged. In contrast the Palestinians have focused on their trauma but they still need to deal with the reality of their situation and begin to rebuild their lives and work towards the creation of two states, rather than focusing on the ‘right of return’. Millions of refugees have been resettled on the Indian subcontinent, without assistance from the UN. After 70 years, now it is time for remembrance. It is time to also resolve the Palestinian refugee problem. The recent conference, together with commemorations that are taking place in India 70 years after partition in 1947, are reminding us of these issues.
Suzanne D. Rutland, OAM, is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical & Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney and well-known Australian Jewish historian.