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Since 1st March, 1999
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Divided Countries, Separated Cities: The Modern Legacy of Partition Edited by Ghislaine Glasson Deschaumes and Rada Ivekovic, Oxford, Rs 395

The essays in the volume under review are linked up by a common theme: partition as a means of solving political or ideological disputes. Radha Kumar’s article, “Scuttling partition hostilities,” leads from the front, asserting that partition does not work as a solution to ethnic conflict, rather, it restructures the sources of conflict around borders, refugees and diasporas. This is borne out by a study of the leading partition conflicts in Ireland, India-Pakistan, Israel-Palestine, Cyprus and former Yugoslavia.

Kumar also points out that whether de jure or de facto, partition along ethnic lines have not stabilized over the time. The conflict in Northern Ireland has lasted 70 years and spawned a prolonged phase of terrorism. The partition of India has thrown up two perpetually hostile states. The Green Line remains a zone of tension between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus, while the United Nations-sanctioned partition of Palestine has been honoured far more in breach than in observance.

Kumar goes on to say that partitioned lands tend to remain in a long term flux in which both collective and individual stability remain vulnerable to minor irritants and thus conflict erupts frequently.

Syed Sikander Medhi in his article, “Refugee Memory in India and Pakistan”, provides a graphic account of the violence caused by the partition of India — a carnage perpetrated by members of three religious communities, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs — which cost one million lives. It resulted in the greatest migration in human history and the large-scale population displacement created a massive refugee problem which has few parallels in human history.

In the span of just a few months in 1947, as many as 12 million people moved between India and the newly-created Pakistan. The largest proportion of these refugees — more than 10 million — crossed the western border that divided the province of Punjab. Here Muslims travelled west to Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs east to India. In between, on the roads, in the paddy fields and on the railway tracks awaited murder, loot, rape and abduction.

Women in a sense were the worst victims of this holocaust. According to Mehdi, some 100,000 women, on both sides of the border, were abducted, mainly in the Punjab. Many were raped, killed, sold into prostitution rackets or passed around.

Other opinions also seem to weigh against partition. According to Ranabir Samaddar, although partition is usually followed by independence, it spreads pessimism and promotes an impossible yearning for the pre-partition days and the pre-partition lands. A partition fulfils the dream of a homeland but at the price of creating what Salman Rushdie calls “imaginary homelands”. “All kinds of footloose people emerge at the end of the tunnel — refugees, migrants, immigrants, exiles and aliens who will forever live in these imaginary homelands.”

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