The Partition of India
YORK, March 25, 2010 - "The partition of India
in 1947 was the most traumatic event of the 20th century," said Jaswant Singh, an Indian politician
member. "It continues to live in the psyche, the memories and
the hearts of the people both of India, Pakistan and indeed also Bangladesh."
at Asia Society Headquarters in New York, Singh discussed the events leading up
to India's division and subsequent independence with panelists Devesh Kapur, Dir. of the Center for the
Advanced Study of India, and Yale University's Steven I. Wilkinson.
Singh, a former
senior member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), spoke about his book Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence which
explores India's evolution to a predominantly secular, Hindu nation and the birth
of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
political biography of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who is regarded as the
founder of Pakistan, drew enormous controversy when it was released last year and
resulted in Singh's expulsion from the BJP.
partition is a topic that will and has evoked a passionate reaction and Jaswant Singh's
book has generated the same level of discussion," acknowledged Asia Society
President Vishakha Desai in her opening
Singh quoted Mahatma
Gandhi who called "the partition of India a vivisection. It is a phrase that is
not much liked. The reality remains whether it is Pakistan or India... they are
born of the same womb. It was not a natural birth, it was what is called a
He said it is a myth that the partition was peaceful
and that the British left in an act of altruism. Instead, he said that by the
end of the Second World War, England was a tired country, its financial
resources were gone and it wanted to leave the sub continent. "It was not a
peaceful transfer of power... At least 13 to 15 million beings lost their lives
and many multiple human being lost their homes," said Singh.
Steven I. Wilkinson, Yale University Professor
of Political Science and International Affairs, said that while these figures are particularly high by
most historical accounts, it is hard to verify exactly how many people died in the
partition because so many people were unaccounted for or went "missing."
Wilkinson added Singh's book has a unique historical
perspective because as a politician he has a better sense of how other
politicians would have acted and seen things at the time.
his closing remarks, Singh said in the years ahead politicians will continue to
delve deep into the reasons for this tragedy but at the time his relatives were
bewildered that their country was being cut up and felt no sense of the
divisions now felt between Hindus and Muslims.
asked what role the United States or NATO should play in helping India and
Pakistan resolve their longstanding conflict, Singh said "we will have to solve our problems...
How is the North Atlantic going to solve the problems of our region?"
This program is co-sponsored by the Center for the Advanced
Study of India (CASI), University of Pennsylvania and CASI's Nand &
Jeet Khemka Distinguished Lecture Series.
Reported by Jennifer Mattson,
Managing Editor of Asia Society Online