The Problem with Partition

In one of my classes we’re studying the Partition of India and its aftereffects. It seems like a horrible fairytale. Watching the videos, hearing the stories, reading the articles and looking at the statistics–it’s surreal. My class and I couldn’t understand it. It wasn’t logical. Why did so many people want to kill each other?

There are many facets that make up the mosaic of India. Before Partition, Hindus lived next to Muslims, with Jews, Christians and Buddhists scattered about. Working together, living their own lives, they coincided. They worked towards the same goals, and yet worshiped different religions.

The British had control, and exploited most of India, yet for the most part, they coincided. When the time of Gandhi came, the Hindus and Muslims were able to agree on one thing, the British needed to “Quit India.”

What they couldn’t agree on was how their country should be run once the British left.

Some wanted to separate, tired of being a minority. Some were idealistic, and wanted everyone to unite under one Congress, allowing democracy to run freely. Some wanted guaranteed protection against the majority: a special electorate which would guarantee them a say in the government. Some wanted to completely change the system of governance. None were willing to negotiate. They saw their chance to seize control over their lives, and weren’t comfortable trusting their neighbor to look out for them.

The aftermath of Partition was more than horrifying. It was hellish. Neighbor turned on neighbor as thousands of people migrated across the newly formed border. The tension broke, and incredible numbers were killed.

I intellectually understand why this happened: people were scared and confused. They were tired. They suffered great hardships when they had to pack up their homes and move, hoping for their dream life. They were focused on their own troubles, and were unable to recognize that everyone was struggling to regain their balance. The one consistent tie between Hindus and Muslims, their need to coexist (their shared need to contribute to their economy and eventually free themselves from their oppressors) had been cut.

I don’t understand it emotionally. When I look at this, I don’t see two completely alien species migrating in close quarters. There was no dispute. People didn’t agree on how their government should operate, so they were leaving to go to a place they’d be happier. This reason doesn’t seem like enough of a reason to start fighting. I guess you could argue that they were scared, but why would they be scared of each other? They’d lived together for so long. What kept them from learning to trust one another? What caused this hatred?

I don’t understand hating someone enough to want to kill them.

I wonder what the reason was behind the first killing. What made that person snap and turn on someone in a fellow position. Was it grief? Was it revenge?

People say that revenge is a main motivator behind the killings. “An eye for an eye”–Hammurabi’s code. There’s a reason that isn’t used anymore. Gandhi said it perfectly “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” How does killing someone who killed someone you loved right the wrong that was originally done? It doesn’t bring them back. It only creates more pain and terror. When does it stop? Would you still say revenge was a good enough reason to kill someone if it was only the two of you left on the planet?

Maybe I don’t understand because I wasn’t born in the situation. I was born in a country where we all thought enough alike that minor differences, such as American party lines or different sects of a religion doesn’t justify hatred. I was blessed enough to be born in a country where I could speak my mind, and learn to listen to others when they speak theirs. I learned to “agree to disagree” from a very early age.

Yet, there are some disagreements that can’t be left alone. Hitler, for instance. He had to be stopped.  I firmly believe that what Hitler did was evil. He may have been disturbed, he might have truly believed what he was doing would benefit the world, and yet, he needed to be stop. Protagorean relativity is not valid, not when it comes to ethics.

I’m a firm believer that there are some things that are truly evil, no matter what you believe in. Killing in cold blood is usually the best example. Only, that example gets more and more difficult the more you analyze it. I have certain lines that can’t be crossed. Certain things I would not allow. For example, if I met someone who sacrificed animals for their religion, I’d do everything I could (within reason) to stop that. I’d call the police, I’d talk to them about it, and I’d physically stop them from doing that. I wouldn’t kill them, though. If someone believed they had to sacrifice a child in order to practice their religion, the same thing applies. I wouldn’t just kill them, however. Not unless my life was seriously in danger.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I understand fundamental ethical differences. However, I don’t understand killing people over them unless there’s no other option. I haven’t been confronted with people whose religions or ethical systems differ that extremely from mine often. I have had conversations with Muslims and with Hindus, as well as different sects of Christians and Jews. We don’t disagree about any of my basic ethical beliefs (at least those I talked to did not seem to).

I’ll admit that I haven’t read the different religious texts for both Hinduism and Islam. I don’t pretend to be well versed in any religion. I have a basic working understanding (read here: public high school education) of them, however. I don’t understand, from my understanding, why people feel the need to kill over it. Especially if you’ve lived by people who follow the other faith for so long. Especially when you are both going through a similar crisis.

The articles I have read and my discussions with my professor have lead me to believe that the majority of the people in India and Pakistan agree with me. Why fight? However, very powerful “fundamentalist” groups see things differently. They are apparently so starved for power that they are willing to provoke nuclear warfare (killing millions and millions of people, both in Pakistan and India) for the chance to seize control.

My first thought is that everyone in that group suffers from a mental illness. What cause is worth killing billions of people, especially those you theoretically want to control? How is this at all a rational train of thought? How is this at all ethical?

All of those people can’t be DSM certified bat-shit crazy, though. It sounds like it, but it is highly improbable that that is the case.

What is it, then? What is the point of all of this bloodshed? What is the point of the terror? The destruction? The hatred and the blind massacres?


No one in my class could understand it either.

If we can’t understand it, how can we even fight it?

If this is some sort of pandemic of a mental illness, then how can we cure it? How can someone from the outside, anyone, fix this problem? You can’t justify killing them all. You can’t pick them out from the innocents, most of the time. You can’t force them to get along. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. You can try to unite them under a common goal again: economics. But that doesn’t address the root of the issue.

How do you even attempt to reason with an entire group of people when they won’t talk. I doubt any of the leaders from any of the groups fighting would be willing to sit down and discuss this over a cup of tea or coffee. What if there is no reasoning with them? What if they are so different from us that they literally think differently than we do about the value of life and basic ethical principles?

What can we do to help these people?

I honestly don’t know. I don’t know what I, or anyone, could possibly do but slap an economic bandage on the problem and hope it heals over. The problem is, that’s been tried before, and the wound just got infected.

I don’t know what to do.


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