The British Raj in India ended in 1947, giving rise to two new countries- India and Pakistan. It was hoped that this would usher in a new era of freedom. Instead, at the stroke of the midnight hour, while the world slept, India awoke to chaos and riots.
The partition triggered mass casualties, displaced around 16-18 million people from their ancestral homes and tore apart families. People fled their affluent lifestyles, and lavish homes to settle into deplorable refugee camps. Stability and personal history were waylaid on the journey to safety but very few would achieve it. Where communal violence didn’t succeed in spreading death, plague and diseases would. Burning pyres dotted the bloody roads, as the weary kept moving.
The night brought on fresh horrors, to rest or not to? When cracked feet couldn’t keep moving, and sleep was imminent. There was danger of losing the few material possessions left or life. Dacoits and rioting groups ran rampant. Women had to be disguised and protected, targeted as symbols of community honour. They were treated like objects to be “broken” or “spoiled”.
There wasn’t adequate military presence to establish law and order. People fleeing the violence in Pakistan often got interred in the brutality of life in the refugee colonies. They left their land, in search of a home, only to end bereft of either.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end but rather the beginning of their new lives. Very little of this struggle has been memorialised or saved. Often dramatized, the stories of these people are only used as inspiration porn, played in big movie theatres or during Independence Day before they’re shelved away for another year.
The struggles that these people faced in their real lives extends beyond their journey, it’s how they built their new life with the bricks of the past’s ashes. It’s their recollections of the days, months, years spent in forgotten unsanitary camps, riddled with cholera outbreaks, food scarcity, and severe poverty. It’s the story of rich landowners, and prosperous farmers learning new skills to survive in a new India. It’s the story of people who were now refugees of their own country.
For to stay in the past, meant to starve. To ponder over the hazardous journey they’d trekked via trains, buses, bullocks or on foot, would only leave them trapped. So, they tucked away their memories of lost loved ones and headed out every day in search of menial jobs, and a permanent roof.
They built a new legacy, from their perseverance, grappling with the loss of their home, and familiarity. They began anew. Too little is known about them, and how they built themselves back. We should all endeavour to learn more about their story for it’s their hard work and perseverance, that is every Indian’s legacy.
Written by Archisha Kalra for MTTN
Edited by Kriti Gopal for MTTN
Featured Image by Gracey Zhang
Artwork by Jimmy Engineer