Friday, August 17, 2007

Midwifing India and Pakistan

What were Lord Louis Mountbatten and his wife, Edwina, doing on the evening of August 14, 1947, a few hours before Britain’s Indian Empire was formally divided into the nation-states of India and Pakistan? An excellent article by Pankaj Mishra in The New Yorker claims they sat down in the viceregal mansion in New Delhi to watch the latest Bob Hope movie, “My Favorite Brunette.” Outside, chaos spread like wildfire as millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs struggled to get to the right side of the border. Thanks to Cyril Radcliffe, a London barrister, who was given forty days to carve out the two nations. He did not visit the villages, communities, rivers, or forests divided by the lines he drew on paper. The article goes on to rightly criticise the sudden withdrawal of the British, which generated more chaos and bloodshed, and how they ended up making religion the defining criterion of one's indentity in the subcontinent.


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