Tagore’s foreboding about the aftermath of empire proved all too prophetic, not just for India, but for post-colonial states at large. The magic formula ‘divide et impera’ left communities in many of these countries bitterly polarised, often with some sections resenting others—generally minorities—for having been patronised by the colonial state. Differences and historical divisions, coaxed out by imperial midwifery, came to the fore in the narratives being constructed. Arbitrary borders left some communities split between states, and forced others to live with hated neighbours.
All this would erupt in the wake of independence in the 20th century, leading to civil war, ethnic cleansing and some of history’s most terrible genocides. Many of the resulting communal conflicts have continued in hot and cold phases and show no signs of abating, as seen in the ongoing Syrian Civil War and the Israel-Palestine impasse.
- Palestine A Jewish state became a realistic proposition after the British betrayed their promise to the Arabs (who they were inciting to rebel against the Ottomans) via the infamous Balfour Declaration of 1917. Europe virtually exported its ‘Jewish problem’ to the Middle East with Israel’s creation in 1948; this was followed by a Palestinian exodus and a crisis that is still ongoing, with no resolution in sight.
- Lebanon The civil war in Lebanon began in 1975 and continued till 1990, resulting in the death of close to 1,20,000 people. The French controlled the West Asian country between 1920 and 1943, favouring the Christians in a Muslim-majority country. Many pan-Arabic and left-leaning forces who allied with the Palestinians were against the succeeding government, which they thought was pro-Western.
- Syria After WWI, Syria became a de-facto colony of France, and while the French were supposed to prepare it for independence, they created geographical divisions and also divided Syrian society. They tried to impose French and Catholicism later, and appealed to minority groups to rule over the majority, later resorting to bombing Damascus. Shaken by the Arab Spring, the country has been in a state of civil war since 2011.
- Iraq In 1921, eleven years before they left the country, the British installed King Faisal as the ruler of Iraq. Faisal was seen as part of the Sunni elite, who formed the minority compared to the majority Shias. Under Saddam Hussein’s rule, Shias were persecuted, and following the Iraq war in 2004 and Saddam’s death, the country has witnessed a spate of revenge killings by the two communities.
- Afghanistan The country was a pawn in the ‘Great Game’ between Britian and Russia over control, and the former sketched out the Durand Line as the border separating Afghanistan from India in 1893. An Anglo-Russian convention agreed on the idea in 1907, leading to the Pashtun community being cut in half. The Pashtuns are deeply mired in the country’s internecine conflicts today.
- Myanmar Formerly Burma, the country was administered along with India until 1937, and gained independence from British rule in 1948. Colonial powers had encouraged migrant labour for rice cultivation, and the population of Muslims tripled during 1871 and 1911. After they sided with the British during the war, an autocratic government declared the Rohingya Muslims illegal in 1977, leading to one of the worst immigration crises of modern times.
- India The British had apparently been perplexed at the Hindus and Muslims fighting alongside each other during the 1857 rebellion. Subsequently, they imposed divide-and-rule, polarising the communities, and asked for people’s religion during the census. The insecurities fomented led to Muslims demanding a separate state of Pakistan (following the creation of the Muslim League in 1907), to riots which killed thousands across borders during the Partition and the issue of Kashmir, which continues to be a bone of contention.
- Indonesia Indonesia, which had formed part of the erstwhile Dutch East Indies, experienced the Maluku sectarian conflict between 1999 and 2002. Experts say that Dutch policies in the archipelago had set the stage for the conflict between the Christians and the Muslim community, which was described as all-out warfare against the civilian population by militants of both faiths.
- Sri Lanka The seeds of the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict were sown long ago, following British occupation in 1815. A legislative council with equal representation for both communities was established in 1833, leading to polarising rhetoric. Post-independence, majority Sinhalese governments, retaliating against the perceived favouring of the Tamil community during colonial rule, implemented discriminatory policies, leading to escalation, the LTTE and civil war in the 20th century.
- Mauritius The island nation was under French and Dutch control until 1810, when the British took control. Communal riots between the Muslims, who formed the third-largest community, and the Creoles, the second-largest, erupted in 1968 when the country attained its independence from British rule. In 1999, the Creole community clashed with the majority Hindus after a Reggae star was killed in custody.
- Pakistan Pakistan was cleaved out of India following a demand from a section of the Muslim community after the British stoked tensions between communities. 14 million were displaced in the one of the largest mass migrations in history, plagued with instances of rioting.
- Rwanda The African country was controlled by the Germans before Belgium took control in 1916 during WWI. The Belgians favoured the minority Tutsis against the majority Hutus, giving them more power in administration. The Belgians left the country due to anti-colonial sentiment in 1962. In 1994, the country witnessed one of history’s worst genocides when the Hutus slaughtered Tutsis, followed by a counter-genocide. A recent report says over 2 million died in the violence.