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Explained: The Partition Horrors Remembrance Day, The Toll Of The Partition And What Critics Say

The Independence of India was accompanied by Partition in which India and Pakistan were formed, leading to the migration of over 1.5 crore people, of whom up to 10,00,000 are believed to have been killed in communal violence as per some estimates.

A refugee camp after the Partition of India in 1947 I Getty Images
A refugee camp after the Partition of India in 1947 I Getty Images

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday paid homage to those who lost their lives in the 1947 Partition.

On the occasion of Partition Horrors Remembrance Day, Modi appluaded "resilience as well as grit of all those who suffered during that tragic period of our history". 

Exhibitions are being held across the country to bring forth the sufferings and challenges people faced during the Partition. These exhibitions come amid celebrations across the country as part of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, which celebrates 75 years of Indian Independence. 

Here we explain what's the idea behind the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day, how and why the Partition took place, and why some are expressing criticism and caution regarding it.

The idea behind Partition Horrors Remembrance Day

Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year announced that August 14 would be observed as the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day.

Modi hoped that the day would keep "reminding us of the need to remove the poison of social divisions, disharmony and further strengthen the spirit of oneness, social harmony and human empowerment".

The general idea behind such days, such as the Holocaust Remembrance Day, is to recall and reflect on the tragedy and learn lessons from it so that it's not repeated in the future. 

Independence of India from the British was also accompanied by the Partition of India into India and Pakistan. While celebrating the Independence, through the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day, one also remembers the Partition.

"The birth of the newly independent Indian nation was accompanied by violent pangs of Partition that left permanent scars on millions of Indians...While celebrating our Independence, a grateful nation also salutes those sons and daughters of our beloved motherland who had to sacrifice their lives in the frenzy of violence," said the Union government in a press release.  

Why was India Partitioned, what was the toll?

The British India was divided into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, leading to widespread migration as Muslims in large numbers moved to newly-formed Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs moved from there to India. The mass-migration was accompanied by great communal violence. 

Around 80 lakh non-Muslims moved from Pakistan to India and around 75 lakh Muslims moved from India to Pakistan (both West and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh), according to Government of India's estimates. Some estimates say that up to 10 lakh people might have been killed in the violence.

"The estimate of those killed has varied from 5,00,000 to over 10,00,000. The generally accepted figure stands at around 5,00,000," notes the Government of India. 

The Partition of India was rooted in the demand for a separate country for Muslims, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League. 

"On March 23, 1940, at a crowded open meeting held in Lahore, Jinnah moved that the 'Lahore Resolution' be adopted. The resolution demanded the creation of a country in which the Muslims of British India would be permitted to lead their lives according to their political, social, and religious culture," noted the book Pakistan Fifty Years Of Nationhood

However, it has been noted that the idea of Pakistan had been there for decades before 1940. 

The Partition Museum notes, "The demand for a separate nation for Muslims had been raised by various Muslim leaders in the previous decades, most famously by Allama Iqbal at a Muslim League conference at Allahabad in 1930 where he articulated the idea of a Muslim nation within India. The term 'Pak-Stan' had been coined by Choudhry Rahmat Ali in the 1930s while he was studying at Cambridge University."

Caution, criticism of Partition Horrors Remembrance Day

The Partition Horrors Remembrance Day has also attracted criticism and caution from people.

The Congress party last year termed it as a way to divert people from the problems of the day such as inflation.

Saif Ali in The Print noted that reconciliation with dreadful portions of history can be a slippery slope and asserted the importance of peaceful reconciliation.

"This exercise is a slippery slope in a country whose history is highly contested and complex, therefore it should not come at the cost of disrupting the larger harmony of the nation. After all, the vainglory of the perished must not hamper the future prospects of the alive," noted Saif.

The Congress on Sunday criticised the day in a series of tweets.

"The real intent of PM to mark Aug 14 as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day is to use the most traumatic historical events as fodder for his current political battles," said Congress MP Jairam Ramesh on Twitter.

Ramesh further alleged that VD Savarkar had come up with the two-nation theory.

"The truth is Savarkar originated 2 nation theory and Jinnah perfected it...The modern day Savarkars and Jinnahs are continuing their efforts to divide the nation. The Indian National Congress will uphold the legacy of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and many others who were untiring in their efforts to unite the nation. The politics of hate will be defeated," said Ramesh in a series of tweets.

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