IntroductionThe Partition of India is one of the most tragic and yet meaningful events in the world history. Surrounded by myriads of rumors and assumptions, the discussion on these events is continually expanded with new figures and statistics being added. Today, when the number of the people who eye witnessed the Partition is getting smaller day-by-day, it seems to be particularly important to examine primary sources that provide the first-hand data on the given events. The present paper offers the analysis of such primary source, which is Urvashi Butalia’s interview that she took from Maya Rani in the end of the twentieth century. In this interview, Rani describes her vision of the Partition events revealing some unexpected details and dispelling the widespread myths. In the course of the discussion, the interview data is opposed to secondary sources, i.e. historical books and articles devoted to the analysis of the Partition of India.
It is particularly interesting how the comparison between primary and secondary sources allows one to develop a complex understanding of some phenomenon or historical episode. Thus, for example, one of the most disturbing themes that Maya Rani discusses in her interview is the special vulnerability of women during the disturbances. Like any memories, Rani’s stories are highly subjective reflecting her own vision of these horrible events. As a result, the scope of the tragedy can hardly be estimated while examining her recollections. The reader comes across some references to women abuse when Rani describes the Muslim men who “were taking away a woman” or when she tells about the girl that “jumped off the roof to save her honour” (Butalia 2000, p. 269; Butalia 2000, p. 271). However, it is only when we examine the statistics that we come to realize the scope of the tragedy – as Talbot (2009) explains, about “100,000 women from all communities were abducted during the disturbances” (p. 405). To sum up, we are used to thinking that people’s memories are often exaggerated because their owners tend to present the events in a more dramatic manner than they would look like in reality. Rani’s memories, on the contrary, lack any breaking down implications so that the reader is naturally astonished while learning about the extent of the violence from secondary sources.
Another curious point for discussion is the way authority is described in primary and secondary sources. In this view, the examination of historians’ discussions of the relevant period offers a detailed description of the historical personalities that possessed some moral imperative and could have had an impact on the course of events. What is interesting in these discussions is that historians try to oppose different leaders constructing entire theories about which populations could have possibly supported them and why. Thus, for instance, Tablot and Sing (2009) describe the role of Gandhi and Nehru in relieving the tension. The authors describe the conflicting views that these personalities held about the extent of support that the government should offer to Muslims. This encourages a reader to think that Gandhi and Nehru pursued different aims in this conflict and that their moral imperative was directed to different social groups. In accordance with this logic, Gandhi should have been supported by the Muslim population, which would naturally encourage his non-violent initiative in Pakistan, while Nehru views should have been most likely shared by the extremist groups. However, Rani’s interview shows that ordinary people who did not have university degrees were ignorant of all the complicated details underpinning each leader’s philosophy. For people like Rani’s father, both Gandhi and Nehru symbolized unchallenged authorities (Butalia 2000). As such, historians’ analysis of the events, however objective it is, often overlooks the perspective of ordinary people so that it is only a primary source that can show how things looked like in reality.
What a common reader expects from a scholarly source is, first and foremost, objectivity. Pathetic implications, in this view, are most likely to be associated with primary sources, i.e. memories and interviews where a speaker is free to add emotional implications to make the story sound more thrilling. However, the document analysis shows that people’s experience, as they remember it, is less dramatic and pathetic than contemporary historians imagine it. Thus, for example, Menon and Bhasin (1998) devote an entire chapter to the discussion of the moral symbols that Partition entailed for Indian women. In their discussion, a reader comes across the abundance of such philosophical phrases as “asymmetrical relationship to nationality,” “negotiation of identities,” or “transition to freedom” (p. 21). With the help of these rotund words, the authors try to describe the transformation of a woman soul stimulated by the Partition. After reading their text, one acquires an impression that the Partition of India marked a milestone in the evolution of an Indian woman. A similar idea is translated in D’Costa’s book. The author goes even further identifying the Partition events with a “nationbuilding” process (D’Costa 2011, p. 46). In the meantime, when we start examining the primary source, it turns out that ordinary people did not attribute this sort of importance to the events. As Rani explains in her interview, ordinary people did not have a clear idea of the significance of the processes that took place in 1947 in India (Butalia 2000). Instead, they were doing their best to adapt to the given conditions with minimal complications. What historians often neglect is that India of the relevant period could not be divided into two groups: Muslims and Hindus. If that had been true, it would be correct to identify Partition with a nationbulding process. The truth, however, is that the Indian population would also comprise such ethnic groups as Harijans that would identify themselves as an already “built” nation so that the symbols of Partition were alien to them. In her memories, Rani does not add any pathos to the description of the given events. Instead, she emphasizes the fact that her community regarded Partition as “Hindu-Muslim business” (Butalia 2000, p. 269). In this view, the examination of the primary source helps to understand the entire complexity of the social implications characteristic of the time of Partition.
Finally, the comparative analysis of the primary and secondary sources shows that any description of historical events is subjective in its nature. Thus, Rani that is a live eyewitness of the discussed events describes them from her own perspective that can differ not only from the Muslims’ perspective but even from that of her close friend. The historians that were mentioned in this analysis are likewise subjective attributing the desired implications – pathetic, dramatic, or feminist – to their narrative. The lack of objectivity in the description of historical events is very well explained by Pandet (2001), who argues that all historical evidence is composed of rumors and testimony.
As this comparative analysis has shown, the examination of both primary and secondary sources is an essential precondition for acquiring a complex understanding of a particular historical event. Thus, primary sources offer an honest and truthful description of the given events; however, they can be rather biased for the narrator can be ignorant of some statistics or important details. Likewise, secondary sources can offer a complex and detailed description of the event though this description will still fail to present a true to life picture because the authors focus on those implications that seem to be meaningful to them personally exaggerating or neglecting the real meaning of the discussed events.
- Butalia, U 2000, The other side of silence: Voices from the Partition of India, Duke University Press, Durham, UK.
- D’Costa, B 2011, Nationbuilding, gender and war crimes in South Asia, Routledge Contemporary South Asia Series, New York, NY.
- Menon, R & Bhasin, K 1998, Borders & boundaries: Women in India’s Partition, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.
- Pandey, G 2001, Remembering Partition: Violence, nationalism, and history in India, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.
- Talbot, I 2009, ‘Partition of India: The human dimension’, Cultural and Social History, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 403-410.
- Talbot, I & Sing, G 2009, The Partition of India, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY