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Partition 1947 : Part, parcel and perpetrators of violence

entertainment Updated: Aug 14, 2011 02:47 IST
Anjali Nambissan
Anjali Nambissan
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Ajay-Bhardwaj

64 years on and mainstream narrative about Partition still largely remains about refugees falling prey to brutalities inflicted by the 'other' side. Anjali Nambissan caught up with Ajay Bhardwaj, a filmmaker with a unique approach to documenting and decoding Partition for future generations.

Victims came forward and related their horrifying stories. The hell they endured couldn't even be imagined by the collective psyche of the disaffected. Sympathy, pain, anger and helplessness were felt in varying degrees.

But what of those who incited, those who killed and maimed and raped; on either side of the border? What if the evil lurks within and among us and not only - though we'd conveniently like to believe - on the other side of that line that controls?

VIDEO: Ajay Bhardwaj on Partition and perpetrators

Rabba Hun Ki Kara - Thus departed our neighbours
The film is a conversational trip down the memory lane of the 'Partition generation.' The people who witnessed, felt and even practised the violence that the Partition of India in 1947 brought upon us.

Even after over 60 years their memory of events is sharp, as if it happened yesterday. They warmly recall the names of their Muslim neighbours, their classmates, childhood friends, the good times spent together.

Then they recall with sorrow how these neighbours had to leave, or were killed without compunction.

Moreover, they spontaneously conclude their conversations by describing how perpetrators of violence from their community had to pay for their misdeeds of 1947 in their own lifetimes.

These informal tales of people from rural East Punjab, almost like folklore, are strewn across the memoryscape of Punjab 's countryside.

In the village, everyone knows everyone through generations and nothing can be kept hidden. That is why who did what in 1947 is public knowledge. The Partition generation especially, is the custodian of this memory but is fast fading away.

It constitutes a vital link in the chain of Partition narratives.

Moreover, this generation's judgment on the genocide of Partition is extremely crucial for history as well as for society.

The mainstream Partition narrative has largely been about refugee Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims falling prey to brutalities inflicted by and on the 'other' side. But if everyone was a victim, then who were the perpetrators?

"When you look at how Partition has been dealt with over the years there's a huge amount of work that has surfaced - very nuanced, very sophisticated, very dynamic work. From different positions - from the position of gender, from the position of caste also," begins Ajay Bhardwaj, documentary filmmaker and director of Rabba Hun Ki Kara.

"My roots are in that part of rural Punjab which remained with. So the people who had to leave this part were Muslims. Whereas, largely the story we get to hear was of Hindus and Sikhs who had to leave that part of Punjab that became Pakistan and come here as refugees. So my position of looking at Partition was from a completely different perspective because I'm located somewhere else."

A Punjabi by ethnicity, Bhardwaj travelled the state to research his films. His first film on Punjab, Kitte Mil Ve Mahi (Where the twain shall meet) explores the inherent bond between Dalits and Sufism.

He prefers to brand his work as "conversational."

"I'm intuitive! I'm an insider, I mean I know that's how it is. Once the film is made the process is not over nor is it like that if the film would not have been made the process wouldn't have taken place. It's a social process that's still going on. People are talking about."

Bhardwaj has always prefered subjects with politics at the core. But he also works towards letting his films find their own form and centre, through the people and conversations that he films.

The subject of Partition is part of his upbringing.

"I've heard this tale of Partition many times over from my grandparents. They were both Gandhians. They, at that time, crossed the boundaries of caste and interacted with Dalits, they had to face the social consequences for it. They interacted with Muslims, they faced the consequences of it," informs Bhardwaj.

"I heard from them about it - about their own village, their own acts, about their friends. So it was not something that I was being told to learn, it's so anecdotal and so natural - to me it was like breathing. I'm trying to take it further exactly the same way that it came to me."

In the context of Partition violence, India and Pakistan have not experienced anything akin to the Nuremberg trials.

Germany had its student movement of 1960s when children confronted their parents about their role in the killing of the Jews in the Third Reich. South Africa had its Truth and Reconciliation Mission which brought people together.

Why does India have collective amnesia when it comes to Partition violence? None of these perpetrators came to any end, except that ordained by some 'divine' order, as shown in the film.

"One of the reasons is that the nation states always need an outsider as the other. You can't create nations without drawing boundaries. The nation states are not interested in fixing this because their existence depends to a large extent on the process of creating the other," says Bhardwaj.

"You're not admitting to your own guilt. And when you don't do that, you generate hatred. Why is it that any habitation of Muslims in this country is known as Pakistan? Because they're the 'other'."

"Second reason is international pressures are critical to move states and there was no international pressure to confront this. What's important for me is that they may not have done it, but this (Partition) generation has been talking about it for the past 60 years and I need to freeze that as an experience because it will not remain forever. This material will be lost to us."

The demise of this generation is a pertinent fear for him.

"The thing is that this generation that experienced Partition that way is now very old. In another 5-10 years you may not have anybody who witnessed the Partition at that time. You may not have anybody who can narrate to you some experiences and how they feel about it," opines Bhardwaj.

"Descriptions you can read about. But the feelings of - how did you feel when you witnessed that? And how did you negotiate with it all your life? Who will tell you that? Only the people who were there can tell you that and in another 10 years I'm sure there'll be hardly anybody left who can tell from experience."

What a morbid thought. A part of our history, the acts of violence and kindness that made us what we are today will be lost forever, except for the efforts of people like Ajay Bhardwaj.

Next, the filmmaker is working on...

"I'm working on another film based on Punjab that I almost finished twice. I'm also working on a film tracing the trajectory of Vinobha Bhave."

He started work on Punjab around 2002. Why does he reflect back on his homeland?

"What does it mean to be a Punjabi? And through these films I'm trying to answer that. Essentially, I'm telling these stories for myself."

VIDEO: Ajay Bhardwaj on Partition and perpetrators

Ajay Bhardwaj is a documentary filmmaker. He holds a double Masters in Political Studies from JNU and Mass Communications from MCRC, Jamia Milia Islamia. Between 1984 -1987, he was associated with a Delhi based street theatre group, Aahwan Natya Manch. From 1990 to 1996, he produced and directed a diverse range of television programmes on subjects like current affairs, election analysis, game shows, chat shows, popular science shows, as well as infotainment programmes. He has been making documentaries since 1997. His film on Partition memories, Rabba Hun Ki Kariye (Thus Departed Our Neighbours), which excavates the loss of a shared way of life violently ruptured in 1947, has been screened at various festivals in India and abroad.