Tag: India’s partition

SAT EXCLUSIVE – Viceroy’s House is my interpretation of India’s partition in 1947: Gurinder Chadha

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SAT Editor Neeraj Nanda interviewing Gurinder Chadha.

By Neeraj Nanda

British Historian E. H. Carr wrote: “History means interpretation.” The 300-years of colonial history and the British rule in India has been a much written and debated subject. Director Gurinder Chadha delves into this rather contentious subject with her movie ‘Viceroy’s House’ dealing with the final months of the Empire leading to the birth of two nations- India and Pakistan. For six months in 1947, Lord Mountbatten, British India’s last Viceroy, is charged with handing India back to its people. The happenings in Viceroy’s house both political (politicians wrangling over issues) and social (within the staff) go on as the country is hit by unprecedented violence and mass migration. A love story with the young lovers caught up in the vortex of the partition drama runs parallel to these developments. The story is personal to Gurinder Chadha, whose own family was engulfed in the tragic events as the British Raj came to an end.

Gurinder Chadha, was in Melbourne to promote the movie (releasing here on 18 May 2017) and I caught up with her at the 3AW building.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: How challenging was the ‘partition’ subject as you researched the script?

A: Very challenging. Because it is also personal and a sad subject. Sad for Punjabis and Bengalis as these states were divided. But the story needed to be told. This is the shadow of it. Lots of old people who were there then. I wanted to do it before the generation is lost. So that they could feel their stories are told.

Q: Any hurdles in the scripting?

A: Yes, the biggest problem was how to show the violence. I did not want to stir up communal feelings. This was a big issue for me. I saw the archives to show the right things.

Q: How much time the scripting took?

A: It took five years.

Q: This August it will be 70 years since partition. But the issues are still the same. Religious intolerance continues.

A: Well, I feel this is what the politicians do and that is what the film shows. It’s easy to divide and rule us. It is an effective way of controlling problems between people. Focus shifts and there is a distraction from the real business of the government. Whenever anyone uses hate you can be sure they are using it to detract from real issues.

Q: The relationship between a Hindu and a Muslim runs parallel with the partition drama. What are you trying to convey?

A: I wanted the film as history as well as entertaining for the audience. I wanted to set a love story that allows you to tell those stories of the division with the emotional sets where the lovers are deciding what to do.

Q: The film mentions about those top secret documents about partition. Are you saying the British had already decided to split India?

A: Yes. But I don’t want to elaborate the documents. I encourage the people to see the movie. What I have done is to base the movie on secret British documents that go back to 1945 telling a different story what officially happened as compared to the stories normally we have been told. And it is interesting and important because it tells the partition from a British-Indian perspective. Therefore, every Indian is interested in the history and story of partition. People should go to see the movie to see what is uncovered in the end.

Q: You admit your own family’s partition experience inspired the film. There was so much tragedy and pain. How could you overcome this and give a positive message in the film?

A: It’s very hard. I didn’t watch the movie. I get upset. I came towards the end of the movie and watched it. One just has to be strong and we have to move on. Three wars have been fought between India and Pakistan. This is rooted in the partition. This movie has generated debate and people talking about it.

Q: So, the two-nation theory that Hindus and Muslims are different nations is no good.

A: There are more Muslims in India than Pakistan.

Q: A million died in the riots and millions were uprooted and became refugees. What is the message for today’s world where again millions have been crossing borders?

A: I agree. People are moved and touched by this movie because it highlights the events that happened 70 years back and is not different from what is happening today. Hope there is an impact and the refugee experience is humanized.

Q: Would you make a movie on this subject?

A: Maybe, depends on the script.

Q: Fatima Bhutto in her review says your movie is a colonial version and misrepresents historical reality. What do you say?

A: I replied to her in the Guardian. She misrepresented the film. She is a politician and sees the film as anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan. But lots of Pakistani people said she feels different from what we see. She is from an elite Pakistani family who never lost their lands etc. and nothing of theirs was touched during the partition. She has everything and never experienced what others did. A Muslim girl wrote in the Huntington Post that by attacking the film all British Asians have been attacked. It’s good the movie has created a debate. Fatima herself felt bad as a lot of people called her review bad journalism. The film she describes is not the film that most people feel it is.

This is a British-Indian film. A Pakistani would have made a different film. An Indian from India would have made a different film. A White person would have made a different film. Anyone can make a film with their own interpretation.

This movie is my interpretation as a British-Indian woman. My version of what happened. I am what I am. Indians will say differently and Pakistanis will say it differently.

Q: So, we can say this is Gurinder Chadha’s interpretation of partition?

A: Yes, it is. Of course, this is my film.

Q: The Indian Censor Board is quite strict these days and liberal in demanding cuts?

A: They have passed the movie with no cuts.

Q: Would you agree while we blame the British and the politicians for the tragedy, our own roles also need to be examined. Are we also responsible?

A: You have to answer that. I made my film. It’s for others to look at their own situation. I made it with historical facts as I see them.

Q: Tell me about your upcoming TV serial on British India?

A: I have a TV company that makes programs. We plan to make a serial on British Raj starting 1800 and build up the story of India’s first war of independence in 1857.

Reckless abuse of history

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By Ram Punayani

History is not just the past. It is a potent weapon for various political agendas in the present. It can be clearly seen in the use of history in rise of Hindu-Muslim rightwing in India. As far as presently dominant Hindu national politics is concerned, this abuse of history can be seen in the type and period of History used. When Meenaxipuram, conversions of dalits to Islam took place in 1981, the message taken up was that of Islam’s spreading in India as a ‘threat’. With the rise of Ram Temple movement, the indication was towards the Muslim kings’ destroying Hindu temples and insulting Hindu religion. The Babri demolition and consequent violence had the underlying propaganda of temple destructions by Muslim kings. At the same time a slogan came up ‘Muslaman ka do hi sthan: Kabristhan ya Pakistan (only two places for Muslims: Pakistan or graveyard), asserting that India is meant only for Hindus. As we move a bit more towards Gujarat carnage 2002 we see the projection of ‘terrorism’ and Muslims on one hand and the projection of Miyan Musharraf as the symbol of Indian Muslims. In Maharashtra Shivaji was projected in various ways to show the tyranny of Muslim kings. Currently serials like Bharat ka mahan Saput Rana Pratap, and Jodha Akbar also give the same message.

Lately the present history, history of Modern India is under the chopping block of communal forces. On one hand the projection of Sardar Patel, with emphasis on his being anti-Nehru and the other various conjectures of this period are being dished out. It is being asserted that Congress ‘facilitated Partition’ (Narendra Modi while talking in Kheda in Gujarat). This is a very motivated statement. As a matter of fact the two major leaders who were handling the negotiations at that time, on behalf of Congress, were Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. Mr. Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah, taking one sided view blames Nehru-Patel for partition. It was banned by Modi in Gujarat, as he won’t brook any criticism of Sardar Patel. Here with a forked tongue, two things are being said at the same time, Patel eulogized for his contribution and Congress being blamed for partition, unmindful of the fact that it was Nehru-Patel duo, which was acting together on the issue of India’s partition.

That way the tragedy of India’s partition is like a big canvass, and most of the commentators look at the part of the canvass which suits their politics and put all the focus on that. This focusing on one part of canvass, selective historiography, is due to the motives and political understanding of these commentators. Seeing the whole process will tell us a different tale. The partition tragedy cannot be located just in the final phase when the negotiations between British rulers, Muslim League and Congress were going on. Partition process was the culmination of a long process, which began with the aftermath of anti-British revolution in 1857. The first factor in the process of division was the British decision to implement the policy of ‘Divide and rule”, thereby to introduce communal historiography. The second major factor was the persistence of feudal classes despite the beginning of industrialization and modern education. These feudal elements, the declining classes, felt threatened by the rising, nascent democratic nationalism, as represented in the formation of various organizations of industrialists, workers and educated classes and the formation of Indian National Congress. These declining classes, Hindus and Muslims landlord-kings, were together in the beginning. One major step in the direction to break them along religious lines was Lord Elphinstone’s encouragement to Muslim landlords, Nawabs, and to recognize them as representatives of Muslims. This led to formation of Muslim League in 1906. In tandem with this Punjab Hindu Sabha came up in 1909, Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and RSS in 1925. These communal organizations started getting support from section of educated elite apart from some upper castes and traditional traders. These communal organizations were against democratic nationalism and articulated religious nationalism.

The third and major theoretical expression for partition comes from the ideologue of Hindu Mahsasabha, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who said that there are two nations in the country, the Hindu nation and Muslim nation. The separate country for Muslims was articulated by Chowdhary Rahmat Ali in 1930, Pakistan. This got politically consolidated in 1940 with Jinnah’s demand for a separate country in the form of Pakistan (West and East). Fourth important step in the direction was the fact that the demand of Pakistan suited the designs of British colonialist’s long term plan to have a base in South Asia. As Communism, Soviet block was progressing and inspiring leaders of many national movements, like China Vietnam in particular, colonialists wanted to counter this by having a political base in South Asia. In India, Soviet Union inspired the communist and socialist movement. People of the caliber of Nehru, Jaya Prakash Narayan and others were with Congress Socialist Party, an in-house organization within Congress. Seeing the influence of socialist ideology on the major leaders of national movement, the colonialists and imperialists were keen that India should not remain united. There keenness of partition encouraged the demand of Pakistan.

Congress at this point of time found itself in a trap. On one side the stalwarts of National movement, Gandhi and Mualana Azad were opposed to the partition in the deeper political way. Nehru and Patel; experienced the blockades put up by the Muslim League in interim government. The choice before this duo was either to go on with a Cripps mission plan, which gave very little power to the center, or to go for partition and have a strong Center in India. The calculation of Nehru was that without the centralized economy; country cannot progress. The Bombay plan, economic blueprint of industrialists, wanted the state to provide for heavy industries, as industrialists realized that they are not capable for setting up large industries. This was parallel to the vision of Nehru, who envisaged land reforms and industrialization to take India forward. Sardar Patel had the vision of the strong center so he was also not for the loose federation of states as provisioned by Cripps mission.

To blame Congress of facilitating India’s partition is nowhere close to the truth. But the way History, even the modern Indian history, is being bulldozed for the political convenience, and the eagerness to grab power come what may, sacrificing the truth, is not a big deal for the communal politicians.
Source- Plural India