Source: Sabrang/Hillele TV
Source: Sabrang/Hillele TV
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.
By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Mar 14 (IPS) – The graves at a cemetery in Moach Goth have no epitaphs, no verses from the
Koran, not even the names of the deceased. The only inscription on the small
wooden signs that serve as headstones is a number and the date of burial. The
latest one is Number 72,315.
This is a burial ground of unclaimed dead, overseen by the Karachi-based
Edhi Foundation. It is also the gravesite of newborns abandoned by unwed
mothers who face death for bearing the fruit of ‘illicit’ relationships.
Established by Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi, the foundation is South Asia’s
largest private social service network. For the past six decades, it has been
providing burials for dead and abandoned newborns.
“Last year the number of abandoned newborns we buried across Pakistan was
1,210,” foundation spokesperson Anwar Kazmi told IPS.
The number is up from 999 in 2009, and 890 in 2008 – most of them baby
girls. In Karachi alone in 2011, the foundation buried 30 infants retrieved
from garbage dumps and drains, or brought to them by the police.
These figures come only from a few urban centres. “The number could be
much higher, but we will never find out,” said Kazmi, who has been with the
foundation for 40 years.
In this conservative Muslim nation, having a baby out of wedlock is considered
a sin, and adultery is punishable by death under strict interpretations of
“Young people are having babies out of wedlock and even when they want to
get married of their own free will, they are denied this right bestowed by
Islam by parents,” Kazmi says.
He narrates a tragic episode illustrating the mindset prevailing in society. The
story occurred 25 years ago in Khamosh Colony, one of Karachi’s squatter
“A woman left a newborn on the steps of a mosque just before sunrise. When
the men came out after offering their morning prayers and found the baby,
they informed the cleric, who proclaimed it to be an illicit baby which should
be stoned to death. And it was,” Kazmi said.
The mindset prevails, and extends even to government hospitals where some
doctors turn away desperate women, who then seek the help of “unskilled
Shershah Syed, an eminent obstetrician and gynaecologist, told IPS that while
abortion is legal, it is still not carried out in government hospitals. If it were,
there would be a “marked decrease” in infanticide.
“There needs to be a sea change in the attitude of the doctors who refuse to
address the needs of a pregnant woman, or a woman who comes for
termination and desires privacy and confidentiality,” Syed told IPS.
At the Moach Goth cemetery near Naval Colony some 14 kilometres from the
city centre, the smaller graves are just mounds of earth and don’t even get a
number. The only sign is an inconspicuous yellow stone marking the head of
Khair Mohammad, the graveyard’s 65-year old caretaker, has been the
gravedigger for almost 29 years, an occupation his four sons took up as well.
Pointing to the 10-acre piece of land, Mohammad says it is the third one the
foundation acquired just three years back, and is fast filling up. The other two
just across the road are in decrepit condition.
But for sometime now, Mohammad said, he has been getting requests for
more and more graves for babies.
“Last year, we must have dug between 200 to 250 graves for the young ones,”
he recounted. Mohammad’s middle son also performs the last prayer before
the dead are finally laid to rest.
Twenty-five year old Haq Nawaz has been giving these babies the rite of the
last bath, putting them in a plastic bag, and then shrouding them in white
cloth, in keeping with the Muslim ritual.
“I was very scared in the beginning and a decomposed body smells awful,” he
Nawaz, who has been at his job for four years, said he has seen babies
infested with insects, “creatures coming out from their nose and eyes” or
having skin so “frayed” that it comes off at the slightest touch.
It takes a lot of courage, he said, to bathe the dead. “I feel privileged to be
doing this deed as in Islam, we believe, performing this last ritual earns you
points for the hereafter,” Nawaz said. To him, only the act of conceiving, and
not the baby, is illegitimate, and he said he fails to understand how anyone
could snuff the life out of such tiny beings.
Since the early 1970s, Kazmi said, the foundation has installed cradles
outside some of its centres where parents could leave unwanted children.
Today all of the foundation’s 335 centres have one and scores of babies are
left in the foundation’s care.
Every day, at their centre in Mithadar, 70-year old Bilquis Edhi, the wife of
founder Maulana, interviews at least four or five childless couples desperate
to adopt – making certain the babies go to the right people. “The ones
leftover with us are always the girls and the sick,” she says.
But the possibility of giving up babies for adoption has not stopped
infanticide. “We advertise our cradles every third day, but have not succeeded
in stopping the murder of these innocent lives,” Kazmi said.
Babies are born out of wedlock in all societies, Syed pointed out. But, he said
the trend of unwanted pregnancies is likely to increase “in urban centres,
where poor families are living in one-room homes and where there is no
privacy even for married couples, where there is little or no education, where
the sole entertainment and exposure to the outside world is through films and
the idiot box.” One solution, he proposed, is age-appropriate all-
encompassing reproductive health education to be incorporated in school
curricula for the young.
By Neeraj Nanda
Melbourne: India’s Foreign Minister has said the country was engaging China and its foreign policy was not Pakistan centric. He said India wanted a strong and democratic Pakistan and certain bilateral issues are held up because Pakistan was not cooperating in the Mumbai terrorist attacks issue. Mr. Krishna was replying to a question by South Asia Times (SAT), leading South Asian paper in Australia.
Mr. Krishna also told SAT he had raised issues related to Indian overseas students in Australia and was assured by Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd of full cooperation in the matter.
Meanwhile, Australia said it will “continue to discuss” with India its “differences” on whether to export Australian uranium for India’s civil nuclear purposes. The decision will take place “within the framework” of the “strategic partnership” that Australia established with India in 2009, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd told a media conference after talks with the External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna in Melbourne on Thursday.
The two leaders reviewed bilateral ties and discussed international issues under a bilateral “framework dialogue.”
Mr. Krishna was assisted by Secretary (East) Latha Reddy, High Commissioner Sujatha Singh and Adviser Raghavendra Shastry.
The Australian Foreign Minister also raised the issue of the non-payment of bills to its companies by the Commonwealth Games (CWG) Organising Committee (OC).
“It has been brought to my notice and I will go back to India and take it up with the sports ministry,” Krishna said and the Australian minister expressed satisfaction over the assurance.
“We are comfortable about the Indian government’s response… These matters are well in hand,” Rudd said.
Later during a media conference with the South Asian/Indian media Mr. S. M. Krishna on a question by South Asia Times (SAT) said India was engaging China and its foreign policy was not just Pakistan centric. He said India wanted a strong and democratic Pakistan and certain bilateral issues are held up because Pakistan was not cooperating in the Mumbai terrorist attacks issue.
Mr. Krishna also met a large number of members of the Indian diaspora in Melbourne.
Earlier, Mr. S. M. Krishna has arrived here on a three- day visit today. Mr Krishna is expected to meet with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson. His talks with Mr. Kevin Rudd will be the seventh round of the framework dialogue between the two countries.
- With inputs from other media also.
By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Pakistan, Nov 18 (IPS) – They are young, educated, urban women who frequent cafes, shop
at ritzy fashion outlets, and go to yoga classes whenever they have time off work.But they also wear the ‘hijab’ or Muslim headdress, which even in this mainly Muslim South Asian country makes them a target for derision in far too many instances.
Indeed, while more conservative clothing like the ‘burqa’
– which leaves only a woman’s face (though at times even the
eyes and hands) uncovered – have been worn here for
centuries and accepted as South Asian garb, modernists
consider the ‘hijab’ as a dress more in keeping with Arab
culture. Both however are for the same purpose of purdah, or
the shielding of women from public observation by means of
concealing clothing and separate physical spaces.
Unfortunately, too, what some Muslim women wear as
reminders of their choice to be modest and humble have been
associated instead with extremism, even though they feel
that covering themselves and being modern are not
necessarily in conflict with each other.
As a result, Pakistani women who don the veil and also
the ‘abaya’ (a black outer garment that also covers a woman
from neck down), have been called derogatively as “ninjas”,
“fundos”, “Taliban”, or “mullani” (female version of
Many seem uncomfortable around them. One hijab-wearing
journalist says that when she applied for a job at a media
company, her interviewer looked at her from head to toe
while asking if she would be able to fit in the firm’s
Ansa Khan, 40, says that a bank refused to let her open
an account there because she had her face covered. According
to Khan, the manager said the bank policy demanded that the
person opening the account must reveal his or her face, and
there were no female staff at the branch at the time.
Farahnaz Moazzam, who covers her head and wears the
abaya, observes, “People are more conscious and cautious
when I am around. They laugh less and whisper more.” And
unless she smiles first, she says, she is bound to be
surrounded by serious faces.
Says Moazzam, who gives Koranic lessons to women: “It’s
interesting how, over the years, people have asked me
questions like, ‘Do you crack jokes?’, ‘Do you make
mistakes?’, ‘What do you and your family talk about?’, ‘Do
you ever get angry?’, ‘Do you watch TV?’”
For sure, these women find such an attitude ironic in a
country where females are expected to dress modestly in the
first place. But some like Khan concede that their choice of
clothing may remind people of unpleasant events.
Among these is a 2007 incident in Islamabad in which
about 6,500 hijab- and abaya- wearing women of Jamia Hafsa,
a seminary attached to the Lal Masjid, had challenged the
government’s authority. A bloody army operation ensued,
resulting in the death of many students.
At the same time, the incessant images in media of women
clad in abayas and burqas in more conservative societies
like Saudi Arabia and Taliban-era Afghanistan seem to have
led many people here to associate such clothing with ultra-
The mildest expectation of women like her, says the
hijab-wearing journalist, is that they are “as perfect as
(angels)”. Moazzam agrees, saying, “They think too highly of
me because I am trying to follow one command of my religion
that is outward.”
Touba Naeem, who has been wearing a hijab for the last
eight years, says that people take one look at her attire
and assume that she is “not fun”. Single at 27, she adds,
“Hijab can be a potential detriment (to) good marriage
Interestingly, most of these women say their worst
critics are not strangers, but members of their family. One
woman says that her father and older brother “opposed
initially” her decision to don a hijab. Another says that
when she started wearing a veil, “my older brother would
pull it off my head in gatherings”.
One young socialite who began wearing a hijab after her
marriage says that her husband at first was hesitant in
accepting her veil. But all hell broke loose when she
started to wear the abaya, she says. “He refused to
introduce me to his friends or sit with me at social
gatherings, as if he was ashamed,” she recalls. Over the
years, she says, her husband has accepted both her hijab and
Yet for all their hardships that have come their way
because of what they want to wear, these women remain
adamant about their dress of choice. Aside from considering
it as an offering to Allah, the women say dressing the way
they do liberates them from worries about their looks and
allows them – and other people – to concentrate on more
Comments Moazzam: “I don’t feel like a product or an
object anymore. Now people notice my smile, my conversation,
and take me more seriously.”
The socialite, for her part, says that she did weigh the
pros and cons of wearing a hijab and concludes: “The
discomfort of not wearing it outweighed the joys of showing
off. I am happier doing it.”
Moazzam does say, however, that women who cover
themselves up should not treat life as “a prolonged bad hair
“You should look your best and maintain yourself,” she
says, “for your family and most importantly, for yourself.”
“Fashion, why not?” says Moazzam. “I am as normal as any
other woman. I have, however, come to a point where I am
covering up my fashion statement, jewellery, haircut, in
front of the crowd. But I still do it and enjoy it.”