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Parallels between Indian and Palestinian Partition

Photo: Freemanpedia

By Inamul Haq

Partition, whether in the Indian Sub-continent or in Palestine, is considered as a catastrophe in history, resulting in lakhs of casualty. Stanley Wolpert describes Partition as a “shameful flight” of the British colonialists. For their survival and benefit, the British partitioned both India and Palestine on societal, ethnic, ideological, religious/sectarian, and geographical lines.

During August 1947 in India and again nine months later (May, 1948) in Palestine, the problem of post-colonial governance and social order was resolved by the partition of land on the basis of identity, religion, and ethnicity. It is noteworthy that partition has no consistent meaning for the populations across these countries and can be understood in the context of detailed, specific memories, images, and stories remembered and transmitted by the individuals. In the Indian sub-continent, partition is a highly charged, clashing set of images, memories mainly related to the personal and national identity. On one hand, partition corresponds to memories of overwhelming trauma in so many ways for 1.2 million people, who became refugees. In the ensuing ethnic cleansing, more than two million people were slaughtered, thousands of women were raped and kidnapped from both sides. For the Indian sub-continent, it was also like a triumph, as it witnessed the birth of an independent state with citizenship rights in a new sovereign republic.

Partition has a shared meaning between the Palestinians and the Israelis such as the end of the British mandate, establishment of the Israeli state, and the beginning of the 1948 war. For Israelis, the trauma includes fears of past memories of Nazi holocaust, threats by Muslim and Arab league leaders, and invasions from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, and Iraq. For the Palestinians, partition became a source of only trauma because they could not achieve an independent state of their own. Greenburg (2005) argues that the partition of 1948 is a catastrophe of ethnic cleansing, atrocity, displacement, and dispersal of 600,000-760,000 people, which contributed to the memory of Al-Nakba forever.

In the history of modern South Asia, the partition of the subcontinent into two different countries (India and Pakistan) had its effects on the historical reconstruction even decades before and after 1947 (Gilmartin,1998). The partition was not new to India, as the British had partitioned the province of Bengal in 1905. However, the partition of 1947 was unique because the country was divided on the basis of religious identity, which crystallized under the British colonial rule. The British brought in census on religious basis, firmed edges to the identities, and sharpened the distinction between Muslims and Non-Muslims. In addition, the introduction of separate Muslim electorate further drove a wedge between the communities. Hardy (1972) states that the memories of past supremacy, religious aspirations, and modern social and economic needs gradually gave birth to the idea of separate political identity. The hardening of community identity led to the emergence of pan-Islamic Muslim consciousness from 1919-24 (Robinson, 1998). However, the Indian Councils Act of 1892, which allowed nomination to government councils, initiated the policy of communal representation. The response of separate electorates to Muslims after 1905 and later on allowed by Morley-Minto reforms of 1909 eventually gave birth to a sense of separate political representation (Riyija, 2002).

On the other side, the conflict between Palestine and Israel is an on-going one. Palestine gathers crucial importance because it is the centre of three monotheistic religions – Christianity (32%), Islam (52%), and Judaism (10%). The conflict created a competing nationalism for a control over the same territory. The nationalism among Jews emanated from central and eastern Europe, where anti-Semitism was endemic and where Zionism was born among the Ashkenazim Jews, who were being oppressed. With the oppression they started immigration (Aliyah) towards Palestine in 1882. In 1896, Theodor Herzl began to formalize the solution of Jewish discrimination and formulated the platform for Zionist movement, commonly known as the Basel plan, whose aim was to create the concept of Eretz Israel (Kattan, 2009). In his dairy Herzl wrote, “Were I to sum up the Basel Plan in a word, which should guard pouncing publicly. It is that I laid the foundation of Jewish state at Basel. If I speak loud, the whole world would laugh at me. Perhaps in five years or certainly fifty years everyone will know it.”

The negotiations between Herzl and the Ottoman ruler did not prove fruitful and later on the Zionist movement got the support of British power. In Palestine, the British entered into three contradictory and conflicting agreements like Hussein-McMahon correspondence (1915-16) that promised the Arabs full independence in exchange for support in the war against the Ottoman Empire. There was another secret as well as contradicting agreement between Britain and France known as Sykes-Picot (1916) that divided large territories including Palestine. The last one was Balfour Declaration (1917) that extended the support of Jewish self-determination as well as justification for imperially setting up a separate homeland in Palestine. These are the three basic agreements that cultivated the environment for a separate state as well as colonization of Palestine.

In comparing and assessing partitions of British India and Palestine, one can see that different identities saw an opportunity for their national visions to materialize and all clusters used violence (communal) in defending their visions against the counterparts. The study has relevance for the modern period, because there is no stability in Palestine/Israel and India/Pakistan. The two regions still witness violence against the minorities on the basis of identity, ethnicity as well on the basis of religion.

Inamul Haq is a PhD candidate at the Central University of Gujarat. Presently, he is working on Arbitrary Detention in the Kashmir Valley.


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2 Responses to “Parallels between Indian and Palestinian Partition”

  1. iok

    This is a well-researched and balanced analysis of the idea of partition. What makes this research piece remarkable is the objective style of the argument and a constructive view on varying thoughts about ideological foundation of the great divide.


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