Thoughts on 65 Years of Indian Independence

Sixty-five years ago on this day the sovereign states of Pakistan and India were established. Among the many outcomes was a line drawn by the British that split the Punjab state on the basis of religion. Many people, including all four of my grandparents were forced to migrate on short notice leaving generations of history and familial ties behind—never given the opportunity to return.

While many people are celebrating today as Indian Independence Day, I couldn’t help but notice the numerous posts online stressing that this isn’t a day to celebrate because of the atrocities that took place as a result of the partition as well as the toll Indian Independence took on the population, especially on minority groups like the Sikhs. From losing essential religious sites to an aftermath that resulted in numerous religious massacres, I believe that rather than looking back and assessing the past sixty-five years with regret and animosity, we should look forward at what needs to be done to bring the Indian subcontinent at par with other developed nations. Additionally, many of the positive outcomes of the partition have been overlooked, including the diaspora of Indo-Paks throughout the world.

To understand Pakistan, I’m reminded of an article I read by Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt where he elegantly lays out Pakistan’s current image problem. He posted this shortly after my trip to Pakistan earlier this year and I couldn’t agree more with his observations. Pakistan has developed an incredibly poor reputation in the media, while India is portrayed as the world’s fastest growing economy. Having been to both sides of border, I can undoubtedly say that the similarities between both sides of Punjab significantly outweigh the differences and it’s not until one visits both sides that they can truly grasp this. One common misconceptions held by Indians is that there are security concerns when visiting Pakistan, when in reality India itself is no more secure than Pakistan.

It’s this sort of mutual distrust and cultural antagonism that resulted in the Indian Partition to begin with as Muslims were poorly treated in society and worried about being undermined by the Hindu majority in the new nation. In todays world, the Indian Partition would have never played out the way it did in 1947. The idea that two separate groups could live together peacefully was still foreign at a time when World War II just took place and Asians weren’t even allowed citizenship in the United States. As such, taking a step backwards by separating the nation based on religion seemed like the only solution. The Indian Independence Act was at its core an agreement between Hindus and Muslims that they couldn’t live together in the same society. Ironically today there are still a number of Muslim communities living peacefully, throughout India. Moreover, the Indo-Pak diaspora has proved that they can live peacefully with people of ALL faiths and backgrounds throughout the world.

Whether or not the Muslims needed Pakistan at the time is beyond the scope of this blog post. However, what’s true is that the tension between India and Pakistan, both at the cultural and governmental level, is a limiting factor in the development of the Indian subcontinent. What I propose is that India and Pakistan develop a system similar to that of the United States and Canada, where presenting a passport is sufficient to cross the border. One such proposal which is already being given thought includes the formation of the Indo-Pak Confederation, which would “end bilateral conflicts and promote common interests in defense, foreign affairs, culture and economic development” between the two nations.

This will not only allow for the free-flow of ideas and trade, but also keep the border secure and benefit the populations that long to pay pilgrimage to historical sites on the other sides. However, the most important result will be the promotion of integration and tolerance between the two societies, which is critical in a world where tension between two nations on the basis of religion is the last thing humanity needs.

A map showing the four areas of Pakistan that my grandparents migrated from.

Me, about to cross the border into Pakistan; the first one in my family since the Partition in 1947.