In August 1947 the world map changed forever. Britain's once mighty Empire, then beleaguered and exhausted by the suffering and fallout from World War II, was facing its greatest colonial and political crisis.
Regarded as the jewel in Queen Victoria's crown, India had been actively campaigning to end 250 years of imperial domination. Knowing that independence was inevitable and to reduce mounting violence and chaos, in June 1947 home rule was finally granted by Labour PM Clement Atlee, but with one momentous condition; India would become partitioned according to religious population majorities. Establishing new national boundaries created new countries: East and West Pakistan for Muslims, and the remainder of India would be home to Hindus and Sikhs.
There was no planned British exit strategy and implementation of this long-disputed political “solution” came at a huge cost in human lives. Regarded as the greatest mass migration of people in world history, over 15 million people became displaced as refugees in their own former country, and over 1 million people died.
For the last seventy years, little has been understood in the West about the psycho-social impact of this tragedy. For those affected – by shock, fear, ill-health and trauma – their focus centred on survival, and their principal way of coping was to “forget” the horror of their experience. The consequences of such a coping strategy inevitably leads to multiple complications further down the line.
For the last seventy years, little has been understood in the West about the psycho-social impact of this tragedy.
On Thursday 23 November, I’ll be delivering a lecture at Nottingham Trent University called The Human Impact of India's Partition: Pillars for Resolution. As part of it, I’ll be presenting an excerpt from my interview with Tony Benn in 2008; this was to become a vital element in my dad's eventual “healing” before his death in 2009. I’ll also be describing how his own “shell shock” affected his life, sense of self, identity and belonging.
As both a trauma psychotherapist, and as a daughter, I’ll be sharing first-hand experiences and theories to offer understanding to anyone who wants to find out more about this topic.
The Human Impact of India’s Partition: Pillars for Resolution takes place on Thursday 23 November, 6.30pm, at Nottingham Trent University on Shakespeare Street, and you can book your free public lecture ticket here.