The Partitions of Memory: The Afterlife of the Division of India; Communal Rage in Secular India; A History of India

In This Review

The Partitions of Memory: The Afterlife of the Division of India

Edited by Suvir Kaul
Indiana University Press, 2002
316 pp. $21.95

Communal Rage in Secular India

By Rafiq Zakaria
Popular Prakashan, 2002
248 pp. $350.00

A History of India

By K. Antonova, G. Bongard-Levin and G. Kotovsky
Progress, 1979

Indians have long sought to repress the trauma of the 1947 partition, but as communal tensions have risen in recent years, the memories of that event's horrors have been revived and have fueled enduring hatreds. The symposium volume that Kaul has edited captures how partition affected different parts of India and different categories of Indians. Women in particular were helpless victims, and they have passed on the stories of their sufferings to the next generation. The continuing clashes over Kashmir have reinforced the importance of partition in shaping Indian identity, so that Hindu-Muslim hostility has become central to that identity.

Zakaria starts with the horrendous communal riots of February 2002 in Gujarat, which left between 800 and 2,000 dead and 150,000 homeless. He asks how people who had lived together for so long could become so violent toward each other, and he too is led back to partition and its effects on the rise of Hindu nationalism. With the world going mad about him, Zakaria the scholar strives to show through the beautiful texts of the sacred books of both religions how Hindus and Muslims have misjudged the other's beliefs.

In contrast, Robb's scholarly history of India devotes only a few pages to partition, treating it entirely in the context of the ending of British rule. The three India-Pakistan wars are glided over as he concentrates on domestic developments. These books dramatically illustrate that what is recalled by the professional historian can be quite different from the memories of those who experienced the history. In the end, however, Robb has to acknowledge that the ideal of a secular India is now under strain with the rise of Hindu nationalism. But he maintains that secularism is the only scenario that holds hope for India. The landslide victory of the Hindu nationalists in the December 2002 elections in Gujarat, unfortunately, clouds that hope.

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