Last night I went to the Little Theater here in Rochester, NY, to see the world premiere of a moving documentary film on the partition of India and Pakistan.
It was directed by Mara Ahmed, a Pakistani-American women who lives in the Rochester area and studied at the Visual Studies Workshop here, and co-produced by Ahmed and Surbhi Dewan, who was trained at Rochester Institute of Technology. I’ve lived in Rochester more than half my life, and yet never knew about them until now.
The movie is in three parts—interviews with their aging relatives and friends about the peaceful life in India before partition, then interviews about their terrible experiences during the massacres and flight of peoples during partition and a final part about the ongoing tragedy of division Indians and Pakistanis, culturally similar peoples except for religion.
It includes dream sequences, animation and poetry—all of which work well in the film.
The movie is so even-handed that I sometimes forgot whether I was hearing the experiences of a Hindu or a Muslim, their tragedies were so alike.
Blame for partition is put in the British and to an extent the leaders of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. They did virtually no advance planning as to how it would be carried out. Nor did they ever hold a referendum or consult the people on whether the subcontinent should be partitioned in the first place.
I don’t know enough to say whether Hindus and Muslims would have been able to live in peace in a united India. There was a history of rioting and violence between the two communities.
In any case, the “two-state solution” did not solve the Indian subcontinent’s minority problems. There are still 176 million Muslims in India, and their rights are a fraught issue.
The filmmakers said in a Q&A after the showing that Hindu and Muslim emigrants from the Indian subcontinent get along very well, as do ordinary citizens of India and Pakistan when they meet. As they said, the least that could be done is to allow free travel between the two nations.
An interview with Mara Ahmed. [Added 4/24/2015]