Aline Dobbie is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on India. Born in India to Scottish parents the last of five and four generations who served, worked, loved and died in India, in the British Army, the Indian Army and also civilian life, she spent the first 16 years of her life in the sub-continent. An acclaimed travel writer Aline is the author of a celebrated trilogy of books on India including The Peacock’s Call (www.thepeacockscall.co.uk). Aline received The Pride of India Gold Award for her promotion of India in 2006 from the NRI Institute of India. Her book Quicklook at India was specifically commissioned for business people seeking to be successful in India. Here, Aline writes exclusively for IndiaGBNews.com giving her view on the new Museum of Partition, in Amritsar, due to open in 2017. Twitter: @AlineDobbie
Proudly I say India is the land of my birth and it would be fair to describe me as a Child of Independence, the last of a long line of men and women who served or worked in India through colonial times. I however was so fortunate and indeed privileged to continue to live and grow up in India despite going home to England for my schooling; with loving parents I was able to return for school holidays three times a year by air so in my teenage years I was observing all that was developing around me. So, India was ‘home’ and a place to which I only said ‘farewell’ tearfully in 1963 when my late father retired from civilian life. At the time of my birth he was a colonel in the Indian Army and is still considered a hero for his amazing escape taking his Indian soldiers with him from the Fall of Singapore in 1942 – a story that stands on its own for its daring and courage and happy ending. I too have written about India in four books published within the last 15 years and I continue to return annually and chart this amazing ancient land and her progress now in the 21st century.
However, being blessed with a clear accurate memory I can call upon some early visual memories and spoken interactions that now have a great resonance with the idea of a Museum of Partition that is being developed in Amritsar.
Some of the events leading up to Partition were:
- 79 years ago the separation of Burma from India impacted heavily on the migrant Indians the majority of whom were from Bengal; the Indians apparently were seen as a hindrance to the step towards devolution despite the fact that in the 1920s Rangoon had seemed more like an Indian city than the capital of Burma. 2. The subsequent bombing of Burma by the Japanese and early Japanese victories led to the many thousands of Indians having to leave or stay and face the consequences as ‘the enemy’s subjects’. 3. The huge Indian Exodus precipitated by those victories was completely unaided and the real number of evacuees or those who died on that forgotten march was never recorded. But, my beloved Ayah Dhan Kumari and her mother were two who walked out of Burma along with Dhan Kumari’s cousin Mylee, who also subsequently became an Ayah to me – more like a beloved much elder sister. As a small child I was told a little about this and I saw some of the results on those peoples’ lives – bad things that had happened to defenceless women which I only understood when grown up. 4. 450,000 to 500,000 Indians ‘walked out’ of Burma of whom 10,000 – 50,000 never made it. A truly sobering thought.
- In 1940 in the meeting of The Muslim League in Lahore the two-nation theory was endorsed, based on the notion of Islam being in danger. • In the light of today’s circumstances when Islamist terror potential or achievements fills our media in this country and throughout the world and indeed continues to engulf many there must be a pause for thought about the difference between proselytising religions and those who would exploit them and those whose benign teachings radiate amongst spiritual seekers. • After the 1941 vast exodus from Burma came the devastating experience of the Bengal famine of 1943 in which it is reckoned 2.7 million to 3 million died. • Then there was the Great Calcutta Killing which is a huge blemish on India’s history but curiously the effect of Direct Action Day which had been sanctioned by the then government of Bengal which was The Muslim League.
As I grew up in India I was shown and could not fail to see the disastrous consequences of the Partition in Bengal – Calcutta was in many places, like Sialdah station, awash with refugees; in outlying places we visited we came across refugee encampments or some quite nicely laid out villages, but wherever the term ‘refugee’ was used it was synonymous with those who had come from East Bengal in my young eyes. I had yet to comprehend what happened in western India.
In January 2008 I had the good fortune to revisit areas of the north and one was so special – Saharanpur where I had lived as a babe and then again 58 years ago. I was in Saharanpur on the 30th January 2008; 60 years to the day when Gandhiji was assassinated. I recall vividly my late Father Frank Rose telling me how they received the dreadful news and he took the quick decision to make Hindus and Muslims leave the ITC factory by different gates to avoid another blood bath – they did not know at that hour who had killed Gandhi. Later on when on a school holiday, 50 years ago in 1958 Father showed me areas around Saharanpur where dreadful massacres had taken place. Indeed, during the partition killings our beloved Muslim male domestic staff were not able to leave the house and the shopping was done by a kind Hindu friend of the parents. The memories of what I had been told flooded back and on return to Delhi we went and paid our respects to Gandhiji at Raj Ghat, but, on that evening in Saharanpur as I looked at our old home – thankfully still very well kept and with the evidence of today’s children and their toys I thought of all that had passed; the peacock called in one of the trees of our old garden as the sun set and I nearly wept for what millions of people had suffered through expediency, politics and the pursuit of power by the few, and indeed still do.
To quote from the Bashabi Fraser’s book Bengal Partition Stories:
“The Bengal story, in this sense, becomes part of international experiences as whole populations become the victims of ethnic cleansing and/or religious violence, which sadly, has not stopped and continues in the third millennium in various parts of the world. The Bengal story can then be viewed as part of a graver, greater global continuum of genocides, pogroms, rape and abduction, mutilation of human beings and the destruction of property, as communities perceive fresh fault lines of demarcation and resort to violence to create unreal monolithic communities which are not realizable as has been proved in spite of Hitler’s planned holocaust to annihilate the Jewish population of Europe. Communal violence has claimed lives, destroyed social harmony, disrupted livelihoods and even forced people to flee across international borders, creating whole populations of the dispossessed seeking refuge away from home.”
Now in 2016 approaching India’s 70th anniversary of Nationhood I would say that India has a sacred duty, having been fashioned in the cauldron of enmity and sectarian divide to continue to show the world that she is Mother India and embraces All with respect and tolerance be they devout and espousing religion from all faiths or none.
Humanity currently is being scrutinised or the extreme lack of it in the Middle East and we here in the West are now experiencing the full impact of transmigration whether forced or self-imposed with its tragic and disastrous humanitarian consequences. India, birthplace of four religions, cradle of eastern philosophy and early sciences, maths, engineering, medicine and art and culture you are Mother India and thus can be a guiding light in a very troubled time. Grasp the initiative…. your time has come.
Aline Dobbie www.thepeacockscall.co.uk