A Shared Humanity

‘The world knows nothing of its greatest men’ goes the old saying. Or women, of course, since it is men who tend to write these things. I may have alluded to this before.


I was reading a blog post by Rajiv earlier today, on the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and we swapped a couple of comments, the result of which decided me to write this short post. You can read Rajiv’s post here: Partition in the Punjab

Those of us who did not live through that time, cannot really imagine the full horror of it all. The figures alone are dreadful.

14 million people were displaced, forced to move from their homes to either what remained India or became East or West Pakistan, by any means of transport available, frequently on foot. Those that survived the journey, frequently one of tremendous hardship, carried memories that were often too dreadful to relate.

Most lost their possessions.

Families were split apart and separated, many of them never to meet again.

Millions of refugees.

Up to 1 million were killed in what were effectively religious killings – the actual figure is unknown. Trains were set on fire, men and women, adults and children, lost their lives in what became a frenzy of killing.

Much, of course, has been written of this over the years, and the blame placed on many shoulders. The British were extremely culpable in this case, mainly through neglect and thoughtlessness. Those that assumed power in India and Pakistan need to take their share of the blame, too.

But the world, as I remarked at the start of this post, knows nothing of its greatest men. Or, in this case, its greatest men and women, or at least very little of them.

On both sides of the new borders, whilst most people succumbed to fear and many to hatred, whilst innocent lives were taken and dreadful acts carried out, there were many, many people who sheltered and saved those of other religions who had been their friends and neighbours before, often at great personal risk.

They gained nothing from it, but simply displayed their common humanity.

I have read of a few examples of this, a few stories from both sides of that border, and I have seen it mentioned briefly in documentaries.

But now, before the last players in that tragedy finally pass away, it would be marvellous if there could be a concerted effort to collect these stories and record them, as an inspiring example of people reaching out to each other across what is, once again, becoming a depressingly familiar religious divide, and, most importantly, remembering and commemorating their bravery.

68 thoughts on “A Shared Humanity

  1. A powerful piece Mike. I agree that the world knows nothing about its greatest men and women and as history is taught now this will become even more so. Also, as you say, we do not usually get to hear about ordinary people who survive extraordinary events or preform extraordinary deeds. Perhaps a new direction for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is one that is outside my remit really, Colin. It requires dedicated researchers on the spot.
      We do have one or two history books at home that are written about the ‘people’ rather than from the perspective of the kings and queens and others who are generally regarded as the movers and shakers of history. They are, in many ways, more interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a lovely thought Mick.
    In a world where media thrives on spreading negativity -news sell because humans love hearing negative stuff! It will be welcome change. The world needs more love and compassion. spreading good deeds Will further the cause.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Although my family did not suffer the horrors of migration, as a doctor in Delhi during that phase, my grandfather was witness to so much of that pain, the trauma, the madness, the violence, the sheer inhumanity of it all. I don’t think there is a single family in what is now Punjab, Haryana and Delhi that has not at least one incident to relate of that genocidal epoch in our collective history….And I don’t think anyone can escape the blame.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly, I think that all you say is true. My father was in Burma and was stationed in India during and after the Second World War, through to Partition, and all he would ever say on the matter was that it was a horrible experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Although I’ve heard a number of times that the situation following the partition of India and Pakistan was desperate, I know almost nothing of the details. I have to agree with you, Mick, that it would be a wonderful thing to have a record of the bravery of those individuals who did their bit to save lives. I’m sure it would make inspirational reading. Goodness knows we could all do with being reminded of the heights of which humanity is capable. It’s depressingly easy to find examples of the depths in any newspaper.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Bun. As you say, it’s all too easy to find the bad news, the dispiriting stories, the hate and general negativity everywhere you look, not just in newspapers. We do need to be reminded regularly that people, ordinary people like any one of us, are capable of the best of actions in the worst of times.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I could not agree more. And in this case, it would be nice to capture some of these stories in an oral histories project, so that these everyday heroes can be heard in their own voices. We’ve had such a project here, old-timers and their offspring telling about how it was in the old days, both the bad times and the good, prodded by an interviewer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are a few such projects here too, Monica, although as I grow older I find I particularly lament those who I knew who have passed away without telling their stories.

      I don’t know whether that approach might work better in India and Pakistan, or whether lots of people, especially older ones, might view it as an intrusion too far.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I just finished reading a book called “Punjab” by Ishtiaque Ahmed. Its a marvellous book, and he has met many f these people. Their stories have been recorded..

    It is a difficult – emotionally difficult – book to read. For me, at least. My own family came over just before The Partition, leaving everything behind

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I presume that this is the book that you mention in your blog post. Does he record many of the stories of people helping each other?
      I can understand how difficult it must be to read when you are as emotionally close to it as you are. Obviously, I know nothing of their individual stories, but I hope that in reading it there might have been an element of ‘coming to terms’ with their experiences, for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It would be nice to have more light thrown on stories of folks being open and accepting to their religious cousins rather than the demonization that all too often occurs. The world would be a happier, more positive place if the good examples were more common than the destructive ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The destructive ones make good copy, unfortunately, Dave. Over here in UK there have been a number of occasions when (for example) Christians and Muslims have met and talked to share common ground and to get to know each other better, but that rarely gets many column inches.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. In my history lessons we ‘learnt’ about the Partition and the displacement and the numnbers just meant nothing to the younger me – much like 50,000 killed on the Somme or 70 million during WW2. They are too huge to get one’s head around. Yet it is essential that such global tragedies are properly recorded, as you say, and the full gamut of human goodness and evil captured by foirst hand accounts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Geoff. Yes, when the numbers are so huge, they become almost meaningless unless you are personally involved. Our brains, I think, refuse to acknowledge that those colossal figures could all represent individual human deaths. Perhaps it’s almost a defence mechanism.
      And if it is not recorded properly, then we risk repeating the horrors all over again, but we also miss the individual acts of goodness and bravery that are otherwise swamped and lost in the storm.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Mick what an article. True in lot of cases we don’t get to know the common man/woman story. Definitely if you could bring these stories together it will be the best ever. Those moments the people would have had is really unimaginable. I had a very similar feeling when we went to the apartheid museum in South Africa. Very pathetic and cruel. The crowd gets violent for no reason. Just a moment of cruelty witnessed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the crowd mentality. We see it all over the world; as you say, at times in South Africa, during partition, then there were the Neuremberg rallies in Nazi Germany, and any number of brutal lynchings in countries all over the world. Once in a large group, it as if individuals lose all sense of responsibility for their actions.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s sad how history always remembers the “leaders,” even the dreadful ones like Hitler, and so often forgets all the anonymous heroes who risk everything to help others in the midst of war and chaos. I hope their stories will be told.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is powerful stuff and I felt the tension in it. ( well it was tense for me)… and I also have read Rajiv’s wonderful Partition Blog. It is very important to keep notes; diaries and write everything down. As generations move on, it gets forgotten and it shouldn’t. There are great people, who have come to our notice, but there are also just as great people, who haven’t. In many ways, those whose greatness has not been noticed are, in some way, greater than those who have.
    ( ps I know this seems garbled. I haven’t had a glass of anything but I am reading so much on it at the moment… my head is over flowing with facts and figures and stories) Fascinating part of history. Often forgotten… we shouldn’t let it, eh you two?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, that’s not garbled. I understand that perfectly. It is so essential not to lose these stories; all of those leaders will be remembered, whether they deserve to be or not. It is so important that at least some of the little people, the brave ones who defied the mobs, who defied their leaders, and who let their humanity dictate their actions, be remembered and, perhaps, even named. They are the ones who should be remembered in 50 or 100 years time.

      Liked by 1 person

            1. I really feel this is a project beyond my skills and abilities. For one thing, as I said to Monica further up the comment string, dealing with what would now be elderly Indians or Pakistanis would need a huge amount of tact, and I suspect that as a foreigner I would just be viewed with too much suspicion; as an intruder. I would not be the best person to persuade them to part with long-held and possibly hidden memories.
              I would need to have a command of Hindi/Urdu, since many would not speak English. Above all, I would need to be out there, and to have time.
              It would be a great, important project, but it wouldn’t be me doing it!


  12. Pingback: A Shared Humanity — Mick Canning – PARIVARTAN

    1. Thanks, Sidran, that’s exactly the sort of thing that I was talking about. I never knew this existed before. I’ve had a quick look, and bookmarked it to go back and look at it in more detail.


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