Written by Thushari Perera
The BBC published on Monday a multimedia timeline which charts the roots and legacy of India’s Partition.
Using “active” photos and 1 to 2 minutes-long BBC archive films, the timeline is divided into significant sections as the “Quit India Campaign”, the “Drawing of the Map”, the “Birth of Pakistan”. It highlights not only key events and major figures such as Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Mountbatten and Radcliffe, but also relevant terminology as “the Raj” etc.
This resource will be useful to people who want a quick overview of the events leading up to the Partition of British India in 1947 and its wider legacy.
Britain’s Long Imperial Past in India
What I like in this timeline is that it highlights the 300 year-long British involvement in the subcontinent, starting with trading posts under the British East India Company in the 1600s. This suggests to me that modern Britain increasingly needs a wider public engagement with this shared history. Other timelines usually tend to start with Britain’s presence in India only in 1858, when India comes under direct British rule.
Inevitably, a closer look at this short timeline written by a key British national institution as the BBC can sometimes also leave the reader perplexed.
For instance, I am not sure to understand why the timeline says that “Gandhi insisted Indians should not join the war while being oppressed at home”. That seems a bit unfair when it is well known that several millions of Indian soldiers played an important role in the Second World War, especially now when the new film “Dunkirk” is accused of not featuring Indian soldiers present at the battle.
As Yasmin Khan, a leading academic on this topic puts it, “Britain didn’t fight World War II – the British Empire did.”
As for the section dealing with Kashmir, a small map highlighting the disputed areas would have been handy, as the timeline does not shy away from this complex issue.
Independence, Mass Migration and Bloodshed
Overall, this new BBC timeline which marks the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence from British rule does not ignore “the impact of borders drawn in haste”, the bloody consequences of Partition and Britain’s long-lasting presence in the Indian subcontinent.
This timeline also does not forget that around 12 million people became refugees and that they were between 500,000 to one million people killed by India’s Partition. As the timeline emphasises, nobody knows the precise numbers of deaths.
Click to go to the BBC Timeline
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