The legacy of midnight, marked in Britain, Pakistan and India
Indian independence 50 years on: Historical legacy cements the friendsh ip across two continents
Thursday 14 August 1997
The celebrations in this country represent a lot more than simply marking the anniversary of Indian independence. Not only is it a confirmation of the importance of Indian culture and a tribute to the Indians, both Muslim and Hindu, who fought bravely for independence; it is also a special time in which Indian people in this country can celebrate their dual identity.
As Mohimder Chatrik, director of the Indian Workers Association of West Yorkshire points out: "As India celebrates its independence, congratulations should also go to the people of Indian origin in this country who have successfully forged a new life in Great Britain but have not forgotten the mother country."
The memory of independence is to some extent overshadowed by the horrors of Partition that followed. There is undoubtedly a bond between British and Indian cultures, and in many cases the British Asian community would find it difficult to define themselves as belonging to one or the other - especially the younger generation, who have often never even travelled to India.
But there is still a wish expressed by some British Asians for the British to take more responsibility for her colonial past. The massacres that occurred during Partition have been blamed on the lack of planning that went into dividing the country and the British government's desire to make a quick exit.
As Sewa Singh Kohli, secretary of the Association of Indian Organisations in Glasgow points out: "There was no preparation made for the gap of administration that was covered by the most unusual act in our history. Even when the British people decided to change over to the decimal system, lots of preparation went into it to help make the transition easier for people.
"But when Britain decided to leave India and millions of people had to change countries, no extra people were drafted in to help sort it out. There were no plans, no thought and no discussion."
Indeed, there was a great deal of confusion leading up to Indian independence; people at the time seemed unsure about what Partition would actually mean. Hafez Hassan Daji from Batley in West Yorkshire recalls for a Awaaz, a local newspaper, his first impressions of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's first post-independence leader. He heard him speak in Alipor in Gujurat in 1938, when Jinnah was beginning to promote the idea of a separate state.
"He spoke to us in Urdu and explained that the Muslim League wanted a separate state for Muslims, that would later be Pakistan. We didn't really know what he was talking about. We imagined it to be a place just for Muslims but in India. We certainly didn't realise that it would be another country."
People who lived in India at the time of Partition remembered it with great sadness. A Sikh woman now living in Batley told Awaaz that independence made no sense then. "Before 1947 everyone lived like brothers and sisters. After independence the village was in turmoil. It was like losing a family and close friends as people moved away. I found it very difficult.
"I liked India the way it was. But during those months around Partition, it was terrible. At night we couldn't sleep peacefully. We knew we might have to get up and go at a moment's notice. We were very scared... if we went to sleep we didn't know if we'd wake up."
Although the victory of independence was stained by the horrors that accompanied Partition, the celebrations in this country and India itself hark back to an Indian culture that was known for its diverse and pluralistic communities.
In Edinburgh, tomorrow morning's festivities will start off with a prayer meeting as practised by Gandhi himself. The meeting will represent all the main religious groups in India: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian. It will also reflect the different cultures of today.
In the evening, as the Scottish Asian community in Edinburgh will be attending a public party in Princes Street, their London counterparts will get ready to start funking at the Soho Spice restaurant, where free beer will be on offer. The music played will be a mixture of Indian sounds from the Fifties to the present day. The performance will feature several tracks by Apache Indian, a rap artist who uses American influences alongside traditional Indian bhangra music.
Apache Indian's music represents both Eastern and Western cultures, which goes some way in explaining his popularity in Britain, where the British Asian identity is so richly embroidered.
In the words of Tara Mukherjee, head of the confederation of Indian Organisations: "In spite of everything, independence cemented the bond of friendship between these two countries and it is now stronger than ever. Today English has become an Indian language." Enriched, of course, by the soft cadence of many regional British vowel sounds.
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