BY AMAL BUMBIA (staff writer)
From the author: "This piece is a perspective on the Partition of 1947 and how the event reflects hatred within the South Asian community that has generational implications."
“Get in, quick.”
The girl wrung clammy hands together as her foot buried itself amongst the ragged clothes in the container. She lowered herself deeper into the mound, nearly biting the tip of her tongue as her shaking knees collapsed onto the single hardcover book nestled under the garments. It was the only one they could afford to bring--there was no room for the rest. She had never been particularly materialistic, but the sight of the family’s belongings reduced to clothing and a few miscellaneous necessities made her eyes sting. They were leaving it all behind--the house, their education, their lives. All for a country they knew close to nothing about. All because people of their faith were no longer welcome. Had they stayed, they would have done so in fear, for simply going outside in a headscarf or having a specific name was enough to get one killed.
Pushing against the fabric until it outlined her body, she curled into a fetal position so her head and feet were just touching the walls of the thin, cardboard container. Frenzied fingers grazed her side as they covered the girl with the remainder of the clothes. She grabbed the book and held it tightly against her chest for comfort, entertaining herself with the prospect that she might feel her erratic heartbeat through its pages.
“I’ll let you out once we are in Pakistan. Pray that we arrive safely.”
The flaps of the container closed shut. The girl clutched the book tighter and scrunched her eyelids together briefly, focusing on the sticky sound of tape being rubbed into the cardboard, the scrape of the blade cutting inconspicuous slits into the sides of the box so that she could breathe. As a small breeze streamed from the slit, cutting through the already stale, musty air inside the box, she couldn’t help but cough slightly. It was polluted with rancid smoke from the front engine.
A shadow appeared across the slit closest to her right eye.
“Do NOT cough. Do not sneeze. Do not breathe loudly. Make no noise, or else they will find–”
The rest was drowned out by the ear-splitting horn of the train, signaling imminent motion. The door of the cart she was in dropped with a clang, barely giving her time to take a last glimpse through the slit at the bustling, foggy station beyond it and muffling the incoherent speech of those she knew were begging to be let onto the train. She shivered, the hairs of her arms standing straight among goosebumps at the thought that these people may not last long enough for the next locomotive. Her heartbeat quickened, pulsating to where she became paranoid that she, and thereby others with malicious intent, would be able to hear her. The girl attempted to steady her breath as the cart creaked, the wheels picking up speed, giving her a comforting rhythm to follow. This was it. They were leaving.
The migration story of my great-aunt was tame in comparison to the atrocities of the 1947 Partition. As a period of conflict stemming from religious distrust and discrimination within the subcontinent, chaos and violence were the norms. In addition to the emotional trauma of leaving homes and entire livelihoods behind was fear of the unknown--terror at the thought of what may happen upon staying, but also upon fleeing. Families were torn apart. People were killed in lootings and riots--vicious mobs massacring innocents simply because they were Muslim. Often, such religious tensions led to bloodshed on both sides. Murder, rape, kidnapping--it didn’t matter whether they were children or elderly, whether they were leaving India altogether or trying desperately to hold onto their established lives--no one was safe from the hateful implications of groupthink. My great-aunt, like other young girls, had to hide in boxes for the train ride from India to Pakistan out of fear; they were young women who could be easily taken advantage of. There were many instances during the early years of the partition where entire trains would arrive in Pakistan, only to be covered in blood and bodies as victims of raids. The prospect of Pakistan for my elders, as well as the majority of migrants, was one of peace and prosperity; it was a land of freedom where they could practice their beliefs without scrutinization, without discrimination.
To this day, conflict remains between India and Pakistan. We see religious tensions, the “us versus them” mentality, and islamophobia present within society. Hate is a historical and generational continuity that manifests itself differently as time progresses while remaining consistently rotten at its core. Despite everything, my family did not entirely escape its grasp. I do not expect to either. This is where the roots of my ancestry and the sprouts of my present converge. This is the reality of prejudice as it lies within communities already marginalized across the globe. Despite having similar cultural and geographical ties, despite being victims of colonization, religious hatred, and cultural appropriation, South Asians struggle to accept each other for their differences.