Separated at Birth


A section Excerpted from Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari, out now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in Slate:

When they imagine the terrible riots that accompanied the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent, most people are picturing the bloodshed in the Punjab. On Aug. 15, the new border had split the province in two, leaving millions of Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs in what was now Pakistan, and at least as many Punjabi Muslims in India.

Gangs of killers roamed the border districts, slaughtering minorities or driving them across the frontier. Huge, miles-long caravans of refugees took to the dusty roads in terror. They left grim reminders of their passage—trees stripped of bark, which they peeled off in great chunks to use as fuel; dead and dying bullocks, cattle, and sheep; and thousands upon thousands of corpses lying alongside the road or buried shallowly. Vultures feasted so extravagantly that they could no longer fly.

As awful as the carnage was, though, it was for much of August concentrated in the Punjab. The combatants were mostly peasants, armed with crude weapons. If the two new governments had managed to quell the mayhem quickly, they might in time have found scope to cooperate on issues ranging from economic development to foreign policy. Instead, the infant India and Pakistan would soon be drawn into a rivalry that’s lasted almost 70 years and has cast a nuclear shadow over the subcontinent.

More here.