It’s been 70 years since India and Pakistan were carved from the former British Empire as independent nations, a process that triggered one of the largest human migrations in history. Overnight, Hindu and Muslim neighbors became fearful of one another. Mob violence broke out, leaving hundreds of thousands dead. Some 12 million people fled their homes — including Hindus afraid they would not be welcome in the newly declared Islamic state of Pakistan, and Muslims worried they’d suffer at the hands of India’s Hindu majority.
Here, survivors from both India and Pakistan recall living through that uneasy time, and consider what it meant to the future of the two countries.
ONE EVENING EVERYTHING CHANGED
On Aug. 14, 1947, the day of Pakistan’s independence, groups of Muslims marched through villages wearing the country’s newly created flags on their shoulders.
For some, it was a time of celebration. For Sohinder Nath Chopra and his Hindu family, it was time to flee.
A Muslim cleric urged the family to leave their ancient village in what is now western Pakistan. A Christian servant accompanied them as a guard.
“Our village had a family-type community,” recalls 81-year-old Chopra, who was 12 at the time. “There was always something going on, and life in that village was very good.”
Chopra’s family moved through refugee camps on both sides of the border, eventually reaching the bustling Indian capital of New Delhi. Chopra and his three brothers immersed themselves in their schoolwork, with Chopra and his eldest brother earning scholarships for post-graduate studies in Canada.
When he returned to India in 1973, the country was struggling with social unrest and extreme poverty. In the decades of economic growth and reform that have followed, India became more economically and politically stable, while seeing its population more than double to 1.3 billion. Chopra believes the country’s separation from Pakistan helped.
“It was a blessing in disguise. Although in the first 10 years or so, we felt very bitter about it,” he said.
He still dreams of visiting his old family home, but lingering fears and turbulent India-Pakistan relations have kept him from making the journey. His wife tries to console him by saying that everything he remembers has probably changed.
NEIGHBORS LYNCHED, HOUSES SMOLDERING
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