India's Survivors of Partition Begin to Break Long Silence





Every year in March, Bir Bahadur Singh goes to the local Sikh shrine and narrates the grim events of the long night six decades ago when 26 women in his family offered their necks to the sword for the sake of honor.

At the time, sectarian riots were raging over the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, and the men of Singh's family decided it was better to kill the women than have them fall into the hands of Muslim mobs.

"None of the women protested, nobody wept," Singh, 78, recalled as he stroked his long, flowing white beard, his voice slipping into a whisper. "All I could hear was the sound of prayer and the swing of the sword going down on their necks. My story can fill a book."

Although the political history of the 1947 partition has featured prominently in Indian classrooms, personal stories such as Singh's have gone unrecorded. Hundreds of thousands of Indians have remained trapped in their private pain, many ashamed of the acts they committed, others simply wary of confronting ghosts from so long ago.

Now, however, the aging survivors of partition are beginning to talk, and historians and psychologists are increasingly acknowledging the need to study the human dimensions of one of the most cataclysmic events of the 20th century.


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