The Great Partition

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The Making of India and Pakistan

Yasmin Khan

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A reappraisal of the tumultuous Partition and how it ignited long-standing animosities between India and Pakistan

The Partition of India in 1947 promised its people both political and religious freedom—through the liberation of India from British rule, and the creation of the Muslim state of Pakistan. Instead, the geographical divide brought displacement and death, and it benefited the few at the expense of the very many. Thousands of women were raped, at least one million people were killed, and ten to fifteen million were forced to leave their homes as refugees. One of the first events of decolonization in the twentieth century, Partition was also one of the most bloody. In this book Yasmin Khan examines the context, execution, and aftermath of Partition, weaving together local politics and ordinary lives with the larger political forces at play. She exposes the widespread obliviousness to what Partition would entail in practice and how it would affect the populace. Drawing together fresh information from an array of sources, Khan underscores the catastrophic human cost and shows why the repercussions of Partition resound even now, some sixty years later. The book is an intelligent and timely analysis of Partition, the haste and recklessness with which it was completed, and the damaging legacy left in its wake.

Yasmin Khan is associate professor of history and Fellow of Kellogg College, University of Oxford, and author of The Raj at War: A People’s History of India’s Second World War.

"Mahatma Gandhi called the traumatic experience of Partition 'the vivisection of India'. In this book, Yasmin Khan shows how this operation was performed. She describes the suffering of the victims with great sensitivity, and traces the perceptions of contemporary observers, most of whom were at a loss when trying to imagine the contours of the new states. To a country that took its territorial unity for granted, the partition of India came as a rude shock; its impact reverberates through the pages of this illuminating book."—Dietmar Rothermund, Professor Emeritus of South Asian History, Heidelberg University, and author of The Routledge Companion to Decolonisation and (with H Kulke) A History of India

"This is a compassionate and devastating book. It charts the long, complex and often brutal processes that engulfed millions of unsuspecting people in chaos. Few among the South Asian and British political elite could have imagined what they were letting loose, while many of those swept up even tangentially had no clear idea of what it might mean. Its long aftermath still scars the subcontinent, as India and Pakistan see each other through the lens of carefully constructed nationalist history which feeds on the partially understood history of Partition. This is a book for all who wish to understand attitudes on the subcontinent today."—Judith M Brown, Balliol College Oxford, and author of Nehru

"Yasmin Khan makes a significant contribution to the ongoing study of the Partition of India in this lucid account. Her eye for detail strongly evokes the issues, personalities and events at this crucial moment in the subcontinent's modern history. Narrative and sharp analysis go hand in hand in a work which bears all the hallmarks of a first-rate scholar."—Ian Talbot, University of Southampton

"Yasmin Khan's The Great Partition vividly and memorably portrays the sheer turmoil of decolonisation. In turning the spotlight away from high-level politics to bitter personal experience, she exposes the bewilderment, brutality and mayhem that followed the hasty British decision to 'divide and quit.' This book will be a touchstone in the retelling of one of the twentieth century's greatest calamities."—David Arnold, University of Warwick and Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Asiatic Society

"This is an exceptional book. Yasmin Khan has written a vivid, authoritative and accessible account of one of the greatest human tragedies and dislocations of the modern era. Her particular achievement is in weaving the lived experience of Partition - the agony, the uncertainty, the conflicting identities and loyalties - into a broader account of the turmoil and confusion which so gravely soured India's and Pakistan's achievement of independence."—Andrew Whitehead, editor of History Workshop Journal and former BBC South Asia correspondent

"Many histories of Partition focus solely on the elite policy makers. Yasmin Khan's empathetic account gives a great insight into the hopes, dreams and fears of the millions affected by it."—Owen Bennett Jones, presenter BBC Newshour

"Yasmin Khan, a British historian, has written a riveting book on this terrible story. It is unusual for two reasons. It is composed with flair, quite unlike the dense, academic plodding that modern Indian history usually delivers. Second, it turns the spotlight away from the self-posturing in the British viceroy's palace and the well-documented political wrangling between Congress and the Muslim League leaders. Instead, it focuses on a broader canvas that leads the reader through the confusion, the uncertainties, the fear and eventually the horror faced by those who were soon to become citizens of the two new states, India and Pakistan."—The Economist

". . . Rather than dwelling on New Delhi’s political intrigue, [Khan’s] insightful book focuses on the oft-ignored social undercurrents that contributed to the mass violence."—Tarquin Hall, Sunday Times

". . . an elegant, scholarly analysis of the chaotic severing of two

Pakistans (now Pakistan and Bangladesh) from India in 1947. Khan’s book is splendidly researched, and she has an eye for illuminating details of how Partition affected everyday lives."—Alex von Tunzelmann, Daily Telegraph

"Khan’s angry, unsparing analysis of catastrophe is provocative and painful."—The Times

"Khan avoids adjudicating the disputes between the various contending groups to show how nationalism preceded and followed the great partition, how women and children suffered the most, and how defense spending and war continue to the present. Throughout, Khan demonstrates her skill as a historian: lively writing, careful analysis, perceptive interpretations, and an even-minded control of sources and evidence. Highly recommended."—Choice

"Khan eloquently discusses the making of India and Pakistan after British rule on the subcontinent was dismantled in 1947. . . . Drawing from varied historical literature and archival sources, the author has obviously provided a new look at this still important subject. Strongly recommended for academic and larger public libraries."—Library Journal

"This is a gripping and readable book that the reviewer would recommend for any course dealing with the Indian freedom movement, independence, partition, and the bitter legacy of those traumatic times."—Gail Minault, Historian

“Much has been written on the partition of India and Pakistan, but no one work provides such a balanced account that also illustrates how few managed to foresee the consequences of their actions. . . This book, like all good history books, produces no smoking gun but shows how the blunder that resulted in so many deaths was a combination of a lack of preparation and political adventurism.”—Nesrine Malik, "100 Best Political Books", Observer 

A 2008 Top Seller in Asian History as compiled by YBP Library Services
ISBN: 9780300143331
Publication Date: November 5, 2008
272 pages, 6 x 9
16 b/w illus.

Sales Restrictions: Not for sale in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka
The Great Partition

The Making of India and Pakistan
New Edition

Yasmin Khan

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