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Posts Tagged ‘partition of india

Homai Vyarawalla (1913 – 2012)

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Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first and greatest female photojournalist, has died, aged 98. 

Awkward Trio: The Dalai Lama, Nehru and Zhou Enlai during Zhou's visit to India in Dec. 1956

For most of her photographic career, history never was more than a click away for Homai Vyarawalla. From the moment the British moved their photographic information services to Dehli after the Fall of Singapore in 1942, she was ideally positioned to capture the next turbulent three decades of the subcontinent’s history. This she did, recording such pivotal moments such as Lord Mountbatten’s arrival and departure as the Raj’s Last Viceroy, Congress Party’s affirmative vote for Indian Partition, Gandhi’s last days and funeral, the first independent India’s flag raising over the Red Fort, turmoil that followed Partition, and Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet.

She also captured photos of notable dignities who passed through Delhi, from Eisenhower to Martin Luther King, but her favorite subject was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, and her favorite photo was that of Nehru hugging his sister, Vijaya, the then ambassador to the Soviet Union. It was a rare unguarded moment for the politician, who clearly aware of his charisma, “posed for pictures, as if unconsciously”. For Vyarawalla, Nehru was “the perfect figure for a photographer. A personality who electrified the entire atmosphere when he entered.”

Born to into a Parsi family (Parsis are known for their relatively liberally attitudes towards women), she was never uncomfortable at being India’s first — and for a long time, only — female photojournalist. She was close to Indira Gandhi — it was said that Indira liked Ms. Vyarawalla’s shorthair style so much that she emulated it. — but was deeply disappointed by the erosion of press freedoms during the Emergency. She retired in 1970, burning most of her negatives. For the last 40 years of her life, she lived alone in virtual anonymity, before being acknowledged with a retrospective and the Padma Vibhushan, one of India’s highest civilian honors, months before her death earlier this month. She was 98.

(For more pictures by Vyarawalla, go to Yahoo!. Vyarawalla in her own words here.)

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 23, 2012 at 9:43 am

Partition of India

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It was one of the most dunderheaded moves in an imperial history chockfull with them: the partition of India. Its population distribution was such that there was no line that could neatly divide up the subcontinent. Yet, a boundary commission was given mere six weeks to carve a Muslim-majority state from British India, and two Pakistans were formed. More ridiculous still, the commission was led by a British lawyer Cyril Radcliffe who had never been in the East before.

Indeed he was chosen because he knew nothing about India and therefore absolutely unbiased. Inexperienced and time-crunched, Radcliffe just drew some lines on the map without realizing that his demarcation line went straight through thickly populated areas, villages and sometimes even through a single house with some rooms in one country and others in the other. His error was pointed out by the commission but the scheduled independence day was looming and it was too late to redo the entire thing. Disgraced, Radcliffe refused his salary, quietly destroyed all his papers and left India on the Independence Day itself, before even the boundary awards were distributed. W.H. Auden later pilloried the absurdity of the way he crafted the border in Partition.

The immediate consequences of the partition were horrendous for both countries. Although in retrospect, there probably was nothing the commission could have done. Once the Moslems and the Hindus decided to part their ways, even the most carefully crafted border would have provoked the massive exoduses. But the hurried and indifferent nature of the partition meant the ethnic cleansing that followed was unavoidable.

In India during the Partition were two of the last century’s greatest photojournalists: Margaret Bourke-White and Henri Cartier-Bresson — both there to document Gandhi, Cartier-Bresson just a few hours before Gandhi assassination. Above, Bourke-White recorded streets littered with corpses, dead victims with open eyes, and refugees with vacant eyes. The partition was “massive exercise in human misery,” later reflected Bourke-White. Self-proclaimed Indophile, Cartier-Bresson later arrived a little later, documented the new way of life, from the fattened maharajahs at the top to those in refuge camps after the partition at the bottom. (below)

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 19, 2010 at 11:40 pm

A Library Divided

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During the Partition of India, a librarian divides the books between two piles. The partition led to the creation of the Dominion of Pakistan and the Union of India on August 14-15, 1947 and included not only the geographical divisions  but also the division of other assets, including the British Indian Army, the Indian Civil Service, the Indian railways, and the central treasury. This partition (Mountbatten Plan) was based on a misguided border secretly drawn by the London lawyer, Sir Cyril Radcliffe from August 9-12, and the actual geographical details are not released until 2 days after the partition. 

Radcliffe was to grant the majority Hindu regions to India and the majority Muslim areas to Pakistan. Therefore Pakistan came into being with two non-contiguous enclaves, East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) and West Pakistan, separated geographically by India. However, Radcliffe was not consistent in his division–he gave Chittagong to Pakistan, although the area was non-Muslim. Why he did so remain a mystery, since Radcliffe destroyed all of his records and Mountbatten expressly denied any special-knowledge or favouritism.

Nonetheless, the massive exoduses from both sides (about 14.5 million people in total) occurred in the months following Partition crossing the borders into the state of religious majority. The newly independent states were unable to keep public order in these exoduses. One of the largest population movements in recorded history was therefore subsequently followed by complete breakdown of law and order, riots, starvation and massacres. 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 5, 2009 at 11:18 pm

Posted in Politics

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