Indian tiles

The 75th Anniversary of the Partition of India

How our lives can influence global conflicts.

This is the 75th anniversary of the Partition of India, the great divide that Gandhi had worked so hard to avoid as he fought to remove India from the domination of Great Britain. He thought people should be able to live together and respect each other’s beliefs.

As I look around me I see partition and division around the world. People seem to be more divided than ever before and the situation seems to be getting worse. It feels like people are unable to understand who they are until they know who they are not. This is interesting to me as that is how I understand administrative and technical systems. I had not seen it as so embedded in people’s lives before.

Division Around the World

There follows a list of those divisions that strike my attention. It is interesting to see common factors in them.

The Division of Ireland

This was the source of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and in the UK during the 70’s and the 80’s. It goes back to the English sense of ownership over Ireland exacerbated by a religious divide between Catholic and Protestant communities. The issue ties back to Henry VIII, his desire to get rid of his wives and his subsequent creation of the Protestant Church of England. Later the English Civil War cemented hatred of Catholics and the conflict between Catholics and Protestants for the English throne made the situation worse, especially with the battles of the Dutch King William of Orange in Ireland. Whilst the central issue appears to be religious there has been a weaponisation of a working class divide to stoke the conflict. The division now comes down to a conflict between union with either the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom, with no compromise apparent. The issues around the European Union and Brexit continue to confuse the issues.

Israel and Palestine

This is a long-standing dispute that either goes back 2,000 years or 60 years, depending on which side you are on. It is either the fight for a nation’s survival or the fight for the rights of refugees. According the Israeli/Jewish point of view the Holy Land is theirs according to God’s will and they are just working to restore what was theirs in biblical times. According to the Palestinian point of view the land has been theirs for 2,000 years and they were kicked out by Israeli invasion in the Six Day War. There is truth on both sides with an apparent unwillingness to embrace a two state solution.

The Balkans, especially Serbia and Kosovo

The Balkans is a chaos of conflicting religious and ethnic divides that results both from long held Serbian nationalism and the clash of empires from the Nineteenth century and the aftermath of the First World War. The Balkans are where the Austrian, Russian and Ottoman empires met and clashed. They each represented different religious traditions, Catholic Christian, Orthodox Christian and Islam. These traditions have been embedded in people and have become confused with apparent ethnic divisions. The fall of the Ottoman empire after the First World War brought the confusion that remains today. Much of the solution is through the creation of small states—hence the term balkanisation—but a continuing religious/ethnic divide remains between Serbia and Kosovo, which Serbia still claims as part of their country. Interestingly they both want to join the European Union, which should defuse the conflict, but apparently does not.

Russia and Ukraine

There is not a lot to say about this conflict which is an on-going war after the invasion of Russia. It is an example of Russian imperialism and the concept of a Greater Russia. Much of the heart and soul of what became Russia is centred in present day Ukraine, which long ago became in independent nation. This is a straight forward conflict between empire and independence.

India and Pakistan

The partition of India created these two countries divided by an intense hatred of each other’s religions. This is another example of the type of division seen between Serbia and Kosovo, only this time it is between Islam and Hinduism. There appears to be a fear behind the conflict which only seems to get worse. On the surface the fear is real with the continuing death and violence between the two sides but this seems to hide a deeper fear of obliteration by the other side. Little progress is apparent in solving this issue.

Shia and Sunni divide in Islam

Behind much of the conflict between Islam and other religions is the intractable division in Islam between Shia and Sunni. This is a little understood issue in the West that fuels much of the Islamic hatred of the West. It has parallels in the conflicts between Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox branches of Christianity. These are difficult to understand when you stand outside looking in but impossible to ignore when you are inside looking out.

Political, Racial and Gender divides

The last three conflicts are more general in nature but are frequently behind many of the more detailed conflicts. These are the divides that should concern people most because resolving them could open up resolutions to many geographical differences.

Political divides between left and right infuse most countries around the world. Often they are complex in relation to their own issues but centre on the difference between an individual as opposed to a social view of society. Are you responsible for your own growth and development or are you responsible for the growth and development of society as a whole? This is a never ending argument that fuels political parties everywhere. The divide can be sharp or subtle with that in the US becoming dangerously sharp.

Racial divides have always driven conflicts and continue to exercise people. These are dangerous because they tend to be very visible whether through differences in colour or differences in physical characteristics. Racial prejudices are frequently hidden and unacknowledged.

Lastly is the divide that causes conflict everywhere, that between men and women. It is clear and dangerous in countries like Afghanistan but no less powerful in Western countries such as the UK and the USA. We are all responsible to some extent for conflict in this area. I have much more to say on this, but that is for later.

I am sure there are many more divisions that I have forgotten or not acknowledged, there always are. But it must be clear from the brief discussion above that no matter how remote the conflict appears in our daily lives, there is much that each one of us as an individual to reduce conflict and promote harmony. Any step may seem small and insignificant, but it will be important, nevertheless.