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Radio 4 marks 70th anniversary of India Partition

Hanna-Mariam Chowdhury

BBC Radio 4 will be commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India in 1947. This will include an exciting dramatic revival of Salman Rushdie’s award-winning Midnight’s Children, which is due to be broadcast on the birthday of Partition in a three-part series featuring notable and intriguing interviews and the experiences of British Asians and those who lived through the Partition. Britain’s colonialisation of the Indian subcontinent was built and sustained on countless atrocities and crimes, which certainly makes BBC Radio 4’s commemoration of the subcontinental Partition important.

Midnight’s Children
The new dramatisation of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children forms the foundation to Radio 4’s commemoration of 70 years since the separation of India into what are now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Having received the “Booker of Bookers” prizes in 1993 and 2008, this will be the first time Rushdie’s work has appeared on the radio.

The audience will meet Saleem Sinai, a character with a remarkable story. Sinai was born at the stroke of midnight on the first day of Partition. The first episode of this dramatisation will be broadcast shortly before midnight on the eve of the anniversary of Partition. Falling on Tuesday, 15th August, the adaptation will lead BBC Radio 4’s schedule, being broadcast in seven episodes to the nation.

Author Salman Rushdie stated, “My generation is a radio generation. Indeed, Saleem refers to himself as a radio – All India Radio – due to his ability to talk to people telepathically. Radio seems like a very appropriate medium for this dramatisation of Midnight’s Children.”

“I’m also very happy to have the originality of different length episodes in the drama, it feels radical and exciting and I look forward to hearing it go out on the radio,” he added.

The radio episodes will star numerous British-Asian actors, including Nikesh Patel (Indian Summers) playing the lead of Saleem. Patel will be accompanied by a 31-part cast including Aysha Kala (Indian Summers, Obsession) and Meera Syal (Goodness Gracious Me).

Partition Voices
Among the various commissions which will be taking centre stage on BBC Radio 4 comes, from 31st July, a three part series, Partition Voices. British Asian journalist Kavita Puri hears remarkable accounts from members of the South Asian diaspora who reside in the UK, who share their experiences of one of the most tumultuous and traumatic events of the 20th century. The series explores and delves into the shared, complex history between the subcontinent and Britain, while focusing on the bloody aftermath and social upheaval of Partition and its legacy for future generations in the UK.

When British India was divided along religious lines into India and Pakistan (East Pakistan later becoming the modern day Bangladesh), it sparked one of the most colossal forced exoduses in world history. Over ten million people were compelled to flee and relocate in their religiously designated countries, and in the turmoil up to one million South Asians lost their lives. The interviews span across the UK, and tell detailed, personal and emotional memoirs of the human consequences of Partition.

Many South Asians who migrated to Britain after Independence in 1947 were from places affected by Partition, including Bengal and Punjab. Their descendants also speak to us about the reverberations of Partition on their lives today.

Kavita Puri said, “70 years after Partition people in Britain are only just beginning to tell their story of this traumatic time. It is imperative to record these voices – of British Asians and Colonial British – before it is too late. We are delighted that the British Library will be archiving all the interviews. We travelled from Dundee to Dorset and heard extraordinary accounts of the lived experience of Partition: of co-existence shattered; epic journeys; the horror and kindness. “

“The testimonies paint a vivid picture of the dying days of Empire, loss of homeland, and the continuing legacy of Partition for British Asians and their descendants in Britain today. It is a shared history between South Asians and Britain, one that surprisingly little is known about in the UK,” she added.

The Man Who Drew the Line
This programme centres on the human dimension of the arbitrary and swift measures taken in 1947 which have subsequently had profound consequences which remain with us today. Britain bears an important and inescapable role in the bloody and violent way in which independence was achieved by the nations of the former Raj. As this feature reveals, one of those most acutely aware of that was the man with whom the closely associated issue of partition is indelibly linked: Cyril Radcliffe. The Man Who Drew the Line focuses on the tension between the administrative task Radcliffe was asked to perform and the human cost of his labours for both the peoples affected and himself.

The most important element of Radcliffe’s partition map, when it was published shortly before Pakistan’s and India’s independence on 14/15th August 1947, was its proposed division of the Muslim-majority Bengal and Punjab. About 14 million people – seven million from each side – are thought to have been displaced after the formalisation of the Line of Partition placed them on the opposite side of the border to the one where they desired to be. At least another half-a-million people are estimated to have lost their lives in the violence that immediately ensued after independence, with a very much larger number being injured.

This programme asks the big question of why Radcliffe decided to pursue the course that he did. It endeavours to find an explanation of why the Line of Partition was ordered to go ahead, despite the consequences that ensued and the dire warnings given to him. However, the programme also considers the pressures placed upon Radcliffe during the time of Partition and the end of Britain’s colonial rule of the subcontinent. Using a variety of archive sources, the programme reveals the reasons for Radcliffe’s concerns and how he sought to approach them. It further examines how much Whitehall learnt from the episode and put into practice as the wider process of decolonisation took hold in the mid to late 1900s.

Throwing Out Nehru
When modern India took political and geographical shape 70 years ago, Jawaharlal Nehru was both the first Prime Minister and the head of a family that was to have a lasting impact on the nation’s governance and future. As with so many other places, there’s a huge change sweeping India, and Zareer Masani argues that it’s also sweeping away the Nehru legacy, for good or ill.

Zareer hears what’s been told of the Nehru story today and examines the performance of his dynastic heirs, the rejection of his secular values and the dismantling of his socialist economic policies. The current and very much controversial ruling BJP is even trying to expunge Nehru’s name from history text-books. Was the Nehru era a period of wasted opportunities and false starts? Did India have the chance to hold onto and expand its glittering new aims for a successful, new nation? Or did he lay lasting foundations for Indian democracy, science and technology?

Zareer wrote a biography of Nehru’s daughter Indira and his father was a close confidante of Nehru before setting up in opposition in the 1950s and 60s. His analysis of the Nehru dynasty is laced with personal anecdote and accounts as well as interviews with some of India’s leading cultural and political commentators and voices. Zareer talks to senior political figures in India as well as to students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and India’s leading political commentators about the shift in the reputation of a man whose name still dominates the literal and metaphorical skyline of India.  The attitude to Nehru and his legacy is key to understanding the direction and complexities of Indian politics and culture today.

For more information about this series and broadcasting times, go to:

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