Ashwani Rana/Violence and Reconciliation after Mass killing

Ashwani Rana

Research Scholar, JJTU (RJ)


Dr.(Prof.) Harbans Singh(Guide)

Principal, S. Seechewal College, Sultanpur Lodhi


Violence in general parlance means actions or words which are intended to hurt people. Violence is often reified, taken as characteristic or a category that is either present or absent within a society or a group, making it difficult to examine the role it plays in social relations or to examine it as an alternative people use to deal with human predicaments. Going beyond the mere presence or absence of violence challenges us to locate it within a set of practices, discourses, and ideologies to examine it as a way to deploy power within differential social and political relations or as a means that states use to buttress them and to maintain power.

This article explores psychological avenues to reconciliation between groups. It describes the psychological changes in survivors, perpetrators, and passive bystanders in the course of the evolution of increasing violence and points to healing from the psychological wounds created as an essential component of reconciliation. It also explores the role of understanding the roots of genocide, and of violence between groups in general, in contributing to healing, to the creation of a shared history in place of the usually contradictory histories held by groups that have been in violent conflict and to reconciliation in general. The role of processes that have been emphasized in the literature on reconciliation, such as truth, justice, and contact between groups are discussed. Bottom up approaches focusing on the population and top down approaches involving leaders and the media, and the importance of changes in institutions and structures are discussed. The article exemplifies many of the issues and processes by a discussion of the genocide in India and Pakistan during the period of partition as discussed in the closing part of Khushwant Singh’s “Train to Pakistan” (an example of” Gadar-Ek prem Katha”- a Bollywood movie’s opening part can also be cited here) and also the communal intolerance that makes human beings to stoop to the level of a Butcher as discussed in the closing part of Chetan Bhagat’s “Three Mistakes of my Life”

KEY WORDS: Perpetrator – someone who is a criminal, Genocide – the murderer of a group of people, Subverted – destroyed, Burgeoning – developing quickly, Schism – a division into two groups in a religious organization, Noxious – a poisonous substance, Mired – an unpleasant situation, Metonymy – a word describing quality of something


Many authors have written about the violence exercised during partition period of India and along with their writings n-number of theories or ideologies have also been shared, the present article shares the vivid description given by Khushwant Singh in his “Train to Pakistan”- a novel which discusses the pre and post partition period of India and Pakistan. We are told in this novel how the three communities- The Hindu, The Muslim and the Sikh would reside together in a village named Mano Majra and they all had a great sense of love and care for each other. To an utter surprise the village was located at the border area and the villagers have been described as innocent individuals who didn’t have any idea about the partition of the country. It becomes an open secret after the arrival of “Ghost Train” in the village- the name given to a train carrying loads of dead bodies of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and in return dead bodies of Muslims were sent to Pakistan. Violence at the height of partition crisis in 1947 was the bloodiest among the two partitions of India- the demand for political division culminating in the Lahore resolution and the partition of families and communities after the call for Direct Action by Jinnah, which entailed violent uprooting and indiscriminate killing while migrating especially in Punjab. The singularly violent character of partition, which was unparalleled in both scale and method, was genocidal in nature. However, the national histories of both India and Pakistan naturalize and normalise the scene or memories of partition, whereas Indian historiography portrays it as a minor setback to the triumphant march of the nation along its modern, scientific and secular lines. Pakistani historiography forgets it altogether in order to maintain 1947 as an occasion of supreme joy, symbolizing the birth and fruition of a century old Muslim aspirations. In recent years, revisionist historians of 1947, especially those who have adopted the history-from-below approach, emphasize to scrutinize the historical discourse and its ability to represent a violent struggle with its traumatic aftermath even as they turn to literature to write back the pain of the victims in the history of the partition of India. The climax of the novel ‘Train to Pakistan’ is so touching and realistic that a single thought of visualising the scene described towards the closing part of the novel gives you goose bumps.

During the Partition months, violence against women (in the form of sexual assault, mutilation, murder, and abduction) rose to unprecedented levels, and this gendered violence has mostly been read as metonymic of the violation of the land. Many recent contributions to the theory of the subject have argued that the experience of becoming a subject is linked to the experience of subjugation in important ways. The violations inscribed on the female body (both literally and figuratively) and the discursive formations around these violations, as we read in khushwant singh’s novel, made visible the imagination of the nation as a masculine nation. What did this do to the subjectivity of women? We need to ask not only how ethnic or communal violence was enacted through specific gendered acts of violation such as rape, but also how women may have taken these noxious signs of violation and reoccupied them through the work of domestication, ritualization, and re-narration.

Against the general consensus that Partition violence was part of an exceptional moment of insanity in which men went mad, we have stories that theorize differently: the violence that Partition brought to women is understood to be similar but of a different magnitude than the usual fare doled out to them in a patriarchal society. As for the male protagonists in this fiction, the sense of violation that ensued afire Partition challenged the very foundations of their manhood and subjectivity.

It has been argued earlier that the discursive formations, through which the nation-state was inaugurated, attributed a particular type of subjectivity to women as victims of rape and abduction. Yet women’s own formation of their subject positions, though mired in these constructions, was not completely determined by them. The previous discussion argued that women spoke of their experiences by anchoring their discourses to the genres of mourning and lamentation that already assigned a place to them in the cultural work of mourning, but they spoke of violence and pain within these genres as well as outside them. Through complex transactions between body and language they were able to both voice and show the hurt done to them as well as to provide witness to the harm done to the whole social fabric—the injury was to the very idea of different groups being able to inhabit the world together.

The story of the making of nations and their histories can be told in many ways; for there are obviously differing, and changing, points of view both within and outside the nation, and differing degrees of access to the rights of citizenship (and of history). It is one way of telling this story of Partition and Independence in the subcontinent and the displacement that came with it that I seek to examine in this paper. In the context of 1947, a moment of quite incredible uprooting and violence, displacement in its physical sense refers generally to evacuation and migration. There is, however, another rather unusual aspect to this history of displacement: one that has not been widely discussed. This is the displacement of people who found nowhere to go even after they had been pushed around from place to place – the making of people into refugees in their own homes.

As with similar struggles around the world, independence from British rule in the Indian subcontinent was inaugurated with violence. The 1947 Partition of British India into two nation-states, India and Pakistan, provoked the single largest population movement in recent history, with Hindus moving into independent India and Muslims into the newly formed nation of Pakistan,’ It is estimated that between 1947 and 1948, 10-15 million people crossed the newly created borders in both directions.

When violence between groups comes to a halt the building of constructive, nonviolent relations between groups becomes possible. However, violence often resumes. The psychological wounds that have resulted from the violence and fear, mistrust or hate may interfere with building better relations and lead to renewed violence. Violence may resume even if it was halted by negotiations and agreements between parties. This is the case because agreements are often not satisfying to all segments of the hostile groups, because they may not be appropriately carried out, and by themselves they do not sufficiently alter the psychological realities of group members created by past history. Whether lasting peace will be constructed depends on what happens next. Renewed violence is probably an even greater danger when extreme violence is stopped by one party defeating the other, as in the case of a Punjabi movie “Shaheed-e-Mohhabbat Buta Singh- An Unsung Hero” or in case of Bollywood movie- “Gadar-Ek prem Katha” wherein the mob runs after a girl-a Muslim girl, in order to rape her under the name of revenge or tit for tat, but in both the cases the hero comes to the scene and rescues the heroine. The similar example may be found in case of Chetan Bhagat’s “Three Mistakes of My Life”, towards the ending part of the novel where Omi’s Mama attempts to kill Ali in the name of revenge of his son’s death.

The truth of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 lay, at least for its victims, in the violence done to them. With the qualification that the victims of partition were rarely victims alone, as the ways in which the violence of the times is conceptualised and remembered by those who lived through partition – as victims, aggressors or onlookers, has been closely examined. What stands out in the victims’ memory of partition, is the proposition that the violence was always ‘out there’, and never in us. Violence was what was done by the other; although in a literal sense this other sometimes included wayward members of the speaker’s own community. While this is easily recognised when we analyse memories of moments of collective violence like partition, the insistent drive to consign violence to a realm ‘out there’ perhaps needs to be thought through a little more. What ‘violence’ seems to do in such narrations is to mark the boundaries of ‘community’. One might suggest indeed that violence and community are constitutive of each other. Violence marks the limits of the community, that is to say, violence can occur only at or beyond that limit. By the same token, what occurs within the boundaries of the community is, by definition, not violence. An additional point to note is that critical events like partition often lead to the radical reconstitution of community.

Violence remains the marker of the boundaries of the reconstituted community, even as the (new) community is reified into one of ancient origins. This indeed is how the violence of partition has generally been narrated by those who lived through it, as Partition produced new, congealed and highly exclusive senses of Hindu/Sikh and Muslim communities in India and Pakistan. In the long-term, it also produced new visions of a past that had been exceptionally harmonious, a past in which lives and cultures, joys and sorrows, were shared in ways that partition (and the politics of partition) made impossible to new notions too of the ‘traditions’ of ‘our village’, ‘our town’, ‘our locality’ which often stood out in popular recollection from the general run of insanity and violence.

Religion and Violence: The relationship between religion and violence has been a subject of rapidly growing interest and concern to social scientists studying a broad range of religious groups and traditions. Violent acts and relationships are extremely diverse, of course, and so it is not surprising that the burgeoning literature on religion and violence incorporates analyses of numerous types of violence, groups, and contexts. A number of distinctions are conventionally drawn in distinguishing forms of violence. Violence is variously conceptualized as an act, a process, or a relationship.

Violence may involve individual actions, as in the personal murder of one member of a religious group by another, an outsider by an insider, or an insider by an outsider. It may also involve collective action by or against a group, as in the cases of war, revolution, repression, and terrorism. Violence may or may not explicitly invoke religious objectives. For example, an individual who is a member of a religious group may simply be the perpetrator or victim of an act of violence, with no connection to a religious purpose, or violent acts may have a specific religious goal, such as assassination of a spiritual leader or execution for heresy. Violence may occur within the confines of a group, as in the case of schismatic conflict; it may also occur across institutional boundaries, as when the religious group is the target of political repression or the instigator of an attack against societal institutions. And violence occurs at different levels of injuriousness, with extensive loss of life being a limiting case. It is clear, then, that studying the connection between religion and violence involves a variety of distinct issues and relationships that require invocation of very different types and levels of theoretical explanation.

It is interesting to see how this proposition is worked out in detailed recollections of partition violence. To start with, a distinction is commonly drawn between ‘our martyrdom’ and ‘their violence’; or ‘their attacks’ and ‘our revenge’. Martyrdom and revenge are examples of violence, it is true, but they are at the same time not violence – for there is no course open to those that took these actions, no other path to justice’: this is a violence forced upon the victims, a violence carried out in order to prevent further, and greater, violence. In any event, there is little suggestion that there was any violence involved in these acts of martyrdom, or even revenge, in the narratives of the ‘victims’. Indeed, in the case of ‘martyrdom’, the victim’s narrative tends to transform it into something altogether different, not only ‘just’, but beautiful and even other-worldly – God’s deeds as it were, performed in defence of God’s word and work: ‘dharma’, religion, the religious community. There is other way also in which ‘violence’ is marked out as occurring ‘elsewhere’.

Even the half-acknowledged violence of revenge rarely takes place in ‘our’ space in the victim’s narrative. On those occasions when they are forced to resort to this kind of violence, the victim’s kinsfolk, neighbours, loved ones, go out of the home, the village or the ‘mohalla’, to some other less sanctified space where such violence seems permissible. Again, there are certain kinds of violence which cannot be acknowledged as having occurred, or at least as having occurred here, even though the perpetrators in this instance may be the enemy. Classically, of course, this is what happens with rape, but the same kind of silence comes to shroud forced religious conversions too. These are examples of violence that always happen somewhere else, to some others – never to someone one knows someone within the family or the immediate community. Instances of dramatic and unprecedented sacrifice, constituting exceptional examples of martyrdom, have received some scholarly attention following the recent renewal of interest in the history and historiography of partition: perhaps the best known case is the collective suicide of women and children who drowned themselves in a well in order to save their honour and their religion. These are examples where the victims are surely victims, and the sacrifices made by them are seen and represented as extraordinary events. Before I turn to the question of how such ‘extraordinary’ violence is narrated, however, I wish to look at some more ‘ordinary’ accounts of the ‘everyday’ violence unleashed by partition, a violence in which a substantial part of the rural and urban population was implicated, victims and aggressors were often, the same people, and attack followed attack, and revenge followed revenge, for several weeks, if not months, in a large part of north-western India. To begin the analysis here with the story of ‘revenge attacks’ we can consider Khushwant Singh’s “Train To Pakistan”, where we read that the receiving of dead bodies of Hindus and Sikhs in the ‘Ghost Train’ was planned to be retaliated in the shape of sending dead bodies of the Muslim refugees migrating to Pakistan. It was planned that the train will be stopped somewhere midway and a mass killing will be done without any discrimination, but that is another issue that the negative character turned hero- Jagat Singh or Jagga spoils this plan of the villagers by sacrificing his own life.

Role of Media: Popular cinema in India and Pakistan is deeply influenced by the watershed event of Partition both as industries in the respective countries as well as at the level of diegetic content and narrative styles of individual films. Further, we argue that films may be considered as constituting important historical sources by raising questions such as: To what extent can popular cinema take on the burden of recreating historical events accurately? Can films be seen as legitimate historical sources? Can cinema be considered a site for the production of historical knowledge? The impact of such a life-altering event has been documented from historical, political, sociological and literary perspectives. Nevertheless, the Partition also inspired filmmakers on both sides of the divide. When it comes to the role of media, it certainly has had a great impact in the shaping of popular mindsets both in India and Pakistan. Where on the one hand, media has influenced the broader Indo-Pakistan relationship, on the other, through its various genres, media has also served as an alternate channel of dialogue and communication through which nations and populations can talk with each other. The genre of films in particular has left an everlasting impression in shaping the popular mind set of the people of India and Pakistan.

Cultural Violence: By ‘cultural violence’ we mean those aspects of culture, the symbolic sphere of our existence – exemplified by religion and ideology, language and art, empirical science and formal science (logic, mathematics) – that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence. The paragon of cultural violence may be Chetan Bhagat’s “Three Mistakes of My Life”, where in we get to know about the lives of three friends, happenings around them, latent talent for playing cricket in a Muslim Kid- Ali, Mishap of Godhra, communal riots in Ahmedabad related to Ram Janam Bhumi and Babri Masjid issue, death of Omi’s Mama’s young son and towards the concluding part of the story Omi’s Mama’s attempt to kill Ali in the name of revenge.

Reconciliation after Genocide: One aim of this article is to note some of the psychological effects of group violence on the parties to the violence and thereby identify their psychological situation when reconciliation might start. Another is to describe an approach to promote healing, or psychological recovery and reconciliation, a lot of research has been conducted to evaluate its effectiveness and varied uses of the approach in reconciling after mass killing. Reconciliation has special urgency for preventing new violence in situations, like, where groups remain intermixed. Both the approaches- bottom-up to reconciliation, which attempt to promote changes in the population, and top-down approaches working with the media and leaders who can shape the attitudes of the community as well as the nature of institutions that may further reconciliation, have been used in this article. The political and social context of these interventions is also to be discussed. Another aim is to emphasize the value and potential uses of one of the elements of this approach, promoting understanding of the roots of violence. A final purpose is to briefly describe other processes that the literature indicates are important for reconciliation, to note relationships with elements of the approach, when they exist, and to initiate steps toward a general conception of reconciliation.


What is Reconciliation? Reconciliation may be defined as mutual acceptance by groups of each other. The essence of reconciliation is a changed psychological orientation toward the other. Reconciliation means that victims and perpetrators, or members of hostile groups, do not see the past as defining the future, as simply a continuation of the past. It means that they come to see the humanity of one another, accept each other, and see the possibility of a constructive relationship. This definition is consistent with other definitions, which focus on restoring a damaged relationship and on both the processes involved and the outcome. While the focus of this definition is psychological change, institutions and how they operate are important.

National histories written in the first decades after independence tended to focus on the realm of high politics and therefore on issues of triangular (British, Pakistani, Indian) national political interests that were served by Partition. As many scholars have subsequently noted, these early historical accounts were for the most part silent about the level of gendered violence; the official narrative seemed to be that it was a time of extraordinary violence and shame, for men, women, and the two new nations. Silence allowed for a saving of face, on both a national and a familial level. And yet, the fiftieth anniversary of independence from British colonial rule arrived in 1997 with no one willing or able to say that the wounds of this Partition have healed or been forgotten, despite the official policy of silence-Both the ideologies are to be considered in promoting reconciliation, and in solidifying or maintaining psychological changes that can be subverted by political and social processes. Whether the media devalues or humanizes groups, how the justice system or schools operate, the nature of leadership, and structural justice or the situation of groups in society are crucial in promoting or hindering reconciliation. However, when psychological interventions affect leaders or the media, they can bring about institutional change. For example, if journalists come to present issues between groups in a manner that promotes reconciliation rather than incites hostility, this can be regarded as change in the media as an institution. There is extensive interest in reconciliation, but as yet limited research. Much of the already substantial literature describes practical efforts, like truth and reconciliation com missions, or interventions by practitioners, or focuses on theory. However, reconciliation is also an aspect of the prevention of violence and peace making and can be facilitated by processes such as contact, peace education, and dialogue and interactive problem solving.


  1. Yihua Chen (2013), The Subalterns in the Modern Transition of India: Starting the Discussion from R.K. Narayan’s Fictions, Asian Scholarship
  2. Singh, Khushwant (1956), Train to Pakistan and (1998) Adapted to a movie
  3. Bhagat, Chetan (2008), Three Mistakes of my life
  4. Galtung Johan (1990), Cultural Violence, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Aug., 1990), pp. 291-305
  5. Daiya Kavita (2008), Violent Belongings.


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