[UPDATE: I hear there's a major Time magazine cover story coming soon; and a National Geographic issue on Pakistan in September.]
[A photo by Dan McDougall from a story about the 60th anniversary of India-Pakistan independence. See below.]
When the 50th anniversary of the India-Pakistan came along in 1997, there was a lot of U.S. press coverage, including special cover stories in National Geographic, Newsweek and The New Yorker (and London-based Granta ran an entire issue on India, still available for purchase).
But with the 60th anniversary about 10 days away (Aug. 14/15), there's been very little in the American press (please correct me if I am wrong). Part of the reason, I reckon, is that there's so much more being written about India and Pakistan on a daily basis now than in 1997 that doing special coverage isn't as necessary. Still, I'd have liked to see some big packages that step back and look at the progress of those two countries over the past six decades, as well as the 10 years since 1997. I hope to see some of that over the next 10 days or so.
The British press, on the other hand, continues to keep a close eye on the former British Raj (as it should), and I was alerted to a story in The Observer by SAJAer Srabani Roy. Almost all the stories about Partition are about the India-Pakistan border on the western part of the Subcontinent, but, of course, there was mass slaughter and mass movement on the eastern part as well, in what was carved out as East Pakistan (and in 1971 became Bangladesh).
The Observer piece is one of the most disturbing stories I have read recently. It documents the miserable lives of people in a refugee camp called Coopers Camp in West Bengal. They are refugees and descendants of refugees who crossed over from East Pakistan. "We hardly ever hear of the people crossing th eastern boarders in 1947," Srabani wrote in an e-mail to me. And she's right.
The story by Dan McDougall (who also took the sad, sad photos) opens with an 84-year-old named Kajal.
Kajal is part of a community history forgot. For the past 60 years he has lived in Coopers Camp, a place largely ignored by modern India. With a population of more than 7,000 people, each resident is a family member of those who escaped from Pakistan amid the horrors of British India's partition, out of which emerged the states of Muslim West and East Pakistan (1,600km apart) and mainly Hindu India.
'India was a dream for us when we left everything behind during partition in 1947,' says Kajal. 'I was 15. We had lands near present-day Dhaka [in East Pakistan, which after a civil war became Bangladesh in 1971]. But as Hindus, my parents were threatened unless they handed over their home to Muslims. So we escaped. We hoped for a new life, for land, for homes. But 60 years on India has given us nothing, not even a nationality. My parents, like I will, died here in the same temporary camp they fled to. I sit here before you a refugee now as I was when I crossed the Bay of Bengal.
'I never had the option to leave and I have been unable to give my children and my grandchildren the education they need. It is my biggest regret.'
One way to judge how much is known about the camp is by typing in the words coopers camp bengal into Google. Surprisingly, this article, which is in the Sunday, Aug. 5, edition of the Observer, is the third result within a few hours of being published. The Wikipedia entry on the camp, which is first, consists of just one paragraph of demographics, without the word "refugee" appearing anywhere.
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