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The Partition of India as seen in Ms. Marvel and why it is relevant

Por: María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards 22 de junio de 2022

The importance the Indian partition has in Ms. Marvel shows the uniqueness of the series.

Ms. Marvel has become the most seen Marvel series among people of color, and it’s not a surprise. Although Marvel has been trying to insert other cultures into their productions, most of them had been focused on white heroes. The fact that a series like Ms. Marvel doesn’t only have a Pakistani and Muslim teen heroine but actually delves into her culture and history as the main elements of her identity is a new step in mainstream representation.

Ms. Marvel merges a classic coming-of-age trope with the difficulties of being a minority and the cultural implications it has when trying to fit into a divided society. This dichotomy might be what makes Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, one of the most complex superheroes when it comes to her identity and probably one of the deepest Marvel stories we’ve seen in the very lengthy MCU.

Now, every culture, every community, and every nation has at least one painful episode in its history that becomes the center of its identity even decades or centuries later. In Ms. Marvel, we learn that the entire family and Pakistani community have the Indian Partition as that difficult episode that has endured in the community through generational trauma. For Kamala Khan, Partition will take a central role in her hero journey and personal character development as it’s been hinted that her powers come or are related to her great-grandmother, who disappeared during the Partition.

What was the Indian Partition?

India before colonization

To understand Partition we need to understand how the Indian subcontinent worked. India was a country formed by several kingdoms called princely states, these were basically divided into different religious groups with their own traditions, castes, and leaderships. The vast majority, though, were Hindi and Sikh. The largest minority were Muslims who arrived in the territory during the Islamic conquests of India around the eleventh century.

For centuries, somehow these communities had managed to coexist. Around the 15th century, European powers saw the Indian subcontinent as a mine and most of them fought to get control over it with Great Britain being the one with most control over the territory. Eventually, by the mid-19th century, it was the British Empire with their East Indian Company, the one who seized complete control over India making it one of the most profitable colonies of the British Empire.

The British ruled directly over some regions and indirectly over other princely states through deals with their leaders. It was during this century that religious differences became more evident in political terms. The British colonizers started categorizing the Indian population through their religious affiliations making it evident that Hinduism was the dominant faith followed by Muslims as the largest minority.

Polarization and the end of the British rule

In the states ruled indirectly by the British, people could only vote for leaders of their own religious affiliation causing even more distance between the communities that had coexisted for centuries before colonization. Things would get even tenser in the 20th century. Some religious groups started organizing anti-colonial movements sparked by the misery brought by WWI (when millions of Indians were sent to fight). WWII unleashed a chaotic reality that would only divide the nation even more.

Civil disobedience was the rule in India with several leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru organizing their communities; they were rapidly arrested, but discontent was even greater than fear of repercussions. WWII left an impoverished Britain and it was quite evident that keeping India as a colony would represent more cost than benefit. Leaders of the anti-colonial movements were released and the British decided to grant India its independence with no organization or thought whatsoever.

The different leaders had different and irreconcilable priorities and approaches and although India had endured centuries of suppression and violence under British rule, the imperial army had always succeeded in keeping relative control over the people. So, on the one hand, Gandhi and Nehru (who represented the Hindu majority) wanted a unified India while Muhammad Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslims, believed that the polarization created by colonization was way too big to fix, and thus they needed their own nation. He suggested the creation of a new country called Pakistan formed of two territories, one in the west and one in the east.

The horrors of the Indian Partition

In 1946, riots ensued making the British accelerate their retreat. However, they decided to organize the Independence on their own terms. By June of the next year, the Viceroy announced that Independence would be granted as soon as August and that it would be divided into two nations, a Hindu majority in India and a Muslim state in Pakistan. However, the Viceroy failed to explain how it would be settled and done. With little knowledge of the land (mainly using outdated maps) and how communities had been established, the British Boundary Committee decided, in only five weeks, the borders of both nations.

This sparked one of the biggest migrations in history, and one of the most horrific atrocities seen by the modern world, even considering the horrors of WWII. Princely states near the newly settled borders had to decide to which nation they wanted to be adhered accepting they would be losing their sovereignty. Desperate people would migrate to what they thought their new country would be even getting lost or perishing in the process. Polarization didn’t help at all and people resorted to violence to ensure their land would be free of the opposite communities.

By 1948, this forced migration decreased but it’s estimated that between one and two million of the population perished in their attempt to make it to their new promised land. Many of those who managed to survive, did so in the worst conditions imaginable. The British, on their side, simply left once Independence was acquired without caring about the chaos they had created and endorsed.

The consequences of Partition were endured in the following decades with families separated forever and endless people permanently displaced from their homes. In 1971, West Pakistan became the new country of Bangladesh. The princely state of Kashmir is still being disputed by Pakistan and India today.

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