August 2017 witnessed India and Pakistan celebrating 70 years of independence. During the festivities, the BBC reminded the world of the closure of Britain’s colonial rule in India that created these two nations.
At the stroke of midnight on the eve of August 14, 1947, after three hundred years in India, the British finally left. The subcontinent was partitioned into two independent nation states: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Immediately, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Muslims trekked to West and East Pakistan (the latter now known as Bangladesh) while millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed in the opposite direction.
The documentary detailed statistics that 400 million people were involved – including modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Viewers heard the hope and optimism of that night which quickly turned into the harsh realities of how mass migrations and the ensuing years of bloodshed and communal violence.
Across the Subcontinent, communities that had coexisted for almost a millennium attacked each other in a terrifying outbreak of sectarian violence, with Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other—a mutual genocide as unexpected as it was unprecedented. In Punjab and Bengal—provinces abutting India’s borders with West and East Pakistan, respectively—the carnage was especially intense, with massacres, arson, forced conversions, mass abductions, and savage sexual violence. Some seventy-five thousand women were raped, and many of them were then disfigured or dismembered.
It was compelling listening as the BBC recorded several testimonies of families who had witnessed the death and destruction during this time recalling the tales of horror of people running around with knives, swords and guns.
Tales of Muslims being dragged off the streets only to be hidden by a Hindu or Sikh family and vice versa, coupled with deeply moving, individual, despairing, wretched, grief-stricken and sorrowful confessions.
The partition led to the deaths and displacement of millions. It was purposely provocative and intentionally violent, but it wasn’t supposed to be like that!
Mahatma Gandhi’s belief in civil rights and non-violent struggle inspired a whole generation and categorically stated that ‘he would not push for ‘Self Rule’ out of the ashes of a destroyed Britain.’
Was each side defending their respective heritage as they saw it?
The whole business of recalling ‘The Partition of India’ has brought back many disturbing memories but also the words of scripture. Throughout the Bible there are accounts of deep sorrowful times, non-more so than when the Lord Jesus Christ approached the city of Jerusalem and wept over it saying, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.’1
The bible records that ‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him’,2 racial differences haven’t merely been issues of psychological tolerance: God’s image is to be found equally in the Northern & Southern hemispheres, in the Caucasian, Mongoloid, Malayan, Ethiopian races. Imago Dei is common to humanity; it is not the sole preserve of the Judæo-Christian tradition as some may think.
And from the moment the Apostle Paul declared: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’3 , all barriers to racial equality were eradicated: no one is excluded from God’s plan of salvation, and no one ought to be excluded from the social and cultural capital that is essential for happiness and flourishing, which is the Christian vocation on earth – to be salt and light in the world. We are called to ‘contend for the faith’4 and that means we must ‘Learn to do well; seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow’.5
But like you, I ask why? What causes whole communities to rebel? Why all this anger and revengeful hatred.
Sourcing the scriptures, the Bible mentions the human heart almost 300 times. In essence, it says: the heart is that spiritual part of us where our emotions and desires dwell.
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah declared ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’6 In other words, the human heart, in its natural condition, is evil, treacherous and deceitful affecting our mind, emotions and desires at the very deepest level all due to the disobedience of our ancestors – Adam & Eve as recorded in the book of Genesis.
The Gospel writer Mark records the words of Jesus Christ
‘For it is from within, out of person’s heart, that evil thoughts come- sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’7 From that, it would seem our biggest problem is not external but internal; all of us have a heart problem.
Can the situation change? Yes!
The Psalmist cried out desperately ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.’8
By His Grace, God can create a new heart, ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’9 Therefore it is possible, but there’s more, He promises to “revive the heart of the contrite.’10
The heart is the core of our being, and the Bible sets great importance on keeping ‘..guard over the heart above all else, for it determines the course of life.’11
Asking for a miracle? Yes, but the miracle only happens by the power of God in response to our repentance and faith, ‘For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.’12
Biblical references are from the NIV Word Study Bible unless otherwise stated.