War Stories | An Account of Partition


War Stories is a monthly column by Sara Sethia that intends to account war experiences and stories, both first hand and others, across borders in an effort to propagate peace activism.

Warning: this piece contains sensitive information which may trigger certain readers.

The Indian Independence Struggle and the Partition that ensued is often narrated as a matter of great pride- more so as a story of imponderable human resilience and boundless patriotism, an exemplar of the ideals of liberty, humanity and peace.

Time and again, as our classrooms and our history lessons talk about victories and deaths, enemies and foes, as we blur the boundaries of those to be loved and those to be despised, these stories about the ugliest facets of human paradoxes will be lost under the garb of superficial ideals and unfounded euphoria. If we shy away from accepting the brute reality of what we lost in all those wars that we won, peace will continue to be a burden, a bloated pouch of words flung from one nation to another until the remnants from the trampled humanity taint it into a tale of invisibility.

This account is one from the deep recesses that haunts the glorious story of Independence. It’s a manifestation of one of the many costs of the Partition in 1947.

Communal disharmony and riots between the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus was at the helm at that time. Muslims and Sikhs, who had been amicable neighbours since aeons, grew suspicious of each other and were later, raging with fury about the other’s existence. Beautiful evenings that they once spent with each other in the by-lanes of the village or near the wells, were now shrouded in war cries.

In March 1947, Sikh villages in the vicinity of Rawalpindi were assaulted by Muslim mobs. People in the villages were astonished. As “Allah O Akbar” raged through the skies and hands lifting weapons conspicuously occupied the peaceful skies, everyone wondered at the sudden turn of events. Several generations of their families had peacefully coexisted in the village. This was new.

Soon the mob approached a village. One of the members of the mob assured the Sikhs that the mob would return from their village without causing any harm if and only if the Sikhs handed over a girl from the village to them.

Sikh women in the village were forced into hiding. Ber Bahadur Singh was a teenager, who too was forced into hiding with the rest of the villagers. As the circumstances worsened, Ber Bahadur Singh’s father decided to take action.

He called his daughter, Maan. She obediently sat in front of him, her back facing his face. He raised his sword to strike her head off but missed. She brought her braid forward. Her father struck her with his sword and her head rolled on the ground.

One after the other, men began striking the heads off the women of their family to protect their ‘honour’ because they feared that the mobs would kidnap their women, force them to convert their religion and rape them. Preposterously, there were no cries, no commotion- only the dreadful noise of swords cutting through the air and striking the heads of women.

Tears well up in Ber Bahadur Singh’s eyes as he recalls this incident, an incident that continues to haunt him even in his senility.

However, what makes me shudder with fear and anguish is that Ber Bahadur Singh’s YouTube video, which seems to be the only testimonial of this incident online, is titled “How Sikhs saved their women from Muslim Mobs during Partition of 1947”.

Women. Honour.

That day is a reminder of why I as a person can never regard the Partition as a manifestation of liberty. The mob believed that there was no better way to insult the Sikhs than to rape their women. The Sikhs believed that murdering women in such a situation was the most honourable death for them. These women were reduced to mere objects of honour for men to decide their fates according to convenience.

Love. Loss.

They were happy families. They were happy communities. Yet, their lives were obliterated in an instant. A loss that no glory could supplant. Their lives would be jarred with memories of their wives’ hair gorgeously flowing over her face, of her eyes which made their day. Dreams would bring back dreadful memories of the times when their nights were replete with their sister’s endless chatter or their mother’s stories. It was and is dreadful because all that was once mellifluous is now tainted with the noise of swords chopping their heads.

What was saved and what was lost is an inexplicable beat in the deepest recesses of their hearts; hearts that know they didn’t want what they did; hearts that wished they hadn’t known honour; hearts that wish the war never came.

Disclaimer: Before you develop an opinion about which community is evil or bad, remember that there are stories in the hidden folds of history that may smash your judgements in an instant. It’s not who wronged whom — the war has left no hands clean. It’s about why we wronged the people we were supposed to love, the people who were not ‘others’ due to the difference in their religions or nations. It is rather about why war compels us to throw into oblivion the relationships we shared and the humanity we swore by.

Sara Sethia is a Research Associate (Gender Justice) at One Future Collective.

Featured image: Washington Post


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PsychBeat | All You Need To Know About Expressive Arts Therapy


PsychBeat is a monthly column by Shruti Venkatesh which intends to look at innovative therapies that can be used to counter mental health issues.

Expressive Arts Therapy (EAT), a form of therapy which is relatively new in its formation but is rapidly gaining popularity, combines psychology and various arts (movement, drawing, painting, sculpting, music, writing, sound, and improvisation) to promote emotional growth and healing.

“Basic art, movement, dance, clay, toys, drama and other artistic modalities are carried out in a non-competitive and non-judgmental manner so that an individual is able to listen to the inner messages, feelings and emotions that are stored in the body and mind.”, says Bhaktiveda Dhaul, Founder of Pranaah and Expressive Arts Therapist. EAT facilitates change by using different art forms as therapeutic instruments. Journaling, storytelling, reading literature and poetry, and making life maps, videos, finger painting and memory books are other forms of EAT. It is important to understand that Expressive Arts Therapy focuses on self-discovery and emotional growth and not on perfecting the concerned art form.

Expressive Arts Therapy can be used on people from all age groups, individually as well as in groups. Children can benefit greatly from Expressive Arts Therapy. Namrata Jain, Psychologist, Wellness Coach and Expressive Arts Therapist, says “Often children don’t have the language skills to verbalize their problems. Expressive Arts Therapy taps into the right brain nodules where the language of images, ideas, and creative expression exist. EAT awakens a child’s imagination and creativity to help them discover who he/she is and how to engage his senses. EAT helps children know more of themselves which in turn helps them know others around them and at large becoming more humble, respectful and mature as adults.”

EAT also helps geriatric clients to stay involved and connected with their families. As Dhaul suggests, “Expressive art therapy can help the geriatric population by giving them a sense of belonging and inner peace as the activities are fun and stress releasing which improves mood and gets out the free inner child.” This form of therapy has been implemented in many countries now.

Some of the disorders which can use EAT as a treatment strategy includes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), developmental disabilities, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and chronic medial illnesses. The approach is described as “integrative” when different art techniques are intentionally used in combination with traditional medicines to promote improved health.

Image credit: Unsplash


Much of the core of EAT is focused on the concept of self-exploration and creation. People have the opportunity to explore themselves differently through the use of art and this proves to be a catalyst for the therapeutic process. Simple tasks like painting and movement help people recapitulate their past and engage in catharsis and working together with your expressive arts therapist also helps in the faster resolution of conflicts.

Creativity plays a key role as well in EAT as it is assumed that any form of art and its creation arises from the emotional depth of a person. This allows for creativity to become an outlet for the expression of traumas, troubles and emotional as well as behavioral issues. The central idea is the process and journey of creation and not the final result which helps to gain clarity in communicating one’s inner feelings without verbal barriers. The results are not particularly left for interpretation from the therapist but instead clients are encouraged to find personal meanings in their creations, hence the focus on self-discovery and exploration.

Nirali Rajgor, an aspiring Expressive Arts therapist, student of Psychology and trained dancer for 10 years, explains, “Dance and other such art forms are extremely beneficial for both one’s physical and mental health. It teaches you how to be comfortable with your own body. As they are expressive forms, those who feel they lack verbal communication skills find it a beautiful way to express, to get their emotions out and show it to the world. This makes it very adaptable for therapeutic purposes. EAT is an evolving field where there is so much scope for improvement and research. I am very hopeful of its success and truly believe that EAT can lead to a renewed self-discovery in people.”

Like any other therapy, EAT too has its own limitations. Many people find it difficult to break out of their shells and engage in art forms like dance, music or poetry. Therapists experience a large amount of resistance from participants because they believe that they are not creative and have never been, hence, a therapy such as EAT may not benefit them. There is also a misconception that it is necessary to produce something artistic as a result of the sessions which makes clients hesitate opting for EAT. On the other hand, there are participants who may in fact have prior experience in certain art forms like painting which is inhibitory to the therapeutic process as the participant refuses to budge from their learned practices.

Although expressive modalities have gained increasing popularity and acceptance in the recent years, there is still plenty of research left to be done in terms of the different applications and types of groups it can be applied to. However, mental health professionals have recognized the many qualitative benefits which EAT provides. This is reflected upon by Dhaul, who says, “Expressive Art Therapy helps in understanding what is important and what issues need to be addressed. Awareness is the first step to recovery and that is what the power of nonverbal activities carried out in EAT can bring up for a person.”


1. Expressive Arts Therapy. (2017, July 27). Good Therapy.

2. Dunphy, K., Mullane, S., and Jacobsson, M. (2013), The effectiveness of expressive arts therapies: A review of the literature. Melbourne: PACFA.

3. Malchiodi, C. (2014, June 30). Creative Arts Therapy and Expressive Arts Therapy. Psychology Today.

4. Bhaktiveda Dhaul, Founder of Pranaah and Expressive Arts Therapist.

5. Namrata Jain, Psychologist, Wellness Coach and Expressive Arts Therapist. Jain has recently started a program called Small Steps… Big Leaps which focuses on children and imparting life skills.

Shruti Venkatesh is the National Lead (Mental Health) at One Future Collective.

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Bhima Koregaon: A History and a Report


The Battle at Bhima Koregaon (1818)

The chain of events that led to the raids under scrutiny began with the outbreak of violence on members of the Dalit community at a public meeting held on December 31, 2017, in Pune to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the battle at Bhima Koregaon.

The battle at Bhima Koregaon was fought on 1st January 1818, between the British East India Company forces and the Maratha army of Peshwa Baji Rao II. The commemoration is in lieu of the 22 Mahar soldiers who were killed in battle fighting for the Company. The Mahars are a traditionally stigmatised class of people. They faced acute discrimination as untouchables in the lower rungs of the caste system prevalent in nineteenth century India.  The Bhima Koregaon battle holds special significance for the Dalit community since it effectively did away with the already diminishing power of the Marathas against the Company.  It has been an important marker for Dalit pride.

The Violence at Bhima Koregaon (2018)

This year the trouble began even before the 200th celebrations when several right wing groups denounced the same as being anti-national and casteist. They contended that the celebration was organized to defame the Peshwas by calling them oppressors of the Dalit community. Furthermore, on 29th December 2017, the tombstone of Govind Gopal Mahar (Gaikwad) was desecrated. Gaikwad was a Dalit wrestler who defied the death threats issued by the British to perform the last rites of the slain and mutilated Sambhaji, son of the great emperor Shivaji. Although he was put to death by the British, he became a prominent figure of Dalit pride. This created further strife between the right wing Marathas and the Dalit community.

During the 200th celebrations on 1st January 2018, incidents of violence broke out resulting in the death of one civilian. The communal undercurrents so begun, took an unpleasant turn with an initial FIR naming over 49 individuals as perpetrators of the violence at Bhima Koregaon. Subsequently, Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of the Dalit rights activist and legal luminary Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and the leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh named Sambhaji Bhide, founder of the Shivpratishthan Sanghatana and Milind Ekbote, president of the Samasta Hindu Aghadi as the masterminds behind the violence. What followed was a deluge of FIR’s being registered across the state and a statewide crackdown on Dalit youth and prominent persons in lieu of the Bhima Koregaon violence. Bandhs were called and over the course of the year, riots broke out in several parts of Maharashtra.

Live Law

The Raids and Arrests

The bubbling turmoil from the Bhima Koregaon protest (which had already created chaos as evinced by the consecutive bandhs in the state) snowballed into nationwide ire when the police forces raided the houses and offices of several  human rights and civil liberties lawyers, activists and intellectuals across the country.

The targets of the raids were:

  • Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, National Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Faridabad,
  • Advocates Arun Ferreira and Susan Abraham in Mumbai,
  • Journalists KV Kumaranath and Kranthi Tekula in Hyderabad,
  • Dr. Anand Teltumbde, General Secretary of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, in Goa
  • Tribal activist Father Stan Swamy, in Jharkhand,
  • Writer and poet, Varavara Rao along with his two daughters in Hyderabad,
  • Gautam Navlakha, Founder of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights in Delhi,
  • Journalists KV Kumaranath and Kranthi Tekula in Hyderabad,
  • Professor Satyanarayana of the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, and
  • Writer Vernon Gonsalves in Mumbai.

Of these, the police arrested Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, and Varavara Rao.  The arrests were made in an investigation concerning a crackdown of alleged Maoist links. There are allegations that those arrested allegedly funded the Elgar Parishad organization which organized a conclave where incendiary speeches designed to instigate violence were made a day before the 200th anniversary celebrations of Bhima Koregaon. There have been insinuations of a plot adrift to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and entire communities have come together to condemn the silencing of dissenting voices and the persecution of individuals who speak up for marginalised sections of society.

The violence at Bhima Koragaon has set in motion an entire series of unpleasant events which challenge the very core of life and law in the country. What began as a conflict in diametrically differing communal views of a historic battle mushroomed into a caste conflict before escalating into a full scale blowout on speech, freedom and choice in the country. The entire chain of events presents a grim picture for political freedom and ideological dissent in India.

Priyanshi Vakharia is a Research Associate (Legal Reform) at One Future Collective.

Featured image: Mid Day

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