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The Analysis Of The Movie Earth History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Deepa Mehta’s film “Earth” reflects the sorrowful political and social conditions of India on the verge of its partition. The movie is based on the semi-biographical novel “Cracking India” written by Bapsi Sidhwa, who is a 7-year old girl in the movie witnessing the painful social split of the country. While the film does not necessarily talks about the political leaders, organizations and other forces involved in the partition in 1947, it does a great job in vividly portraying the tragic consequences their decisions had on the common people, who represented different religious categories. Through a personal story of a group of friends, who happened to be a mix of Muslims, Hindus, Parsi and Sikhs, D. Mehta excellently delivers to the audience the universal message about the sorrow, loss, pain and suffrage that spring from the divide.

While the film shows the deepening of the split and especially its reflection on the behavior of the common people from Lahore, the readings analyze the causes and powers behind the partition. The important question that comes out both from watching a movie and reading the papers is how the sentiment of the ethnical division gained the power of the potent nationalistic movement. E. Gellner and B. Anderson, perhaps, the most known scholars on nationalism, agree on that the emergence of the idea of a nation roots deeply in the division of labor, French Industrial Revolution and the birth of capitalism. The dawn of Pakistan would be an interesting case study for both authors, for the necessary elements of the nationalistic movement mentioned above were synthetically brought to India and implemented on the spot by the British. Paradoxically, the British influence had two opposing effects on India. It has unified the country under one rule, language and provided the relative equality of the opportunities, but at the same time played a crucial role in causing the sorrowful divide between the Muslims and the Indians that for centuries lived together in peace on one land. However, it is clear that British by far were not the only ones responsible for the partition. As M. Hasan and A. Jalah explain, the combination of the stubbornness of the Congress, the zealous nationalist rhetoric of the Muslim League and the British desire to shift the responsibility caused the divide.

The movie succeeds in demonstrating the historically accurate state of uncertainty in India right before the partition. It seems that the uncertainty among people about their future and about how to react is a reflection of the uncertainty and disagreement among the key political players – the Congress, the Muslims League and the British. In the beginning of the film, we see peaceful scenes of coexistence of all the religions in the city of Lahore right after the British announced the partition. Nobody knew what exactly it meant for the future of Indian land and nobody yet expressed passionate separatist ideas on dividing the country. As the time progresses, however, we see how once strong and formidable friendship ties among the main characters of the film vanish as the political atmosphere heats up. This transition from peace to war is shown in the movie as rather a short period. In reality, however, many decisions and actions took place in India that set the ground for the events of 1947. According to Gellner, the birth of any nation is tied to the nationalist sentiment, which he defines as a “feeling of anger aroused by the violation of the principle [political and the national unit should be congruent], or the feeling of satisfaction aroused by its fulfillment [1] “. Hence, for a nation to be born, it is necessary for a group of people to feel hurt and unappreciated. Before the British, Varna system held the casts together under the power of religious and cultural unification. However, with the British, the rules of the game have changed. With the equality of the opportunities came the reevaluation of the attitudes towards the Varna system. In the movie, we see the progression of the development of the Gellner’s nationalist sentiment. A trivial joke on ethnicity leads to an argument among friends in the movie. To survive, Muslims are ready to convert to Hindus and vice versa. The culminating point is the arrival of the train full of dead bodies of Muslims, among whom Dil finds the chopped body of his sister. Bloody scenes of violence between Muslims and Hindus set the city of Lahore on fire.

Hasan’s article Making a Separate Nation echoes the uncertainty mentioned above and gives a similar explanation of how the idea of separatism emerged in India. He writes: “The swiftness with which the idea succeeded in becoming actualized and the intensity of emotions involved had more to do with the political and economic anxieties of various social classes than with a profound urge to create an Islamic/Muslim state [2] ” Hassan names couple of reasons for this which we do not observe in the movie. First, the well-planned and persistent actions were taken by the Muslim League starting with 1937. The league appealed to the nationalistic sentiment of the Muslims mostly based on the religious promises. Hassan gives various examples of Jinnah’s attempts to nurture this nationalist sentiment by promising to restore Islam’s glory, to liberate the Muslim peasants from Hindus oppressors, by emphasizing an Islam that created the equality between the rich and the poor [3] . Secondly, steps that were more practical aimed at unifying the Muslims and at distinguishing them from the Hindus further inflated the sentiment. They involved publishing Urdu newspapers, books and prints about Jinnah, all kinds of patriotic manifests [4] and papers. What B. Anderson would call an “imagined community” was being born in India. Muslims started to identify themselves as a separate social group that deserves to break free from the “oppressors”. Once this idea of separation was born, it was next to impossible to eradicate it. The meeting at Lahore in 1946, the city where the movie takes place, was the celebration of the victory of Muslim nationalism expressed by the delegates in their zealous speeches. From this point on the violence was unavoidable.

According to Gellner, the person leading the nationalistic movement is not an essential factor in the emergence of the nationalistic sentiment: the change of the system itself from agrarian society to the modern one generates the leaders. On the contrary, for both Hasan and Jalal the personal factor is of crucial importance. While the movie does not focus on Jinnah, Hasan recognizes him as the “key political player” who gained the status of the “sole spokesman for the Muslims [5] “. However, he also clarifies that Jinnah himself did not see a clear path of how to create a separate nation. From the idea of the secular nationalism and the Hindu-Muslim unity, he later projected himself as a “messiah” who was there to liberate Muslims from Hindu tyranny [6] . It was unclear what exactly Jinnah wanted and what drove him implement his idea and the actions that had to be taken to implement his mission were ambiguous as well. The characters of the movie partly explain this ambiguity: it was very hard to divide the country where millions of Muslims and Hindus coexisted peacefully for many years. Moreover, while it was easier to integrate such more or less homogenous Muslim territories as Punjab and Bengal into one state, to deal with smaller minorities in India was much more problematic. Disillusioned with Jinnah’s vision or the lack of it, many regarded his actions as a huge fallacy to “mistake religion for culture and confuse community with a nation”.

Jalah also stresses the role of Jinnah in the partition of Pakistan. He tries to find the rational behind Jinnah’s actions and explain his motivations behind particular political steps he took. He stresses that Jinnah’s goal was to achieve parity between Hindus and Muslims [7] by creating a confederation of the Muslim-majority provinces within the bigger Indian community. The division of the army appeared to be the main obstacle to the parity. Naturally, British strove to preserve the unity of the army at the sub-continent to ensure its maximum for fighting the enemies. The idea of parity was so important to Jinnah, that he was ready to give up the most fertile land of perspective Pakistan. However, the balance of forces was not in favor of the peaceful parity. Jalah describes that at a point when the British announced the transition of power, it became evident that India was going to face political and social unrest. “London has placed a time bomb under an already tottering administrative structure, and had now lit the fuse. [8] ” The only thing that the British wanted by this point was to get shift the responsibility for the partition to the powers within India. The movie shows precisely the moment when Jinnah’s efforts to negotiate the parity failed and the only thing that left was a painful partition that took away many lives.

The film “Earth” ends with the tragic scene of horror when the fervent and hungry for violence Muslims drive beautiful Shanta away. Horrifying statistics follows the scene: thousands died during the partition and millions were forced to move. The question of worthiness of the partition crosses the minds of the audience. What did Pakistan gained from the partition? Was it necessary and unavoidable at the first place? The movie not only teaches a history lesson on the painful consequences of the division of the country, but also shows the helplessness of the common people in these historical conditions. It seems that people were directly affected by the forces and were powerless in resisting the wave of nationalism that came upon them from more potent forces not discussed in the movie. While the movie portrays the violence and the partition as unavoidable, Hasan and Jalah state that the outcome depended on the forces involved. The partition was not necessary, nor was it unavoidable. Speculating about its consequences for Pakistan, Hasan agrees with the movie: “Pakistan divided and weakened the community of Islam in the subcontinent and destroyed the dream […] of preserving its unity” [9] . Instead, truncated Pakistan was born with the loads of problems it has to deal with in the future and the Muslims minority in India remained unprotected.

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