By: Joshua Hammonds, Noemi Nath, and Govinda Harris
Religion was a means of both identity and difference during the partitions of Ireland/Northern Ireland and India Pakistan. In many instances, the religious identity of a person was assumed to parallel their national identities and political loyalties. In our art piece, One Face, we examine the complex manner through which people during these region’s partitions used religious identity and nationality interchangeably.
In the artwork, the faces of four different people are superimposed on each other to create the face of one person. Each part of the face represents one of the major religious groups affected during the partition of India and Ireland. On the top left is a Hindu woman with a bindi, the top right shows a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, the bottom left shows a protestant paramilitary member wearing a mask and military fatigues, and the bottom right shows a Catholic priest. In addition, behind each face is the flag of the individual’s affiliated nation. This coupling shows how religion was closely tied to nationality during times of partition, and how this association carries on to the present day. The most important part of this piece, however, is that these seemingly different people together form One Face. This one face emphasizes that while each person may sit on opposite sides of the conflict, he or she also experienced the shared “Troubles” of partition, albeit in unique ways and from different vantage points. One Face also reveals another aspect of partition; that a whole (person or country) is divided into separate parts. Finally, we depicted the subject’s eyes as crying representing how regardless of what side of the conflict a person was on, partition brought with it a host of sorrows, including violence, separation from loved ones, discrimination, and more.
When starting the drawing, we sought inspirations from multiple sources to get an accurate depiction of the different people groups involved. We knew we wanted to make it all on one face so we started by drawing an easy to manipulate face. Our goal overall was to create a piece that equally represented all sides of the conflict without bias toward one group’s experience.
As we discovered in our research, religious identity operated as a dividing factor during the partition of India and Pakistan. In One Face, the top right and left corner depict a Muslim and Hindu. We used Pakistan’s flag for the background of the Muslim figure and the flag of India for the opposite quadrant. These flags evidence the fact that during the partition of India, people who identified with Islam migrated (or were expected to migrate) to Pakistan while people who identified with the Hindu faith stayed in or migrated to India. Thus, many communities in which Hindus and Muslims had peacefully coexisted broke out into discord and sectarian violence, resulting in displacement and mass migration. How one identified religiously was the primary motive for violence during the partition. The location of where one migrated during partition was based on the person’s or family’s religious identity. A document from the Press Information Bureau for the Government of India reveals the migration status of non-Muslims and Muslims in 1947. It documents, “On October 29, six thousand non-Muslims arrived in India by refugee train from Lahore and 3,000 from Lyallpur.” These “non-Muslims” migrated from Muslim-majority cities in the northeast. The document continues to share the number of non-Muslim and Muslim refugees who migrated in November, including details about the number of religious converts included in these group. These lists of religious converts affirm the vital connection between religious identity migration destination (“Movement of Refugees”).
Religious identity also plays a factor in the 1973 film Garam Hava, a depiction of the partition in India/Pakistan from the perspective of a Muslim family living in India. This movie influenced our inclusion of a tear in our artwork through the film’s display of the emotional influence the partition had on people in India and Pakistan. The conflict between region and religious identity is revealed when the family shown considers themselves as Indian but religiously identifies as Muslim. Halim, one of the two brothers leading the house, has an emotional battle with himself when he decides to leave India. To stay in India as a Muslim meant he, his wife, and his son had a difficult future. When Halim leaves India, the government decides to take over the house and forces Salim, Halim’s brother, to leave his ancestral home. Garam Hava shows the emotional impact the partition had rather than just the political impact.
In our artwork, One Face, we emphasized religious identity greater than national identity. The reason for this was influenced by Ellen Bal’s and Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff’s “Religious Identity, Territory, and Partition: India and its Muslim Diaspora in Surinam and the Netherlands.” In the essay, Bal and Sinha-Kerkhoff state, “that Partition fundamentally changed the status of Islam in India, and show how the new thinking about Islam affects migrant discourses in the homeland” (1). The essay argues that while some scholars believe, “being Indian is an identity that overrides externally created religious identities,” after the diaspora in India, religion often used as the primary form of identification. By representing these religions and nations on One Face, our artwork showcases the religions and their affiliated nations.
Contrasting to the struggles of partition in India and Pakistan, the Troubles of Northern Ireland were largely caused by tensions between religious groups who held different national identities, with most Protestants favoring Northern Ireland’s connection with Great Britain and most Catholics desiring to unite Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic. These tensions were exacerbated by the treatment of Catholics by the Protestant majority. Catholics faced discrimination from Protestants, as can be seen in Brian Friel’s The Freedom of the City, a play where three Catholic attendees of a civil rights protest are assumed to be armed and dangerous, and are shot in cold blood by British soldiers, even though there is no real evidence of their fault. However, they were portrayed as criminals when it is stated, ”the evidence of eye-witnesses and various technical experts that the three deceased were armed when they emerged from the Guildhall, and that two of them at least-Hegarty and the woman Doherty-used their arms” (Friel 169). Even though they were innocent, they were made to look bad to justify their murders.
As time passed and conflict grew, the separation of Catholics and Protestants became more apparent and tensions escalated further. Muldon emphasized this separation when he claims, “The conflict in Northern Ireland can be viewed as arising from competing positions between two ethno-national groups with religion acting as a socially determined boundary” (Muldoon 90). Laurence Elliot’s “Religion and Sectarianism in Ulster: Interpreting the Northern Ireland Troubles,” talks about how religious identity was used to segregate schools. As Elliot notes, “The different religious institutions can therefore be held largely responsible for fostering a sectarian environment through their insistence on segregated schooling” (1). These de facto methods of separation highlight how religious institutions contributed to divisions in Northern Irish society. These struggles specific to Ireland are highlighted in One Face through the depiction of the two halves of the conflict, with a masked Irish Republican Army member shown next to an protestant loyalist.
Through the creation of One Face, we have shown how during the partitions of Ireland and India religious identity was closely related to issues of national identity. Indeed, in many cases, the two become synonymous. It emphasizes the complexities of partition, and the divisions that it caused. Yet One Face also shows how despite these differences, people shared the hardships and “troubles” partition.
Bal, Ellen, and Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff. “Religious Identity, Territory, and Partition: India And its Muslim Diaspora in Surinam and the Netherlands.” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 14.2 (2008): 155-188.
Elliott, Laurence. “Religion and Sectarianism in Ulster: Interpreting the Northern Ireland Troubles.” Religion Compass 7.3 (2013): 93-101.
Friel, Brian. The Freedom of the City. Gallery Press, Loughcrew: 1973. Print.
Garm Hava. Dir. M. S. Sathyu. Prod. M. S. Sathyu, Ishan Arya, and Abu Siwani. By Ishan Arya, Kaifī Āʻẓmī, Shama Zaidi, ʻIṣmat Cug̲h̲tāʼī, Ustad Bahadur Khan, and S. Chakravarty. Perf. Balraj Sahni, E. Ke Haṅgala, and Yunus Parvaiz. N.p., n.d. 1974, Film.
“Movement of Refugees.” The National Archives. N.p., n.d. Web.
Muldoon, Orla T.,Trew, Karen.,Todd,Jennifer.,Rougier,Nathalie., McLaughlin,Katrina., . “Religious and national identity after the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.” Political Psychology 28.1 (2007): 89-103.