Hordes of Indians have been busy digging up Rishi Sunak's India connection. The internet is flooded with memes and discussions about the new British Prime Minister, so young, accomplished and apparently so very Indian. In recent years, we similarly celebrated the success of Nikki Haley, Sunita Williams, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard and other high achievers in foreign lands. Though they were very much foreigners, we felt a special connection since they had links with India.
Rishi Sunak was born and grew up in England and is British. His parents were of Indian descent and they migrated to England from East Africa in the 1960s. Before that, his family migrated to Africa from India. But some say his elders migrated from Gujranwala, which is now in Pakistan. So he isn’t Indian in any way. However, when Rishi Sunak’s family left Gujranwala, it was in Punjab, undivided India. Pakistan did not exist then. Therefore they migrated to Africa from India.
To clear the confusion, we need to understand the effects of Partition, the creation of Pakistan, and how it left huge number of people with multicultural identities.
The Partition of India saw the largest migration in human history and has been one of the most defining events in the history of the Indian subcontinent. It caused widespread death and destruction. While there are no distinct figures on how many died or lost their homes due to the partition, it is estimated that nearly 20 million people were affected and somewhere between two lakh to one million people lost their lives.
Around TWO MILLION PEOPLE DIED in the sectarian violence, religious cleansing and refugee crises. TWENTY MILLION people were forced out of their homes and homelands. Nobody is sure about the exact numbers of deaths or the number of refugees - TWO LAKH OR TWO MILLION DEATHS? Entire families and villages were destroyed. Our foreign rulers never cared then. Today most Indians are not even aware that this huge and horrible event happened.
I was born in New Delhi, the capital city of free India, and also grew up there. I went to school with many girls like me, who were also children of Partition displaced families from Punjab, Sindh, Multan and other regions in the West, and Bengal in the East. So we were pucca Dilliwalis who spoke Sindhi, Punjabi or Bengali at home and participated in the festivals of friends from other communities. Outside our homes, we spoke in Hindi or English to include all our friends from diverse backgrounds in the conversation.
Yes, we had a multicultural upbringing. I also can claim something is in common with Rishi Sunak!
My parents and elders, and millions like them, were forced to flee their homes because their homelands went to Pakistan during the upheavals of Partition. All our parents could bring with them was their education. They lost their homes and property in a land to which they could never return. Heartbroken but spiritually strong, they built new lives in a new land. They focused upon giving their children a solid education and upbringing.
My Delhi school classmates were discussing this the other day. One friend’s parents had fled Gujranwala, the home of Rishi Sunak’s ancestors. She said her parents wrote as birthplace in their passports, Gujranwala, British India. They did not come from Pakistan because there was no Pakistan at that time. Another classmate’s family had migrated from East Africa to India in the 1960s. They were of Punjabi origin, and now she’s very much a proud Indian and Dilliwali.
We had always been, and continued to be Indians. Even educated people from regions unaffected by Partition, cannot grasp this today. I am often asked where my native village is. Well, it's in another country now known as Bangladesh. I have never been there. Though I am Bengali and know the language very well, I am not from ‘Kalkatta' and have never in my life lived in West Bengal.
This is so misunderstood that a lady who is an advocate and ‘nari netri’ here in Bhubaneswar, has been telling everyone that I am a Pakistani spy from Bangladesh masquerading as a Hindu. This is not funny. The greatest tragedy is that nobody else finds such statements stupid or ridiculous.
Some people say that India was a creation of the British. The Indian subcontinent was always a jumble of various kingdoms, cultures and linguistic groups. They say that there never was any unity among all the various communities who lived in this subcontinent. But if you look at a map of the Mauryan Empire circa 260 BCE, their rule spanned the entire Indian subcontinent and beyond. So India does have a long history of political unity.
Odisha's pride- the holy Kshetra of Puri, shows the spiritual unity of Akhand Bharat since time immemorial. Puri or Srikhetra holds great spiritual significance for all Hindus. Lord Vishnu abides here as Lord Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe. Puri, along with Rameswaram, Badrinath and Dwarka, are the most holy Hindu Char Dham or four divine sites. These Char Dhams were established thousands of years ago in the four corners of what is now India. Through the ages, saints and sages from every corner of India have come to Puri seeking divine enlightenment. They continued traveling all across India, uniting the people in the bonds of a common faith and spirituality.
The Adi Shankaracharya came all the way from his native Kerala in South India to Puri in the 8th century CE. Guru Nanak came to Puri from distant Punjab. He was inspired by the sea at Swargadwar to compose one of the Sikh faith's most beautiful devotional hymns. Sri Chaitanya, the founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, came from Nadia in West Bengal and stayed in Puri for 24 years in his quest for enlightenment. Sri Chaitanya and Guru Nanak often met in Puri. Their discussions helped shape their respective philosophies.
The saints Kabir and Tulsidas came to visit Puri from the Hindi heartland. Ramanujacharya traveled to Puri from Tamil Nadu and he codified the rituals observed in Srimandir. Nimbarkacharya, a Saint of Telugu parentage from Karnataka, also visited Puri. The Telugu saint Srimad Vallabhacharya visited Puri and performed a seven-day recitation of Srimad Bhagavatam. He traveled on to distant Gujarat, where he founded the Pushtimarga sect. The mutts and meditation spots of many of these saints continue to exist in Puri.
The people of the Indian Subcontinent were thus connected by a common faith, spirituality and philosophies.
Is it very surprising that Rishi Sunak is both a Hindu and British? He has inherited the diverse cultural influences his elders picked up as they migrated from one part of the world to another.
My childhood friends and I have much in common with the Prime Minister of England in this respect. So I too will join the bandwagon and claim him as my kin. Like him, I too have lived in many parts of this planet and learnt so much. New Delhi, Washington DC, Bangalore, Mysore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, small towns in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and now Bhubaneswar, I have lived in all these places, made friends, fallen in love with the local people and their culture.
Did you know that Rishi Sunak married a girl from an eminent Indian family in a simple South Indian ceremony in my very own Bangalore? I am applying for a visa right now to visit my soul brother in No 10, Downing Street. Anyone joining me?
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