MS. MARVEL Powerfully Portrays the Pain of Partition

Ms. Marvel‘s fourth episode ended with quite the cliffhanger. Our hero Kamala was in the midst of a crowd trying to make it on to the last train to Karachi during Partition in 1947, after India gained its independence from the British. The show has been dropping small bits of information about Partition throughout its narrative. But, in episode five, viewers finally got a first hand look into what happened during this time. However, there are many people who may not fully understand this pivotal and painful event and how well it plays into Ms. Marvel‘s storyline. So, let’s talk about it.

A Brief Overview of Partition

The Partition of India was one of the biggest mass migration events in history. Many families, Hindu and Muslim alike, were forced to leave their homes in India or the newly-made Pakistan and cross the border to the other side. British Occupied India was divided into India and Pakistan, with Pakistan in two areas, East and West Pakistan. East Pakistan would later become Bangladesh in 1971.

kamala sits in the midst of people traveling during partition ms. marvel
Marvel Studios

Sir Cyril Radcliffe—a British lawyer commissioned by the British colonial government who had never visited India before—drew the borders. August 14-15 are now celebratory days to commemorate India and Pakistan gaining their independence from the British and becoming sovereign states. However, the drawing of the new borders led to horrific violence as a result of tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Partition led to the forced migration of up to 15 million people, and the deaths were estimated to number 2 million.

The Partition and its History in Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel puts us (and Kamala) in the middle of this defining moment in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh’s histories. Episode five, “Time and Again,” of Ms. Marvel begins with a newsreel showing the events of Partition. The clip includes leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, one of the leading freedom fighters, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah (although oddly, the video doesn’t name him), the leader of the Muslim League and the Governor-General/”Father” of Pakistan. Muhammad Ali Jinnah initially thought the only way to protect the Muslim minority’s interests was to create separate electorates for Muslim populations or to create reservations for Muslims to have seats in provincial and other government assemblies.

At first, he sought to work with the Indian National Congress to fulfill his goals. But the Muslim League lost the consequential 1937 elections, leading to exclusion from the provincial governments altogether. Thus the Muslim League passed the Lahore Resolution in 1940. This declared the need for a territory for Muslims, namely the areas which would eventually become West and East Pakistan. As tensions rose, Jinnah and other Muslim Leaguers believed that the only way to ensure Muslims would have a voice in a newly independent India would be to have a territory and government of their own.

Aisha and Hasan sit together in Ms. Marvel partition episode
Marvel Studios

The narration also points to a pivotal moment in 1942, where the episode then switched to Aisha’s story. The “pivotal moment” the narration was likely referring to was the launch of the “Quit India” movement, by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and many others. The “Quit India” movement began with a resolution passed in the Indian National Congress. Leaders decided to begin a nonviolent mass movement to convince the British to leave India of their own accord. Hasan, Kamala’s great-grandfather, advocates to fight for independence, like Gandhi declared they should. However, as the years go by, Hasan’s exclusion due to being Muslim makes him bitter. This, along with Aisha’s desperation to escape the Clandestines, pushes him to go to Pakistan. 

The narrator also says that the Partition is “a consequence of a century-long British strategy of divide and rule”. The British, for centuries, in order to maintain control of British Occupied India, stoked division between Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communities to their own benefit. But when the Partition came to pass, the British drew the border and pulled out entirely from what was now India and Pakistan. British colonialism had a huge role to play in the plight of many. People had to uproot their homes and travel by train or even by foot to a new destination. The British detachment from the violence in India is evident in the newsreel’s chilling monotone narration.

Partition Through the Eyes of the Everyday Person

In the middle of the episode, we finally get to see the fabled moment where Sana followed the “trail of stars” to her father and made it onto the last train to Karachi. Partition trains filled to the brim with people who were desperate to get to a safer place as their homes were being burned and they were under threat of violence. In the chaos of the desperate crowd, Sana gets lost while Aisha is dying, and Kamala helps guide Sana with a trail of stars—just like in the story—back to her father. It’s a truly heart-wrenching moment that shows how so many people got lost in the events of Partition.

Ms. Marvel manages to show the horrors of Partition through the story of Hasan, Aisha, and Sana. Sadly, many others were not so fortunate to find their lost loved ones. And, by focusing on this one family, viewers understand how Partition’s trauma still lingers and affects the everyday person. For Sana, it manifests itself in her artwork and how she fixates on the magic in her family, specifically Aisha’s bangle. It also shows up through her emotional distance from Muneeba.

Marvel holds Sana during Partition in Ms. Marvel
Marvel Studios

This drove Muneeba to leave her home and look for a new one in less extreme circumstances than her mother. Muneeba also left behind so much for a new place. Kamala, with her connection to Aisha through the bangle, has to find out more about Aisha and learn about how it shaped her family’s trajectory. Kamala’s family represents what many families went through. As Aamir says in Episode 2, “Every Pakistani family has a Partition story. And none of them are good.”

The relations between the Indian and Pakistani government have been tense since the Partition. And the consequences for those who made the journey to Pakistan and those who did not are still happening. Generations ago, some of my mother’s and my father’s side of the family chose to leave and go to Pakistan. They did not realize how difficult it would be to go back to where their families had lived for generations. They left everything and everyone they had ever known behind, not knowing if they would ever return. Many never did.

I am an Indian-American Muslim, and my family and I have only met many Pakistani relatives here in the U.S. When I lived in India, I was told repeatedly that I couldn’t possibly be Indian, because I am Muslim. There are, in fact, over 200 million Muslims who live in India. The divisions between Hindus, Muslims, and other minority groups are still prevalent. Indian Muslims face increasing oppression at the hands of the current Modi government. 

Ms. Marvel made the lasting trauma and division after Partition a significant conversation, introducing many to its horrors. Partition impacted millions of people in 1947. Generations later, we are still unpacking how it continues to resonate, just like Kamala.

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