In last week’s Demons of the Punjab, the Doctor and friends travelled back in time to visit Yaz’s grandmother Umbreen in an attempt to learn the secrets of her past.
Team TARDIS went on to uncover a deeply moving story of family bonds both made and broken, set against the backdrop of Partition – one of the most tumultuous and traumatic periods in the country’s history.
Written by BAFTA Breakthrough Brit Vinay Patel, Demons of the Punjab includes many references to the history, culture and traditions of the Indian subcontinent. Blogtor Who looks at how much of this rich detail is rooted in reality, and sets out just some of what viewers can learn from the show’s latest historical.
Multiple spoilers for Demons of the Punjab lie ahead – make sure you’ve either seen the episode or have caught up with it before scrolling any further!
In Demons of the Punjab: The episode begins at Yaz’s home as her and her family celebrate her Nani Umbreen’s birthday. In addition to Umbreen’s claim that she was the first woman to get married in Pakistan – something we see in action later on in the episode – she also reveals that she was the first Muslim woman to work in a textile mill in South Yorkshire.
In reality: After World War II migration from Pakistan to the UK increased significantly, particularly during the immediate decades that followed the chaos and devastation caused by Partition. The process of immigration was simplified as upon Pakistan’s creation and independence in 1947 it became a part of the UK-headed Commonwealth, a membership which continues to this day.
Many Pakistanis who settled in the UK during this time found work in the textile industries of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Migrants during this period were often used to fill job shortages following the end of the war, with Pakistanis also finding work en masse in the manufacturing industries of the West Midlands, Luton and Slough. It’s eminently plausible that Umbreen would be one of the first Muslim women to find employment, depending on when she decides to make the ‘exotic’ city of Sheffield her home.
Hindu Holy Men
In Demons of the Punjab: As well as the Doctor and her friends, Prem also offers a lift to a holy man – a sadhu known as Bhakti – but he prefers to walk. His body is later found in the forest by the Doctor, Ryan and Prem. They assume he is a victim of the Thijarian ‘demons’ before the shocking truth of his murder is revealed.
In reality: Sadhus are a familiar sight in India; roughly 4 to 5 million are currently estimated to be living in the country. Sadhus vow to give up earthly pleasures and comforts in search of moksha, or enlightenment, in an attempt to free their souls from the cycle of reincarnation. Easily recognisable by their simple robes, beards and coloured forehead markings, they are revered and respected particularly in rural communities for their holy way of life.
They are often seen on pilgrimage, visiting holy sites and temples as part of their spiritual journey, and whilst some live secluded from society, others are more involved with activities including blessing marriages. Several different sects of sadhus exist, each with their own set of practices, with some also counting sadhvis – the female equivalent – amongst their number.
17th August 1947
In Demons of the Punjab: On hearing the border announcement on the radio – and with Prem confirming the year soon after – the Doctor realises that the date is 17th August 1947, the ‘middle of the Partition of India’.
Once the true nature of the Thijarians is revealed later in the episode, they briefly hint at the impact Partition is due to have; ‘millions will perish, unseen, unknown, in the days to come here’.
In reality: Pakistan officially came into existence as a separate state on 14th August 1947; it also gained independence from the British Empire on the same date, with India following a day later. Although decided upon just a couple of days before independence, the official borders separating the two states were not announced until 17th August.
Pakistan celebrated independence on the 14th August 1947, India a day later. But the borders defining these two states – drawn up in mere weeks – weren’t announced until the 17th. #DemonsOfThePunjab
— Vinay Patel (@VinayPatel) November 11, 2018
Although the possibility of Partition had been much discussed beforehand, a plan for it was not formally proposed and agreed to until June 1947. Borders were hurriedly drawn up, marking the boundaries between India and Pakistan which would cut through the Muslim-majority areas of Punjab in the North-West, and Bengal in the East.
With millions stranded on the ‘wrong’ side of the border, Partition saw the largest forced migration in human history, triggering riots and violence on an enormous scale. Much of this violence occurred in the Punjab, which was densely populated with Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Although there are no official figures, it is estimated that up to two million may have died as a result of Partition, with around 14 million displaced.
Pakistan’s creation in 1947 saw it exist as two separate areas over 1000 miles apart, with the comparatively larger landmass of India in between. The distance along with cultural and political differences mean that unrest soon began to grow between East and West Pakistan, and after much conflict East Pakistan soon achieved independence of its own, becoming the republic of Bangladesh in 1971.
Hindus And Muslims In Partition
In Demons of the Punjab: The tensions between Hindus and Muslims during Partition are a prominent presence in Demons of the Punjab. Amongst other mentions, Prem tells the TARDIS crew that ‘these roads aren’t safe right now’, Umbreen’s mother Hasna speaks of standing outside and hearing ‘gangs in the distance’ as well as gunshots, and the radio broadcasts we hear on the morning of the wedding allude to further violence.
Although it is clear that Hasna is not entirely comfortable with her daughter’s decision to marry a Hindu man, it is the difference in views between Prem and his younger brother Manish that proves to be devastating. Not only is Manish responsible for the murder of the sadhu who was due to officiate the ceremony, but he stands by as Hindu nationalists end his brother’s life.
In reality: Partition was certainly a trigger for fresh violence, particularly in the Punjab, but tensions between Muslims and Hindus had existed prior to this. Whilst the events leading to Partition are complex, the deteriorating relationship between the two religions certainly played a part, particularly in the years leading up to independence.
Although calls for a separate Muslim state had been made in the past – the name ‘Pakistan’ itself had been coined in the mid-1930s – they gained much more traction once Britain entered World War II, taking India with it without prior consultation. Britain’s move was strongly opposed by leaders of the Indian National Congress, a nationalist political party headed by Jawarhalal Nehru. It also sparked the Quit India Movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, famed for encouraging nonviolent civil disobedience in pursuit of independence. The movement saw Nehru, Gandhi and many Congress leaders jailed for the duration of the war.
The Quit India Movement was opposed by the All India Muslim League, a political party representing the interests of Muslims in India. Led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the League strongly advocated for an independent Muslim nation, concerned that in a united independent India Muslims would be oppressed by the Hindu majority. With Britain not wanting to split the country, the League called for a Direct Action Day in 1946 to show the strength of Muslim feeling for their own independent nation.
Direct Action Day, which took place in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata), saw the already-simmering communal tensions escalate into full blown riots and violence between Hindus and Muslims. Over 4000 were killed in the city, with the conflict soon spreading to surrounding regions. The rioting sowed the seeds for Partition, Britain believing that separate independent nations would help ensure a quicker transfer of power.
However, over 70 years on, the divisions created by Partition still exist. One of the major points of contention has been the territorial dispute over Kashmir, which as a princely state with its own ruler initially chose to remain neutral following Partition, before seceding to India. However, sitting as it does on the borders of both India and Pakistan, and partially administered by both countries, several wars have been fought to gain control of the region.
British Involvement In Partition
In Demons of the Punjab: The radio broadcast concerning the borders reveals that the specific details of the boundaries between India and Pakistan have been announced by Lord Mountbatten. Later in the forest, Prem claims that the British have made a mess of the country, ‘carving it up slapdash in six weeks’, and accuses them of ‘run[ning] off home’.
On the night before the wedding, Manish says to Ryan and Graham about his eldest brother, Kunal: “He said he was only fighting for you lot so he could get rid of you.”
In reality: The process of Partition saw several key British figures involved, including India’s last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. With Britain’s funds severely depleted following the end of the war, he was tasked by British Prime Minister Clement Attlee with ensuring the country’s successful and swift transition to independence. Mountbatten’s instructions were initially to preserve a united India. However, the growing unrest and violence in the country led him to propose a speedier transfer of power, the ‘Mountbatten Plan‘ of 3rd June 1947, which included provision for Partition. Following independence Mountbatten was asked by Indian leaders to become the first Governor-General of India, a role he held until June 1948.
Another British figure central to Partition was lawyer Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the head of the Boundary Commission responsible for drawing up the borders for Partition, known as the Radcliffe Line. As well as never having visited India before, Radcliffe was also working from outdated maps and census materials, and only had five weeks to complete the job due to the necessity of establishing the borders by the time Britain withdrew from India.
There’s also some truth to Manish’s implication of a link between India’s role in World War II and its subsequent independence. In 1939 the then-Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, declared India at war with Germany without consulting with Indian leaders. Missions to secure India’s loyalty in the war in exchange for greater autonomy after included Linlithgow’s 1940 August Offer and the Cripps Mission of 1942, led by senior minister Sir Stafford Cripps. These strongly perpetuated the belief amongst Indians that engaging in the war effort could one day lead to the end of British rule.
British Indian Army
In Demons of the Punjab: In the Thijarian hive, the Doctor and Ryan successfully persuade Prem to tell them where he’s seen the ‘demons’ before. A flashback reveals that Prem, along with his older brother Kunal, fought in Singapore.
Additionally, during the episode’s haunting climax, Prem further alludes to his military past by reminding one of the Hindu nationalists on horseback that they once fought together in Siam.
In reality: Prem and Kunal were both part of the British Indian Army, the principal military of the British Indian Empire. The army fought in several major campaigns during World War II, including the Battle of Singapore in early 1942.
By the end of 1945, the Indian Army was the largest all-volunteer force in history, numbering over 2.5 million people. For stories of those who were part of it during WW2 and beyond, check out the brilliant @WeWereThere2 account. #DemonsOfThePunjab
— Vinay Patel (@VinayPatel) November 11, 2018
Also known as the Fall of Singapore, the battle saw dreadful losses for Allied forces in their unsuccessful attempt to protect a major British military base from the Japanese. Around 5,000 soldiers were killed or wounded, with a further 80,000 British, Australian and Indian troops becoming prisoners of war.
By the end of the war over 87,000 Indian soldiers had died in battle. The army’s efforts and bravery were recognised by the British, with 18 members being awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross and George Cross. Tributes were also paid to the army by Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, the army’s Commander-in-Chief since 1942, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
The Indian Army was decommissioned in 1947, with personnel and assets being split between the newly-formed Indian and Pakistan Armies as a result of Partition. Both armies have since fought several conflicts against each other over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
In Demons of the Punjab: Discovering his brother has died on the field of battle, Prem examines the necklace Kunal wore around his neck – the same necklace we see Prem wearing once we cut back to the present day.
In reality: The necklace depicts the Hindu god Hanuman. Usually depicted as a man with the face and tail of a monkey, Hanuman is one of the most popular gods in Hinduism, and is also known as a steadfast devotee and follower of one of the religion’s major gods, Lord Rama.
Kunal’s necklace features Hanuman holding two items that he is regularly depicted with in Hindu iconography. In his right hand is his gadha, a mace-like weapon which – fittingly for the topics of Independence and Partition – is seen by some to symbolise self-sovereignty.
His other hand holds a mountain, a reference to a story told in the Indian mythological epic Ramayana. The tale goes that Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, is mortally wounded in battle. Hanuman is dispatched to a Himalayan mountain to find the herb which will save his life but, unable to identify the one he needs, brings the whole mountain with him.
Marriage Traditions And Rituals
In Demons of the Punjab: We see Umbreen, Prem and their guests participate in a series of rituals as part of the wedding celebrations. The women apply designs to their hands on the night before, whilst on the day itself the couple tie their hands together – as Yaz points out, a ‘Hindu thing’ – before Prem returns Umbreen’s gesture by gifting her a ‘mahr’, the watch which Umbreen later passes down to Yaz.
In reality: Whilst Demons of the Punjab is nowhere near long enough to depict the many rituals and traditions that come with South Asian weddings – which can often last over several days! – it touches upon various aspects from both Indian and Pakistani ceremonies.
One of these is the mehndi ceremony, commonly held for both Hindu and Islamic weddings. Taking place often on the eve of the wedding, the ceremony sees the bride’s hands and feet decorated, often with intricate and beautiful designs, using paste from the henna plant.
Although it doesn’t feature in every Hindu wedding, one ritual is the tying of hands with thread, the bond acting as a metaphor for the new marriage. A mahr, on the other hand, is a mandatory requirement for an Islamic wedding, and takes the form of a payment of money or other assets given by the groom to his new wife.
Demons of the Punjab
Writer Vinay Patel has clearly drawn upon a great deal of research to ensure that Demons of the Punjab portrays the era of Partition as accurately as possible. During the airing of the episode last Sunday Patel shared a series of facts and links surrounding Partition through his Twitter account, which we’ve collected for you here.
As well as resources including 1947partitionarchive.org and the BBC’s collection of content marking last year’s 70th anniversary of Partition, one book below that might catch the interest of Doctor Who fans is The Great Partition – written by a certain Dr Yasmin Khan!
Here are a few of the (many, many) books I read during research for #DemonsOfThePunjab. Some non-fiction, some poetry, some short stories, some novels. The Manto will stay with you forever. pic.twitter.com/Kpdatp6RT3
— Vinay Patel (@VinayPatel) November 11, 2018
In Demons of the Punjab, Patel has delicately and sensitively interwoven his research neatly into the story of Umbreen and Prem, showing us the history behind Partition, but focusing more closely on the impact it had on the lives of millions of families by showing us the devastating impact it had on just one.
Crucially, Demons of the Punjab serves as an incredibly timely reminder that whilst its events occur in a very specific time and place, the themes of division and bigotry are universal – but as the Doctor says:
“Love, in all its forms, is the most powerful weapon we have because love is a form of hope and, like hope, love abides in the face of everything.”
The Doctor Who adventure continues…
Doctor Who continues this Sunday 11th November on BBC One and BBC America with Kerblam!
“Delivery for the Doctor!” A mysterious message arrives in a package addressed to the Doctor, leading her, Graham, Yaz and Ryan to investigate the warehouse moon orbiting Kandoka, and the home of the galaxy’s largest retailer: Kerblam!
Kerblam! guest stars Julie Hesmondhalgh and Lee Mack. It is written by Pete McTighe and directed by Jennifer Perrott.