Historical Relevance

Historical Context
Contemporary Relevance


Pre-19th Century

1600 Queen Elizabeth I grants the British East India Company a Royal Charter and the company begins trade operations in the region.
1757 The period of “Company rule,” in which the British East India Company controls various territories within India, begins after the Battle of Plassey.

The 19th Century

1857 The Indian Rebellion of 1857 breaks out and lasts roughly a year.
1858 Company rule is brought to an end after the Government of India Act 1858 is passed in response to the Indian Rebellion. The territories the British East India Company amassed were turned over to be directly administered by the Crown. During this time, the British work to Anglicize India’s people and culture through “autocratic paternalism.” The government also exacerbated tensions between Hindus and Muslims in order to better divide and rule India.

The 20th Century

1915 Mahatma Gandhi returns to India after living and working in South Africa as a lawyer for 21 years.
1940 The Blitz, an operation carried out by the Germans to bomb strategic locations throughout the United Kingdom, begins.
1942 The Quit India Movement, initiated by the Indian National Congress, denounces the Axis Powers but refuses to participate in the war effort until India is granted its independence. The movement was suppressed through tens of thousands of arrests. The move seems largely symbolic as India was made to join the war in 1939 without the consent of Congress.
1947 India gains independence from Britain. Pakistan is established as a result of the Partition to placate the Muslim League during negotiations.
1964 Communal violence and riots break out over the alleged theft of a religious artifact from the Hazratbal Shrine in Kashmir.


Ethnic Tensions and Communal Violence in India


The ethnic conflict between Hindus and Muslims depicted throughout The Shadow Lines continues to persist in modern-day India. This conflict has emerged largely out of historic tensions between Hindus and Muslims. The British exacerbated these religious divisions to better control India during the colonial era by turning Indians against each other. The 1947 Partition also heightened tensions between these groups, as British India was divided into India, which had a Hindu majority, and Pakistan, which had a Muslim majority. Millions of people were displaced in the wake of the partition and mass violence broke out among migrants trying to enter both countries. Conflict between these ethnic groups has flared up over time. Between 1952 and 1982, there have been an estimated 6,933 incidents of communal violence. One example of this conflict is depicted in Ghosh’s novel, which describes the communal violence that erupted after the alleged theft of a Muslim relic, believed to be the prophet Muhammad’s hair, from the Hazratbal Shrine in Kashmir. Aside from this particular occurrence, Kashmir is also more generally notable because a major part of this ethnic conflict is centered around ownership of the region. There have also been contemporary break-outs of violence under the current administration in India, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a right-wing Hindu nationalist. For example, Modi recently revoked Kashmir’s limited autonomy, which was granted under the Indian constitution and passed a controversial citizenship law that seems designed to specifically disadvantage Muslims. In response to these events, there were protests and clashes between Hindus and Muslims. Overall, these examples show that the tensions described in The Shadow Lines are still very much relevant to this day.

Read more about communal violence and its effects here and here.

India-Bangladesh Relations


Certain events from The Shadow Lines center primarily around India's border with Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan. For example, Tha'mma is originally from Dhaka, which was part initially part of India, but later became part of East Pakistan following the 1947 Partition. India sided with East Pakistan as it fought against West Pakistan for its autonomy during the Bangladesh Liberation War, also known as the Bangladesh War of Independence. The conflict forced over 9 million Bengali refugees to cross the border between the two nations as they fled to India to escape the fighting and displaced roughly 30 million Bengali people internally. West Pakistan, today Pakistan, subsequently initiated the 1971 Bangladesh genocide to suppress the demands for freedom. India fought on both the eastern and western fronts to support East Pakistan and establish Bangladesh. Since then, the relations between the two countries have been a strained at times, as Bangladesh typically aligns itself with other Muslim countries. Other issues, such as migration between the countries and India's National Register of Citizens, have raised also concerns. The two do, however, share strong economic ties.

Read more about Bangladesh's foreign relations and related developments here. Read more about Bangladesh's history and struggle for independence here.


Indian Migration and Diaspora


Immigration and migration are major global phenomena to which India is deeply connected. As of 2019, India topped the list of countries with the largest diaspora, or population that lives outside of their homeland. This diaspora is made up of roughly 17.5 million Indians. The United States is their primary destination and 4.4 million people in the country, about 1.3% of the American population, are Indian. Members of the diaspora send large sums of money, known as remittances, back to their homeland; besides supporting families back in India, this money also boosts the country's economic growth. In 2018, these remittances added up to a total of $80 billion.

Read more about Indian migration here and here.




Abigail Kaye 2020

Comments are closed