India, the world’s largest democracy and a rising economic power, is celebrating 70 years of independence, following the end of British rule in August 1947 – and here in Swindon, members of the Indian community are reflecting on a time of turmoil that affected their families but also paved the way for a successful future. SARAH SINGLETON finds out more

On August 14, 1947, Pakistan came into being. On the following day, India became a sovereign nation.

The partition to create mostly Muslim Pakistan and mostly Hindu India created enormous upheaval and an outbreak of violence that is reckoned to have caused more than a million deaths.

The modern nation of India is enjoying unprecedented growth in the world of the 21st century, with economic growth predicted at 7.5 per cent this year.

The country’s talented migrants are leading the way in the field of information technology — both Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, and Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, are Indian-born – and locally, here in Swindon, British Indians are contributing to our culture, economy and community.

Reflecting on the legacy of independence and the opportunities of the future are three members of the Swindon Indian Association.

Kishan Agrawal, from Marlborough, is a retired accountant, who worked formerly for Npower. Deepak Gupta, from Liddington, is a surgeon at the Great Western Hospital, and Joydeep Grover, from Wroughton, is a doctor working in the Emergency Department at Southmead Hospital.

Mr Grover, 44, came to Britain in 2003 to work as a doctor in the NHS.

His family was deeply affected by the partition of India.

They had always lived at Dera Ismail Khan, known as D.I.Khan, on the west bank of the Indus River – an area which became a part of Pakistan.

“My mother’s uncle was a doctor in the British Indian Army at the time,” said Mr Grover.

“He was at the station to catch the train back, but one of her other uncles stopped him going.

“Later he found out everyone on the train was killed.”

Mr Grover’s mother lived with her grandfather in Pakistan until 1950, but the situation eventually became too difficult and she was told to move to India, where other family members had already moved.

“It seemed unimaginable that the new situation would be permanent,” he explained.

“The Punjab and Bengal had always been undivided. The family had property, land and social connections. Fortunately they didn’t lose their lives, but they became basically penniless.”

In India they were allocated a small house and started to rebuild their lives.

Mr Grover said his family had integrated now but that they had lost their sense of rootedness, and that local languages, a part of their culture, were being lost as a result of the relocation and the breaking up of old communities.

“For a thousand years the Punjab was one big province,” he said. “Seventy years is no time compared to that. It still seems like an aberration.”

Now Britain is home for Mr Grover. His children are growing up here, and he said he was comfortable with his dual nationality as a British Indian.

Mr Agrawal, 77, was a small child at the time of Partition but its impact was so great he remembers it still.

He was living in Lucknow, a city in the north of India, which had a large population of Shia Muslims, the majority of whom decided not to move.

In the latter part of 1947 and early 1948, following Partition, he recalls refugees arriving in the city.

“They were absolutely destitute,” he said.

“They had nothing to eat and nowhere to live. They were begging for a place to lay their heads, or for something to eat.

“I was only seven but I remember how they used to come and ask for a piece of bread.

“They would bring their children, who had not eaten, and ask for a single roti.”

Mr Agrawal moved to Britain when he was 25 for the career opportunities it offered.

He is married to Manju and they have two daughters. He still visits India regularly – latterly every year.

Mr Gupta, who came to Britain in 1989, said his wife’s parents moved from Pakistan and one of their relatives was killed in the violence that affected both sides of the religious divide.

“Partition was rushed,” he said. “It was not properly planned. The resentment which had built up between the two groups was not managed.

“Around 1.2m people are reckoned to have died.”

Mr Gupta said a mob mentality broke out – but added that not everyone was swept along by the violence and some people did help and protect each other.

“There are stories you hear of whole families, of 20 or 30 people, having to stay in a couple of rooms. They just had to carry on living.

“Some had been well off in Pakistan and then they had nothing. They had to begin their lives again.”

The three men agreed that the refugees who came ended up making a huge contribution to the new nation of India, with many of the country’s leading industrialists having roots in those displaced people.

“India has always been welcoming to refugees,” Mr Gupta said.

They also agreed that India did not bear resentment against Britain for the years of colonial rule, and its people were focused instead on the future.

“Indians are very pragmatic people,” said Mr Grover.

“Britain did not exactly do much good, but we have moved on. The country was ruled by Britain for close to 200 years but that is now almost irrelevant in people’s minds. India is very dynamic.”

The country’s economy has expanded hugely over the last decade and Mr Agrawal was confident Britain would be looking more and more to India for trade and commerce, with opprtunities for a new ‘special relationship’.

In 2016, Mr Gupta established the Swindon India Association as a pan-Indian organisation for the many thousands of British Indians who live in the Swindon area.

The size and diversity of India means it is a multi-cultural country with 26 official languages but the association offers members a chance to get together for social and cultural events and celebrations. They have also undertaken school visits to talk about India.

Find out more about the association online at