A summary by the author of India's history as pertains to the novel
India is a multi-religious, multiethnic, multiracial and multilingual country. Its traditions, customs, and even the types of food people eat vary widely. The weather, too, changes from region to region—being cold and snowy up north and very hot in the south.
Throughout its history, the Indian subcontinent was divided into multiple small princely states. Beginning in 600 B.C., a number of foreign powers, including Alexander the Great in 327 B.C., invaded India from the north. Periodically, a great prince would manage to unite India. During these times of unity, India would be prosperous and the nation would flourish.
In its early years, India's inhabitants practiced the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions. Because these religions preached tolerance, there were no religious conflicts.
Historically, whenever a foreign power has invaded India, an Indian ruler has helped that power to gain a foothold. This history was repeated when a Turk named Muhammad Ghori invaded India in 1192 A.D., defeating an Indian ruler, and founding a Muslim dynasty there. In the sixteenth century, Mongols defeated the power in Delhi, and the Mongol leader Babar crowned himself Badshaha (ruler). That victory marked the beginning of the Mongol Empire, another Muslim power.
The British first sailed to India in 1700 A.D. for purposes of trade. By this time, Mongol power had been weakened by revolts. Over time, the British appropriated territory and gradually consolidated power, defeating Indian states one by one. In 1857, Indian rulers joined forces to fight the British, but British forces defeated them and established their rule over the entire country. British India contained 565 princely states within its borders.
The British used India primarily for commerce. Indians chafed under Britain's colonial rule, and a few educated Indian citizens established a congress in 1885 to demand fairer laws for Indian citizens. In January 1915, Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian citizen, arrived on the scene from South Africa, where he had perfected his technique of non-violent civil disobedience. A charismatic leader, he spearheaded a movement for independence for India.
After World War II, the British partitioned India into two separate nations, India and Pakistan, and ceded power to the newly formed governments on August 15, 1947. Citizens of both countries rejoiced, but their joy was tainted by violence in the newly created nations.
Atrocities perpetrated in Pakistan against Hindus and Sikhs at the time of partition, and Mahatma Gandhi's policies of tolerance toward Muslims infuriated many Indian citizens. On January 30, 1948 Nathuram Godase, a Marathi Brahmin from the state of Maharashtra shot and killed Mahatma Gandhi to put an end to his influence on India's politics.
When news of the murder reached the masses, anti-Brahmin sentiments flared all over India. Riots engulfed Maharashtra, Godase's home state. Brahmin homes were looted, pillaged and burned, and many Brahmin men were beaten.
The Communist Party existed in India before independence, and remained as one of the political parties after independence. Communism appealed to many young, idealistic Indian men and women in the 1950s. But in 1962, communist China invaded India and annexed some of India's lands, and in 1969 a militant subgroup of India's Communist Party attempted an armed revolution in Bengal to upend the exploitation of landless laborers by the landowner class. The violent uprising started in Bengal and spread to Bihar, Andhrapradesh, and Orissa. The party split into factions, and the movement's influence and appeal in India waned, as communism lost its appeal for young people.
In 1971, Bengali-speaking East Pakistan resolved to secede from Punjabi- and Sindhi-speaking West Pakistan. With India's help, East Pakistan won a war of independence with West Pakistan and established a new nation of Bangladesh.
In 1469, Guru Nanak was born to a Hindu family near Lahore. He traveled extensively and studied all the Indian religions. He abhorred the Hindu-Muslim religious conflicts that were raging in India. Around the turn of the 16th century, he founded the Sikh religion, dedicated to the worship of a single god, and attracted disciples from many backgrounds. In 1699, Sikh Guru Gobind Singh introduced a form of initiation into the Sikh religion called Khalasa (or "pure"), which prescribes a specific set of moral and physical behaviors. Khalasa requires Sikhs to wear certain symbols designed to express one's allegiance to the community. One such symbol is the Kirpan, a steel dagger to symbolize the defense of truth. Another is long, uncut hair, to symbolize the acceptance of God's will. Sikh men traditionally cover their heads with turbans. Sikhism today has approximately 20 million followers. A large majority live in India, with many concentrated in the Indian province of Punjab. Others are in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, or scattered all over the world.
In 1799, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, a Sikh born in Punjab, established a Sikh empire in the region. The kingdom flourished for half a century, but in 1849, the British defeated Ranjit Singh's descendants and won control. At the time of Partition, West Punjab became part of Pakistan while East Punjab remained in India.
Approximately 15 months after independence, Sikh political leader Master Tara Singh of the political party Akali Dal, demanded a separate Punjabi-speaking province within India. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru opposed the idea.
A plebiscite was held in 1961 to resolve the issue. Many Hindu families who spoke Punjabi feared that Sikhs would dominate a Punjabi-speaking province. To prevent such a development, they claimed that their language was Hindi. This move strained Hindu-Sikh relations.
Then in 1966, during Indira Gandhi's prime ministership, Punjab was divided into three separate provinces: Haryana, Punjab, and Himachal Pradesh. Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were predominantly Hindu, while Punjab province was primarily Sikh. Nonetheless, Akali Dal, a Sikh-dominated party, was unable to win the elections in Punjab.
The creation of the three separate provinces failed to satisfy the Akali Dal party: the important city of Chandigarh was part of Haryana, and Akali Dal wanted it.
In 1973, Akali Dal passed a resolution officially establishing itself as a Sikh party. A few of its members also began to agitate for a separate Sikh homeland, which they referred to as Khalistan.
From here on, all attempts to resolve the Punjab issue diplomatically failed. Violence erupted in 1981 as those in the Khalistan movement began to take up arms on behalf of the cause. Serious diplomatic efforts failed again in 1983. The situation deteriorated and violence worsened.
In October of 1983, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dissolved the Punjab province's government and declared President's rule there. But her efforts failed to stop the violence. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a militant Sikh leader, converted a revered Sikh holy site known as the Golden Temple into a military camp, though many Sikhs dispute this. In June 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered India's military to attack the Temple. The move succeeded in dislodging the militants, but it left the Sikh community with a lasting grudge.
Four months later, on October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi's Sikh bodyguard shot and killed her to avenge the attack.
News of the Prime Minister's murder infuriated Hindus, sparking extensive rioting, looting and burning of Sikh property. Many Sikhs were caught totally unaware of the events and were injured in the ensuing upheaval.
NOTE: As with any complex, highly fraught history, some of these details are in dispute. But the chronicle above represents a good faith attempt to summarize as accurately as possible the outlines of India's history as pertains to the story.