Today is the 70th anniversary of British India’s partition into two countries, India and Pakistan, and of its independence from the United Kingdom. On this occasion, we suggest scholarship that offers insight into these events and their lasting effects.
India’s partition caused one of the most massive human convulsions in history. Within the space of two months in 1947 more than twelve million people were displaced. A million died. More than seventy-five thousand women were abducted and raped. Countless children disappeared. Homes, villages, communities, families, and relationships were destroyed. Yet, more than half a century later, little is known of the human dimensions of this event. In The Other Side of Silence, Urvashi Butalia fills this gap by placing people—their individual experiences, their private pain—at the center of this epochal event.
Through interviews conducted over a ten-year period and an examination of diaries, letters, memoirs, and parliamentary documents, Butalia asks how people on the margins of history—children, women, ordinary people, the lower castes, the untouchables—have been affected by this upheaval. To understand how and why certain events become shrouded in silence, she traces facets of her own poignant and partition-scarred family history before investigating the stories of other people and their experiences of the effects of this violent disruption. Those whom she interviews reveal that, at least in private, the voices of partition have not been stilled and the bitterness remains.
In Of Gardens and Graves Suvir Kaul examines the disruption of everyday life in Kashmir in the years following the region’s pervasive militarization in 1990. He explores Kashmir’s pre- and post-Partition history, the effects of militarization, state repression, the suspension of civil rights on Kashmiris, and the challenge Kashmir represents to the practice of democracy in India. The volume also features translations of Kashmiri poetry written in these years of conflict, as well as a photo essay by Javed Dar, whose photographs work together with Kaul’s essays and the poems to represent the interweaving of ordinary life, civic strife, and spectacular violence in Kashmir.
Combining film studies, trauma theory, and South Asian cultural history, Bhaskar Sarkar follows the shifting traces of partition in Indian cinema over the six decades that followed in Mourning the Nation. He argues that partition remains a wound in the collective psyche of South Asia and that its representation on screen enables forms of historical engagement that are largely opaque to standard historiography.
Borderland Lives in Northern South Asia, edited by David N. Gellner, provides valuable new ethnographic insights into life along some of the most contentious borders in the world. The collected essays portray existence at different points across India’s northern frontiers and, in one instance, along borders within India. Whether discussing Shi’i Muslims striving to be patriotic Indians in the Kashmiri district of Kargil or Bangladeshis living uneasily in an enclave surrounded by Indian territory, the contributors show that state borders in Northern South Asia are complex sites of contestation.
“Generations of Memory: Remembering Partition in India/Pakistan and Israel/Palestine” from Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East considers partition’s memory across the national borders and regional distances of South Asia and the Middle East. The first part of this article reflects on the meaning of “partition” in each population’s collective memory. The second part examines how the state-building project in India, Pakistan, and Israel, and the emerging Palestinian national-liberation project, shaped dominant versions of respective “first generation” partition narratives. The third part analyzes how these dominant historical narratives have been re-envisioned by scholars within the second, “hinge generation” of Indians.
“Progressives and ‘Perverts’: Partition Stories and Pakistan’s Future” from Social Text explores short stories on partition by Sa’adat Hasan Manto. By concentrating on Manto’s writings, this essay revisits Pakistan’s early history to demonstrate how, after the country’s creation, there was continued debate among intellectuals about what would constitute a national culture. Within this context, these short stories by Manto enables the author of the essay to offer a critique of Pakistan’s normative national history and to suggest a different path to understand the country’s past and, possibly, to envision its future.