Many commentators believe Indias Partition exemplifies the unfinished business of most such partitions, of which the most bitterly contested and intractable is Kashmir. But its not just unfinished business. Suvir Kaul maintains its ongoing business too because Partitions afterlife still guides our public policy and inhibits our progress from colonial state to post-colonial democracy. Further, he says, India and Pakistan require Partition, or its more local reiterations...to justify state authority.
Partitions of Memory, like other recent explorations of that shattering event, departs from political history and nationalist historiography to answer questions for those concerned with how Partition shaped relations not only between, but within, nations.
One of these questions has to do with forgotten histories. Mukulika Bannerjis essay on the Khudai Khidmatgars of the nwfp is among the most interesting in this collection, for highlighting one of Partitions abiding conundrums. Here was a people who fiercely resisted any identification with religion-based division, despite being 96 per cent Muslim; believed in non-violent struggle; and supported the Congressbut found themselves in Pakistan in 1947. The KKs, denounced and vilified by the Muslim League, posed this question to the author in the 90s, when she interviewed them: If East and West Pakistan could be separated by India, why could we not form West India and be separated from the rest of India by Pakistan? But had that transpired, one is forced to wonder whether it would have become another Kashmir?
The schizophrenic nature of the India-Pakistan relationship is, as Richard Murphy says, enacted every day at sunset at the Wagah border, and every March in Lahore during Basant, celebrated with gusto by trendy Lahoris. Mirroring is what characterises both rituals; at Wagah Indian and Pakistani detachments distinguish themselves and the larger wholes they represent, using a common symbolic language of uniforms, music and military drill inherited from the Raj. At Basant, Lahoris reinvent a Hindu festival by investing it with rural Punjabi authenticity.
Of the four memory essays in this volume, Murphys and Bannerjis areliterally and metaphoricallythe most illuminating, both because they deal with contemporary Pakistan, and because they show how lived reality explodes the stereotypes of fixed identities on either side of the border. Bannerjis interviews with the KKs skilfully juxtapose their memories with their descendants whoimbued with the present and five decades of post-Partition historydeny the relevance of such memories. Murphys is a much more complicated interleaving of past and present, of the selective appropriation of cultural practices, and of how the syncretic character of a city like Lahore is subtly transformed. Not completely, though. Centuries of shared living make rigid demarcations impossibleand yet, difference is forced into divisiveness.
The other two memory essays, Sunil Kumars on the Qutub Minar and Nita Kumars on children, have a much more tenuous link with Partition. Nitas exploration of how 1947 is remembered by children in Banaras and Calcutta belies the expectations set up by her concern: teaching and writing about the nation in ways that do the least possible violence, that respect and celebrate other higher and lower level un-mixing and unmatching histories. She throws up some rather astonishing conclusions about an individuals relationship to the nation.
The refugees ties to the state/government is the subject of Joya Chatterjis and Urvashi Butalias essays. Theyre more straightforwardly historical in that they deal with documents rather than memories. Butalias is an archive with a differencePartition letters written during 1947-49, to various people in authority about jobs, shelter, offers of service, and sundry complaints to the sarkar as mai-baap. Chatterjis richly-detailed analysis of West Bengals rehabilitation programme in the immediate post-Partition period is also about employment, housing, social security and reconstruction, but whereas Butalias letter-writers (mostly Punjabis) appeal to the states benevolent disposition, Chatterjis refugees demand political and economic rights from the government. Herein lies the difference between the Punjab and West Bengal experiences. In the latter, where the influx of refugees was protracted and, ultimately, much greater (25 million in 50 years), organising around rights made for the emergence of the Left Front as a long-term political force. In Delhi by contrast, although the Jan Sangh was an important factor in refugee rehabilitation (certain refugee colonies and communities support the bjp to date), it was unable to make political capital on this effort.
Each new, and different, examination of Partition reminds us how much more lies buried,
unexplored. Take Priyamvada Gopals treatment of Mantos Thanda Gosht,
of which we thought all had been said. But it awaited a gendered readingand
Gopals is most intelligentnot just of this story but of Mantos Partition
oeuvre. And Ramnarayan Rawats account of Dalit politics and Partition politics
underlines one of the least researched aspects of identity-formation in the context of
As with other recent writing on Partition so, too, with this volumewe realise the more we read, the less we really know about it.