Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Introduction : First Edition of Refugee Watch Online, 2013

Ishita Dey

In this edition of Refugee Watch online, we want to move beyond the understanding of Partitioning of the Indian Sub of partitioning of the sub-continent of 1947 as a cartographic exercise. What is interesting is how “contested spaces” were recreated and reproduced in post-colonial South Asia as a result of the massive forced migration across 370,000 square miles of territory leading to the formation of two nation-states of India and Pakistan. Much of the contested spaces have to do with how people negotiated with the “borders” that forced them to migrate, as well as become subjects and agents of post-colonial statecraft.

Decades later, populations across various territorial entities continue to suffer the impacts of this cartographic exercise which was responsible for inter community clashes and riots. Most of the people who were forced to migrate thought it was a temporary move. They would be able to return. Anisuzzaman, Eminent Scholar and Professor Emeritus, Department of Bangla, Dhaka University in his account echoed a similar feeling. He said his father chose to migrate to Khulna from Kolkata because it was near to Kolkata. In this interesting panel “Partition Experiences in South Asia: Memory, Literature, Media” in the recently concluded 14th IASFM Conference hosted by CRG on “Contested spaces and cartographic challenges” the presenters shared the varied experiences of partition across India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In Anisuzzaman’s account, one could also realise the complex picture produced by the Language Movement and the Liberation War. Similarly the feminist reading of partition historiography critically looked at nation-hood and the ways in which nationalist histories were written. Even in literature, both vernacular and in English, partition continues to be be introspected from various lenses- narratives of “home”, gendered experience of partition and struggles on arrival or departure. In other words, partition was as much a historical event that led to redrawing of “borders” at various time scapes but it also produced newer complexities with regard to citizenship rights, claim making and contestations.

In another panel “ Other Histories of Partition- Lives in transit”, there was an attempt to look into how social structures were reproduced and contested spaces were created by the population movements in the “Eastern” side of the border the refugees struggled and continue to do so to find a place in post-colonial statecraft. In this context it is important to understand that the post-colonial statecraft’s narrative of ‘care and protection’ towards “refugees” was embedded and continues to be influenced by the existing social structures of religion, caste and gender. These “lives in transit” is representative of the “other’ histories of partition of how partition produced the “other” and created contested spaces of the ways in which the “other” could be co-opted as the three studies in this panel will reveal.

In other words, the politics of post-partition are located in the policies and experiences of exclusion/inclusion of the people who were forced to cross borders and who continue to live in the liminal zones. Hence, the partition of the Indian –subcontinent in 1947 continues to produce lives in transit as evident in the contributions in this edition of Refugee Watch Online.

Anwesha Sengupta in her piece “Being Minority, Being Migrant: A Note on the Muslims of West Bengal, 1947-1950” discusses the forced migration of Muslims from West Bengal to East Pakistan. Atig Ghosh, in his article on “The Inhabitants of Bangladeshi Chhitmahals in India” takes a critical look at “the question whether there are tangible conditions which actually mark out life in an enclave or is it merely a stereotypical reification, imbibed over time and regurgitated conveniently.”

In the section on Reviews, Tista Das in her re-reading of a short story “ Jaiba” by Narendranath Mitra takes a critical look at the ways in which gendered narratives makes its space in literature on partition. Tista is interested in the gendered violence that Sudatta faces during partition, post partition and within the familial structures. Through Sudatta’s journey into motherhood, Tista reads this fascinating story against the context of how “honour” is constructed around “women” and how it continues to produce multiple layers of violence.

Sohini Majumdar in her review of Neeti Nair’s work Changing Homeland: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, Harvard University Press 2011; presents to us come of the complexities what shaped partitioning of the sub continent. According to Sohini, “She argues that the historiography of partition have tended to view partition as a logical culmination of a process of communalism where the monolithic Hindu and Muslim community was posited against each other. Interrogating this widely accepted view, she focuses on the ‘reality’ of the conflicting and intersecting identities that came to dominate the various decisions the people of Punjab took at various historical conjunctures”.

We look forward to your comments and feedback.

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