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.

Supreme Court Promises to Look into Citizenship Rights or Refugee Status to Thousands of Displaced in Assam

In an article in Outlook India, Supreme Court reportedly “agreed to examine the plea for grant of citizenship or refugee status to thousands of displaced persons, mostly in Assam, of minority communities like Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians due to their alleged religious persecution in Bangladesh”. What is critical to note is that the petition raises certain serious concerns over the citizenship act, amendment and the victimisation of minorities in Assam. What is interesting is the way the petition urges the court to look into the plights of the displaced within the international protection mechanisms for “refugees”.

Excerpts from the Report

“Citing the cut-off date of 25.3.1971 fixed by the Centre for granting citizenship to the migrants in the wake of the Assam Accord, the petition said victimisation of minorities continues even after the cut-off date and hence their case should also be considered sympathetically.

"In the facts of the present case, the ‘displaced persons’ also deserve protection in our country and the status of ‘refugees’ under the International Conventions, namely the Refugee Convention, 1951, and 1967 Protocol Relating to Status of Refugees; Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, New York, 1984 and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, 2006," it said.”

Even in the case of “Bru” displaced media reports called them as “refugees”. While contestation over citizenship right is the central argument of this petition, it is interesting to see the ways in which citizenship rights is posited vis a vis refugee status/ rights.

For details see : “SC to examine B’desh Migrants’ Plea for Citizenship”, Outlook India,27 July 2012; Accessed on 10 September 2012

Right to Return for Bru Displacees

In the first edition of Refugee Watch Online we had published an interview with representatives from Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum who had pointed out that they wanted to go back to Mizoram1. In May 2012, not a single Bru displaced people wanted to return back because they are scared of the socio-economic consequences they have to face when they return.

According to a report published in Economic Times not a single Bru displacee returned to Mizoram on the last day of the “repatriation” process that the Government of Mizoram had arranged with their counterparts in Tripura at Mamit ( a place bordering Tripura and Mizoram). The representatives of the Mizoam Bru Displaced People’s Forum expressed their anxiety indicating that around 85 % of the displaced people staying in the camps of Tripura would be treated as second class citizens as their names would not feature in the voter’s list prepared in 1995. According to the representative of Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum, “Mizoram Government had agreed to take back only those refugees whose names figured in the final voters list published in 1995.”2 Apart from that they also expressed concerns that they will not be able to participate in the jhum cultivation and will lose out on a year’s harvest. They reportedly submitted their demands to the Union Home Ministry and the Mizoram Government.

For details see :

2. ‘Fourth phase of repratriation of Bru Refugees from Tripura fail’; Accessed on 22 May 2012

Stateless People

Despite the September 2011 agreement on protocol of exchange concerning 51000 people in 162 enclaves between India and Bangladesh, there has been little headway at the ground level. A recently published report in Indian Express (see link below) reported that a German woman of Polish origin have declared to extend financial support towards a child’s education. She has already contacted ontacted Diptiman Sengupta, secretary of the India-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee (BBEECC). In fact BBEECC has nominated two girls one from Indian side and one from Bangladesh side.

For details see:-
Madhuparna Das, “Offer from German Resident gives hope to stateless in India” 23 July 2012.; Accessed on 6 August 2012.

Being Minority, Being Migrant: A Note on the Muslims of West Bengal, 1947-1950

Anwesha Sengupta

On August 15, 1947 Calcutta and West Bengal was in a festive mood. Slogans like Bande Mataram, Jai Hind, Hindu-Musalman ek Ho, Allah ho Akbar, were raised in the streets of the city and its suburbs. People of different faiths embraced each other, distributed sweets and thus celebrated the much awaited independence.1 It seemed for a moment that the cloud of communalism had finally passed. It was a momentary relief though. Soon, the Muslims would realize that their lives were no longer safe in this city and in West Bengal. Within a year of independence, the communal situation started deteriorating. On the day of Muharram, 1948 the procession was obstructed near Maniktalla (Calcutta), brickbats and acid bulbs were thrown and on the following day there were chilling reports of Muslims being stabbed in some of the streets of Calcutta. It was also reported that the refugees from East Pakistan played a leading role in this.2

The scene outside Calcutta was no better. Nadia, a border district, for instance, was one of the majorly disturbed areas. Particularly notorious were the villages within the Shantipur Police Station of this district. The Muslims, mostly poor agriculturalists, were often harassed by the local Hindus. Their properties were looted, crops produced in their fields were forcefully taken away, and houses were occupied.3 As early as in July 1948, a riotous situation developed in Shantipur. It started when some Muslims allegedly attempted to molest some Hindu school girls. Whether this was a rumour or not4 is difficult to ascertain. But this (alleged) incident became the excuse for damaging the mosques, attacking the local Muslims and even killing them. Of course, incidents like this forced many Muslims to migrate. The following extract from the secret report on the situation of East Bengal for the first half of July 1948 will give an idea of the situation in Shantipur and the plight of the Muslims:

a serious outbreak of communal fury against Muslims occurred in the Shantipur thana of Nadia district on 19-20 July. Information in the possession of government shows that Hindu mobs with the connivance and sometimes active assistance of the police, attacked mosques and houses. At least 10 Muslims were killed, and scores injured. It is also reported that medical aid was denied to the injured by the Hindu doctors of the area. As a result of these disturbances many Muslims have migrated from Shantipur to Rajshahi, Jessore, Kushtia and Pabna districts of this province and their accounts of oppression endured by the Nadia Muslims has had an exciting effect on the minds of their hearers.5

Nadia, being a border district, received massive refugee influx from East Pakistan. By a warped logic of retribution, the refugees often took leading roles in torturing the Muslims. If they could not stay in Pakistan, they would not let the Muslims stay in India, perhaps, was their idea. The police and the local administration too often were a party to these assaults, either directly or by being mute spectators. The violence of Calcutta, Noakhali and Bihar riots, the reports and rumours about Hindu oppression in East Bengal and the general understanding of partition, made the majority of the people respond to the politics of the time in religious terms. So, in January 10, 1949 when a group of 30 refugees from East Bengal led by Debendra Nath Mandal, assaulted the Muslims of Haldipara village (Hanskhali police station, Nadia), the police did not take action. The same group, encouraged by the indifference of the police, again created trouble on 14 and 15th of the same month and even tried to kidnap a Muslim woman. Even then, the police allegedly refused to register any complaint lodged by the Muslims.6

The refugees needed lands to cultivate and homes to stay. They often forcibly occupied the houses of the Muslims, as well as their mosques and desecrated their graveyards.7 Often the Government of West Bengal had a more direct role in displacing the Muslims. For instance, on December 1, 1948, the West Bengal Government issued a notification to acquire land in twenty two villages of 24 Parganas district for rehabilitating the Hindu refugees. These villages, situated very near Indo-East Pakistan border, were populated primarily by the Muslims. Such a measure made them anxious and was seen as a deliberate attempt to “clean” the border areas off the Muslims.8

Being a refugee was also an equally difficult experience for the poor Muslim migrants. First and foremost, being uprooted from one’s home had deep psychological impact. Settling down in a new place required necessary capital, which the refugees often lacked. So they expected some help from the Government. Muhinuddin Ahmed from a village under Shantipur Police Station wrote the following letter to the District Magistrate of Jessore:

…Lands for construction of thatched roofing houses and lands for cultivation and weaving machines are urgently required for the refugees of Santipore. The refugees of Santipore who came here they left all things in Santipore. We do not want to be a burden on our Government and as such if facilities are offered to equip ourselves with necessary implements for cultivation and weaving, immediately people can start on work and earning. … at present arrangement for the 500 evacuees may kindly be made. For our help your honour kindly arrange for two tube wells in Jadavpore at a very early date and will kindly arrange for C.I. sheets of 10’-0 at controlled rate at a date when available. [sic.]9

There is an absolute lack of any research on the politics and process of relief and rehabilitation of the refugees in East Bengal. The refugee pressure increased in 1950 when there was an outbreak of communal riots in both East and West Bengal. Many, who initially thought of staying put in India, were forced to leave. This article does not have the scope to discuss the anatomy of this violence in great detail. But a quotation from the diary of Tajuddin Ahmed, who later became the first Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh, would give an idea of the flow of the Muslims from India to East Pakistan. He wrote on February 28, 1950:

After two and a half years of Pakistan’s independence, Dhaka is witnessing communal riot. The riot has affected the suburbs and interior villages as well. Dhaka is also witnessing a massive influx of Muslim refugees from West Bengal [because the communal riots have affected that province as well]. Dhaka for the first time is facing acute pressure of the refugees. A large section of the Hindus are also leaving East Bengal.10

Being a Muslim in West Bengal was a difficult experience during the ‘partitioned times’. This paper tried to shed some light on the woes of being a minority and a migrant, by focusing on the Muslims of West Bengal. Through the study of the condition of the Muslims in West Bengal after partition, it revealed the limitations of the “secular” Nehruvian India in safeguarding the interests of its religious minority.

Notes and References

1 Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, Decolonization in South Asia: Meanings of freedom in post-independence West Bengal, 1947-52, Routledge, London and New York, 2009, p-10.
2 Letter to the Editor from Abdul Majid, Azad, 14.11.1948.
3 F.No K.W. 19-199/48, Pol (C.R.);Bundle No 1, ‘B’ Proceedings, List 119, Archives and National Library (ANL), Dhaka.
4 Letter dated 27.9.1948 from the Deputy Secretary, Government of East Bengal to the Secreatry, Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, C.R.19-199/48, Bundle No 1, ‘B’ Proceedings, List 119, Bangladesh National Library and Archives, Dhaka.
5 F.No- C.R.19-199/48, Bundle No 1, Pol (C.R.); ‘B’ Proceedings, List 119, Archives and National Library (ANL), Dhaka.
6 From the Secretary to the Deputy High Commissioner for Pakistan in India to the Chief Secretary to the Govt. of East Bengal, Date 29.3.1949, F.No – 3C1-6/49, Bundle No 2, ‘B’ Proceedings, List 119, ANL.
7 Ibid. Also see, Joya Chatterji, ‘Of Graveyards and Ghettoes: Muslims in Partitioned West Bengal 1947-67,’ in M .Hasan and Asim Roy(eds), Living Together Separately: Cultural India in History and Politics, O.U.P., New Delhi, 2005.
8 F.No CR 5M-1/50 Pol (C.R.); Bundle No 2, ‘B’ Proceedings, List 119, ANL.
9 Letter to D.M, Jessore dated 22/8/1948 from Muhinuddin Ahmed ‘on behalf of refugees’, C.R.19-199/48, Bundle -1, List-119, ‘B’ Proceedings, ANL.
10 Tajuddin Ahmed, Tajuddin Ahmeder Diary, vol 2, Pratibhas, Dhaka, 2007 (second edition), p-87

The Inhabitants of Bangladeshi Chhitmahals in India

Atig Ghosh

Approximately 200 Indo-Bangladesh enclaves, which are sprinkled along the international border of Rajshahi state, Bangladesh, and Cooch Behar district, West Bengal, are collectively known as chhitmahal or chhit mohol in Bengali and constitute a bizarre political geography. A simple rendition of the chhit mohol as enclaves obfuscates the myriad spatial configurations and strategies that have emerged in the area over 60-odd years since partition. There are, for starters, counter-enclaves; that is, enclaves completely enclosed by another enclave. Shalbari, the second largest Indian enclave, for instance, encloses four Bangladeshi exclaves. There is also a globally-unique counter-counter enclave; the largest Indian exclave, Balapara Khagrabari, embodies one Bangladeshi exclave, Upanchowki Bhajni, which itself embodies an Indian exclave called Dahala Khagrabari, thus making the last one a counter-counter enclave. Then, there existed until very recently arguably the world’s only part-time enclave, Dahagram-Angarpota, which was connected to Bangladesh by the one-acre or tin-bigha corridor. The corridor used to remain open every alternate hour during day and completely closed during night. The Singh-Haseena agreement of September, 2011, however, has opened the corridor permanently, thus conferring the dubious character of a pene-enclave on Dahagram-Angarpota. Pene-enclaves are, however, not unknown to the residents of the area, though they have curiously escaped academic as well as journalistic scrutiny. Kalsi para or simply Kalsi, the Muslim-majority Indian proruption into Bangladesh, for instance, is a pene-enclave of sorts located in Kuchlibari. Though all our respondents pointed out that it is not a chhit or enclave technically, they unanimously concurred that the life conditions there best represented what is normally considered to be life conditions in an enclave. The observation, of course, begs 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. This study pays special attention to this critical concern.

During colonial times, the people of the enclaves did not face any difficulty graver than those experienced by their mainland counterparts. Sovereignty was not expressed in terms of territorial contiguity as in terms of jurisdiction and tax flows. Even after partition, for some years the old arrangement limped along, though gradual tightening of national territoriality was becoming evident. The apical moment of this territorial closure came in 1952, when the two governments of India and Pakistan agreed to introduce the passport regime. The agreement made no mention of the inhabitants of the enclaves and, as such, they were pushed into a curious situation of government-enforced statelessness. That is, if a person of, say, an Indian enclave in Bangladesh wanted to obtain passport and visa for free movement, she had to illegally trespass into Bangladeshi territory; if the person managed to reach a border outpost undetected, she had to be admitted illegally into Indian territory, for she carried no identification proof, and then travel hundreds of kilometres to the nearest consulate. If all this resulted in the issuance of a passport and a visa, then the person could return to the enclave only till the visa expired. Then she had to repeat the illegal procedure all over again.

The Indian and the Pakistan (later Bangladesh) governments came to a series of understandings to effect the exchange of enclaves. But none ever got beyond paperwork and diplomatic pleasantries. In the meanwhile, the people in the enclaves were confronted with a slew of identity-related options; none of them felicific, but such were the choices. William Van Schendel has identified at least three such self-reckoning strategies of the stateless people of the enclaves. Two of them, he argues, are transterritorial: the enclave-dweller could think of herself as a citizen of the patron state. Conversely, a Bangladeshi Hindu could identify with India and an Indian Muslim could identify with Bangladesh. This he calls ‘proxy citizenship’ which was often induced by the ideological goading of the mainland nation-states. This latter claim however does not fit neatly with evidence collected over time. In fact, Van Schendel himself finds a Muslim interviewee residing in an Indian enclave, Md. Bokhtaruddin, who describes how Pakistan had disowned him and his community after 1947. Suspended in this stateless void, the third available identity-related option was, of course, one of belonging to the enclaves. This is not trans-territorial but locally rooted. However, identity as a claim-making device can only be effective when it has numerical, economic and political teeth. The residents of the enclaves, separated by swathes of foreign, often hostile, territory, with no health, education, civic and administrative guarantees, could hardly make such identity claims effectively.

Add to this the atmosphere of coiled tension that often erupts into violent engagements. It is inarguable that the quantum of violence has dwindled since Bangladesh came into being. However, it has hardly disappeared. For example, in May 2000, a Hindu girl from India eloped with a Muslim youth from South Moshaldanga, a Bangladeshi enclave in India. On May 11, a crowd of Indians entered the enclave and looted five houses. A week later, the enclave was once more invaded by hundreds of Indians who set fire to fifty-five houses, wounded ten people and abducted four, and looted cattle and valuables. The 65-year-old Jitendra Nath Roy of Balapara Khagrabari, the largest Indian enclave in Bangladesh, on the other hand reports, “Bangladeshis used to loot our grain silos and rob our cattle by day. When night fell, we would all go and hide in the forests. When they came to rob us during night, they beat up the men and tortured the women.”

From all accounts, it seems that the quotient of violence perpetrated against the residents of the enclaves was evenly matched in both countries. However, some fieldworkers have told that the Bangladeshis are harsher in their treatment of the stateless population than their Indian counterparts. Now, this is a very dangerous argument to make. But one sees why otherwise perceptive researchers would draw such conclusions. When our researcher reached Kuchlibari in Mekhliganj block, Cooch Behar, prima facie what struck him was the ease and comfort the people of the enclaves radiated. They were very happy in India, they said unanimously. Shambhunath Chowdhury, a resident of the Dhabalsuti Chhit Mirgipur of Bangladesh, declared that if the exchange of enclaves took place following the Singh-Haseena agreement, he will not leave for Bangladesh. He is a shop-owner. Our researcher insisted that they could not be that happy after all, what with statelessness and disenfranchisement. But he would not be budged. “All of us have Indian voter identification cards and ration cards. We are happy here,” he argued. Muhammad Belal Hussain, who has all his land in a Bangladeshi enclave, too echoed Mr Chowdhury. He would not leave.

The examples of xenophobic violence detailed above militate against such jolly instances of belonging. Accepted prima facie and outside their historical context, they may be misguiding. In the case of Dhabalsuti Chhit Mirgipur, for instance, a violent history of forcible expulsion in 1955, one could suggest, may have left only those who wanted to remain, to belong unconditionally. A horde of mainland Hindus had, in 1955, demanded “the blood of Muslims” and driven almost all dissenters into Bangladesh.

The respondents, nevertheless, fear that “those in the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh would come if the exchange happens. The government has promised to settle them. Where will the government settle them? There is no land but that of ours.” The tenuous belonging and wilful oblivion was slipping in face of the proximate possibility of dislocation when suddenly the group as if collectively snapped back into confidence. “But these governments will never reach an agreement; they never have,” they chuckled in self-assurance. Indeed, perhaps their confidence is not irrational. For India, the historical jingoism of the right-wing apart, recently another factor has cropped up to collude against an amicable exchange: the growth of tea gardens in the area. The enclaves, and their attendant instability in national space, have meant that land has been sold dirt cheap here, sometimes at as little as 8000 rupees per acre. Major players like Roshanlal Aggarwal, the Goels and NutriTea have bought land and started plantations. An eco-tourism resort of the GBC Enterprises Limited has come up a stone’s throw away from the Tin-Bigha Corridor which offers leisure walks through tea gardens, a modern saloon and massage parlour! If one provisionally accepts Giorgio Agamben’s (The Coming Community and Means without End: Notes on Politics) contention that attributes a determined character to the state and a determining power to the economic forces of capitalism that conditions particular forms of the state, then the Indian state is unlikely to rip through the tightening tangles of big investment. But, we offer this only as a possible outcome. Who knows, the nation-state may still surprise us.

Questions of statist ambition and quotidian statelessness, global processes and local exigencies, identity and the anamorphic ‘other’, get crosshatched in the fastnesses of the North-Bengal frontier; considerations of borders-in-the-mud get transformed into concern for the boundaries-in-the-mind. The story of statelessness in South Asia ultimately becomes a saga of survival techniques, self-making and, sometimes, strategies of status-quoist solidarity.

Partitioned Lives: Reading Narendranath Mitra’s Jaiba

by Tista Das

There is a problem that is associated with the word ‘violence’. One can never be quite sure as to what constitutes violence. While fear assumes new meanings in the context of homelessness, in popular parlance “honour” creates a separate space for women, considering the honour of a community rests upon women.

I shall read Narendranath Mitra’s short story Jaiba (of life) in this context. It was first published in Chaturanga in the winter of 1948 and republished in a collection- Galpamala (Mitra, Narendranath, Galpamala,1989, Ananda Publishers Limited, Kolkata). But, to begin with, one must come to terms with the thread of victimhood and violence in Bengal. Unlike Punjab, in Bengal, there were moments of violence (specifically related to the event of the Partition) scattered through many years, more than two decades. Such an image of waves might be one of the reasons why the story of violence in Bengal is not well marked. Moreover, the Bengali intelligentsia was somehow not comfortable with its narration. Violence remained out there as an ever present threat, but not something that affected one directly. It became the motif upon which the story is woven. It became something that happened to other people and threatened everyone in general and therefore changed the way of life. What complicated the scenario further was that such a narration of the Partition also had to accommodate the story of the women. The subjectivity of women was as much to their men as to the Nation. Such dual subjectivity made them more prone to violence. Their men were also their protectors and the class identity of the Hindus and Muslims of East Pakistan placed the women on a platform similar to but not quite the same as their men. One needs to ask, whether, once bereft of a home, the woman becomes more homeless than her men. Whether their rehabilitation is even more complex since it is figured not only vis a vis the State, but also vis a vis (other) patriarchal modes.

The kind of violence that the years around the Partition experienced was not what the modern mind would like to associate with the birth of a modern nation. Then, it must be said that the birth of the modern Indian Nation does not coincide with the end of colonialism in 1947. Such a nation remained ‘in making’. One can realize the weakness of this argument since such a modern nation can never be made. However, the point to be noted is that violence became the difficult terrain through which one had to pass through to become a part of the Nation; a necessary evil. That was the only explanation possible. It amounts to seeing violence as the blood bath, the test that a nation needs to pass through to achieve statehood. It is the sacrificial altar that purifies the moment of birth.

However, any explanation is a matter of hindsight. The bewilderment of the men on the spot must be taken into account.

Narendranath Mitra’s story revolves round a young middle class couple, Mriganka and Sudatta. The structure of the household is very modern, meaning nuclear, clearly marked by the absence of parents and relatives. Mriganka is a Professor of Chemistry, whose wife had been abducted in Lahore and recovered later. In her days of abduction, she had become pregnant. She cannot live with this reality and wishes desperately to destroy the unborn child, her link with the past. However, the doctors are not confident to abort the child since the mother is well into her pregnancy. Mriganka loves his wife and tries to talk her out of any scheme of abortion at such an advanced stage. He has accepted her back into the folds of their life. The reader does not come across any character who messes with this order. Sudatta gives birth to the child and arrangements are made to put the child in an orphanage. However, there is one impulsive moment (a moment of betrayal?) when she looks at her child’s face and at that moment it is her motherhood that dominates her being. She looks at her child with love. This does not go unnoticed and Mriganka decides to take the child home. He, however, develops an obsessive interest in biology, heredity and the effect of genes. Sudatta faces the greatest crisis when she finds her husband looking at the child and making notes in his diary and she becomes desperate to abort the second child she now conceives with her husband since she is afraid that this would only make him interested in a comparative study.

It is difficult to put a finger on the moment of violence in this story. Should one consider the moment when the woman was raped (which of course is before the narration begins), as the moment of violence? Or is it when she decides to abort the child conceived through the act of rape? Is such a destruction of order the moment of violence? How, then, does one read the moment when the husband looks at the child and makes notes? It is his response to his own fate rather than his wife’s. He comes to terms with the horrid past. It does not break the order of his modern middle class life as long as his wife is not able to accept the consequences of the past misfortune. However, when he finds that his wife has fallen in love with the child of those times of violence, this order breaks.

This problem of locating the moment of violence is perhaps the most baffling in any study of the Partition. The thread of violence makes the Partition belong to the modern State. No matter how clinically one tries to deal with the greatest event in the life of the independent State, no matter how one tries to explain, to categorise facts with the purpose of building a narrative of nationalism (the success and the failure of it, the latter helping to foster separatism) and separatism leading to the climactic point; and no matter how one tries to see violence as the entry point to a modern state, the Partition refuses to be relegated to the Nation’s past; it refuses to be contained. This is especially true of Bengal where the waves of migration spilled the Partition into the life of the independent State so that lives in general, remained partitioned.

Nair, Neeti. Changing Homeland: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, Harvard University Press 2011, pp 1- 343

by Sohini Majumdar

In this book, Neeti Nair questions the teleological assumptions about the inevitability of partition that mark a dominant mode of historical thinking, focuses on the diverse choices that the people of Punjab made at different political conjunctions. She argues that partition was not the only option that the people of Punjab opted for. Rejecting the binary of communalism and anti- colonial nationalism in historicizing the colonial encounter and partition Nair questioned the monochromatic and rigid ideological categorization. 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 (p 29). Thus her focus is on the complexity and contradictions that mark the various interplay of multiple loyalties, identities, imaginings of the nation and community as well as the various sites of conflicts and negotiations at shared political spaces marking the shifts in the political conundrum which defies any linear movement from an anti colonial nationalism to that of communalism in the body politic and body civic. Referential here is Joya Chatterji’s Bengal divided : Hindu Communalism and Partition 1932- 1947, Cambridge University press, 1995, which contrary to Nair de recognition of linear progression, focuses on the parochial interest of the Bengali Bhadralok classes whose inward looking politics to dominate the Bengal politics turned them from nationalists to communalists, their politics eventually leading to the partition.

Nair opines that the option of negotiation was always sought at when Punjab navigated among various options and opinion. But, it was these missed out chances for political accommodation which caused the partition. She focuses on the political rhetoric of the Hindus being a minority in Punjab while being a majority in India. She argues that it was the colonial context that created the categories of ‘minority’ and ‘majority’ which gained consequences when applied in the administrative structure (p31). Hence, it was colonial logic that lent credence to communal identity whence the British out of the multiple political identities emphasized the identity of belonging to a religious community (p31). Thus, it was the Punjab politicians who in view of safeguarding their minority interests played out in the political platform, exhibiting a diverse range of responses and choices from loyalty to anti colonial nationalism. In the process, they sometimes aligned with their co religionist in the wider nation while at other instances they sought negotiations with the other religious communities at the provincial level. And it in these diverse and twisted responses that Nair offers fresh interpretations of Punjab’s relationship with the national movement.

Nair states that the political history is complex enough to fit into clean categorizations and she questions the taxonomies of loyalist, communalist, or secularist. By focusing on the communitarian relations in Punjab, she focuses how the meaning of communalism changed according to the context. She argues this by citing the various choices the Punjabi Hindus exhibited, that deluded these clean categorizations. From a revisionist perspective, she reviews the position of Swami Shraddhanand a proclaimed Hindu communalist and a propagator of Arya Samaj who provided leadership to the anti-Rowlatt Act movement while preaching Hindu-Muslim-Sikh unity even as he became involved in shuddhi and sangathan in post Rowlatt days. Similarly, she focuses on the shifting politics of Lala Lajpat Rai who faced dilemma of imaging India that equated it with Hindus and a notion that prided the national over the communal. Another fresh interpretation she offers is the reading of the non violent politics of Bhagat Singh over the issue of treating the ‘political prisoner’ which offered a scope of uniting the divided elements of Punjab politics but failed to win over Gandhi who is fairly criticized for his failure to acknowledge Singh’s ideological affinity to himself while continuing to refer to Singh’s violent past. But though Nair is successful in portraying the attitude of Punjabi Hindu elites, her book precludes any analysis of the ‘subalterns’ domain of politics.

Nair questions the monolithic frame that denigrates all kind of violence as ‘genocide’. She states that there were particular context, temporal or spatial, for every instance of violence that defies the generalizing framework. Her effort is to understand the nuances to focus on the contextual and situational aspect of violence rather than clean categorizations. The partition violence that engulfed Punjab was accompanied with a sense of disbelief. There was battle for space, with neighbours turning against neighbours with the breakdown of social equations. But this was no undifferentiated picture of communal violence. People of one religious community continued to help those of others while continuing to live their closed knit community. Such instances, Nair claimed, upset the ‘master narratives of “communal violence” (p197). There was no distinction between the perpetrators and the victims. But it was this ‘unplanned’ violence that represented the crumbling of an old order with the abdication of responsibility of minorities at both side of the border (p218). And it was this which turned the minorities into the new categories of ‘refugees’ in the context.

Conducting oral interviews of Delhi based migrants she focuses on their memories which was marked with a sense of confusion as they changed homelands. There was absence of any anticipation of uprooting among them. She portrays the various strands of understanding and attitudes towards the Muslims that marked the migrants’ sentiment which remained ambivalent there while it was clearly represented in the secular traumas. The experiences of partition are explained in the migrants’ terms and language. She argues that their experience of partition was less accompanied by sense of trauma and loss, stereotype in partition literature, since they fared well as they shifted to Delhi. Their questioning of these myths bring fresh insight to secular notions which are relevant for understanding religious differences which engulf modern South Asia.