Wednesday, September 14, 2016


A little more than a month ago, India celebrated her 70th Independence Day. Whenever we talk of independence of India from British domination, we are reminded of the territorial division of British India into two independent nation states, India and Pakistan. Consequences of partition have been fundamental to the society, economy and polity of the subcontinent, so much so that Ranabir Samaddar has suggested “Partition lives on in post-colonial times to such an extent that we should truly prefer the phrase ‘partitioned times’ to the more common ‘post colonial times.’”[1] The riots that had happened in the subcontinent since 1947, the wars that India and Pakistan had fought and most importantly Kashmir remind us that we all live in the long shadows of partition.

     Nonetheless, in recent years we have witnessed increasingly “apolitical” initiatives to memorialize partition as an event of the past that primarily aim at recording as many eyewitness accounts of 1947 as possible in regions that were directly affected by partition (like West Bengal, Assam, Punjab of Pakistan and India). Such projects, important though for various reasons, iron out the ‘longness’ of partition, as Ravinder Kaur has mentioned in a recent article.[2] Moreover, the tendency is to perceive the interviewees as victims, denying their roles as agents who might have been the perpetrators of violence and most certainly had to negotiate with the governments, family, and locals as refugees or minorities. In the existing academic literature about ordinary peoples’ experiences of partition, the need to perceive the refugees as ‘agents’ was acknowledged quite a few years back. In the recent works on partition, we see more nuances being added as categories like class, region, gender, caste and age are being used to understand the varied experiences of partition. Once we bring in such categories to see how people were negotiating with the government and vice versa, we begin to get glimpses of the complexities of postcolonial governmentality.

     This issue brings together some of the young scholars working on partition now. All of them have primarily focused on the experiences of partition in West Bengal. One article complicates the idea of partition as longue durée, connecting it with the contemporary riots in various parts of India (a much needed addendum to the memorialization initiatives that we have just mentioned). Instead of treating refugees as a homogeneous mass of people, some of the articles in this issue point towards the varied experiences of ‘colony refugees’ and ‘camp refugees’ and relevance of caste and gender in studying partition. Partition studies in West Bengal have largely focused on the issues of rehabilitation, not giving enough importance to the conditions of the Muslims, the violence they faced after 1947, communal riots and their exodus. By describing the riots of 1950 in Howrah (West Bengal), one article reminds us of these little-discussed areas of partition studies.

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