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Unsettling Partition

Unsettling Partition: Literature, Gender, Memory

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 220
  • Book Info
    Unsettling Partition
    Book Description:

    The Partition of India in 1947 marked the birth of two modern nation-states and the end of British colonialism in South Asia. The move towards the 'two nation solution' was accompanied by an unprecedented mass migration (over twelve million people) to and from areas that would become India and Pakistan.

    Diverse representations of the violence that accompanied this migration (including the abduction and sexual assault of over 75,000 women) can be found in fictional, historical, autobiographical, and recent scholarly works.Unsettling Partitionexamines short stories, novels, testimonies, and historiography that represent women's experiences of the Partition. Counter to the move for 'recovery' that informs some historical research on testimony and fictional representations of women's Partition experiences, Jill Didur argues for an attentiveness to the literary qualities of women's narratives that interrogate and unsettle monolithic accounts of the period.

    Rather than attempt to seek out a 'hidden history' of this time, Didur examines how the literariness of Partition narratives undermines this possibility.Unsettling Partitionsreinterprets the silences found in women's accounts of sectarian violence that accompanied Partition (sexual assault, abduction, displacement from their families) as a sign of their inability to find a language to articulate their experience without invoking metaphors of purity and pollution. Didur argues that these silences and ambiguities in women's stories should not be resolved, accounted for, translated, or recovered but understood as a critique of the project of patriarchal modernity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8295-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: Unsettling Partition
    (pp. 3-20)

    The partition of India in 1947 marked the birth of two modern nationstates and the end of British colonialism in South Asia.² The move toward the ‘two-nation solution’ was accompanied by an unprecedented mass migration (between eight to ten million people) to and from areas that would become India and Pakistan. It also coincided with the violent deaths of an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 people (Menon,Borders35) and the sexual assault of over 75,000 women (Butalia,Silence3).³ In Calcutta, Direct Action Day (16 August 1946) – called by the Muslim League to demonstrate Muslim solidarity – was marked by sectarian...

  5. 1 ‘Making Men for the India of Tomorrow’? Gender and Nationalist Discourse in South Asia
    (pp. 21-41)

    R.K. Narayan’s novelWaiting for the Mahatmatells the story of an aimless young man, Sriram, who struggles to live up to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi in order to win the love of his faithful disciple, Bharati. Under Gandhi’s orders, Sriram travels around the countryside painting ‘Quit India’ on the walls of shops and houses in the villages he passes through. A chance encounter with a shopkeeper who boasts of stocking ‘Purely English biscuits’ (116) draws Sriram into a comical debate over Gandhi’sswadeshi(self-sufficiency) message that shakes his already fragile commitment to the movement. While Narayan uses what...

  6. 2 Fragments of Imagination: Rethinking the Literary in Historiography through Narratives of India’s Partition
    (pp. 42-66)

    The desire to be able to write an omniscient account of historical events is something most contemporary historiographers have openly abandoned. This shift in disciplinary practice is apparent in recent work on India’s partition. Here, historiographers have redirected their attention to exploring ‘the particular’ rather than ‘the general’ in an effort to disrupt the state’s universalizing and hegemonic historical narratives. To this end, historiographers have turned to literary texts and their representations of what has been called ‘the everyday’ (Pandey, ‘Prose’ 221) in search of alternative perspectives to that of the state’s central archive. The use of representations of ‘the...

  7. 3 Cracking the Nation: Memory, Minorities, and the Ends of Narrative in Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India
    (pp. 67-93)

    In chapter 1, I traced how the trope of ‘Woman’ became an alibi for colonialandnationalist interventions into the everyday lives of South Asians. Feminist critics have demonstrated that concern about women’s status in colonial and postcolonial contexts often has less to do with changing the actual material conditions of their lives and more to do withpatriarchal‘struggles over a community’s autonomy and the right to self-determination’ (Mani, ‘Multiple’ 30). For instance, it is now well established that in colonial and postcolonial representations ofsati(widow immolation) in India, ‘women become sites upon which various versions of scripture/tradition/law...

  8. 4 A Heart Divided: Education, Romance, and the Domestic Sphere in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column
    (pp. 94-124)

    As I discussed in chapter 1, from the early nineteenth century onwards, middle-class and elite women in India were socialized to assume roles as wives and mothers that were highly implicated in the patriarchal, anti-colonial, and nationalist movement. Nationalist discourse appropriated and further encoded a gendered construction of civil society into (masculine) public and (feminine) private realms, adding new symbolic meaning to gender relationships within the patriarchal family. Feminist critiques of this gendered division of civil society have led to critical investigations into the private sphere and the discourse of domesticity that dominates it.¹ As the work of these scholars...

  9. 5 At a Loss for Words: Reading the Silence in South Asian Women’s Partition Narratives
    (pp. 125-156)

    In previous chapters I have attempted to foreground some of the silences and gaps that inhabit literary texts that represent women’s experiences of partition. Veena Das’sCritical Events, Urvashi Butalia’sThe Other Side of Silence, and Ritu Menon’s and Kamala Bhasin’sBorders and Boundarieshave all attempted to make sense of the silences that punctuate the testimonies of people who lived through these events. Each of these books has a particular interest in thinking through the implications of silences in testimonies by women who were subject to sectarian violence and experienced social alienation as a result of the discourse of...

  10. Conclusion: Recovering the Nation?
    (pp. 157-162)

    Each chapter of this book has attempted to disrupt normalized assumptions about women’s experiences at the time of India’s partition and independence and, instead, to explore, via literature, how they are structured by the discourses of gender and nationalism. Rather than seek torestorethe experiences of women refugees at the time of partition (the impulse characteristic of modern history), I have argued that the work of Rajinder Singh Bedi, Bapsi Sidhwa, Attia Hosain, and Jyotirmoyee Devi underscores the absent-presence of these women’s stories from the history of independence in South Asia and suggests reasons for this ellipsis.

    Unsettling Partition...

  11. Appendix A
    (pp. 163-164)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 165-180)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-196)
  14. Index
    (pp. 197-201)