Gendered Violence, Nationalism and the Hegemonic Projects of Modern Nation States: A Reading of Kamlaben Patel’s Partition Memoir torn from the Roots

Abstract : Any attempt to describe the 1947 partition of British India into the two nation states of India and Pakistan inevitably brings to the fore the problematic configurations of modernity and tradition. The events that led to this moment of violent rupture were as much a result of a desire for modernity as the longing for national independence. The ambivalent nature of anticolonial nationalisms and their ambiguous relationship with notions of modular modernity has been a much debated issue in postcolonial studies. The involvement of women social workers as agents of the state in the recovery programme on Partition raises some interesting questions about their agency. On whose behalf did they act? How did they engage themselves with the metanarratives of community, religion and nation, both resisting and sustaining hegemonic projects of the state? The sense of divided agency of these women is nowhere more perceptible than in the narratives left behind by them and we are indeed fortunate to have accounts by Kamlaben Patel, Anis Kidwai and Damyanti

Sahgal. This article examines the question of agency, focusing on one such narrative—Kamlaben Patel’s partition memoir, Torn from the Roots, originally published in Gujarati as Mool Sotan

Ukhdelan in 1977, when the euphoria of independence had already faded into the shadow of the ‘Emergency’.

Keywords: British India partition, women social workers, abducted women, recovery operations/projects, anticolonial nationalism, religious identity, imagined communities, state agencies, sexual violence, national identity, patriarchal family, metanarratives, women’s gaency

Any attempt to describe the 1947 partition of British India into the two nation states of India and Pakistan inevitably brings to the fore the problematic configurations of modernity and tradition. The events that led to this moment of violent rupture were as much a result of a desire for modernity as the longing for national independence. The ambivalent nature of anticolonial nationalisms and their ambiguous relationship with notions of modular modernity has been a much debated issue in postcolonial studies1. In a vein of condescending Eurocentricism, Eric Hobsbawm has declared Europe the ‘original home’ of nationalism, denigrating all ‘the anti-imperial movements of any significance’ as mimicry of Europe, anti-Western xenophobia or ‘the natural high-sprits of martial tribes’ (Hobsbawm 151). Postcolonial critics like Partha Chatterjee, however, argue that the western understanding of nationalism/modernity is inapplicable to non-western constructs because to remove embedded culture and religion from the social construct is to negate the unique ideological virtues of a people, who are intimately attached to their customs and belief systems.

The pre-independence nationalist discourse in India was animated largely by the same debate with a number of leading political figures of the time— ranging from Gandhi to Nehru— voicing their different visions for the future of independent India. Obviously there could be no national consensus on any of these issues2. At the time of India’s independence/ partition, a certain model of political organization—the nation state— gained precedence because of political exigencies and the Indian nation state came into being. The newly established postcolonial state was no doubt an inheritor of the colonial state apparatus established by the British administration. In fact, the idea of India as a modern political entity emerged during the colonial period as a result of the regime’s attempts at classification and quantification. For instance, the spatial representation of what was to later become India was a product of the nascent cartographic techniques applied by the colonial state. It was James Rennell’s The Map of Hindoostan (1788) which for the first time represented a comprehensive view of India in four different sheets which could be put together. The statistics collected by the state helped the quantification

of goods and resources, and the tabulation of groups and people. Besides, colonial sociology and other orientalist discourses, apparently powered by a rational/rigorous methodology, engendered certain concrete categories based on caste/religion/community.3 The uncompromising logic of rationality and a strong impulse to essentialise differences have been identified as key features of modernity.

Having created a tangible territory and a well-defined subject population, the colonial state would introduce modern representative political institutions in India as part of its modernization project. With religious categories—Hindu, Muslim and Sikh—readily available, it became natural that various groups began to stake claim to the little morsels of power the colonial administration offered them. Thus began the discourse of communalism in modern Indian history—a definite by- product of the British policy of divide and rule—making religious identity the chief determinant of nationality/citizenship. It was the tripartite politics of communalism involving the Muslim League, The Hindu Mahasabha and the Indian National Congress which ultimately resulted in the bloody sundering of the subcontinent in 1947.

Though theoretical opinion varies with regard to the relationship between Indian nationalism and modernity, there seems to be a general consensus regarding the former’s hegemonic relationship with gender/ female sexuality. Thus, Partha Chatterjee, a leading voice in the debate on anticolonial nationalisms would conceive of an inner/private and outer/public spheres for Indian nationalism occupied by the women and the men respectively (Chatterjee 116). According to him, towards the beginning of the twentieth century, nationalism ‘resolved’ the women’s question by ‘situating the “women’s question” in a wider domain of sovereignty, far removed from the arena of political contest with the state’ (Chatterjee 117). In his cartography of Indian cultural modernity, the outer sphere is the domain of political action and it is here that the superiority of western modernity as represented by the colonial state regime is accepted. The inner sphere of sovereignty refers to the spiritual as opposed to the material and it is here that the East is superior. This sphere is assumed as the repository of cultural tradition and women associated in patriarchy, along with the domestic space they occupied, were made to embody it. Thus, the Indian woman got transfigured as a cultural sign representing tradition rather than a material being with a

social and political identity. Chatterjee astutely observes: ‘Indian nationalism, in demarcating a political position opposed to colonial rule, took up the women’s question as a problem already constituted for it: namely, as a problem of Indian tradition’ (Chatterjee 119).

Lata Mani, in her much discussed work on sati, observes that the nationalist appropriation of women as a signifier of tradition can be traced back to a moment in a larger discursive history beginning with the nineteenth century in which womanhood appears as a ‘sign’ in the political discourses of India. For her, these signs are not representative of women per se but signify something else like ‘tradition’ (Mani 88-126). Thus, years before the arrival of the idea of nationalism in India, we find the existence of a gendered political discourse ascribing a cultural identity on the body of women. What Chatterjee and Mani mark specifically in their works is the negation of the agency and identity of the Indian woman in the political discourses of the time.

Walter Benjamin’s key insight into the temporal paradox that lies at the heart of modernity is equally applicable to the temporal contradictions that haunt all nationalisms. Homi K. Bhabha observes: ‘Nations, like narratives, lose their origins in the myths of time and only fully realize their horizons in the mind’s eye’ (Bhabha 1). This temporal disjunction, this incongruity between the constant longing for a past and the equally powerful urge to break away from the very same past, negating it, is often resolved by figuring the anomaly as a natural division of gender. In the ensuing emblematics of gender, women become the embodiments of the atavistic body of national tradition, sustaining the principle of continuity. Men, on the other hand, are conceived as national modernity’s progressive agents, thus embodying the notion of a break with the tradition.

In fact, nationalism, right from its early days has been a gendered discourse as all nations thrive on powerful conceptions of gender. No member of the international order of nation states can boast of providing men and women equal rights. Nations are imagined communities (Anderson 1), systems of cultural representations that control the gendered, preferential allocation of the national resources to its citizens and all nationalisms have historically facilitated the institutionalization of gender differences. Cynthia Enloe has aptly observed that nationalisms

have ‘typically sprung from masculinised memory, masculinised humiliation and masculinised hope’ (Enloe 44). More recent studies of nationalism have focused on its invented nature, so much so that very little has been written on its problematic relationship with gender4.

The moment of triumph for both Indian and Pakistani nationalisms in 1947 was also a moment of trauma, marked by the bloody partition of the country. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs massacred one another in a moment of communal frenzy. Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin remark: ‘The scale and intensity of the violence in Punjab continue to horrify us even today, virtually paralysing any effort to fully comprehend its meaning’ (Menon and Kamala 38). For a contemporary historian like Gyanendra Pandey, it was violence that constituted the partition for many. Pandey writes: ‘Perhaps the most obvious sign of the Partition of India in 1947 was the massive violence that accompanied, or as I would argue, constituted it’ (Pandey (1994) 189). Estimates of the dead vary from two hundred thousand as per contemporary police and army reports (Moon

293) to the more recent figure of two million. Urvashi Butalia settles down for the round figure of about a million (Butalia (1998) 3) as does Patrick French (349). However, as French puts it: ‘the truth is that the number of people who died across the subcontinent in the late 1947 and early 1948 will never be known’ (French 349).

The Partition also meant the abduction, mutilation and sexual violation of thousands of innocent women and girls who ended up in the wrong side of the border. The official estimate of the number of abducted women was placed at 50,000 Muslim women in India and 33,000 Hindu and Sikh women in Pakistan (Menon and Kamala 70). Ravikant and Tarun K. Saint propose a figure of over 100,000 (xiii) while Butalia says ‘about 75,000 women are thought to have been abducted and raped by men of religions different from their own and indeed sometimes by men of their own religion’ (Butalia (1998) 3). According to feminist scholars Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, co-authors of the pioneering work, Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition, the story of 1947, while being one of successful attainment of independence, is also ‘a gendered narrative of displacement and dispossession and widespread communal violence’ (Menon and Kamala 9). Their work foregrounds the range of sexual savageries to which women were subjected during the Partition. They write:

The range of sexual violation…stripping, parading naked, mutilating and disfiguring; tattooing or branding the breasts and genitalia with triumphal slogans; amputating breasts; knifing open the womb; raping, of course; killing foetuses—is shocking not only for its savagery, but for what it tells us about women as objects in male constructions of their own honour. (Menon and Kamala 43)

Menon and Kamala discuss how the female body becomes the site of conflict and contestation during periods of crisis like the partition. The two authors assert: ‘In the context of partition, it engraved the division of India into India and Pakistan on the women of both religious communities in a way that they became the respective countries, indelibly imprinted by the Other’ (Menon and Kamala 43). Women’s bodies came to be considered by men of rival communities as a territory to be assailed and conquered, and by the family as the mark of familial honour which meant women became the targets of men not only of the ‘Other’ community but also of their own. Veena Das, another commentator on the partition observes: ‘The woman’s body became a sign through which men communicated with each other. The lives of women were framed by the notion that they were to bear permanent witness to the violence of Partition. Thus, the political programme of creating the two nations of India and Pakistan was inscribed upon the bodies of women’ (Das 56).

The analysis offered by Menon and Kamala makes it amply clear that partition violence can no longer be seen as merely violence against women but as gendered violence.5 In fact, their pioneering effort in this direction must be read together with the work of other feminist scholars like Veena Das, Urvashi Butalia and Anne Hardgrove.6 Their work, especially with regard to the recovery operation launched by the Indian and Pakistani states to reclaim and restore the women abducted during the partition chaos to their ‘original’ families and communities, has brought the aspect of gendered violence sponsored by the state agencies to the limelight. It is perhaps not wrong to argue that the major hegemonic project of the modern world is the project of the nation state and the recovery project provides a paradigm to consider the ways in which the hegemonic projects of the state endorse, engender and call for gendered violence.

Of all the modes of gendered violence enacted on women’s bodies during the partition, the question of abduction was the most difficult one. Immediately after the partition the state agencies had been flooded with complaints from the refugees about the missing/lost women of their families, seeking their recovery by the government. In response, the two nascent nation states, at an inter-Dominion conference held in Lahore on December 6, 1947, arrived at a rough outline for the implementation of the ‘Central Recovery Operation.’ Later, on December 19, 1947, the Indian Constituent Assembly, after much heated argument, passed a more detailed bill on the issue, clearly defining an abducted person7. It is obvious that the bill was to be used as a pretext for returning Hindu and Sikh women to the Hindu and Sikh communities, and the Muslim women to the Muslim community. The two quarrelling neighbours had no confusion and often corroborated in this regard. Even the self-declared secular state like India would define the national identity of women on the basis of their religious identity. It is interesting to note that missing men did not come under the purview of the Bill under question.

In her incisive analysis of the situation, Butalia explains the reasons that prompted the patriarchal state to take up the recovery and restoration project. The loss of women to the members of the other community meant the loss of honour for the men of a particular community and their inability to enact their role as protectors of women amounted to their emasculation. As the men could not take up this Herculean task themselves, they called upon the state—the new omnipotent patriarch, the nucleus of the newly imagined national family—to exercise its agency on their behalf.

For the post-colonial, deeply contested, fragile and vulnerable state, this was an exercise in restoring its legitimacy. Indeed, I would even suggest that the legitimacy of the state at this time depended very much on this venture of the recovery of what had been lost: prestige, women and perhaps property. Thus the state acted on its own behalf and on behalf of those communities who appealed to it and invested it with agency on their behalf. The situation was an extraordinary one: in a sense male authority within the family had collapsed, families had been unable to protect their own women, so they appealed to the state. And for

the self legitimation of the state and the community, the question of gender became crucial. (Butalia (1993) 20)

Veena Das, in a similar vein, further elaborates that restoring women to their homes was, ‘a matter of national honour’ (Das 66). However, the ‘honour’ indicated here was intrinsic in the sexual value of the women each masculine state tried to recover. Das proposes that ‘this interest in women was not premised upon their definition as citizens, but as sexual and reproductive beings’ (Das 68). Thus, the state’s efforts at recovery did little to mitigate the sexual degradation that the women had undergone during abduction. On the contrary, it entrenched their position as sexual objects and further denied them any agency by making their recovery a matter of legislative discourse.

However, though the state was acting on behalf of its men folk, it had to involve the agency of a number of women for the successful execution of its recovery mission. Mridula Sarabhai8, appointed as the Chief All India Officer, was given the overall responsibility of the operation. It was to be carried under the aegis of the women’s section of the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation, headed by Rameshwari Nehru. Assisting Mridula Sarabhai in the mission were a number of able women social workers like Kamlaben Patel, Begum Anis Kidwai and Damyanti Sahgal. In entrusting the women social workers with the subtle task of recovering abducted women, the state accomplished a number of objectives. For one thing, it could camouflage its male bias by engaging women themselves in the process of recovery. Also, it was believed that women could better ‘convince’ the reluctant abductees about the(ir?) need to return to the national-patriarchal family. It must be noted here that all women associated with the recovery project did not share the same opinion about its modus operandi. Mridula Sarabhai firmly believed that no woman could be happy with her abductor and strongly stood for coercive recoveries but Rameshwari Nehru was against forceful recoveries. The latter believed that woman’s will was not taken into consideration and she was ‘once again reduced to goods and chattel status without having the right to decide her own future or mould her own life’ (qtd. in Menon and Kamala 102).

The involvement of women social workers as agents of the state in the recovery programme raises some interesting questions about their

agency. On whose behalf did they act? How did they engage themselves with the metanarratives of community, religion and nation, both resisting and sustaining hegemonic projects of the state? The sense of divided agency of these women is nowhere more perceptible than in the narratives left behind by them and we are indeed fortunate to have accounts by Kamlaben Patel, Anis Kidwai and Damyanti Sahgal9. In the remaining part of this article, I look at the question of agency, focusing on one such narrative—Kamlaben Patel’s partition memoir, Torn from the Roots10 (originally published in Gujarati as Mool Sotan Ukhdelan in 1977, when the euphoria of independence had already faded into the shadow of the ‘Emergency’).

Even a cursory look at the recent literature available on the partition brings to light a certain move away from modernist notions of history. Gyanendra Pandey has rightly remarked that ‘the historian needs to struggle to recover “marginal” voices and memories, forgotten dreams and signs of resistance, if history is to be anything more than a celebratory account of the march of certain victorious concepts and powers like the nation-state, bureaucratic rationalism, capitalism, science and progress’ (Pandey (1994) 214). However, it is doubtful whether Patel’s text written from a woman’s point of view, can be seen a ‘fragment’ of history that sternly challenges the dominant history of the partition. In her preface to the memoir, she declares that ‘all the incidents given here are true’ (Patel xiii). This truth claim, in a way, takes her work closer to not only the Truth games of modern history but also the officially sanctioned narratives on the partition.

The attempt in this paper is to undertake a close reading of Patel’s text, revealing her ambivalent responses to the ‘reality’ of the women’s experiences in the course of the recovery project. The intention is not to discount the valiant services offered by the women social workers like Patel who even risked their own lives at a time of huge human crisis; the contention being that these women, knowingly or unknowingly, became the guilty partners in a tactical collusion the state forged with the social workers. In fact, Patel herself has narrated several instances in which she acted on behalf of the women rather than in the interest of the state and the chapter of her book devoted to the sad plight of undesirable children born out of forced sexual unions is particularly poignant, fully revealing her feminine sensibility (144-48).

Though these agent-women themselves are aware of the contradictions that plagued the recovery project and freely express their ensuing mental turmoil, they seem unperturbed by any such considerations in the disposal of their ‘duty’ as agents of the state. Here, they seem to act as the modern citizens of the state with clearly defined civil and domestic concerns. Kamlaben, for example, ‘speaks sometimes as an “‘Indian”, other times as a “Hindu”, sometimes as a “social worker”, as a “nationalist” and sometimes, by her own definition, as a “woman”, this last category subsuming, often, all others’ (Butalia, (1993) 20). At one point in her narrative, she says: ‘But in all these formalities no importance was given to the wishes of those women while taking decisions about them, and we, the so-called social workers were sending women and children from one country to another as if they were some inanimate objects. We also took satisfaction in doing some noble work11’ (Patel 72). It is interesting to see that she is able to mention in the same breathe, both her displeasure with the negation of the rights of the abducted women and her satisfaction in ‘abducting’ them again as part of a ‘noble work.’

Her characteristic ambivalence comes to the fore as she describes the difficulties the social workers faced in running the camps. After listing out a number of practical hitches, she adds: ‘And above all they had to be vigilant enough to prevent some rebellious rescued women from polluting the atmosphere of the camp’ (xxii). Obviously, the reference is to the abusive animosity exhibited by some women ‘rescued’ by the state against their wish. By describing the rebellious women as ‘polluted,’ she fails to see through the categories of the ‘pure woman’ and the ‘polluted woman’ created by the state, falling prey to the official line that transgressive marriages and conversions are illegal. It is another thing that in the same memoir she relates the story of a woman called Sudarshan whom she gives the choice to stay back with her ‘Other’ husband if she so wishes (49-54).

Repeatedly in her narrative she laments over the objectification of women during and immediately after the partition. The translator of her text, Uma Randeria remarks: ‘In an introspective mood Kamlaben asked whether what she did was all that “noble.” At times she felt that the women rescued from both sides of the borders were looked upon as

“objects” rather than human beings’ (ix). However, one of the anecdotes she narrates presents herself as implicated in the objectification of women. It is the story of ‘a beautiful young widow’ whose ‘beauty came in the way of whatever task she undertook. Men were attracted by her beauty and followed her everywhere and women were jealous of her and harboured many suspicions about her’ (135). It was the sensuous beauty of this widow that helped when Kamla Patel had to get a return bus ticket for an ‘honest worker of National Conference in Kashmir who was somehow entrapped in the so-called Azad Kashmir’ (136). Kamla was sure that she would be denied the ticket if she personally asked for it. She tells the widow: ‘If I go across myself and ask for a seat in the bus, I will be told that there are no vacant seats. But that same officer will not refuse your request and in fact will be pleased to see you’ (137). She continues: ‘Engage the officer in light conversation. If everyone is having tea, do have tea with them and have this task accomplished. I am quite sure that they cannot refuse you’ (138). The task was accomplished and the two women pride themselves in the glory of saving a nationalist’s life for the motherland!

Throughout her narrative her pride in being an ‘Indian’ shines through, often at the expense of Pakistan and its founding fathers. M. A. Jinnah12, the undisputed leader of the Muslim League is often taken to task as the sole architect of the bloody partition while the Indian nationalists like Nehru escape scot free. On the occasion of Jinnah’s death, she observes that she ‘found that the Muslim refugees who had come from U. P. and Bihar showed hardly any signs of sorrow at Jinnah’s death’ (119). She further comments: ‘When Quaid-i-Azam died, the Muslims of U. P. and Bihar had said that, “had he died a year earlier, we would not have been thrown out of our homes and our villages.” This gives ample proof to the fact that the people did realize—although too late—their leader’s mistakes’ (107).

Her blind commitment to the Indian nation/state comes through in her description of two incidents involving the Indian personnel. She whole-heartedly praises the valour and courage exhibited by the Indian army in fighting a set of marauders who ambushed a refugee train carrying passengers from Rawalpindi to Amritsar. She writes: ‘The Indian army is well known for its bravery; it had been trained under the strict discipline

by the British, and had a sense of pride in the newly gained independence of the country. In the gun-battle that followed, 58 of the 60 military men were killed, and the other two were seriously injured. It was only after this that the crowd could lay their hands on the passengers’ (62). However, such a keen eye for description is evidently missing while she mentions the rape of recovered Hindu girls by Indian personnel13. Her narrative attempts to hush up the story, just like the women involved in the recovery project did immediately after the unfortunate event had taken place. ‘We were aghast when they told us that while bringing them to Lahore, Indian men had raped them. We tried our best to prevent the news from reaching the Pakistani authorities’ (19).

The tendency to silence the unpalatable experiences—especially those of women— is characteristic of traumatic events like the Partition. Their silence, socially structured and enforced by the (patriarchal) family and the nation state, constitutes a metaphor for their loss of social agency. Veena Das astutely observes in her article, Language and Body: Transactions in the Construction of Pain: ‘When asking women to narrate their experiences of the Partition I found a zone of silence around the event’ (84). Metaphoric or oblique language was often used to describe the violence in general, but particular/personal experiences of abduction, sexual violation or forced abortion of pregnancy were never articulated. Das further comments that,

This code of silence protected women who had been brought back to their families or who had been married by stretching norms of kinship and affinity since the violation of their bodies was never made public. Rather than bearing witness to the disorder that they had been subjected to, the metaphor that they used was of a woman drinking the poison and keeping it within her. (84-85)

It is perhaps the collusion with the above discourse of silence which makes Kamla patel’s narrative avoid a number of dark aspects of the recovery project. For instance, though she repeatedly mentions the camp for women at Jullundar which offered a three month long ‘medical treatment’ for the returned women, nowhere does she disclose that the camp was in fact a centre of illegal abortions. Urvashi Butalia corroborates this in a personal interview with another social worker, Damyanti Sahgal

(Butalia (1993) 19). In a later interview with Menon and Kamala, however, Patel herself acknowledges the complicity of the state in terminating ‘undesirable’ pregnancies resulting from ‘illegal’ unions through the ‘medical check up’ done at the Jullundar camp (Menon and Kamala 83). As Veena Das describes in Critical Events, the big political question of the day was: ‘What happens when women are impregnated by “other” men and give birth to the “wrong” children?’ (56). The ‘in-between’ status of such ‘illegitimate children’ born out of mixed parentage could seriously challenge the legitimacy of a state which defined its citizens in terms of their religious identity and such children had to be done away with! They simply could not be accepted into the male-centred national family that thrived on female honour.

The recovery operation was at one level an attempt to recover the lost prestige of the masculine state and it would not be complete without making the polluted women respectable once again by ensconcing them again at the centre of the patriarchal family fold—in well-defined gender roles as good daughters, wives and mothers14. This, in a way, would amount to subjecting them once again to the limitations on their sexuality and individuality. Anne McClintock in her famous essay, ‘Family Feuds: Gender, Nationalism and the Family,’ considers woman’s relation to the nation ‘as indirect, mediated through her social relation to men, her national identity lying in her unpaid services and sacrifices through husband and family to the volk’ (69).

In this scenario, it is hardly surprising that many of the social workers involved in the recovery operation wanted to see the recovered women get married and live happily ever after, in the cosy security offered by the (national) family. Kamla Patel, Damyanti Sahgal and Krishna Thapar—all believed that a successful marriage was the ultimate goal for all recovered women and took great pains to arrange alliances for the recovered girls. Patel voices her happiness about her accidental meeting with a girl she had rescued during the recovery operation. She writes: ‘After sometime, Veera’s parents found a suitable man and got her married. After many years, I happened to meet her in Delhi. She was then a mother of two children and seemed happy with her life’ (143).

The involvement of women in the recovery operation thus raises several issues about the agency of women as victims, witnesses and

perpetrators of gendered violence in times of great human crises like the partition. Discussing the question of identity with regard to that of the social workers, Menon and Kamala characterize their position as ‘betwixt and between’ (198). For them, the role of the women social workers must be seen as ‘sometimes complicit, other times transgressive but never really passive’(200). They argue:

Precisely because Partition was such a disruptive moment and a time of great social dislocation, the women social workers found it possible to slip through the cracks and exercise their agency on behalf of the women whenever they could. But it should not surprise us if they often ended reinforcing patriarchal attitudes, for it is characteristic of patriarchies that they implicate women in a consensual relationship even as they create the necessity for their resistance. (201)

As for Kamla Patel, the recovery operation was a phenomenal ‘success’ and in the entire memoir, she narrates just one temporary failure. Regarding this temporary setback, she writes towards the end of her work: ‘In the entire history of recovering abducted women this was the one case in which we suffered defeat and humiliation. However, after much tremendous efforts, we did succeed in tracing Ghulam Abbas’ daughter’ (181). But even as she expresses her satisfaction in accomplishing the task assigned to her, she expresses her doubtfulness about its ethical justifiability: ‘Even after a great deal of deliberation, I could not make up my mind whether individual freedom should be suppressed by rules which had been framed, keeping in mind the good of society at large’ (73). The state and its agencies projected the recovery of the abducted women as a humanitarian response to the sad plight of the women-victims of the partition. However, the contradictions ingrained in the recovery process (and also the narrative of Patel) imply the kind of ‘violence and idealism’ that ‘lies at the heart of the process by which the narratives of citizenship and modernity come to find a natural home in “history”’ (Chakrabarty 22).


  1. A number of contemporary scholars like Partha Chatterjee, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Ashis Nandy and Arjun Appadurai have written about modernity in the postcolonial context. See Chatterjee’s Nationalist

Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (1986), Chakrabarty’s Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (2000) and Appadurai’s Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (1996).

  1. Gandhi, an avowed critic of modernity, was highly critical of the nation state as an inherently violent form of political organization. Tagore, another leading light of Indian nationalism also denounced the nation state model as exploitative. However, as Partha Chatterjee has consistently argued, the post-colonial administrators adopted the paradigm of nation-state and thus blinded themselves to new possibilities of thinking outside western categories. It is these new possibilities that Chatterjee strives for in his more recent works.
  2. For a detailed discussion, see Gyanendra Pandey’s The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (1990). Pandey argues that communalism is ‘another characteristic and paradoxical product of the age of Reason (and of Capital) which also gave us [Indians] colonialism and nationalism’ (5) rather than being the eternal ‘pathological condition’ of Indian society. More specifically, he identifies a few historical forces that gave rise to the politics of communalism over the course of the nineteenth century which includes ‘colonial governmentality’ ( in the Foucauldian sense).
  3. More recent work on nationalism seems to focus on its inventedness. For instance, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1991) and Homi K. Bhabha’s Nation and Narration (1990). Feminist scholars who have written on the gendered nature of nationalism include Deniz Kandiyoti, Marie Leech, Nira Yuval-Davis, Marilyn Lake, Rian Voet, Anne Mcclintock and Malathi de Alwis. For a broad discussion of the idea, see Woman-Nation-State (1989) edited by Nira Yuval-Davis and Floya Anthias.
  4. As against violence against women, gendered violence may be defined as the programmatic and institutionally sanctioned violence that works through the constructs of gender and often at the crossway of sexuality, religion and national identity.
  5. Other works in this category include Butalia’s thought-provoking

The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India (1998), Veena

Das’ Critical Events (1994) and Anne Hardgrove’s article, ‘South Asian Women’s Communal Identities’ in Economic and Political Weekly, Sept. 30, 1995. However, recent feminist research on the recovery of abducted women has been critiqued by scholars like Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal. They argue that the feminist research on the state’s treatment of abducted women ‘dramatizes, if not romanticizes, examples of murderers and rapists turned into besotted husbands by their former victims.’ See their work, Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy. New York: Routledge, 1998. p.198.

  1. According to the definition in the Bill, ‘abducted person means a male child under the age of sixteen years or a female of whatever age who is, or immediately before the first day of March 1947, was a Muslim and who, on or after that day has become separated from his or her family, and in the latter case includes a child born to any such female after the said date.’
  2. Mridula Sarabhai was one of the finest administrators of independent India. Kamla Patel pays a fine tribute to her in Torn from the Roots. For details regarding her life and work, see Aparna Basu’s Mridula Sarabhai: Rebel with a Cause (New Delhi: OUP, 1996).
  3. For example, Begum Anis Kidwai’s Azadi Ki Chaon Mein, New Delhi, National Book Trust, 1990.
  4. For brief analyses of Torn from the Roots, see Menon and Kamala (Borders and Boundaries), Veena Das (Critical Events), Urvashi Butalia ( ‘Community, Violence and Gender: On Women’s Agency during Partition’, Economic and Political Weekly, Apr. 24, 1993) and Gyanendra Pandey (‘The Prose of Otherness’ in Subaltern Studies Reader. Vol. 9. Ed. Gyanendra Pandey and Ramachandra Guha. New Delhi: OUP, 1994).
  5. Similar statements of ambivalence made by other social workers have been documented. Urvashi Butalia’s article, ‘Community, Violence and Gender: On Women’s Agency during Partition’ (Economic and Political Weekly, Apr. 24, 1993) documents such ambivalent responses by Anis Kidwai and Damyanti Sahgal.
  6. Jinnah’s role in the partition has been radically revised by the work of the revisionist historians like Ayesha Jalal. Her seminal study,

The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (1985) confidently yet controversially claims that Jinnah wanted only equal stakes for the Muslims, not Pakistan. For a favourable portrayal of Jinnah in fiction, see Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice- Candy-Man (1991).

  1. For a poignant treatment of such an incident in fiction, See Saadat Hasan Manto’s Urdu short story, ‘The Return’ (Khol Do) in Saadat Hasan Manto: Selected Stories. New Delhi: Penguin, 2007.
  2. For key insights into the lives of such women, see Rajinder Singh Bedi’s short story, ‘Lajwanti’— that depicts the experience of a local community’s involvement with the activities of the central recovery operation after partition and the ensuing trauma of a woman recovered and restored to her family— in Stories About the Partition of India. (Ed. Alok Bhalla. Vol.1. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 1994. 55- 66).


Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991.

Bhabha, Homi K., ed. Nation and Narration. London: Routledge, 1990.

Butalia, Urvashi. ‘Community, State and Gender: On Women’s Agency during Partition.’ Economic and Political Weekly 28.17 (1993): WS 12-WS 24.

  • – -. ‘Abducted and Widowed Women: Questions of Sexuality and Citizenship during Partition.’ Embodiment: Essays on Gender and Identity. Ed. M. Thapan. New Delhi: OUP, 1997: 91-106.
  • – – . The Other side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India. New Delhi: Penguin, 1998.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. ‘Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘Indian Pasts?’ Representations 37 (1992): 1-26.

Chatterjee, Partha. The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories.

Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

Das, Veena. Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India.

New Delhi: OUP. 1994. – -. ‘Language and Body: Transactions in the Construction of Pain.’ Daedalus

125.1 (1996): 67-91.

Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. London: Pandora P, 1989.

French, Patrick. Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division.

London: Harper Collins, 1997.

Hobsbawm, Eric. Nations and Nationalism since 1780. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Mani, Lata. ‘Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India.’ Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial Indian History. Ed. Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid. Berkeley: California UP, 1998: 88-126.

McClintock, Anne. ‘Family Feuds: Gender, Nationalism and the Family.’

Feminist Review 44 (1993): 61-80.

Menon, Ritu and Kamla Bhasin. Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1998.

Moon, Penderel. Divide and Quit: An Eyewitness’ Account of the Partition of India.

New Delhi: OUP, 1998.

Pandey, Gyanendra. The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India.

New Delhi: OUP, 1992.

  • – -. ‘The Prose of Otherness.’ Subaltern Studies Reader. Vol. 9. Ed. Gyanendra Pandey and Ramachandra Guha. New Delhi: OUP, 1994. 188-221.

Patel, Kamlaben. Torn from the Roots: A Partition Memoir. Trans. Uma Randeira.

New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2006.

Ravikant and Tarun K. Saint. Introduction. Translating Partition. Ed. Ravikant and Tarun K. Saint. New Delhi: Katha, 2001: xi-xxx.


GIREESH J. Is Doctoral Research Fellow at the Institute of English, University of Kerala.

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Is Doctoral Research Fellow at the Institute of English, University of Kerala.

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