A Study of Trends in Indian Partition Literature

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TERM PAPER- Twentieth Century Indian Writing (i)
By- Asmita Jain (Ist Year- Nov. 2011) Partition: Through The Eyes Of A Woman

The Partition of India was the geographical division of colonial India into two bordering nation states of India and Pakistan based on religious demographics.1 It was proposed as an unsavoury but necessary accompaniment to the Independence of India from the British Empire. However, it was not only a diplomatic and administrative exercise but rather had a long-lasting psychological impact on the human population of these areas. Though Bapu2 was firmly against this idea, it was reluctantly accepted by Nehru and Jinnah as the only solution to the growing communal divide between the Muslim and Hindu communities.3 However, what the political class had never predicted was the unprecedented amount of bloodshed, violence and widespread civil unrest that followed in its wake. Even years after this event, the perpetrators and the victims are still baffled as to the cause of this “madness”4 that gripped civilized society. In the aftermath, historians pretended to ignore it terming it unfortunate but somewhat inevitable while literature tried to come to terms with its bestiality and future implications. The authorial response of the first generation was severely limited however due to a level of emotional attachment and involvement in the subject matter. They lacked perspective and varied in two ways: either they were very brief and lacked empathy or tended to be voyeuristic in nature. The official responses attempted to historicise Partition through statistics, facts and figures while literature, to the contrary attempted to give voice to subaltern perspectives personalising victim narratives. Despite such a movement, it was not until the 70’s that it was realised that hardly any attention was paid to the experiences of women during Partition. There was a deep reluctance to address the gender atrocities committed during Partition and it manifested itself through the invisibilisation of women voices. Although it had been clear from the start that the worst sufferers of Partition violence had been women5, a stoic silence upon the tragic reality had been maintained. Many of these women had led forgotten lives and their trauma suppressed in an attempt to forget the onslaught upon their bodies and minds. Therefore, renewed efforts began to document and portray the forgotten stories of such women. But it was a complex problem in many ways. Partition had had a multifaceted impact on the women of India and Pakistan that not only defined their coming lives but also impacted the future generations as psycho-somatic memories and construction of familial structures post-Partition.6 Literature took the initiative of this task: there were two major strains of women oriented Partition narratives that emerged in the period thus. One school of thought dealt with Partition as a backdrop to the “larger narrative”. In such stories, the lives of the main characters were highlighted and their lives were allegorised to represent the trauma of the nation itself. The stories of their existence were represented dually: as human beings involved in personal dramas and as social creatures part of a larger mainframe. Their places within the higher superstructure and as creatures dominated by the larger contexts were analysed by writers. A startling example of this was “The Clear Light Of Day” by Anita Desai which never referred to Partition in specific incidents but rather subtle, broken reflections into the people whose day-to-day lives were affected by the growing communal tension and changing socio-political equations. It refers to the ties of family, friendship, kinship and love that were abruptly ruptured by the literal division of the nation. There were novels such as “Ice-Candy Man” by Bapsi Sidhwa that looks at Partition from the ‘outside’. The narrator Lenny is imbued with...
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