Partition: The Long Shadow

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Urvashi Butalia
Zubaan, 2015 - History - 270 pages
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Seen as the dark side of independence, the tumultuous Partition of British India into the nations of India and Pakistan in 1947 has not really been explored in all its aspects, and yet its long shadow and enduring legacies are ever present in the lives of people in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India in very fundamental ways. The borders that were drawn in 1947 and that were redrawn in 1971, following the Independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan, divided families, friends, institutions, histories and hearts.

Even today, more than six decades after the event, Indians and Pakistanis cannot easily travel to each other s countries. Even today, more than thirty years after Bangladesh split from Pakistan, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis carry a sense of hostility towards each other. The essays in this volume explore new ground in Partition research, looking into areas such as art, literature, migration, notions of foreignness and belonging among others.


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'Partition: The Long Shadow' touches upon some of the untouched or say little touched facets of the partition of India. Thus, Siddiq Wahid's 'Converging Histories and Societal Change: The Case of Ladakh' deals with the impact that partition had on such 'far-off' regions like Ladakh. As it says, ' if there was any idyllic atmosphere of co-existence, it was shattered between 1947 and 1950, never to return to the earlier levels'. THe essay goes on to list the ways in which Ladakh's polity, economy, society and culture got transformed by the after-effects of partition. It advocates a much wider study of partition from the 'peripheral regions' rather than focussing solely on Punjab or Bengal.
Similarly, Rita Kothari's 'From Conclusion to Beginnings: My Journey with Partition' deals with the myriad experiences and the impact that partition had on the Sindhi community on both sides of the border. Sanjiv Baruah's 'Partition and the Politics of Citizenship in Assam' tries to analyse the impact of partition on Assam. 'The weight of the past ' has weighed heavily on Assam till present times when it continues to suffer from the problem of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. He sees the vote-bank politics as the reason behind the illegal influx problem. He questions the finality of partition and the very logic behind the creation of sovereign nation-states based on religion. He sees it as 'container model of national sovereignty which has never quite matched up with ground realities'.
Jhuma Sen's 'Reconstructing Marichjhapi: From Margins and Memories of Migrant Lives' covers the complexity of Bengal partition and the way in which the entire issue of resettlement of refugees, particularly the low caste refugees, was dealt in an ad hoc and inhuman manner. The lack of foresightedness in Dandakaranya Project Area Plan and subsequent failure of it has also been dealt with. The Left-front under Jyoti Basu's promises to resettle the refugees from East Bengal in the Sunderbans and betrayal later on had led to the Marichjhapi massacre of 1978. It is only in recent times that the mainstream history has begun to talk about this event.
Andrew Whitehead's essay covers a fascinating subject like the influence of communists in the Kashmir movement of the 1940s. Sukeshi Kamra's essay discusses the various different ways in which the traumatic history of partition can be engaged with. She argues that the best in partition historiography has formulated generative questions about partition, violence in particular. The representation of partition on the lives of common people, particularly women, have been adequately analysed by looking at the line-drawings on the subject by S.L. Parasher. Prajna Paramita Parasher, his daughter, looks at her father's drawings and interprets line drawings for us.
Overall, the book is a must-read for those who are interested in studying partition from a wider perspective as it covers areas hitherto untouched by other writings on Partition.
Shashi Bhushan Deo
JNU, New Delhi

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About the author (2015)

Urvashi Butalia is the director and founder of Zubaan and the author and editor of numerous books, including The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India.

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