AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 318

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Session 318: Outside the National Fold: Partition Subjectivities, Pluralism, and Resistance

Organizer: Shuchi Kapila, Grinnell College, USA

Discussant: Meena Khandelwal, University of Iowa, USA

This panel explores different subjectivities arising from the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 that resist the geographical, social, and psychic terrain articulated by the new nation. They critique the violence of Partition and the simplistic celebration of the new nation. The four papers here take up the complexity of the articulation of loyalties to homeland, existing cultural traditions, gendered and new national identities. This interdisciplinary panel takes up film, literature, and oral histories and will include texts on both the Panjab and Bengal partitions. Nicola Mooney argues for "the impossibility of a sovereign Sikh subjectivity within the postcolonial nation" which is linked to the "gendering of Partition traumas." Harveen Mann discusses the influence of Sufi poets on Amrita Pritam's description of a syncretic Panjabi cultural identity. In her study of Bangladeshi writer Hasan Azizul Huq's *Agunpakhi*, Debali Mookerjea-Leonard discusses the writer's interrogation of the logic of partition. Shuchi Kapila's oral histories of the partition in Panjab will explore how survivors narrate their memories of the event and their subsequent lives as citizen-subjects of a new nation.

Absent Women, Bivalent Masculinities and Impossible Sovereignties: Sikhs in Partition Cinema
Nicola Mooney, University of the Fraser Valley, Canada

This paper will explore the gendering of Partition traumas in cinematic (and where related, literary) representations of the Sikh experience of 1947. Among those Partition films with Sikh protagonists (e.g. *Gadar*, *Ek Prem Katha*, *Shaheed-e-Mohabbat*, *Earth*, *Partition*, *Khamosh Pani*), few feature Sikh women, while Sikh men are depicted as emasculated or hypermasculinized, and often in partnership with Muslim women. I will suggest that the Sikh male is a polysemic figure in Partition cinema, variously bearer of martial traditions and defender of the nation, refused sovereign subjectivity and thus impotent, marginalized cipher of Indo-Pakistani desire, and, ambivalent guardian of Sikh womanhood and community honour.

Sufi Pluralism and Punjabiyat: Amrita Pritam (Re)Writes “Partition”
Harveen Mann, Loyola University, Chicago, USA

Although she left Gujranwala at the age of 11, the Sikh writer Amrita Pritam was forever marked by its pluralist ethos and its love of the Sufi poets Shah Husain, Sultan Bahu, Bulle Shah, and Waris Shah. And it was these poets, with their affinity for a syncretic Punjabi cultural identity devoid of religious and nationalist sentiment, that she turned to for succor in the dark days of Partition. Pritam’s heart-rending nazm (poem) “Aj Akhan Waris Shah Noon,” in which she implores the poet to “speak from the grave” against the massacres of Partition; her novel Pinjar (Skeleton), which portrays the inter-ethnic riots, abduction, and rapes of the 1940s but ends with the prophetic hope of communal harmony; and many of her other writings, in which she draws on the diverse Punjabi traditions of Sufi kalam (poetry) and qissa (romantic tragedy), all speak to her inclusive and composite subjectivity as a writer. My paper will examine selected poetry and fiction by Pritam in light of the Sufi theory of ghorba (estrangement or exile), which rejects the negative aspects of geographical/physical/national displacement (as in Partition) to focus instead on ethics and spirituality, in which cultural belonging leads to unity and harmony—between human and divine; (wo)man and the world; Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh. Thus, Pritam can sing alongside Bulle Shah, “Hindu na, nahin Musalman” (“Be neither a Hindu nor a Muslim”) and compose in her works an extended ode to undivided, pre-Partition Punjab in an early demonstration of (revivalist) Punjabiyat.

Staying Put: Partition, Homeland, and Resistance in Hasan Azizul Huq's *Agunpakhi*
Debali Mookerjea-Leonard, James Madison University, USA

No one's been able to explain to me why just because I am Muslim that country ismine, and this one isn''t says the narrator of *Agunpakhi* (Firebird or the Pheonix, 2005), a novel by the Bangladeshi writer Hasan Azizul Huq. When in the post-Partition period, her family relocates to East Pakistan the anonymous narrator persists in her resolve to remain in India (and succeeds). This paper examines her resistance. It tracks her interrogation of the logic of partition, her challenge of the idea of religiously-based nationhood, and contends that in refusing to move to East Pakistan with her husband and children, she rejects the demands made on women both by the patriarchal family and the national religious patriarchy. Further, the paper attends to the nature of the narrator's non-compliance viewing it not only as a release, but also as a decision that entails a necessary separation from her loved ones. While much of the literature on women and the Partition has focused on the intimate violence many suffered, their subsequent social rejections, or in Bengal, the emergence in large number of middle-class women in the labor force following their dispossession by the Partition, *Agunpakhi* presents in the narrator an enquiring and defiant (and lonely) individual.

Nation and Narration in Partition Oral Histories
Shuchi Kapila, Grinnell College, USA

Oral histories of traumatic historical events are a contentious issue in any national-cultural context, but have been particularly so in India on the question of the partition. In the "century of genocide," one of the strongest imperatives for survivors and their children has been to save memory for history, to pass on those stories that cannot be told. Yet in the context of Partition, forgetting seems to have as central a place as remembering. This paper will investigate remembering as a radical contemporary process of engaging with the meaning of the past for present politics and history by foregrounding the role of the investigator/interviewer who could be a second or third generation descendant of partition survivors but who is also involved in a process of creating memory as a responsible artifact for future generations.