Violent belongings: Nationalism, gender and postcolonial citizenship

Author: 
Daiya, Kavita
Year: 
2001

     Violent Belongings illuminates the cultural representation in the public sphere of the violence and mass migration of the 1947 Partition of South Asia. The decolonization of India in 1947 also marked its partition into two nations--India and Pakistan--on the basis of religious differences and anxieties about minoritization after independence. Between August 1947 and June 1948, by unofficial counts, at least 18 million people--Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims--became refugees and a million were killed in ethnic violence. While this Partition--its violence and displacement--has been the subject of much recent political, historical and anthropological study, its literary and aesthetic effects have not been adequately explored, possibly because the new renaissance of the Indo-Anglian novel has been an Anglo-American phenomenon, concerned more with formal and linguistic innovation rather than historical context. The cultural and theoretical project of "Violent Belongings" then is two-fold: firstly, I demonstrate how Partition engendered a public sphere unto itself with a remarkable archive of literature and films between 1947 and 1965--a public sphere that from 1980 onwards became increasingly diasporic and transnational. Secondly, I argue that the rememoration of the struggles of this period through literature and film challenges contemporary South Asian and diasporic equations of the communal and the national, of the nation and modernity, through the unevenness of gender in the context of class, caste and ethnic hierarchies. Thus, building upon Homi Bhabha's work on the narration of the Western nation, I show how in the postcolonial nation, both the migrations and gendered violence of 1947 played a constitutive role in the articulation of national identity and belonging for South Asians in transnational public spheres.
     Building upon recent feminist historiography on women's experiences and oral narratives of Partition, "Violent Belongings" complicates arguments that explain violence against women during this period as caused by the ideological production of woman as symbol of community and nation. I show how men were also objects of sexual violence, and demonstrate how differences not only of gender, but also of class, caste, ethnicity and race articulate forms of violence. This not only builds upon the new revisionist historiography and anthropology which account for Partition violence through a focus on 'religious community' and 'nation,' but also reveals how literature and film are critical sites, both now and during the early national period, through which South Asians negotiate the complexities of the violence and displacement that do not inhabit the political teleology of nationalist histories.

Advisor(s): 
Bhabha, Homi