Women of the Partition

This article delves into the significance of post-colonial literature in contextualizing female migration.

By Fathima Sheikh | August 2023

The Partition of India in 1947 is a central historical event in the twentieth century that functions as a defining moment which is neither the ‘beginning nor end and continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.’ Vital to this historical moment is its impact on the literature it produced which revealed a multitude of trajectories surrounding the tension within the subcontinent and among various religious communities, predominantly Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. More profoundly, post-Partition literature revealed a gendered reality that exposed a mass mistreatment of South Asian women at the expense of their patriarchal communities. Female narratives recounted the condition of women who were ruthlessly ostracized by, and vehemently attached to the emerging state, thereby becoming catalysts to understand the complexity entrenched within this injury. Novels such as Cracking India by Bapsi Sidwa, Pinjar by Amrita Pritam and Partitions by Amit Majmudar exposed first- hand experiences of women that have historically been lost in conventional accounts regarding migration and abduction.

Sidhwa, in her novel Cracking India narrates the life of Lenny Sethi, an eight-year-old girl from a wealthy Parsee family living in Lahore. Unaware of the Partition, Lenny questions the disturbing talk of how India is going to be broken, whether one can break a country and what happens if they break it where her house is? This anxiety is heightened once Lenny learns that Lahore would be part of Pakistan, angrily expressing, “I am Pakistani. In a snap. Just like that” and observes how “one day everybody is themselves – and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian.” As Lenny stays stationary, her group of friends gradually separates from her due to their various religious backgrounds and slowly Lenny is exiled from them. Her involuntary shift to Pakistan which has created a loneliness within her has redefined home and made half of what was Lahore inaccessible. Without ever moving, she has migrated, and she rejects this forced Pakistani identity. Hence, she continues to stay hostile towards Lahore, even as she nears death.

Meanwhile, Pritam’s Pooro in “Pinjaar” is a young Hindu girl engaged to her neighbour, Ram Chandra, and is subsequently kidnapped in vengeance by a Muslim man, Rashida who forcefully converts, marries her, and renames her to Hamida. Consequently, Pooro is rejected from her family and resorts to bearing Rashida’s children whilst burying her former self. In Rashida’s home and village, Pooro feels an isolation and displacement, which produces a kind of sadist masochism that resists all efforts at reparation, acculturation, and assimilation. Gradually, Pritam shifts to addressing Hamida in her text instead of Pooro, confirming the migration is absolute, and Pooro’s exile is made permanent both, geographically and communally on the Pakistani side of Punjab with a Muslim husband and his children.

The novelty of this migration is that it has occurred through abduction hence, there is neither any agency in her movement nor any in her condition. Every sentiment is pronounced with an underlying accusation for in its happening, abduction has not only kidnapped Pooro of a family and an existing community, but also usurped her decision to choose refugee-dom. This mode of migration, an architype quite familiar to the women of the Partition, creates an involuntary

movement that is unrecognized by the state and perpetuates a culture of forced captivity that is excused when performed in conjunction to religion and borders.

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5 thoughts on “Women of the Partition

  • August 8, 2023 at 1:41 am

    My grandmother migrated from Punjab and used to tell us stories of her past. This makes me think of what went through her mind when she used to miss her friends and family. Please provide email of the author, I would like to read more

  • August 8, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    Very interesting read the author writes brilliantly.

  • August 8, 2023 at 10:24 pm

    This writer has wonderfully captured the other side of the coin. Women are always neglected and I am so touched to see them represented