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Revisiting Partition


Pippa Virdee

THE LONG PARTITION AND THE MAKING OF MODERN SOUTH ASIA: REFUGEES, BOUNDARIES, HISTORIES
By Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2008, pp. 288, Rs. 495.00

SPIRALS OF CONTENTION: WHY INDIA WAS PARTITIONED IN 1947
By Satish Saberwal
Routledge, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 203, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 10 October 2008

The fact that partition took place over sixty years ago and we are still discussing some of the most fundamental questions regarding this division is a testament to the power it has had over the psyche of South Asians. These two books, The Long Partition and Spirals of Contention, examine partition from different disciplines. However, they both agree on the need to examine the impact of partition in the long-term and the legacy that this tumultuous event has left on India and Pakistan. Both books are in many ways an endeavour to understand the impact partition has had on the making of contemporary India and Pakistan.   Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, who is a historian at Brown University, has been busy conducting ethnographic and archival research for this impressive volume. The process of partition is in many ways considered to be seamless; that the migration of millions of refugees took place with coordinated efforts by both India and Pakistan followed by the refugees becoming subjects of the new states. In reality this process of constructing new national identities was much more protracted and contested. Zamindar also emphasizes that the nature of the movement that took place was not voluntary and therefore it is not a migration of sorts but is in fact a forced displacement of people. In Delhi, Muslims were forced to flee their homes when Sikhs and Hindus arrived having fled West Punjab. They found the sympathies of their communities which ultimately resulted in revenge and recriminations against the Muslims of Delhi. This pattern of violence is well documented, scenes of trains burning or filled with dead bodies prompting others to seek revenge has been recounted on numerous occasions by people who experienced this first-hand. This pattern was repeated on both sides of the border and it created the disorder and anarchy that left a vacuous space for violence to flourish.   Zamindar starts the book with the extraordinary story of Ghulam Ali, who was a subaltern officer in the British Indian Army. Ali had opted to remain in the Indian Army because he was from Lucknow but became stranded in Pakistan because he was posted there at that time. What followed was years of being tossed from one side of the border to the other. Zamindar compares the absurdity of this to the madness of Manto’s Toba Tek Singh. Ali was in no man’s land, he was neglected ...


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