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Book Review: ’Partitioned lives by Haimanti Roy’

29 March 2013

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The Telegraph, 29 March 2013

IN SEARCH OF LOST IDENTITIES

Partitioned lives: Migrants, Refugees, citizens in India and Pakistan, 1947-1965 By Haimanti Roy, Oxford, Rs 695

Innumerable books have been written on the Partition of India. Even so many years after the Partition the interest in the subject has not diminished even slightly. Scholars have tried to understand the real power game that led to the dislocation of thousands of individuals but many questions still remain unanswered. Till now, most of the researchers had been interested in facts and figures rather than the impact of Partition on the lives of the citizens. The cover of Haimanti Roy’s book shows a photograph of a group of anxious refugees probably landing on the shore with two undernourished girls; one carrying a musical instrument and another, a rifle on her shoulder. This image speaks louder than words. Whatever the politicians said, or the scholars wrote, it was the ordinary people, especially the poor, who had to bear the brunt of this historical event. Women and children suffered tremendously during the time, and still do, because of a decision taken by a handful of men who were in power. Roy attempts to study the sufferings of the hapless men and women whose only crime was that they happened to be present at the time when history was taking a wrong turn. Thousands on both sides of the border suddenly became people whose identities were dictated by ‘post partition national orders.’ Roy has also tried to show how the legacy of Partition casts its shadow on the lives of the people even today.

The colonial subjects, according to Roy either became nationals of India or Pakistan at the time of Partition or had to live the lives of migrants and refugees. Worse still were the people who were treated as minorities in the two countries as they had to struggle against the orders of the new nation states. The three thematic sections of the book steer clear of talking about the political demands and decisions during the discussion of the demarcation process. Rather, the book focuses on issues like the process of nation building in the aftermath of Partition, redefinition of Partition generated violence, especially in the case of Bengal, and the migration across the borders. The author avoids the Punjab question probably because a lot of work has already been done on that subject. Roy’s focus on the plight of the minorities, both in India and Pakistan, adds a degree of novelty to the usual Partition literature. She elaborates on the complex problems in a more or less unimpassioned way. Roy goes a bit further and elucidates the complications faced by people who wanted to come back after settling in one country. However, at times her study seems a bit lopsided — she has not paid equal emphasis to the plight of the migrants or refugees from East Pakistan and Punjab. Also, not many cases have been cited about the Muslims who wanted to return to India or stayed back in the country and faced discrimination from the authorities and the general public. She explores the insecurity of the minorities in both the countries. Roy has effectively made use of sources unused till now. She wrote not only about the helplessness and insensitivity of the nation states to cope with the pitfalls of Partition, but also highlighted the desire of the displaced individuals to regain their lost identities amidst all odds. Through her narrative, Roy has attempted to highlight the legacy and the burden of history that one often has to carry on the shoulders.

SHAMS AFIF SIDDIQI

P.S.

reproduced from The Telegraph for educational use