ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reading the Nation from the Transnational

Violent Belongings: Partition, Gender, and National Culture in Postcolonial India by Kavita Daiya ((Delhi: Yoda Press), 3rd edition; first published in 2008 by US: Temple University Press), 2013; pp 272, Rs 405.

Kavita Daiya’s Violent Belongings examines an array of cultural texts – both cinematic and literary – representing Partition, from 1947 to recent times, to understand how Partition is deployed to fashion ethnic, gendered identities, in what the author delineates as the “postcolonial public sphere” (p 11) in the Indian subcontinent and its diasporas. The value of Daiya’s book is that it attempts to demonstrate how Partition and its memories come to be “created and contested” (p 22) in multiple and numerous narratives that animate our contemporary culture, through their immense affective control over categories of gendered ethnicity and therefore on belonging in the nation space. Novels such as A Train to Pakistan (1956), Midnight’s Children (1981), The Shadow Lines (1989), Cracking India (1991), a few stories and sketches by Saadat Hasan Manto, and films Lahore (1949), Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960), Garam Hawa (1973), Mammo (1994), Earth (1998) and selections from contemporary “Bollywood” (between 2001 and 2004) are some of the texts that the book analyses. Rather than provide text-centric exegesis, Daiya attempts to read Partition as a “discursive formation” (p 25) in her selected texts. A book-length examination of the role played by cultural narratives in constructing “Partition” is a welcome addition to what can by now be confidently called Partition studies; such studies are still few in number.

Each chapter focuses on a particular analytical location central to the debates of gendered ethnicity. Let me summarise the key areas of engagement and arguments on offer. Chapter 2 analyses representation of men and masculinities in Partition narratives. It aims to demonstrate that, even though historiography has not found a way to talk about violence done to the male body in gendered terms, cultural texts frequently represent this problematic. Daiya argues that even though the portrayals of Muslim and Sikh men aim to critique nationalist politics, they often perpetuate “popular stereotypes” (p 28) of minority masculinities. Chapter 3 discusses how violence against women – an overwhelming aspect of Partition violence – is addressed in the public sphere. She critiques the foundational feminist scholarship – of Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon, and Kamla Bhasin – on the topic to be unduly restricted in “ideological critique of gendered violence” (p 28). Chapter 4 examines a variety of discourses on the refugee – press reports, memoirs, discussions in film magazines, and film texts – to show how the figure of the refugee played a critical role in debates of citizenship. Chapter 5 turns to contemporary Hindi cinema to track “heteronormative coupledom” (p 29) as a dominant trope to negotiate Partition memory. Chapter 6 addresses texts of diasporic south Asian writers that link 1947 to politics of belonging for the racialised, minority, immigrant in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US).

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