Division based on the two nation theory

Introduction

Named after Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the Radcliffe Line was the demarcation line along the provinces of Punjab and Bengal of British India. Radcliffe, a barrister from London who had never been to India even once, was put in charge of dividing the nation of India into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. It was in August 1947 that the British Colonial rule came to an end, and the transfer of power led to the declaration of the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. The subcontinent was to be split into two, creating an Islamic Pakistan and a secular, but predominantly Hindu majoritarian India. The British followed the policy of divide and rule, taking advantage of the intrinsic differences they found in terms of religion instead of considering how people of different religions coexisted. This division, based on the “Two-Nation Theory,” claimed that Hindus and Muslims could not live together since they had distinct social, cultural, and religious identities and ought to live as two separate nations. The division of India and the creation of Pakistan resulted in a massive and violent migration. The two-nation theory laid the basis for the cathartic events of 1947, hence giving birth to India and Pakistan.

The ideology behind this theory identifies religion and not language or ethnicity as the primary identity and the coalescing denominator of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. No matter how many commonalities Hindus and Muslims have, they will be considered two distinct nations. This theory was used by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, calling it the awakening of Muslims for the creation of Pakistan and hence laid the groundwork for the Movement of creation of Pakistan. Muslims began to move to Pakistan, whereas Sikhs and Hindus moved to India with “imagined” prospects of a peaceful and better livelihood, with their religious as well as ethnic identities. People were rendered homeless after this supposed separation of the two nations for the benefit of all, an irony since Partition meant to provide refuge and safe shelter to the marginalised communities. Nida Fazli describes Partition as:

इंसान में हैवान यहाँ भी है वहाँ भी

अल्लाह निगहबान यहाँ भी है वहाँ भी

ख़ूँ-ख़्वार दरिंदों के फ़क़त नाम अलग हैं

हर शहर बयाबान यहाँ भी है वहाँ भी

हिन्दू भी सुकूँ से है मुसलमाँ भी सुकूँ से

इंसान परेशान यहाँ भी है वहाँ भी

रहमान की रहमत हो कि भगवान की मूरत

हर खेल का मैदान यहाँ भी है वहाँ भी

उठता है दिल-ओ-जाँ से धुआँ दोनों तरफ़ ही

ये 'मीर' का दीवान यहाँ भी है वहाँ भी। (380)

On the eve of Indian independence, Jawaharlal Nehru in his speech had said, “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance” ( “Tryst with Destiny” 00:33-00:50). Calling the nationalist struggle, a triumph is questionable since the nation found itself anxious, insecure, and paranoid. A new nation created at the dawn of decolonisation, and an emerging new world order found itself with the enormous task of nation-building, a nation to be built by recovering from millions of deaths, destruction, mass migration, and loss of life. Whether this violence can be justified in the name of a survival strategy, i.e. kill, or get killed, is debatable. In every yard, there was a body, some butchered, whereas some died of diseases. Since Partition gave birth to the nation, the narratives of 1947 have been brought forward by many writers like Manto, Amrita Pritam, Khushwant Singh, Bhisham Sahni, Bapsi Sidhwa, Salman Rushdie, and many more. Despite there being many works on Partition, not much was written or talked about the narratives of women. In the writings of some, one can feel an overflow of pain, anger, and anguish while in others satire, humour, and even a sense of shame, remorse, and contempt.

Partition has universality in terms of the traumatic experiences of people, forced mass migration, nostalgia, coerced conversions, ethnic cleansing, and displacement. The haphazard formation of the two nations resulted in the dislocation of millions of people on both sides, evicting countless families from their ancestral roots. In the name of providing people with a “home”, all Partition did was validate violence, bloodshed and people losing their sense of belongingness. The shared sufferings of this disastrous event shook both the individual and the collective conscience of the entire society. It has further bittered the sour relations between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims to the relationship between India and Pakistan eventually.

Frame 1.2 S. Bhalla, Guneeta. “What Really Caused the Violence of Partition?”. https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/what-really-caused-the-violence-of-partition/. The Diplomat, 18 August 2019. Accessed 23 May 2020.

Frame 1.2 Mehrotra, Akash. “A Lake of Blood and Tears”. https://www.scoopwhoop.com/inothernews/partition-photos-1947/. India Today, 4 April 2015. Accessed 24 May 2020.

The situation is such that Hindus and Sikhs see Muslims as terrorists and a threat to their lives, whereas the Muslims see Hindus and Sikhs as kafirs (treacherous infidels) who have no right to live. This perception is prevalent because it is manipulated and promoted by the governing state authorities as well. The Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan was not merely a geographical divide but a division of hearts, families, friends, and most importantly, humanity. At the outset of the demarcation of boundary, Hindustan and Pakistan became independent and yet the man was left being a slave of prejudices, fanaticism, barbarity, and inhumanity in both the countries. There is hardly a fictional work of art or a cinematic representation that presents Partition as an inevitable consequence of an ever-going animosity between the Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims.

Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin in Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition defined Partition as “the unfortunate outcome of sectarian and separatist politics and as a tragic accompaniment to the exhalation and promise of freedom fought for with courage and valour” (3). The basis of division during Partition was not neutral, but a political decision meant to create social hierarchies. Partition was an epic human tragedy, a humanmade catastrophe brought about by cynical and hot-headed politicians who lacked the imagination to resolve their disputes and the foresight to grasp the implications of division along religious lines. Violence and bloodshed escalated to unmanageable bestiality because of the disinterest of the British in maintaining law and order at a time when it was highly essential. Their furious retreat after exploiting India in every possible way and the orders not to intervene in any case of communal violence unless a British life was at risk shows humanity at its most depraved.

Underneath the happiness of new beginnings lied the helpless cries of the people who lost their families, loved ones, and bore the brunt of the mindless havoc that created a void in their lives. The cataclysmic events of Partition had turned India and Pakistan into burning cauldrons of communal violence, paving the way for riots, rapes, abduction, migration, dislocation, and various inhuman acts of fundamentalism and bigotry. There were widespread death and destruction, as well as fragmented identity-based separation. Partition left an estimate of about one million dead; seventy-five thousand women abducted and raped while twelve million people became refugees. Thousands of families had split apart, and homes reduced to ashes and villages abandoned. Partition witnessed dimensions where personal animosity and bestiality degraded to the level of hideous monstrosity and all brutality done to death by Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. People did not kill each other out just of vengeance but belonging to a different religion was reason enough to murder each other brutally. Victims and survivors of Partition were left scarred with the memories of the brutality and inhumanity of man against fellow man, of neighbours slaughtering those with whom they shared a common wall, and managing to survive at the cost of letting go their faith.  People were crammed into the tents at the refugee camps. Many people lived amongst the corpses because reporting the death of a family member meant less ration.

The flow of refugees to both sides was violent and bloody during the birthing of the two nations. On the one hand, refugees from Punjab and Bengal moved from one side to the other, in search of safety. On the other, the Hindus of Sindh arrived in Gujarat and Bombay whereas many Muslim families left from UP and Bihar to end up as Muhajirs (emigrants) in Karachi. Fifteen million refugees undertook a journey in search of their “home” and a sense of belongingness. All they had with them was a pair of clothes and some amount of money. Partition not only divided landscapes but was also responsible for fragmented identities. The aftermath of Partition led to the permeable identities being transformed into bunkered mentalities. The creation of Pakistan as an Islamic state authorised the eviction of Hindus and the incorporation of the Muslims in British India. India, even though considered a secular country, was deemed as the home to Hindus and Sikhs. The creation of Pakistan automatically deemed India as the home of the Hindus even though it was known as a secular state. Communal riots and tensions immediately gripped the subcontinents after the two states were declared separate nations.

The gloomy stories of terror and bloodshed related to the circumstances of the communal divide are memorised only to be interpreted as either inevitable steps toward liberation or ‘incidents’ that might as well be forgotten. Cinema attempts to bring to life the emotions grief, inexplicable agony, a sense of alienation and Otherness, and irreparable loss of the sense of belonging that the victims and survivors of Partition went through. Films like M.S Sathyu’s Garm Hava (1973), Sabiha Sumar’s Khamosh Pani (1979), Dipa Mehta’s Earth (1999), Anil Sharma’s Gadar (2001), Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Pinjar (2003), Yash Chopra’s Veer Zara (2004), Anup Singh’s Qissa (2013), Srijit Mukherji’s Begum Jaan (2017), and many more are a source to experience what women went through during Partition. Films are a source to relive the monstrous shadow of a history that presents the insanity that went on with the ever-increasing madness of people finally ending in sorrow, misery, and despair taking possession of people’s souls. Films on the Partition of India deal with the complicated subjects of divided loyalties as well as fractured identities. Women, being a part of the patriarchal set up, led fearful lives because if they somehow managed to escape the familial killings, they were either abducted while migrating and were then captivated and kept as mistresses or further sold to other men.  

Women’s experiences during Partition, be it rape, kidnapping, murders, disfigured, paraded naked in public, molestation or abduction, sheds light on how this gendered focus strips them of their autonomy and individuality. In many modern languages, the word ‘history’ suggests the dual participation of man as the predominant while engaging in history both as actors and as narrators. Besides the physical trauma and sufferings, women were left, with a nostalgia for their lost homeland, in new surroundings with their hearts divided. Women were not a part of history for a long time because both public life and political participation were only exclusive to men until writers like Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon, Gyanendra Pandey, Manto, and films like Shyam Benegal’s Mammo (1994), Dipa Mehta’s Earth (1999), Dwivedi’s Pinjar (2003), Srijit Mukherji’s Begum Jaan (2017) explored the experiences of women and their perspective on it rather than considering them merely as victims of gendered violence. In their narratives, there are descriptions of both “what happened” and “that which is said to have happened”.

Cinema plays a vital role as a medium of representation of ideology and cultural identity. It also serves as a medium to manipulate the masses and bring about radical changes. Cinematic representation can be talked about in relation to both the dominant as well as the marginal cultures and ideologies. These representations can be of dominant cultures as can be seen in mainstream national propagandist cinema. Alternatively, cinema can also be used for the subversion of such dominant ideologies. It plays an essential role in secularisation and creating conflicting opinions. Through a formalistic and thematic analysis, the present work examines three films Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters), Pinjar (The Skeleton), and Garm Hava (Scorching Winds) intending to alter the lens through which we, as an audience, are accustomed to looking at the history of Partition in context of the subaltern. These films tend to recreate the history of the unprecedented horror, insanity, bestiality and rape, carnage, and looting that followed in the wake of the political decision. Unlike the dominant gendered discourses, this work creates a space for women to narrate their stories and to be heard as figures of authority. It explores the silenced narratives of the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan in context to the subaltern and their experiences in the hegemonic patriarchal structure.

As a system of signs, language comprises of a signifier (mental concept) and a signified (linguistic realisation). Language serves as a means of literary representation. Semiotics involves the study of representation and the processes involved with representation along with its use in the form of textual analysis. It is through recalling signs mentally or phonetically that the process of representation is characterised. To understand the relationship between what an object is and what it stands to represent, an understanding of representation is crucial. Representations need to be a part of a system of signs to be operational since they can never work in isolation from other signs or cultural factors. The meaning of objects and people does not have a constant meaning since it is defined in the context of their culture.

Language as a system that constructs meaning serves as a medium to perpetuate an ideology and reflect the culture of a society. As proposed by Lacan, language is phallogocentric, i.e. “centred and organised throughout by implicit recourse to the phallus both as to its supposed “logos,” and as its prime signifier and power source” (Barry, 128).  It is through language that the dominant group (men) maintains the ideology of hierarchy and hegemonic control in the male-dominated political system. It is that part of politics that does not look like politics. According to feminists, patriarchal discourses are phallocentric, making clear the superiority of men over women. The use of phallocentric language authorises the imposition of a conventional model of male domination via gender identities. It is ingrained in both men and women right from their upbringing “their assigned spheres and the societal norms to be followed”, and hence the phallocentric linguistic process gets internalised in the social psyche. In her essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Mulvey writes, “woman stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not the maker of meaning” (58).

Mulvey explains the concept of the Male Gaze in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975). She talks about three perspectives: how men look at women, how women look at themselves, and finally, how women look at other women. Mulvey, in her analyses of cinema, claims that the target audience kept in mind while making films is the male audience. It is so because cinema too is a part of the patriarchal system. The cinematic view comprises of three planes, the camera, characters, and the audience that objectify the females and transform it into a spectacle. The camera attracts the heterosexual masculine character not only from the optical point of view but also from the libidinal point of view. Most of the times, cinema also presents the male characters as tenacious, charming, and superior, whereas the female characters are portrayed as the ones who are weak, inferior, and the ones who need to be protected.

The main difference between sex and gender is that sex is the biological difference, whereas gender is a linguistic category. An individual’s sex is pre-natal and individual possession, not something that he/she does. Gender, on the contrary, is a social construct developed post-natally by conforming to the norms of the society. It is a categorisation of what is expected of men and women to become “ideal”. Women are taught from their childhood to be obedient and to behave in a particular manner. John Stuart Mill criticises the ‘cult of domesticity’ in his work The Subjection of Women (1869) and how the societal system subjugates women. Marriage is supposed to act as a support system for women, and it is ingrained in them to do whatever it takes to be an ideal woman and accept the fact that they might be harassed or treated as sexual objects.

Women are trained to use language as a medium of submission and language being an identity marker, restrictions on the use of language further take away their ability to express themselves. The society needs to understand that the hierarchal representation of male and female has nothing to do with the biological difference since they exist in a relational system of opposition and men exist because of the women and vice versa. One does not have meaning without the other and meaning can only be acquired if they are talked about in relation to one another. It is the absence of the characteristics included in the male that designates the female. Male is the one who is not a female is wrong to be interpreted in terms of the dichotomy of a man being the empowered and the self-sufficient one and the woman being the disempowered and the dependent one.

In her seminal essay, Can the Subaltern Speak? Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak probes into an interrogation of what it means to have political subjectivity and to be burdened with unfulfilled promises of equality at every turn in a capitalist system.  Those who have the power to speak, speak on behalf of those who cannot speak. Whether the subaltern cannot speak because her voice and agency are so restrained in the societal norms and codes of conduct of patriarchy or that when she attempts to speak, her speech and acts are interpreted within the same boundaries which she was trying to negotiate are different sides of the same coin.  Man is privileged with authority, hence giving him the confidence to treat the Other as inferior, marginalised, and submissive. The woman, being marginalised and treated as an inferior, also speaks and is unacknowledged even if she speaks louder than the men. Women are frustrated when met with indifferent silence and ignorance.

The experiences of women can be put into the category of being doubly marginalised since not only did they suffer at the hands of patriarchy but colonialism as well. It is assumed that women have in them the tendency to “tolerate” and be submissive. Horrific bestiality had gotten into men; they butchered each other in the name of religion and retribution and ravished women for the sake of “honour” and “sanctity”. Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi has highlighted the issue of honour and purity tagged on to women in his film Pinjar. Puro is an ideal woman, a righteous woman waiting to get married to a man her family chooses for her. Being abducted by a Muslim man before she gets married suddenly becomes the reason that her family abandons her since she has lost her “purity” and “faith”. First living to keep everyone happy at her maternal house, she kills all her desires and does everything to become that ideal woman who is praised by everyone. She is forced to do it again while adjusting with Rashid after her father abandons her. Rashid abducts her to equal the score of a family feud going on between the men of Rashid’s and Puro’s family. An ever-going fight amongst the men of two rival families ultimately destroy Puro’s relation with her family, her in-laws, and most importantly she undergoes an identity crisis, Hamida by the day and Puro at night.

Menon and Bhasin discuss in their work that every violent act served as a metaphor that was “an indicator of the place that women’s sexuality occupied in an all-male, patriarchal arrangement of gender relations, between and within religious or ethnic communities” (41). During Partition, women were abducted, raped, branded with slogans, paraded naked in public places, their breasts were amputated, and wombs of pregnant women were cut open. Violence was inflicted on women in two kinds, firstly by the men of their families and religion and secondly by the men of other religion. Women became victims of familial killings to protect the honour of the family and the community. It was done as a measure found better than letting the women taint the honour of the family by getting “impure” by the men of other religion. However, the aim of the second kind of violence was a vicious cycle of vengeance “they raped our women, we will rape theirs”.

Women’s sexuality and bodies became a fetish to demonise the men of the ‘Other’ religion. It was done as an act to remind the men of other religion of their incapability to protect their women. Women were considered to be the markers of communal and national pride since ages. Hence, they were not targeted as individuals, but the mutilated and raped bodies stood as symbols of religious supremacy. Furthermore, these bodies were an indication of a threat to the men of other religions to which the women “belonged”. To the women who were branded with slogans, it was a constant reminder of losing their honour and further turning them into objects to be exchanged by men, ultimately stripping them of their individuality.

In India, women are equated to a Goddess who brings in wealth and prosperity in their homes. Nevertheless, we are a part of a society with such backwardness and hypocrisy that rape is the fourth most common crime in India. The same woman, earlier revered, is now denied her right to live and stripped off her individuality because she was abducted/raped by some man “without her consent”. Women worldwide had been and still become victims of physical, sexual, and psychological violence since ages. Even Indian epics like Mahabharata and the Ramayana, through the characters of Sita and Draupadi, have portrayed the ill-treatment, torture, suppression, and humiliation that women had to undergo and still do throughout their lives.

One of the most cited examples for this is Sita in Ramayana who is made to prove her loyalties time and again. The rigid patriarchal norms and their validation remain framed by the enforced muteness of women. The identities and personalities of women were and still are stipulated to the men they belong. Women are seen as subjects outside social relations even though women play an equally important role as producers and reproducers in the male-dominant society. The concept of ideal women, i.e. being religious, family-oriented, illiterate, and domestic is what is expected of women, and it is not them but the men who should be sexually liberated, authoritative, and in control of the household. These observations question the righteousness of the dominant patriarchal society wherein committing suicide or honour killing is the last resort for women, who are denied entry into the domestic space that she made into a home is debatable.

This work is an attempt to understand how violence during communal riots figure in the films and how the events of this cataclysmic divide affected the lives of the women. Women became the victims of desire and abuse and were exchanged in multiple houses as sex slaves. It further attempts to understand how the films to be analysed, i.e. Pinjar, Khamosh Pani, and Garm Hava, unlike other male-dominant discourses, depict the struggles of the female characters and how these women show to courage to defy and subvert the patriarchal assumptions which confine them to passivity and challenge the colonialist discourses of the Partition history. A gendered reading of the partition genocide facilitates a discussion on the various forms of violence that were aimed at women and the symbolic meanings behind such acts. This study focuses on the issue of deliberate and coerced silence of the women, especially in the traumatic history-laden narratives which revolve around nationalism, hence becoming an apparatus of repression.  

A narrative is a reconstruction or a representation of events occurring in time and space that are a source of communication from the memories. It is just like looking at life, as reflected in a mirror. Cinematic narratives usually present an episodic memory, i.e., a story about a specific sequence of personal events in the past and how the past is relevant to one’s present. The cinematic narratives discussed in this thesis probe into how women suffered during the Partition. Women, being the Other, their stories were further repressed by the dominant political and social forces in favour of the more acceptable national narratives. To be accepted, it is essential to reshape and frame the narratives within ideologies that are harmonious with the values expressed in society. Past plays a vital role in the shaping of the individual’s present and future. The traumatic memories of past experiences have the power to cause pain time and again. Cathy Caruth, in her work Trauma: Explorations in Memory, mentions that:

“The trauma is the confrontation with an event that, in its unexpectedness or horror, cannot be placed within the schemes of prior knowledge—that cannot, as George Bataille says, become a matter of “intelligence” –and thus continually returns, in its exactness, at a later time. In its repeated imposition as both image and amnesia, the trauma thus seems to evoke the difficult truth of a history that is constituted by the incomprehensibility of its occurrence” (153).

She also opines that it is necessary to listen beyond the pathology of individual suffering to gain access to a traumatic history. The history of sufferings of the individual and the community is not merely a site of disruption but also the locus of wisdom all its own (156).

Cinematic narratives like Pinjar, Khamosh Pani, and Garm Hava contain in them elements of nation-building intermingled with the violence of Partition, refashioned with time and the expectations of the audience. These films also deconstruct the relationship between nation and gender. They depict the role of memory in reaffirming identity and the suppression of female agency in the reformulation of the social hierarchies in the cultural space. The films portray how the violence of communal riots and the nostalgia of the lost homeland are deeply embedded in the individual and collective memory of the survivors of Partition. There has been a conscious effort on the part of many people to keep the memories of Partition alive through artefacts, films, archives, memoirs, and the first-hand narratives of the survivors. The chosen films also deal with the survivor’s recollection of the traumatic memories of displacement, homelessness, religious animosity, and fragmented identities and how these factors haunt the present of the victims of Partition. They also provide an insight into how the nation-state, along with the dominant patriarchal society, has collectively suppressed and oppressed as a mean to repress women as a collective group. These films are a source to keep the memory of Partition memory alive in the popular imagination.

Furthermore, this dissertation probes into the notion of nation interwoven with the concept of motherhood and its ideological implications for female citizens. The notion of a woman’s role primarily as a mother intertwines with the idea of the nation. Women stand as representatives of society and nation-state to exhibits a sense of purity and honour. It is a comment on the scarring of the nation symbolic to the violation of the mother’s body through the recurring themes of rape, abduction, and honour killings during Partition. The acts of amputating breasts, burning vaginas, and ripping out wombs served the purpose of desexualising a woman and negating her role as a nurturer. This work aims to understand how in the name of religious and national pride, women’s bodies and sexuality were, and are until today, either regulated or exploited by the patriarchal societies. Women’s ideological position as the epitome of national as well as religious pride inversely limits their functioning to operate merely as reproductive organs which are regulated by patriarchy.

The present dissertation is a study of three films to understand the trauma of Partition through women’s point of view with reference to Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Pinjar, Sabiha Sumar’s Khamosh Pani, and M. S Sathyu’s Garm Hava. An Indian film director and scriptwriter, Chandraprakash Dwivedi gave up the medical practice because of his keen interest in Indian literature. His other major work, after Chanakya (1991), was based on Amrita Pritam’s famous novel Pinjar and was titled the same. The film was awarded Filmfare Best Art Direction Award and the National Film Award in 2004. Being loved equally on both sides of the border, Amrita Pritam had herself gone through the turbulent times of Partition and became a Punjabi refugee, forced to leave her homeland, and moved to New Delhi in 1947. Set in the backdrop of Partition, the film sheds light on the suppression of women during that time. The film presents the unexplainable trauma and the sufferings of women through the story of Puro, speaking for woman treated as the subaltern and subjugated at a large-scale. It explores gendered violence through the struggles of Puro and brings up the issues of abduction, identity crisis, abandonment, and displacement. The film was Dwivedi’s attempt to give voice to the oppressed and traumatised Other who was vulnerable and attacked during the upheavals of Partition but were silenced time and again until their stories died with them. Pinjar unveils those microscopic layers of history which were silenced by the patriarchal society and the State authorities on a macro level.

Sabiha Sumar, a Pakistani filmmaker and producer, is best known for her independent documentary films. Even though she faced difficulties screening her film in Pakistan for a long time, her film won fourteen international awards and many more at other film festivals. In her first film Khamosh Pani, she explores how politics, nation, religion, trauma and memory, and honour killing intersect with the reality of gender. Khamosh Pani discusses how religious fundamentalism affected women and how Ayesha/Veero found silence as the only option to stop her past from colliding and destroying her present. It is an insight into the patriarchal system where the position of women is undermined via sexual oppression and physical and mental violence. It questions the society that we as individuals are a part of, where the last resort for women to save themselves from rape, abduction, and this notion of keeping the “honour” and “chastity” intact, is that either they are killed by their kin or they commit suicide by jumping into the well or setting themselves ablaze.

Mysore Shrinivas Sathyu (M.S Sathyu) is one of the leading film director and art director from India, best known for his film Garm Hava. The film starring Marxist cultural activist Balraj Sahni and Kaifi Azmi has won several awards including the National Film Award and the Filmfare Award. The film presents the uprooting of thousands of families amidst the scorching winds of Partition. The primary issue discussed in the film is the anguish and plight of a Muslim family who is forcibly thrown out of their ancestral house and while the family is unable to look for another house given their religious affiliations, their home for ages is labelled as evacuee property. The film touches upon the themes of communalism, political bigotry, and secularism, and how these issues directly or indirectly affect the lives of women. The burden to marry their young daughter and a burden on the daughter to fulfil her parents’ wishes ultimately leads to her committing suicide. The film does not show violence on screen, but the characters are able to portray brilliantly the trauma of being caught in the hatred of Partition.

This work also attempts to give a nuanced understanding of the psychological trauma that the abducted women went through and how the Recovery and Rehabilitation Act undertook by the state acted as a double displacement for them. It comments on how the nation was driven to reclaim “its” women from an “enemy nation,” as a matter of “national honour”. Kamla Bhasin and Ritu Menon, in their book Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition, talk about Partition,

“The figure of the abducted woman became symbolic of crossing borders, of violating social, cultural and political boundaries. The extent and nature of violence that women were subjected to when communities conflagrated highlights not only their vulnerability at such times, but an overarching patriarchal consensus that emerges on how to dispose of the troublesome question of women sexuality” (20).

Divided into five chapters, it critically explores the different dimensions of violence and its impact on women. The first chapter is the introduction and gives an insight into the cathartic events of Partition. It talks at length about the causes and aftermath of the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. The introduction sheds light on how the people suffered and how it is presented through the medium of cinema. Finally, it also comments on how the animosity that began seventy-three years ago has still managed to create a rift between the two nations.

Chapter two brings into focus Sabiha Sumar’s film Khamosh Pani and the struggle of a strong woman Veero/Ayesha who has to make hard life choices and manages to survive all the difficulties until her loyalties are questioned yet again. This chapter intends to analyse the female perspective on the aftermath of Partition. It comments on the violence Partition led to and how women were either forced to remain silent because their past was defined as “shameful” or was silenced being a subaltern in the male-dominated society.

Chapter three describes the sufferings of women in the context of Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s film Pinjar where he presents the struggles of Puro who is a victim to a family feud and ultimately ends up trying to put together the fragmented pieces of her identity. She becomes a victim of something which never concerned her and yet life took turns to shatter her dreams at every step.

Chapter four attempts to understand M.S Sathyu’s Garm Hava in context of the struggles of the characters of Amina and her grandmother, a part of a Muslim family living in Agra after Partition, ending up losing their ancestral home to be an ‘evacuee property’. This chapter majorly focuses on the idea of the home and the homeland. It is an insight into how women struggle through the ongoing reconfiguration of the cultural and national identity. Chapter five is the conclusion followed by a list of the works cited and consulted.

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