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When the British colonial rule ended in 1947, the Indian sub-continent emerged as two dissimilar nations, majority-Hindu India and majority-Muslim Pakistan. The hastily planned transfer of power to the new authorities led to one of the largest refugee crises in modern history. Uncertain about the exact location of the borders of the new countries—and which country they currently inhabited—as many as 18 million people (Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs) wrapped up their belongings and set out to reach the ‘right’ country. The fear and confusion fueling the exoduses became tinder for continuing communal tensions. After years of increasingly contradictory political rhetoric, old grudges became lethal, and new animosity set in among those whose minority and majority statuses had suddenly reversed. The violence that broke out left almost no cruelties undone. 

In the more than 75 years since the Partition, territorial disputes between India and Pakistan have continued to be fomented, flaring up into four wars and ongoing cross-border unrests. Partition is still unprocessed for many ordinary men and women, who experienced it firsthand, and whose families either did not survive the riots, or, could not reunite with them in the migrated countries. For many in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the losses and memories of those gory, grisly, and insecure days are still haunting.

In the day-long symposium that I propose, which I would like to host in June 2023, I aim to move beyond the religious and ethnic nationalism in terms of which the Partition has been mostly discussed. I would rather like to focus on how the Partition still looms over the three countries. My concerns are the continuing socio-economic and psychological impacts of the Partition on all three frontiers. This leads me to suggest that the contemporary challenges of the Partition reside in the indeterminacy of the minority rights in the newly formed nation-states. The insecurity suffered by the minorities/marginalized peoples on both sides of the Radcliffe Line is not suggestive of the event alone. Instead, the event of the Partition demonstrates that the question of ensuring security for the minorities and the marginalized groups of the nation-states still remains a challenging issue. Therefore, the ICwS symposium will highlight policy recommendations regarding assuaging the fears of the minorities and the marginalized groups in the mostly majoritarian societies.

The symposium will address this idea through categorizing the contemporary challenges of the Partition in the following way: 

  1. Social challenge through intensification of communalism in the three countries, which has been predominantly analysed in terms of the ‘two-nation’ theory, rather than the structures of the decolonized states at the regional and central levels that do not necessarily reflect the minority/marginalized groups’ human rights.
  2. Economic challenge through emphasizing the need for effective peace at the state levels of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh by negotiating unsettling political issues like the Kashmir war for the true development of the region, despite the fact that the dire predictions of economic collapse after the Partition have been thwarted. In other words, the symposium will ask if the prevalent economic deprivation of the minority/marginalized groups reflects true freedom in the sub-continent.
  3. Psychological challenge through stressing the cathartic effect of the Partition-produced displaced people’s recounting their strong sense of rootedness in their native soil, rather than the predominant narrative of traumatic deracination from their ancestral cultural milieu. Thus, the symposium will make a case for giving voice to the mostly voiceless minority/marginalized groups regarding not only their traumas, but also their resilience of encountering the Partition.

Provisional conference programme.

Speakers include:

  • Sarah Ansari (Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • Ilyas Chattha (LUMS - Lahore University of Management Sciences)
  • Yaqoob Khan Bangash (Harvard University/ Information Technology University, Lahore)
  • James Chiriyankandath (ICwS, University of London)
  • Antara Datta (Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • Amritjit Singh (Ohio University)
  • Amrita Ghosh (University of Central Florida)
  • Amit R Baishya (University of Oklahoma)
  • Anjali Gera Roy (Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur)
  • Mohammad Golam Rabbani (Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka)
  • Haimanti Roy (University of Dayton)

All welcome

This event is free to attend, but booking is required. It will be held online with details about how to join the virtual event being circulated via email to registered attendees in advance.