Contemporary

Separated and Divided: Confronting Partition in 2020

As the British left India after their rule of around 200 years in 1947, they also divided our nation into two. Well, for many present today Partition has come to us in history books, sometimes in other forms of creative works like photography, films etc and for many there were stories within the family that made one familiar with the Holocaust that killed many, and left millions uprooted and homeless. Along with the communal and violent nature of partition, the mass exodus that accompanied it was something that was unprecedented. There were large caravans of people who crossed the frontiers of both Bengal and Punjab , with their children, belongings, and cattle.The crowded trains, trucks loaded with refugees and walking caravans headed towards their unknown destinies can be imagined by any Indian even if he or she has not lived the history.However, the sight of long columns of people walking hundreds of kilometers was seen even in March 2020, and it still continues, because of the lockdown that was suddenly announced in the wake of the pandemic, the spread of corona virus, reminds one of the forced migration that took place during the partition and in its aftermath.The migrant workers who had to move out from their home towns to earn their livelihood already had no permanent place to stay. As soon as the lockdown was announced these people were on the roads with their young children and other belongings, with no food, water or money. Many migrant workers were on the roads, crowding the bus stations, stranded in the railway stations, especially in the economic centers like Mumbai, Pune and Delhi, chased and beaten by police, some took shelter in footpaths while many just kept walking for hundreds of kilometers on their way home.

The Borders and Boundaries

With the spread of the pandemic which is said to have foreign origins has defined new borders and boundaries in India that has reiterated the societal divide that had already existed in our society. Words like quarantine, social distancing, isolation and sanitizer spraying has not only redefined the relationship between disease and contagion but the notions of purity and pollution also surfaces which has underlined the rigid caste system in our society. Not only the caste distinction but the Covid 19 also amplified the class distinction. The gated apartments have  restricted the entry of any outsider. And the once insiders have been termed as outsiders now, like the domestic helps, the nannies, the cooks, the cab drivers have been dissuaded from crossing the boundaries of these gated apartments.so we see a process of exclusion, that comes from a sense of fear of the spread of the virus. Pramod K Nayar has used the word ‘hyperincarceration’ to use the idea of Dominique Moran and Anna Schliehe , which means, ‘the exclusion of the criminalized underclass’ and their imprisonment as a necessary step towards the cleansing of the urban spaces. So these so called anti-socials are being denied the space which is exclusively for the rich . Nayar argues that it is also the exclusion of the urban poor of which the migrant labour are a large part, in any urban settlement, who by the virtue of being poor and not criminals, are part of this hyperincarceration, ‘invisible practices of isolation and exclusion’ and that is how the migrant labour have lived their lives sometimes even without the basic needs that human beings have to have.These labourers and other poor workers live in slums, bastis and temporary accommodations and have always been known for dirty and unhygienic habitations and though they serve the city dwellers as useful resources but then in this time they are disowned and no body, not even the government seems to be accountable for them. However the relief announced by the Government is supposedly a cosmetic approach to the problem as we still find people desperate to return to their hometown by walking on the roads, or along the rail tracks or on cycles sometimes and even at the cost of their lives.

The Divided Digital India

With the trumpet being blown loud about the digital learning that seems so fashionable today, the basic question remains, whether the poor have an access to the so called online teaching. In a country where 70-80% of the population are without the certainty of food and where 80% of the children in a place like Delhi go to the government schools for education, so are we not depriving the poor from learning. In such a situation they seem to remain totally cut off from any education. Mukul Kesavan in an article writes about the in fashion on online support which is possible on the part of the ‘knowledge workers’ whom he calls the ‘new Brahmins’ and the so called offline poor, the labourers who have to be physically present to render their services and earn their livelihood, have become the new sudras.The Muslims also, because of their economic marginality and political invisibility have been subject to the process of ‘othering’ and as Kesavan says they, ‘can be classified as India’s new pariah’. After the Jamat gathering in Nizammuddin in March, the issue was taken by some mainstream media to categorize and then victimize the entire community on the basis of their religious identity.So one has to be careful about any association and interaction with Muslims. Even the fruit sellers and vegetable vendors are to be avoided And Keshavan in his article writes that to avoid co-habitation with Muslims this incident is used as a propaganda and strengthen the middle class prejudices about the Muslims as a dangerous community who have to be ‘rigorously quarantined.’

Conclusion: Violence, Fear and Anxiety

‘ I wanted to live’

These are the last lines cried out by the protagonist Nita in Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Star Veiled by Clouds), a movie by Ritwik Ghatak, that captures the Violence and trauma of Partition.The movie shows the intensity of suffering of a uprooted family of Partition and their desperation to survive. Nita in this movie being the eldest daughter struggles and sacrifices her own life to make the ends meet in the family.However she eventually succumbs to tuberculosis and there is a piercing cry of Nita, ‘I wanted to Live’, which vents out the agony of those displaced and uprooted in Partition.Violence is not always measured by external acts of murder, loot or abduction and rape but as Meghna Guha Thakurta, writing on the Bengal Partition writes, ‘Violence also typifies a state where a sense of fear is generated and perpetuated in such a way as to make it systematic, pervasive and inevitable.’Today also the pandemic has caused in an exodus and also resonates a desperation of these migrant labourers and the marginalised sections of our society who having realised the pangs of hunger and starvation. The humiliation and the sense of dispossession they feel while they are sprayed with disinfectants or when they are imprisoned in quarantine centers guarded by security personal, or the women abused in these centers, they spend their days in anxiety and fear, fear of never reaching their homes at all, even after the enduring journeys.

References:

  1. Bagchi Jasodhara and Dasgupta Subhoranjan.2003. The Trauma and the Triumph: Gender and Partition in Eastern India.2003.
  2. Kesavan, Mukul. “Caste and Contagion” The Telegraph. April 2020.pp8.
  3. Nayar Pramod.2020.Migrant Workers and Extreme Mobility in the Age of Corona in Journal of Extreme Anthropology.4,No.1E1-E6.

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