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Partitioning Bodies: Literature, Abduction and the State

Abstract: During the 1947 Partition of India, an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 women were abducted by members of other religious communities – to be raped and murdered, sold into prostitution, or forced into marriage. In response to this crisis, the governments of India and Pakistan initiated a bilateral recovery programme whose objective it was to return ‘abducted persons’ to their natal or conjugal families. Over the last decade or so, however, criticism of this programme has become increasingly vociferous. For some writers, it merely replicated the ‘violence [of] rape, forcible abduction and marriage’; for others it was ‘propelled by the same sort of misogyny that had taken the shape of rape and torture at the hands of the enemy’. My intention in this essay is not to dispute the fact that the recovery programme involved an intolerable degree of coercion and abuse. Rather, I shall be exploring the way in which three South Asian writers (Bapsi Sidhwa, Amrita Pritam and Saadat Hasan Manto) have chosen to represent state intervention during 1947 – stressing the state's operational diversity at such times, and clearly distinguishing between the act of abduction and that of recovery. The state is not, after all, a unitary structure that can be categorically one thing or another; it would be more accurately described as a product of the various forces operating within, and converging upon, a society at any given juncture. And so, as Timothy Mitchell suggests, one should be suspicious of any analysis that attributes to the state absolute ‘coherence, unity [or] autonomy’. In what follows, the narratives I shall be discussing tend to confirm this fundamental heterogeneity. Moreover, a picture emerges of a state whose diversity guarantees that it is never entirely bereft of humanitarian or emancipatory potential – retaining the capacity, despite everything, to intervene positively in the lives of its citizens.

Bede Scott
Taylor and Francis Online