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Colonial Infrastructure and the Politics of Partition of Punjab

34 Field Trip Larkin, Brian. 2018. “Promising Forms: The Political Aesthetics of Infrastructure .” In The Promise of Infrastructure, edited by Hannah Appel, Nikhil Anand, and Akhil Gupta, 175–­ 202. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. Perlez, Jane, and Yufan Huang. 2016. “China Promoting Tourism for Disputed Paracel Islands.” New York Times, May 8. https://www.nytimes .com/2016/05/29/world/asia/south-china-sea-tourism.html. Roberts, Brian Russel, and Michelle Ann Stephens, eds. 2017. Archipelagic American Studies. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. Specia, Megan, and Mikko Takkunen. 2018. “South China Sea Photos Suggest a Military Building Spree by Beijing.” New York Times, February 8. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/08/world/asia/south-china -seas-photos.html. Woodworth, Max. 2017. “Landscape and the Cultural Politics of China’s Anticipatory Urbanism.” Landscape Research 43, no. 7: 891–­ 905. Colonial Infrastructure and the Politics of Partition of Punjab Mubbashir Rizvi In this essay, I speculate about the role of colonial infrastructure and technological change in shaping the climate for mass violence in Punjab during Partition. The scale of violence in Punjab, especially in the region known as the canal colonies, was unparalleled in the subcontinent (Khan 2017). Caravans of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims scrambled to cross the India–­ Pakistan border in both directions, while the precise line dividing Punjab between India and Pakistan remained undefined for two days (August 13–­ 15, 1947), and roads, trains, and even irrigation ditches became massacre sites.1 While many scholars have written about the cultural formation of the colonial state and its creation of modern political identities along lines of religion and community as driving forces in the violence of Partition, this literature is less attentive to land relations, the role of large public works projects, and the dynamics of commercial agriculture in creating the conditions for violence. In particular, neglecting the issue of landholdings and property ownership has grave implications for contemporary understandings of the causes of Partition. Many look to this event as a key historical moment shaping contemporary events in the region, such as communal violence, Hindu nationalism, the militarization of Islamist Field Trip 35 politics in Pakistan, the South Asian nuclear arms race, and the ongoing conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. Understanding the factors that shaped Partition and the causes of distinct regional patterns of violence in those years is thus very important. Yet the deep and continued relevance of Partition is obscured by the “clash of civilization” thesis that sees the Partition violence as a product of timeless conflict rather than an outcome of specific events (Said 2001). The vast differences in displacement and violence between Punjab, the Pakistani regions of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Indian states like Bihar, Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh), and Bengal can be explained by the particular infrastructures—­material and legal—­ that shaped landownership and economic relations in those regions, alongside other factors like the presence of the military and patterns of police recruitment. To open up the question of infrastructure in relation to Partition, I want to explore how land was transformed in Punjab and became a key factor in identification as a “Muslim,” “Hindu,” or “Sikh.” I examine three administrative projects in which land took on what I call “infrastructural agency” there: the 1850 Permanent Land Settlement of Punjab; the Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1900; and the canal colonization projects in central Punjab (1885–­1946), which reified land as a productive commodity. My approach to infrastructure from the perspective of rural communities and their relations with agricultural markets diverges from new materialist approaches that focus on networks of connection, transportation , and utility provision in cities (Anand 2011). Infrastructural analysis can provide a window into the intrusion of the state and markets into the daily life of communities that are not visibly connected to any particular grid but nevertheless are subject to fiscal administration and the commercial forces of rural society. Moreover, the uneven distribution of roads, trains, and canals through agrarian worlds creates extreme disparities that reinforce the divide between “modern” towns and the “primitive” countryside (Ahuja 2010). I build on the concept of “infrastructural violence ,” or what Hannah Appel (2012) defines as the uneven distribution of infrastructure that creates...

Mubbashir Rizvi
Studies in Global Asias University of Minnesota Press Volume 6, Issue 2, Fall 2020