• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Borders Versus Memory

The predominant theme of my work is the crossing of frontiers of nationality, culture, and language in three areas of the Indian subcontinent: India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. To that list, I would add my attempt to cross the barrier of citizenship as a self-conscious political philosophy. I hope, through my work, to make my readers aware of the humanist response to the ridiculousness of war, a response that transcends national boundaries and barriers.

A couple of days ago, I got a chance to go to Attari Railway Station and Wagha Border, on either side of which the flags of India and Pakistan are brandished with pride as well as a belligerent ferocity. I witnessed the histrionics and performativity of the Border Security Force of India and Pakistan Rangers. The complex and elaborate performance of the two sides, which I saw, was symbolic of the combative and truculent narratives of nationalism in the subcontinent.

It was a sentimental visit for my mother, because that was the closest she got to the city of her birth and the city where her maternal grandfather is buried: Lahore. In her mind’s eye, she was traversing spaces created by political, cultural, and religious differences. Such memories and stories challenge the notion of nationalism as an alliance that is forged with people from the same linguistic, cultural, and religious background.

Many aspects of the era of the Partition of 1947 are repressed into the political unconscious of the people of the Indian subcontinent. As a Subaltern Studies scholar, Shail Mayaram, reminds us, during the Partition of India various state authorities rigidified borders and boundaries that were once flexible, and people were forced to opt for one nation or the other, India or Pakistan, or one religious identity or the other, Hindu or Muslim. And in many cases the choice was imposed on them (128). We require a vision that questions the ethnolinguistic and cultural divides created by the fiery resurgence of nationalist ideologies, and interweaves that vision with human stories. I seek to elaborate on the larger politics of postcolonialism in affirming the identities of common people and their cultural anchors. I have attempted, in my previous and current work, to interrogate the authenticity of colonial and nationalist historiography by, on the one hand, recording the vivid and verifiable details of individual memories that do not necessarily correspond with the documented version of history. It is now that I am able to integrate fragments of my memory and experiences into a composite whole. I consider it incumbent upon responsible and creative scholars of the subcontinent to engage with the cultural and historical past by rejecting the process of historicizing the imperial past in favor of personal memory and imagination.

Unfortunately, some of us take a rather limited and restrictive view of nationalism by portraying the concept of the nation as an invention that breeds heinous crimes and relentless violence. The nation is rendered all the more threatening when the war that leads to its construction is internecine and does not bind Muslim to Hindu or Punjabi to Kashmiri, but rather sunders Punjabi from Punjabi and Kashmiri from Kashmiri. Such an irregular war polarized these ethnic groups into Hindus and Muslims who are required to disaffirm their cultural, linguistic, and social unities. As one of the characters in Amitav Ghosh’s novel Shadow Lines wonders, “And then I think to myself why don’t they draw thousands of little lines through the whole subcontinent and give every little place a new name? What would it change? It’s a mirage; the whole thing is a mirage. How can anyone divide a memory?” (247).

The political and social upheaval that followed upon the creation of the dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947 has left legacies that continue to haunt the two countries. The Partition enabled the thunderous forces of violence and displacement to tear the pre-existing cultural and social fabric so systematically that the process of repair hasn’t even begun.

It is an unfortunate fact that all the historical, political, and social events that led to the catastrophe of 1947 can best be understood within the explanatory frameworks of religious and familial obligation. This molding of collective subjectivities by the evocation of pan-national religious affinities results in the stifling of minority voices that express divergent cultural and social opinions. The narrator of Ghosh’s Shadow Lines observes, “As always, there were innumerable cases of Muslims in East Pakistan giving shelter to Hindus, often at the cost of their own lives, and equally in India of Hindus sheltering Muslims” (229-30). Such people demonstrate the “indivisible sanctity that binds people to each other independently . . ., for it is in the logic of states that to exist at all they must claim the monopoly of all relationships between peoples” (230). Since these two nations were founded on the idea of religious difference, the religious agendas of right-wing organizations and militaries now rule over the Indian subcontinent.

In addition, “official” accounts of the Partition discount narratives that do not contribute to the deepening of the breach caused by the fracture lines of nationalist collective subjectivity and religious identity. This exclusionary tactic deployed by nationalist historiography, according to which the populace of the Indian subcontinent was a passive recipient of the repercussions of the nationalist struggle valiantly fought by the Western-educated elite, is articulately interrogated in the inaugural statement in Subaltern Studies 1: “What is clearly left out of the un-historical historiography is the politics of the people” (Guha 1).

I observe that the Partition is a vivid manifestation of the claim that postcolonial nations are founded in a bloody severance of the umbilical cord, one that fortifies borders between nation-states with irrational and remorseless violence. The discourse of nationalism, however, affects to make sense of the absurd loss of lives that occurs.

More articles by:

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Stephen Cooper
Scientist vs. Cooper: The Interview, Round 3 
Susan Block
How “Hustlers” Hustles Us
Charles R. Larson
Review: Elif Shafak’s “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World”
October 17, 2019
Steve Early
The Irishman Cometh: Teamster History Hits the Big Screen (Again)
Jonathan Cook
Israel Prepares to Turn Bedouin Citizens into Refugees in Their Own Country
Stan Cox
Healing the Rift Between Political Reality and Ecological Reality
Jeff Klein
Syria, the Kurds, Turkey and the U.S.: Why Progressives Should Not Support a New Imperial Partition in the Middle East
George Ochenski
The Governor, the Mining Company and the Future of a Montana Wilderness
Charles Pierson
Bret Stephens’ American Fantasy
Ted Rall
The First Thing We Do, Let’s Fire All the Cops
Jon Rynn
Saving the Green New Deal
Ajamu Baraka
Syria: Exposing Western Radical Collaboration with Imperialism
Binoy Kampmark
A Coalition of Support: Parliamentarians for Julian Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Down Side of Impeachment
Harvey Wasserman
What Really Happened to American Socialism?
Tom Engelhardt
American Brexit
October 16, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Backfired on Erdogan
Chitrangada Choudhury – Aniket Aga
How Cotton Became a Headache in the Age of Climate Chaos
Jack Rasmus
US-China Mini-Trade Deal: Trump Takes the Money and Runs
Michael Welton
Communist Dictatorship in Our Midst
Robert Hunziker
Extinction Rebellion Sweeps the World
Peter A. Coclanis
Donald Trump as Artist
Chris Floyd
Byzantium Now: Time-Warping From Justinian to Trump
Steve Klinger
In For a Dime, in For a Dollar
Gary Leupp
The Maria Ramirez Story
Kim C. Domenico
It Serves Us Right To Suffer: Breaking Down Neoliberal Complacency
Kiley Blackman
Wildlife Killing Contests are Unethical
Colin Todhunter
Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!
Andrés Castro
Looking Normal in Kew Gardens
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail