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Dispelling Nostalgic Nationalist Myths

Photo by Koshy Koshy | CC BY 2.0

Historically, the Partition of 1947 fragmented the writing community by redistributing its members into two separate territorial nations. One of the significant consequences of the Partition was the migration of Urdu writers of Muslim origin to Pakistan. So the chime of Independence was, as Aijaz Ahmad observes, “experienced the whole range of Urdu literature of the period not in the celebratory mode but as a defeat, a disorientation, a diaspora” (Lineages 118). This is one of the calamities of India’s historical past whose religio-cultural tensions continue today to sharpen divisions along communal lines in the country.

For instance, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, an illustrious Urdu poet, writes his account of the fear, sense of loss, bewilderment that followed in the wake of “The Dawn of Freedom (August 1947).” In this rendition, Faiz’s arduous endeavor to articulate his outrage at “the terrible rampant lie” and the audacious attempt of the nationalist leadership to provide a rationalization for it is well grounded:

Now listen to the terrible rampant lie: Light has forever been severed from the Dark; our feet, it is heard, are now one with their goal. See our leaders polish their manner clean of our suffering: Indeed we must confess only to bliss; we must surrender any utterance for the Beloved—all yearning is outlawed. (II. 16-21)

In this pain-filled account of the emotional depletion and psychological decrepitude that were the “collateral damages” of the decolonization of India and its subsequent geographical division, Faiz makes an attempt to expose, and thus reject, the nationalist panacea. This panacea, which was designed to lead the physically defaced and psychically mangled communities to resign themselves to an incomprehensible transformation, is deconstructed by the poet.

Beyond the rifts that were first brought to the surface in the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the forces of communal violence and fundamentalism continue to wield their power with unabated vigor. In the context of these historical ruptures, poems such as the one by Faiz and similar narratives describe the experience of disenfranchised Muslims and Hindus, who were uprooted during the Partition.

The insistence on a nationalist rhetoric that prevents a nation from critically examining its culture, social customs, and gender divisions is rendered more urgent by such narratives.

In independent India and Pakistan, the violent backlash after the Partition and the exploitation of divided communal sentiments by political and religious leaders has evoked divisive militancy in the garb of patriotism.

Despite the encouragement of women’s education in post-Partition India and Pakistan, the womanly virtues of devotion, submission, chastity, and patience are still viewed as the social forms that tradition inculcated in women. Nationalist discourse creates a framework that confers upon women the pre-lapsarian mythological status of a selfless, asexual, benevolent, and maternal entity. Because the edifice of national culture was propped up by the ideals of purity, selfless love, and sacrifice, the decapacitation of women was the result.

Nationalist discourse creates the dichotomy of the inner/ outer in order to make the sanctity of the inviolable inner domain look traditional. Nationalist writers assert that as long as the inner or spiritual distinctiveness of the culture is retained, a postcolonial nation can make the required adjustments to cope with a modern material world without losing its essential identity. The result, however, is not the orderly process of modernization but rather the continued immiseration of women.

The nation and nationalism that were defined by the politics of the Partition need to be analyzed in order to account for the volcanic eruptions caused by this event.

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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.

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