The Pity of Partition: Dr. Ayesha Jalal’s Lectures at UBC

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As part of the Virani Lecture 2013 series at the University of British Columbia, Ayesha Jalal delivered two lectures on the Partition, the first on March 14, 2013, the second on March 15, 2013.

The first lecture, “The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide,” looked at Manto’s life before, during and after the partition and how he portrayed it in his stories. By looking at Manto’s early revolutionary aspirations in Amritsar, his days as a screenwriter in the film industry of cosmopolitan Bombay and his reluctant boarding of a ship to Karachi in 1947, Jalal showed how partition can be examined through analyses that are not communitarian in tone but, as in Manto’s case, cosmopolitan and post-communitarian.

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The second talk by Jalal, “Separating at Close Quarters: Interpreting PartitionViolence,” sought to dismantle some of the dominant modes of interpreting partition. First, Jalal pointed out that it was not religion as “faith” that was responsible for the violence but rather religion as “difference” between people. Second, communal differences were affected by the material considerations of acquiring “zan, zar, zameen” (gold, land, women). Partition was as much about looting mansions, snatching land and appropriating women as it was about killing one’s fellow man.

Third, traditional analyses of partition forget to mention that most Punjabis refrained from violence, looting, rape and arson. Most of the violence Jalal argued was perpetrated by mobs, thugs and vigilante groups but little beyond that. Muslims helped Hindus and Sikhs helped Muslims reach safe passage. In other cases, women who were  kidnapped decided to stay on the “wrong” side of the border after the formal exchanges of abucted women had been made between India and Pakistan. Any analysis of partition violence Jalal argued has to consider factors beyond just religion.

Jalal is Professor of History at Tufts University and has taught at Columbia University, the University of Madison-Wisconsin and Harvard University. For more information on Professor Jalal’s book on Manto, please click here:  http://www.soas.ac.uk/csp/events/annual-lecture/file79820.pdf.

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