Trauma of Partition
Kavita Soni-Sharma

Since 1947: Partition Narratives Among Punjabi Migrants of Delhi
by Ravinder Kaur. Oxford University Press.
Pages 277. Rs 550.

Since 1947 signifies a series of events that examine the British departure from India, the inauguration of the post-colonial Indian nation-state and an unparalleled flow of forced migration across the newly carved borders between India and Pakistan. It has emerged as a powerful metaphor that is used to describe the periods before and after Partition that traverse the lived experience of the Punjabi refugees. In this book, this phrase has been used to initiate a discussion on the themes of disruption in one’s everyday life: migration and reparation; rearrangement; and renewed embodiment of the migrants personal and social bearings.

A descendant of Partition migrants, Ravinder Kaur makes an attempt to comprehend the multi-layered move of Hindus and Sikhs from the North West Frontier Province and West Punjab to Delhi. This mass movement produced a large number of displaced people who needed to re-establish their homes, livelihoods, and kinship networks even while mourning traumatic deaths, sexual violence, missing family members, and the loss of accumulated material belongings.

The immediate period following the migration represented a brief moment where the ordinary business of life began competing with the extraordinary events of Partition and fresh beginnings were made which included restoration of loss, building new homes, recreating community networks through marriages within the migrant communities and devising livelihood strategies. It was the ‘human factor’, i.e., qualities that are used synonymously with Punjabis as himmat (courage), gairat (pride), purusharth (masculine capabilities), mehnat (ability to work hard) and an ‘indomitable spirit’ that does not accept defeat which turned the story of rehabilitation into a success story.

Though the state remains curiously absent in the personal narrative of resettlement, Ravinder Kaur points out active state involvement with evidence gained from official sources. The provision of permanent housing facilities, establishment of new commercial districts, allocation of jobs in governmental departments and educational institutions, and business loans at low rates were some of the facilities that were made available by the state that the Partition migrants could make use of.

Another interesting observation made by the author was of the conspicuous absence of untouchable refugees in the Hindu upper caste and middle class narratives of Partition. The discursive absence does not mean that they were physically absent from the Partition drama, but that they were not included in the stories of injustices meted out to ‘Hindus’ by the Muslims during the Partition violence.

Ravinder Kaur’s tale is woven with memories of experiences of the migrants and national histories of Partition, which help evoke a powerful symbol of the pain and trauma that the ordinary people went through. The narrative behind these images is the national narrative, the chaotic birth of the Indian nation and the excruciating pain attached to it. The refugees’ journey towards becoming ‘locals’ is mapped through an exploration of their coping strategies and gradual identification with the Indian state. This identification is deeper among the displaced Punjabi Hindu population that had been delinked from its ethnic identity following displacement.

Since 1947 is a welcome addition to those few books that bring into the public domain the personal histories and collective narratives of the survivors of Partition which make it engaging not only for researchers and scholars in sociology, history and politics, but also for the interested lay reader.