Partition, State-formation and Citizenship in South Asia

Auteur Atiya HUSSAIN
Directeur /trice Carolyn Biltoft
Co-directeur(s) /trice(s)
Résumé de la thèse

Mine is a project about nations and nationalism, as seen through the fissures and lack of ‘fitting’ in the very rapid transition from British India to the independent nations of India and Pakistan. In the hurried and shortened run to independence in South Asia, the point of choice for individuals may have been abrupt, but the transformation itself was momentous: Sudipta Kaviraj places both the Partition of 1947 and the independence of India and Pakistan in terms of what he calls a paradox – “universal suffrage being established by an assembly elected on a limited electorate.”


Questions surrounding citizenship in South Asia coincided with the establishment of the nation-state system in the wake of the ending of British colonialism, and can be seen as an inherent process of the process of construction the ‘nation. ’


Gyanendra Pandey locates Partition as a specific moment of re-definition of collectives, a chaotic moment when the ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups of the national imaginings were still being contested. The violence associated with Partition, he argues, was integral to the moment of nationalisation. Moreover, Pandey argues that the inability of South Asians to come to terms with the violence Partition – he gives the example of Germans coming to terms with the Holocaust – indicates the ever-present relevance of Partition on the sub-continent.


The most compelling story may be that of the Raja of Mahmudabad, which Pandey tells as follows: “As with so many other Muslim League leaders of UP and Bihar, Mahmudabad had never contemplated leaving his native land. Broken by the experience that Partition turned out to be, he resigned from the Muslim League in September 1947. The party had committed hara-kiri, he said. To keep it alive in India now was a cruel joke. Most of its leaders – Mahmudabad actually said ‘all’ – had run away from India, leaving the Indian Muslims to their fate.”


The ‘illusion of choice’ may well have been a tragedy for Mahmudabad, who died in London, sighing for his ancestral lands outside Lucknow. But it would also be useful to ground this illusion in the Weberian understanding of the modern state that monopolizes the use of force as essential to its character of compulsory jurisdiction and continuous operation. Mark Levene sums up this agony of choice in the very function of the nation-state: “By defining each human being as an individual citizen, the state effectively subordinates all previous, traditional, and often multi-layered loyalties – whether to extended family, clan, tribe, community, sect, estate, or whatever – to itself, repudiating in the process the authority of these bodies to act as meaningful mediators or negotiators vis-à-vis the state…

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