ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Politics of Memory

Reclaiming ‘Out-of-Date’ East Pakistan

Partition's Post-Amnesias: 1947, 1971 and Modern South Asia by Ananya Jahanara Kabir (New Delhi: Women Unlimited) 2013; pp 216, Rs 400.

Forty long years after the 1971 Liberation War, the secession of East Pakistan and its recasting as Bangladesh, the ruling Awami League initiated a war crimes tribunal that unleashed a fury of sociopolitical contestations. It brought back banished memories of not only the civil war between West and East Pakistan, but multiple conflict lines between Islamicist collaborators and Bengali nationalists, the India and Pakistan war, and ethnic confrontation between Biharis and Bengalis. In the now disappeared space of East Pakistan, there were constituencies which were invested in that first stage of the Bengal delta’s state formation process ideologically driven by theological nationalism. From 1947 to 1971, densely textured interconnections (personal, institutional and pedagogic) had developed between the western and eastern wings of Pakistan as well as discomfiting and traumatic experiences. Post-1971, a mix of psychological trauma and the political imperative of national belonging made for a loss of those attachments and memories in that second stage of the state’s formation mobilised this time by Bengal’s ethnocultural nationalism. It in turn, spurred Pakistan’s reimagining as a “state of Islam”.

In the new national narrative, discordant forces left over from the lived coexistence of nearly 20 years were excluded (the Biharis) or marginalised and ideologically rejected (the Islamicists), and the memory of east-west linkages airbrushed away. But four decades after the “Liberation War”, the war crimes tribunal catalysed widening circles of popular agitations, exposing the persistence of deep layers of unreconciled groups and competing ideologies. For the now thrice removed post-Partition generation, it jolted back to memory the entanglement of East Pakistan with Bangladesh. It prised open 1971 which has been memorialised as a sealed moment and paved the way for the re-entry of 1947 Partition as the processual link to 1971.

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