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

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Territories, Citizens, Identities

Rethinking the Bengal Partition

Partitioned Lives: Migrants, Refugees, Citizens in India and Pakistan, 1947–1965 by Haimanti Roy, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012; pp xii+254, Rs 695.

The signing of the Land Boundary Agreement in June 2015 between India and Bangladesh invoked memories of the Bengal Partition (1947). This agreement finally settled the border issues and the exchange of the enclaves. Asgar Ali, at 105 the oldest man in the Mashaldanga enclave (India), hoisted the tricolour at a ceremony. “I have got the nation of my dream. It comes at the fag end of my life, still it comes. I saw Jawaharlal Nehru and Jinnah divide India and I saw Indira Gandhi and Mujibur Rehman sign the treaty to settle the enclave issue. But things dragged on for so long,” he said (Nagchoudhury 2015). Reading and reviewing Haimanti Roy’s book in the background of this historical deal has been significant.

The photograph on the cover of the book captured my attention with a musical instrument (Esraj, the Indian harp) and a rifle in the same frame. It is apt that a book which shifts its focus from the high narratives of partition and brings to us the processual and everyday life narratives of the (Bengal) partition carries such an image on its cover. Such artefacts and various other material objects have remained with the refugees and migrants, reminding them of the fateful separation from home and hearth. The book has come out of Roy’s PhD thesis submitted at the University of Cincinnati in 2006. Roy specialises in the political and social history of colonial India and modern South Asia and is currently working on a social history of certificates and documents in 20th century India.

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