Who Are We? Why Are We So Interested in Studying the Partition?

“Who are we? Why are we so interested in studying the Partition?”

These were the first questions Urvashi Butalia asked the class, which really got me thinking how did we come to harness so much of our emotional and intellectual attachment to the topic.

As part of Habib University’s elective course ‘The Unwritten Epic: Reading the Partition in Fiction and Film’, we were blessed with the privilege to indulge in an hour long Skype conversation with the brilliant author and historian Urvashi Butalia, who joined us from India.

Parts of her book ‘The Other side of Silence’, were discussed at length during previous class discussions led by my colleague Fatin Nawaz, giving us goosebumps and another reason to acknowledge the terrifying realities of the partition which are gradually being forgotten by generations under the popularity of state-sponsored textbooks that elucidate only the high-politics of the great divide.

Butalia answered the primary question she posed in the beginning herself by highlighting the importance of the low-politics, the intimate associations one has with such an event, the strength of stories that make up an individual’s experience and that ultimately they are equally important in defining how the partition should be read and remembered. It is easy to be reminded of a linear and hard lined set of events every August that project the partition as something inevitable; and so learning new things about it is tough and humbling in many ways.

Several students shared their own final research projects for the course with her, including the methodological issues they were facing in conducting the research, looking for guidance and a curiosity whether a similar sentiment regarding a facet of partition existed in India. For every question posed, she eloquently answered stringing together alternative ways to humanize our primary methods of research by focusing on building trust and connections with the people instead of posing direct questions. She also helped students with providing books, references and narrating her own stories relating to the partition.

I would like to thank our course instructor Dr. Asif Aslam Farrukhi who always makes sure that we not only read unconventional scholarly work, but also meet and/or talk to the scholars, thereby making us aware of not only the context of the work but also the workings of the scholarly mind. These discussions, in turn, add a nuanced layer to our understanding of the work and make us think in a dimension in which we have seldom thought.

This blog was written by Nazish Rizwan, Junior at HU’s School of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (AHSS), majoring in Social Development & Policy (SDP), Class of 2018.

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