No Child’s Play: Recovering the Child in South Asian Partition Narratives

 

 

In an effort to address the collective trauma inflicted by devastating and prolonged large-scale events and changes, such as those of the 1947 Partition of India, there occurs the problem of “which traumas are sufficiently legitimate or important to be translated and represented” (Auchter: 2018). In recent years, the Partition has been the subject of an alternative historiography, with a distinct focus on unearthing the marginalized voices of those who had been previously neglected by the narratives of “official history.” Women and Dalits (Butalia: 1998, Bhasin and Menon: 1998) fall under the ambit of such revised scholarship, along with minority groups from east Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and Northeast India (Sengupta: 2015, Chatterji: 1994, Chakrabarty: 2004). There is, however, another vulnerable group that has been left largely untouched by scholarly interventions or otherwise. Seldom comprehensively discussed, children and their experiences of the Partition and its aftermath have been generally sidelined altogether.

During the 1947 Partition, nearly 50,000 children were abandoned or orphaned (note: official numbers are usually underestimates), leaving them at risk of being recruited by organized cartels or sold into prostitution and begging. Amongst those who were put up for adoption, boys were usually preferred to girls, who were in demand only for “other services” such as domestic help, or worse (Butalia: 1998). There was also the issue of children born of the sexual violence and rapes of abducted women and who, by virtue of their mixed parentage, challenged the state’s neat classification of individuals on the basis of religion. Seemingly overnight, the lines drawn across the subcontinent had produced masses of child refugees who, under the official brand of freedom and independence, were torn from the familiar worlds of their childhood and sites of cultural memory. There have been few investigations into issues of child trauma, belonging, feelings of exile and alienation in children, unlike in the context of the European Holocaust which has researched “even to the extent of [it] affecting the children of the survivors” (Kala and Sarin: 2008).

The matter of authentically documenting a child’s encounter with various Partition-related events and ensuing violence has often been punctuated with a question mark, further exaggerated by the conflict between the voice of an adult narrator and that of the child protagonist who had experienced the event in real time (Raychaudhuri: 2019). The shadow of “the Long Partition” (Zamindar: 2007) lurks in the lives of individuals in contemporary society as well, who have in some ways inherited the trauma and loss of their parents and older relatives. Representations of the Partition and the tensions that have persisted decades later have been the subject of diverse literary and cinematic works, and it is worthy to study the figure of the child in such fictional and/or semi-autobiographical narratives. All things considered, the question of how children made sense of the Partition in the 1940s and later, the 1970s, its aftermath, and their own drastically changed lives is important to contemplate and document.

The CCYSC welcomes long-form contributions on this theme in diverse forms: feature essays, photo or visual essays, creative pieces, non-fiction works, semi-academic pieces. All submissions must be well-researched, properly referenced, and data cross-checked and verified, if applicable. For written contributions, the word limit is between 2500-3500 words. We encourage you to use photos, visual aids, audio snippets, wherever possible. While you may engage with theoretical frameworks from across the world, the focus must be on South Asian children and youth. For video contributions, please ensure that the file size is not more than 10 GB.

Any queries and final submissions can be addressed to childyouth2020@gmail.com by 15 August 2021. We look forward to reading your work!

keywords: Partition 1947, 1971, children, South Asia, trauma, migration, refugees, memory, identity.

Feature-Essay Editor/Intern : Sukriti Lakhtakia 

CCYSC Call for Feature Essays
July-August 2021