JYOTI NAIR BELLIAPPA
Torn from the Roots explores the double-sided power of destiny on the fate of women.
Torn from the Roots: A Partition Memoir, Kamla Patel, translated by Uma Randeria, Women Unlimited, 2006, price not stated.
THE Partition of 1947 confounded free India and Pakistan's destinies even as these new nations were being born. It left thousands homeless and created a permanent rift in the hearts of people borne of a similar culture. The work under review, Kamla Patel's memoir, Torn from the Roots, explores the double-sided power of destiny on the fate of women.
Brecht said, "We have lived an easy generation in houses which we thought to be in-destructible." Sadly enough, this proved true of the Partition of 1947. Who was responsible for this mass movement of humanity? Whose short-sightedness resulted in the fleeing of thousands, pregnant with fear, and distrusting the ones they loved? These questions are politically debatable and fall under the purview of the historian. However, the newly formed governments of India and Pakistan took up the issue of abducted women and children in November 1947 and decided to relocate them. Kamla Patel was one of the interlocutors and social workers involved in India in this complex process.
The statistics still boggle the mind. 25,000 women from East Punjab and 12,000 women from west Punjab had to be "reunited" with their families. The book gives a vivid account of the sordid camps, the movement of refugees, the senseless killings, the intensity of feeling derived from absolute prejudice and bewilderment. Under such circumstances, Kamlaben's dedication to her duty, ability to negotiate, build confidence, harbour secrets, make personal queries, and her capacity to rise to the occasion are indeed astonishing. Her flexibility of approach in certain cases where the boy or the girl chose to remain with each other is at a remove from earlier accounts of more intransigent social workers. Yet, Torn from the Roots is also steeped in Gandhian mores that could not thrive in the climate of 1947. Patel quotes Gandhi's disapproval of the marriages of Hindu abducted women to Muslims. He held that such "conversion to a different religion must not be regarded as genuine, and such marriages cannot be regarded as legal". The fact is that married women had been cruelly separated from their husbands, their homes mercilessly broken and the future of their children jeopardised. Hindu husbands or fathers were less willing to accept them in their family. The children were either sent to orphanages or left back in Pakistan with their natural fathers. The afterlife of this broken world continues to make itself felt. In "The untold story", published in The Hindu Magazine dated July16, 2006, Luv Puri tells the story of one such child, whose mother was forcibly taken away to India. Now 60 years old, Ruksana Begum from Pakistan hopes to meet her eighty-year-old mother Inderjit in India.
However, in this whole project of relocation of women, there were instances of gross violation of human rights, where the social worker stealthily and often forcibly "abducted" women back, often against their wishes. These stories recounted and analysed by Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon, Kamla Bhasin and Veena Das have captured the heart-rending cries of Partition and endorsed the horror and distrust of forced separations.
Yet, it has been impossible to completely undo a Lahori or a Delhi-ite from the days before Partition. Their accents and concerns have stemmed from a century of close contact with Punjabis of all religious communities and now been refracted through the bitterness produced by Partition. But that story will have to await its own chronicler. This book also includes Kamla's personal tribute to the resilience of Mridula Sarabai for having undertaken this herculean task.
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