University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Citizenship, Belonging, and the Partition of India

April 9, 2021






Antara DattaRoyal Holloway College, Hindus in Bangladesh and the Citizenship Question in Assam


Farhana IbrahimIndian Institute of Technology Delhi, The 1971 War: Perspectives from Gujarat


Sarah WaheedDavidson College, Hyderabad's ‘Police Action’: Muslim Belonging, Memory, and the Hidden Histories of Partition


Arsalan KhanUnion College, Contesting Sovereignty: Islamic Piety and Blasphemy Politics in Pakistan


Moderator: Neeti Nair, University of Virginia




Shahla HussainSt. John’s University, Artificial ‘Borders’: Kashmiri Belonging in the Aftermath of Partition  


Uttara ShahaniOxford UniversityLanguage Without a Land: Linguistic Citizenship and the Case for Sindhi in India


Ather ZiaUniversity of Northern Colorado, Kashmiri poetry and the imaginaries of love, loss, and freedom


Mehr FarooqiUniversity of Virginia, Wounds of Partition as Symbolized in the Fiction of Intizar Husain


Moderator: Sonam Kachru, University of Virginia






Antara Datta, "Hindus in Bangladesh and the Citizenship Question in Assam"

This paper will look at the ‘Hindu’ question in Bangladesh and the concomitant effect on the refugee question in Assam. This paper will argue that 1971 provides a critical dividing line in how we understand the politics of migration within Assam, by providing a line of acceptance between those who are said to belong legally and those are seen as outsiders. Contrary to the Government of India’s narratives that the refugees, largely Hindu who crossed the border, were welcomed with open arms, my research demonstrates that an ‘affective’ border develops in Assam in this period. This border draws upon existing memories of Partition refugees who stayed on after 1947 and manifests itself in the way in which the 1971 refugees are treated. There is resistance in Assam both from the local Assamese who have demographic concerns about the presence of Hindu Bengalis, as well as local Khasi and Jaintia tribes who are in the process of agitating for statehood. I argue that briefly in this period it is language rather than religion that is the marker of belonging within Assam.

Thus, in the post 1971 period, this affective border in Assam takes a step towards becoming an ‘effective’ one with 1971 becoming the delineating point between those who are said to legally belong and those who are not. This paper then carries this story forward to the present day and the debate around the Citizenship Amendment Act to demonstrate how the affective border has shifted to one that has been securitised around concerns about illegality and ‘infiltration’ centered around the body of the Muslim Bengali migrant, and the ways in which the Indian nation state has now used these border narratives for its own exclusionary citizenship goals.


Farhana Ibrahim, "The 1971 War: Perspectives from Gujarat"

In this paper, I examine the 1971 war (better known as the war for the liberation of Bangladesh) from a western Indian perspective. I argue that this war between India and Pakistan—while it focused overtly on the independence of East Pakistan—had some significant consequences for the western border between Kutch (in Gujarat state) and Sindh (in Pakistan). I suggest that this military conflict and the subsequent brief Indian occupation of TharParkar in Sindh allows for a significant re-thinking of questions of citizenship, identity and belonging that were sparked off in 1947. Indeed, I suggest that for this section of the border, it was 1971 rather than 1947, that is central to the articulation of these questions around nationality and citizenship.

In recent years, the 1971 war has come to be memorialized through spectacular public memorials in Kutch, a popular tourist destination that is increasingly re-inventing itself as a site for war tourism. The 1971 war and a nationalist-spun narrative of India’s ‘victory’ over Pakistan generates much of the attraction for this kind of war and border tourism. However, as I argue in my paper, the consequences of the war, from the perspective of Hindus who migrated from Sindh to Kutch in the hopes of acquiring citizenship and a new identity (thus fulfilling, in a sense, the premise of the 1947 partition), is far more ambiguous than what a straightforward military victory may claim for itself. The experiences of these migrants also provide insights into the possible consequences of the controversial Indian Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA, 2019) that selectively grants citizenship to migrants into India based on their religion. In this paper I draw on a more extended argument in my soon to be published book, From Family to Police Force: Security and Belonging on a South Asian Border (Cornell University Press, 2021).


Sarah Waheed, "Hyderabad’s ‘Police Action’: Muslim Belonging, Memory, and the Hidden Histories of Partition"

This paper revisits the forcible and violent annexation of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad by the Indian army in 1948, as an inaugural moment of dispossession to consider what it means to reconstruct Hyderabad’s twentieth century past along the axes of Muslim belonging and memory. Hyderabad not only remains largely hidden from within the historiography of Partition, but its past has also been obscured by colonialist, orientalist, nationalist, communitarian, and developmentalist historical narratives. Each of these narratives loses sight of Hyderabad’s post-1948 twentieth century past as well as the question of Muslim memory and belonging across seventy years of tremendous change, transformation, and upheaval. Drawing from methodologies in history (oral histories), geography (mapping), anthropology (ethnographic fieldwork), as well as literature, I suggest we turn to documenting the pasts of local neighborhoods against the global circuits of South Asian migration. This paper turns in particular to the lower middle-class neighborhood of Toli Chowki—the new headquarters of Asaduddin Owaisi’s political party the MIM— to examine how memories of longing, belonging, and sovereignty related to the erstwhile Nizam period of Hyderabad, are being recrafted, repurposed, as well as disappearing as a result of Persian Gulf migration.


Arsalan Khan, "Contesting Sovereignty: Islamic Piety and Blasphemy Politics in Pakistan"

In the past decade, Pakistan has witnessed a resurgence of Islamic forces that claim to be defending Islam from what they believe to be a deluge of incidents of blasphemy, a veritable moral panic made possible and organized around a set of anti-blasphemy laws pertaining to the protection of sacred symbols. The violence of blasphemy politics, which is directed largely at

sectarian and religious minorities, is predicated on the formal link between Islam and state sovereignty in Pakistan’s constitution and on the claim that it is the role of the state to propagate and protect Islam. In this paper, I focus on the response to this blasphemy politics by Pakistani Tablighis, practitioners of the transnational Islamic piety movement the Tablighi Jamaat. Like other Islamic groups in Pakistan, Tablighis believe that blasphemy is a grave sin and a deep threat to the Islamic community, but Tablighis say that the solution to the growing incidence of blasphemy is to continue to preach the virtues of Islam and ultimately for a guided Islamic reform of the blasphemy laws. I argue that these different responses reflect different approaches to the relationship between Islam and state sovereignty.




Shahla Hussain, "Artificial ‘Borders’: Kashmiri Belonging in the Aftermath of Partition"  

This paper focuses on the contested region of Kashmir and investigates how the creation of the cease-fire line that divided the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan in 1948 shaped the question of belonging for the majority of its Muslim inhabitants, especially from the 1940s to the 1960s. It traces the ordinances, policies, and laws put in place by the new nation-states to restrict Kashmiri movement and make it difficult for families trapped on either side of the cease-fire line to return home. These bureaucratic procedures defined by the question of self-determination pending in the United Nations and devoid of human considerations made Kashmiris apprehensive about the motivations of both states. The paper argues that Kashmiri belonging after partition did not seamlessly merge into the national identities of India or Pakistan. Instead, the ceasefire line itself, which cut arbitrarily through the natural environment and dismantled the structures that had sustained the state’s economy before 1947, shaped Kashmiri Muslims’ perceptions of India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. Drawing from intercepted letters, pamphlets, and poetry, the paper reveals the irrelevance of such artificial ‘borders’ in the Kashmiri psyche and their desire to challenge and transgress this divide, without the constraints and restrictions of its militarized landscape. In the process, Kashmiri demand for self-determination became intertwined with the reunification of the old princely state that would promote human-to-human contact, reopen old trade routes and promote economic self-sufficiency.  


Uttara Shahani, "Language Without a Land: Linguistic Citizenship and the Case for Sindhi in India"

In the aftermath of partition Sindhi partition refugees in India found themselves without a 'linguistic state' to which they could claim attachment unlike partition refugees from Punjab and Bengal. The article explores how and why Sindhis sought to find a form of linguistic citizenship in India via the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The Eighth Schedule initially consisted of a limited list of languages. Sindhis faced opposition to the inclusion of their language in it as officials feared their demand would open the floodgates to other linguistic minorities demanding a place on the list. Indeed, this is exactly what happened, and the number of languages in the Schedule grew after Sindhi's inclusion in 1967 to include more languages that did not map onto a defined linguistic state. The article considers how language became significant as more than the expression of a cultural identity ─ and a means for deterritorialised partition refugees to find a political identity and assert their citizenship as an electoral minority. It examines how other linguistic minorities referred to the campaign to include Sindhi in the Eighth Schedule to make their own claims on the Constitution and articulate challenges to the hierarchical view of linguistic citizenship contained in the Eighth Schedule.  


Ather Zia, "Kashmiri poetry and the imaginaries of love, loss, and freedom"

Edward Said sums up collective memory as not being an inert and passive thing, but a field of activity in which past events are selected, reconstructed, maintained, modified, and endowed with political meaning. Thus, collective memory is a form of placemaking which is pivotal to crafting, mobilizing, and sustaining political and cultural resistance against hegemonic powers. This paper focuses on poetry in the Indian occupied Kashmir wielded as the art of placemaking, creating a site of narrative history that is countering the increasing depredations of the Indian military occupation and its settler colonial policies. Deployed as a “right to a remembered presence” poetry becomes a way to reclaim and recover the past, understand the present and imagine a future. Poetry makes possible to envision these modes of placemaking that have been steadily eroded by the hegemonic and obfuscating Indian discursive practices around the Kashmiri resistance for the right to self-determination.


Mehr Farooqi, "Wounds of Partition as Symbolized in the Fiction of Intizar Hussain"

The experience of migration as a result of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent has an entirely different level of meaning than that subsumed in migration alone.  Here the issues are related to the splitting, in a most organic way, of culture, history, tradition and continuity. Noted modern writer Intizar Husain was the first to come up with the idea of describing the migration as hijrat.

My paper examines the fiction of Intizar Hussain, particularly his complex novel Basti (1979) with a view to excavate the pain of the loss of home as recollected by the novel’s historian protagonist Zakir. Intizar Hussain’s novel is set in the period immediately before the “second partition”, that is the separation of East Pakistan. What did the severance of Pakistan’s eastern wing signify for those who had migrated to West Pakistan from India? How does Hussain invoke the past, or use the civilizational memory to heal wounds?





Antara Datta is a historian of modern South Asia. She is the author of Refugees and Borders in South Asia: the Great Exodus of 1971 (Routledge, 2012), which engages with the aftermath of the process of decolonisation and uses the war of 1971 to examine the creation of 'affective' and 'effective' borders in South Asia, the subjectivity of minorities, as well as changing ideas about citizenship within South Asia that move beyond the familiar paradigms of region and religion. Her current research looks at the link between border crossers and the creation of ideas about nationality and citizenship in South Asia. A separate strand of her research examines the manner in which the Indian state has attempted to open up multiple possibilities of belonging for Non-Resident Indians. Datta teaches at Royal Holloway College, University of London.


Mehr Farooqi is an author and literary critic. She is drawn to translation, literary modernism, intersections between religion and literature, history and art history. Her publications include Urdu Literary Culture, Vernacular Modernity in the Writing of Muhammad Hasan Askari (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012) and The Two-Sided Canvas: Perspectives on Ahmed Ali (ed.) (Oxford University Press, 2013). She is also editor of the two-volume Oxford India Anthology of Modern Urdu Literature (Oxford University Press, 2008) and writes a regular column for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn’s Sunday magazine. Her book, Ghalib, A Wilderness at my Doorstep, A Critical Biography, was published recently (Penguin/ Allen Lane, 2021). Farooqi teaches at the University of Virginia.


Shahla Hussain is an assistant professor in the History Department at St. John’s University, New York. She received her Ph.D. from Tufts University. Her research focuses on the themes of identity, self-determination, and transnationalism in postcolonial Kashmir. She has published essays in several edited volumes, and her first book, entitled Kashmir in the Aftermath of Partition, has just been published by Cambridge University Press. 


Farhana Ibrahim is an anthropologist whose research interests include the study of borders, policing, migration, and ethnographic perspectives on the state. Her first book, Settlers, Saints, and Sovereigns: An Ethnography of State Formation in Western India (Routledge, 2009) is based on ethnographic research among Muslim pastoral communities in Gujarat along the Kutch - Sindh border. She has co-edited a special issue of the Economic and Political Weekly, 'Exploring Borderlands in South Asia' and her forthcoming book From Family to Police Force: Security and Belonging on a South Asian Border (Cornell University Press, 2021) is an ethnography of policing, civil-military relations and surveillance in a south Asian borderland. She is also the book reviews editor of the SAGE journal, Contributions to Indian Sociology. Ibrahim teaches at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.


Sonam Kachru is an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia; a historian of philosophy, his research has centered on Buddhist and Indian philosophy in ancient South Asia, with particular attention to philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and philosophical anthropology. His work has appeared in the Journal of the American Oriental Society; Journal of Indian PhilosophySophia; and The University of Toronto Quarterly, among other journals and edited volumes. His first book, Other Lives: Mind, and World in Indian Buddhismis forthcoming from Columbia University Press. His translations of modern and medieval Kashmiri poetry have appeared in Another Chicago MagazineAlmost Island, Asymptote, Aufgabe, and Words Without Borders.


Arsalan Khan is an assistant professor of anthropology at Union College. His research focuses on ritual, gender, ethics, and sociality themes that he explores in the context of the Islamic revival in Pakistan. His first book project The Promise of Piety: Islam and the Politics of Moral Order in Pakistan examines the zealous commitment to a distinct form of face-to-face preaching (dawat) among Pakistani Tablighis, practitioners of the transnational Islamic piety movement, the Tablighi Jamaat. This book examines how dawat, which involves arduous travel, personal sacrifice and the creation of intimate relationships with fellow pious Muslims, is understood by Tablighis to be a means for the cultivation and spread of Islamic virtues. The Promise of Piety speaks to the broader relationship between Islam, secularism and modernity. His articles have appeared in Anthropological Quarterly and Social Analysis, and in edited volumes.


Neeti Nair is an associate professor in the department of history at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, (Harvard University Press and Permanent Black, 2011). She is currently working on a monograph on “hurt sentiments” and state ideology in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. She is on the editorial board of Asian Affairs and is a Mellon Fellow at the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures, University of Virginia.


Uttara Shahani is a lawyer and historian of modern South Asia. Her recent PhD in history from the University of Cambridge focused on Sindh and the partition of India. She works on Sindh and the Sindh diaspora, partitions, refugee migration, citizenship, and the histories of ecumenical traditions of religious practice. Shahani was ESRC postdoctoral fellow at the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, affiliated to the Centre of South Asian Studies at Cambridge, and postdoctoral affiliate, Trinity College, Cambridge, and is currently postdoctoral researcher at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford.


Sarah Waheed is a historian of modern South Asia. Her expertise is on the history of South Asian Islam and the shaping of modern Muslim communities and she draws upon scholarly methodologies from history, comparative literature and anthropology. Her first book, Hidden Histories of Pakistan: Censorship, Literature, and Secular Nationalism in Late Colonial India, forthcoming with Cambridge University Press, focuses on the anticolonial Indo-Muslim intellectuals of the Urdu progressive writers’ movement and how they responded to legislative and social forms of censorship. She has published articles in Modern South AsiaHimal South Asia and Postcolonial Text. She is presently working on two book projects: on the history of urbanization and Muslim belonging in 20th century Hyderabad after 1947, and on the historical figure of Chand Bibi, a 16th century Queen Regent who played a critical role in the development of the Deccan Sultanates. Waheed teaches at Davidson College in North Carolina.


Ather Zia, Ph.D., is a political anthropologist, poet, short fiction writer, and columnist. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Gender Studies program at the University of Northern Colorado Greeley. Ather is the author of Resisting Disappearances: Military Occupation and Women’s Activism in Kashmir (June 2019) which won the 2020 Gloria Anzaldua Honorable Mention award. She is the co-editor of Can You Hear Kashmiri Women Speak (Women Unlimited 2020), Resisting Occupation in Kashmir (Upenn 2018) and A Desolation called Peace (Harper Collins, May 2019). She has published a poetry collection “The Frame” (1999) and another collection is forthcoming. In 2013 Ather’s ethnographic poetry on Kashmir has won an award from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. She is the founder-editor of Kashmir Lit and is the co-founder of Critical Kashmir Studies Collective, an interdisciplinary network of scholars working on the Kashmir region.


Organized by Neeti Nair, University of Virginia

Margaret Bourke-White, "Migrants After India Partition"


Homer Statue
9:00 am - 1:30 pm