Remembering Partition

india_pakistan-620x413On the 14th and 15th August, Pakistan and India celebrated their respective Independence Days. This year, which marks 70 years since the Partition of India, the celebrations were accompanied by reflection. There has been a cultural reticence around discussion of the deep trauma inflicted by Partition – the ripple effects of which are still felt today.

In a piece for Prospect, I wrote about historians who are trying to gather oral histories of Partition – a project which is fast becoming a race against time as the last generation with vivid memories of this seismic event die out.

Oral history is particularly important given that there has been no major public reckoning with the seismic event of Partition. There are no memorials for the dead, no national reflection as there is today in Germany after the horrors of the Holocaust, no reconciliation committees as in Rwanda after the genocide. There are several possible reasons for this: not least the circumstances of Partition, which involved not only independence from years of subjugation but the birth of two new countries.

For The Pool, I wrote about the gender-specific traumas faced by women. In addition to a broader cultural reluctance to talk about Partition, these stories are hampered by stigma around sexual violence.

Urvashi Butalia, Indian feminist historian and author of The Other Side of Silence, has written about the gendered impact of Partition, and the need for a true engagement with this history: “Women were raped, kidnapped, abducted, forcibly impregnated by men of the ‘other’ religion, thousands of families were split apart, homes burnt down and destroyed, villages abandoned. Refugee camps became part of the landscape of most major cities in the north, but, a half century later, there is still no memorial, no memory, no recall, except what is guarded, and now rapidly dying, in families and collective memory.”

On a (slightly) more cheerful note, my 93 year old grandmother spoke to BBC Woman’s Hour about her own memories of Partition, when she was one of many privileged young women who joined the relief effort by working in refugee camps. You can listen online – she’s about 25 minutes in and is followed by a historian talking about the impact Partition had on women.

Sexual violence in India

460545326Back in October, I travelled to Delhi. While I was there, I spoke to various women about how safe they feel in the city, and to activists about the long fight for change. It has been two years since the brutal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus caused national and international outrage, prompted city-wide protests, and a series of legal changes. But did the incident have any lasting impact?

Sexual violence and violence against women is a global problem, and many of the issues that Indian campaigners describe are common to countries all over the world: a lack of funding for crisis centres and counselling, police refusing to record cases or making victims feel uncomfortable, a lack of female officers. “The police are generally very harsh,” says Dorothy Kamal, a rape counsellor for CSR. “People are afraid of them.” India’s police forces are chronically overstretched; and misogynistic social norms still dominate, for all the current public discussion. “Recognising the problem is positive, but when it comes to solutions, we are still grasping in the dark,” says Kumar.


You can read the rest of the article at the New Statesman website.

Pakistan’s political theatre

Qadri's supporters gathered in Islamabad.
Qadri’s supporters gathered in Islamabad.

On 15 January, Tahir ul Qadri’s “long march” reached Islamabad and camped outside Parliament. While it stopped short of the 1m people he’d promised, a good 30,000 or so turned out. I wrote this blog for the New Statesman looking at the Qadri phenomenon and explaining why some people are suspicious of his motives. On the same day, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. Immediately, the talk was of a judicial coup; a power-grab by the back door. I appeared on this Monocle 24 show discussing the latest developments and what it meant for the forthcoming election. In the typical, dramatic style of Pakistani politics, the crisis was soon resolved and the election is back on track. As the dust settled, I wrote this column for the Express Tribune, exploring the underlying reasons that Qadri was able to muster so much support so quickly: deep dissatisfaction with the political system as a whole.

Other things I’ve been working on over the past few weeks include this post about the Delhi gang-rape case over at my New Statesman blog. It looks at the difficulty of translating “watershed” moments into action in a misogynist society with an under-equipped police force.

I also wrote this column for the Express Tribune about the 10 million Pakistani women missing from the electoral roll, and the challenges of getting women to the ballot box.

Paralympics, defectors, and… virginity cream

Fireworks explode at the Paralympics opening ceremony.

Just for clarity, the title of this post refers to three topics I’ve covered separately, rather than all at once (although that sounds like a great, if unlikely, piece). Thought I’d share some links to some of the things I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks.

First up, continuing the sex and morality theme of my last post, I’ve fulfilled a lifelong dream by writing an article for a national newspaper about vaginas. It’s for the Guardian and discusses the controversy caused by the launch of a “vaginal tightening and rejuvenation cream” in India. You can read it here.

Last week, I also co-produced a second show for NTS radio, this time focusing on the Olympic athletes who defected and are seeking to stay in the UK. The podcast isn’t online, but I wrote an article on the same subect for Alternet. Somewhere between 12 and 21 athletes and delegates are still in the UK. While some of them have voiced their intentions to claim political asylum, such as the Ethiopian runner Weyney Ghebrisilasie, other cases are less clear cut.

While most of the Olympic athletes have returned home, the Paralympians are just getting started. My interview with Paralympian and cross-bench peer Tanni Grey Thompson appeared in last week’s New Statesman. She talks cuts to disability living allowance, changing attitudes to disabled sport, and why she never wants to forget anything.

Have also been blogging both for the NS and for Middle East Monitor, including this post on the decision by an Israel court that no-one should face charges for the death of activist Rachel Corrie. She was killed in 2003 by an Israeli army bulldozer, and her parents have pledged to appeal the decision and continue their fight for justice. In my post, I argue that this verdict is problematic in more ways than one. Not only are there questions over the procedure followed in the original investigation, but the judge’s decision sits uncomfortably with Israel’s commitments under international law.

Sex and morality

Activists in India protest after three ministers in Karnataka were caught watching porn, February 2012.

Some links to last week’s scribblings. On Monday, I wrote about the Shafilea Ahmed case and whether it is time to reconsider the term “honour killings”. To an extent, it is a useful shorthand, but on the flipside, there could be something exonerating in the phrase: after all, murder is murder and there is no need for it to be a cultural issue. You can read the piece over at the New Statesman.

At the other end of the spectrum, I wrote (also for the New Statesman) about the porn industry in India and how the internet is bringing it into the mainstream. It also looks at how homegrown porn stars, a relatively new phenomenon for India, negotiate that shame culture and the dishonour that goes with being open about sexuality.

Elsewhere (and on a completely different note), I wrote a couple of blogs for Middle East Monitor. The first discussed the attack on border guards in Sinai and the effect that might have on Gaza. The other looked at how Riyadh and Tehran are vying for the loyalty of new Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.