Build Me My FatherLand

My father is a bit of a history buff; and I get my obsession with mapping events from him. However, when it comes to seeing history as a linear pattern of events, we part ways. My idea of history is too ‘messy’ for him, as I tend to always look at Subaltern points of view — or the voices ‘history’ forgets, so to speak — while he is content with historian’s voices; and the fact that these voices come from a culture and a tradition of privilege aren’t his concern. Needless to say, we have a lot of disagreements when it comes to understanding and seeing history, even when it comes to news and current affairs. Yesterday when Azam Khan questioned how ‘integral’ a part of India Kashmir really was, my father flew into a temper, indignant  at the idea that an ‘Indian’ had any doubts whatsoever regarding how much Kashmir means to us; he started talking about the Kargil war and how our ‘Motherland’ cannot be fissured any more if we want to maintain any semblance of stability. Later that evening, the same news flashed across major networks and my grandma grumbled how easy it is for people to talk about ‘borders’ and question the integrity of Kashmir without witnessing the struggle it took us to attain independence and make these ‘borders’ matter. And then she remembered one speech Nehru gave where he lamented, “what was broken up which was of the highest importance, was something very vital and that was the body of India”. The imagery both discussions conjured up was “motherland”, “mother”, “mother’s ungrateful children” — that is us — and “mother’s body” that ‘we’ve hacked up beyond recognition’. While these words swirl around me, I can’t get over the hyper-feminisation of space, as if this feminised space of imagining India as a “she” or a “her” is an entirely neutral construct and has no bearing on history whatsoever.

Swapping bodies or rather the Body with a female one, isn’t a fateful or even a convenient co-incidence. The female body bears a herstory of  discipline and confinement, historically and otherwise. Victorian novels are full of such cracks, where a feminine body is kept locked up, or just kept to the house. Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals talk about walking with her brother, and about constantly stopping to sit down and then eventually to walk back, bringing to bear the immediacy of physical body policing that went on under being ‘Feminine’. Moving forward a century and a continent, during the partition, Muslim and Hindu women’s bodies literally became markers of the religion or the ‘side’ the belonged to; where women were abducted, raped, assaulted and in some cases, ‘marked’ in the truest sense of the world to ‘correct’ their faith. Here, the female body is displaced, abducted, and systematically scarred to signify community, nation and state. Shauna Singh Baldwin’s What The Body Remembers may be a ‘fictional’ re-telling of the partition, a particularly gory one that too but the issues of feminine displacement the narrative unfolds strike a little too close to home. Urvashi Butalia mentions the many barriers she faced while recording the partition for her book The Other Side Of Silence as most women of the Sikh community had repressed their memories of the communal mass-violence. These memories only re-surfaced decades later, when there was a similar Hindu-Muslim riot; what is striking is, this is a communal memory that most women had suppressed unanimously. Men’s account of the same event details violence and loss of land, women remark the loss of ‘the body’. Sadat Hassan Manto or Ismat Chughtai’s short-fiction reflects the same horrifying gendered violence that we almost never mention when we talk of the partition. Can words like “motherland” still be conceived of as words that have no specific significations, collectively and polemically?

We talk of Kashmir as the ‘glory’ and ‘crown’ of India. Many believe how ‘ugly’ the map will look if Kashmir won’t adorn it. The strict governmental control we keep over map-making and specifically regarding the ‘borders’ of Jammu and Kashmir, almost meticulously and possessively hashing the lines as if these lines will somehow duplicate themselves over other ‘borders’ too. Many leaders and voices from Kashmir have denied their role in such political cartography, while we still carry out our fantasy of ‘possessing’ Kashmir. Given how sensitive the issue of ‘borders’ is for the Indian government, whenever any government official makes a statement, almost always it’s the nationalistic rhetoric that coerces the notion ‘Kashmir is ours’. Repeatedly, India and Kashmir are converted to feminised spaces and bodies, thus possessing these spaces — even metaphorically — becomes an achievable activity. Now that this “body” is feminine, it is then easy and necessary to “map” and “mark” the body in order to discipline the inhabitants of Kashmir, so that this “marking” becomes at once visceral and metaphorical. The feminine body is known to be ‘limitless’ if we go by the traditional folklore; the ‘motherland’ isn’t ‘limitless’ geographically but the emotional and patriotic sentiment it projects to us is. There is a Toru Dutt poem that mentions the “mother is half of my sky and half of my body” and “now my body is disappearing”, as she slyly notes the nationalist anxiety the nation as a whole had over the loss of a defined border before the British left. Today, her words take a double edge, where not only are we anxious about keeping borders intact, we also actively participate in ‘capturing’ and ‘keeping’ the body in tact, be it in maps or in our minds. Leaving theoretical ramblings aside, women are seen as ‘honour’ and ‘dignity’ of the community, as the fleshy signifiers of morals and values — publicly and otherwise — and when they fail to uphold this ‘honour’, punishing and disciplining this flesh doesn’t remain just a fantasy, as we well know.

If we were to consider a FatherLand, a land defined by borders alone, by keeping in mind the Body as a masculine space, would such gendering of violence even be a question? Would we expect our FatherLand to mold to our cartographical desires? Would we think his honour is tainted by a stretch of land gone to the enemy? The truth is, in order to possess and ‘claim’ Kashmir as ours, it needs to be feminised and tamed, it has to remain bound so that we can call it ‘free’.



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  1. Vasundhara

     /  December 23, 2010

    The ‘motherland’ is a terrific invocation of loyalty and possession all in one and seeing it in cold bare terms as this just makes it clear that what we call ‘nationalism’ is just ‘possession. If we were dogs, we’d urinate over the territory to mark it ours.

    Great writing as always!

    • If we were dogs, we’d urinate over the territory to mark it ours.

      Ha! This is exactly what I was going for! 😉

  2. I’d love to sit in on a debate between you and your dad.

    • I can see why you would, maybe it would even be entertaining. On good days my lobes seep out and I’m banging my head to the wall. On other days I try to not rise to the bait and sink every single time. Seriously though, he says “But Kashmir is a part of India!” and I say “No, it isn’t. India admitted it to the U.N way back in 1982”. And then he says “Eat your food before it gets cold” 🙂

      • Do you think he is caught between his role as a dad — and his role as someone whose argument is inferior to yours?

        • No, not really. He doesn’t think his argument is flawed at all. ‘History happened and now we just record it’ is what he goes by. When I say “But history can never be linear! It’s not a simple one-way route” he brings out the many, many historians who back his view. And when I get my references out, they are discounted away as “Oh they are just insolent Leftists. Pfft. Stirring trouble for no reason”. You can see the clear logic there. He doesn’t think too highly of the Left, as you must have surmised by now. So I have to try and make my case without sounding ‘radical’ or even close to a uterused being — because people with uteruses don’t know about history, of course! Which means, I just question him till his head gets tizzy and he forgets what he said last.

  3. There are two kinds of historians: Those who keep the books and records, who see life as linear because THEY HAVE TO. The second looks at history through the eyes of the PEOPLE INVOLVED, which is NEVER linear. Nobody just merely accepts current and past events all the same way. Remember: “Hearts and Minds.”


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