Prof. William Gould and Prof. Sarah Ansari

On 17 August, William Gould (Leeds) and Sarah Ansari (Royal Holloway) – two founder-members and former co-chairs of the Partition Education Group – will together give a lecture exploring the historical context in which the people of South Asia secured their independence from British rule in 1947.  While nationalist pressure on the British had been on the increase since the early twentieth century, as demonstrated by massive popular protests led by the Indian National Congress and other political groups in the 1910s to the 1930s, it was arguably the Second World War that was decisive in terms of accelerating the speed with which Independence was eventually won. Importantly, Sarah and William will also be explaining why the end of Britain’s Indian empire (famously its ‘Jewel in the Crown’) was accompanied by ‘Partition’ – the creation of two separate independent states, India and Pakistan (including present-day Bangladesh), on 14-15 August 1947.  This political-territorial division created the biggest forced population displacement of the twentieth century, and generated complex legacies that have continued to shape South Asian polities and lives, on both sides of the new borders, ever since.  

Because of its dramatic effects on so many people worldwide, South Asia’s Partition has recently been the subject of a lot of exciting historical work. This has explored both the politics leading up to the decision to divide British India, and the experiences of ordinary people caught up in the violence or forced to migrate.  Much less research and writing has been done on what happened immediately after Partition and its legacies. It is precisely this ‘what happened next’ in terms of the subsequent developments taking place in the new states of India and Pakistan after August 1947 that provides the focus of William and Sarah’s second SAHM event, the launch of their co-authored book, also on 17 August (the day on which in 1947 the new borders – or boundaries – delineating India and Pakistan were actually announced). 

Boundaries of Belonging: localities, citizenship and rights in India and Pakistan, published by Cambridge University Press at the end of 2019, looks at both India and Pakistan through the same analytical lens during the immediate aftermath of Independence and Partition.  Again, very few histories have attempted this kind of dual history.  More often, thanks in large part to the politics of the region, the two new states end up being studied separately. Yet the experiences of living in a newly independent India or Pakistan, and the new rights that their citizens enjoyed, were affected by both the pre-Partition past as well as by the post-1947 realities of households displaced by Partition. In this way, the book shows how being a citizen whether in India or in Pakistan was affected by what was happening on the other side of the border. But rather than understanding citizenship as primarily a legal status or alternatively as a pretty abstract bundle of rights and obligations, Boundaries of Belonging approaches citizenship as something that hinges absolutely on ideas about belonging. In other words, it looks at the lived experiences of citizenship in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These included the massive popular ceremonies in the big open spaces of New Delhi and Karachi, the movements and accompanying protests of Partition refugees, the problem of ‘evacuee’ properties left behind when people moved, the writing of Constitutions, and the claiming of rights by women and marginal groups.

With the help of other academics with shared interests, who will act as discussants – Taylor Sherman (LSE), Rohit De (Yale) and Ali Usman Qasmi (LUMS, Lahore) – this book launch will highlight what makes Boundaries of Belonging such an original study, as well as the ways in which it can provide us with historical insights on the continuing challenges associated with citizenship and belonging in South Asia today.

[Details on how to access both events will be provided via PEG and SAHM in August.]

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