PARTITION ARCHIVES AND PERFORMANCE

The School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University organized a talk, ‘Partition Archives and Performance’ on the 18th of September 2015. The event was part of the ongoing UGC-UKIERI Project: Gendered Citizenship- Manifestation and Performance. The panelists for the talk were Prof. Anupama Roy ( CPS, JNU) and Prof. Kirti Jain (NSD) as speakers and Prof. Anuradha Kapur (NSD, AUD) and Prof. Nivedita Menon (SIS, JNU) as the discussants.

When British India was partitioned the violence between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs was enacted upon the bodies of the women of these three communities. Thousands of women on both sides of the newly formed borders were abducted, raped, forced to convert, forced into marriage, forced back into what the two new States defined as ‘their proper homes’, torn apart from their families once during Partition by those who abducted them, and again, after Partition, by the State which tried to ‘recover’ and ‘rehabilitate’ them. The multiple forms of sexual violence included inscribing tattoos on their bodies, parading them naked in sacred places like temples, mosques, gurudwaras and cutting their breasts off. Sometimes families traded their women in exchange of their own freedom, at other times, women were urged to take their own lives in order to protect communal ‘honour’ (izzat). The symbolic elevation of ‘woman’ as the embodiment of the sanctified, inner recesses of culture and tradition ironically positioned real women as targets of violent assertions of family, community, and nation.

Prof Anupama Roy, in her paper used the trope of estrangement to talk about how the familiar and the strange figure in the enactment of citizenship in diverse ‘archival forms’ inscribing/performing/narrating ‘truth’ tales from partition of India. In particular she examined the violence of law – in this case ‘The Abducted Persons (Recovery and Restoration) Act, 1949’ – as it left its traces in the lives of women caught in partition and border-making. On one hand she looks at the files of the citizenship section of the Home Department of the Government of India as a specific archive about liminal subjects and on the other focuses on partition literature and stage performance of Kirti Jain’s play ‘Aur Kitne Tukde’, to put the legal and the bureaucratic in dialogue with the emotive and performative. Through various examples, she shows how the play exercise archival agency and establishes a new register, which not just unsettles the legal-bureaucratic inscriptions of citizenship, but also reconstitutes the archival space to open up new sites and imaginaries of citizenship.

Prof Roy’s presentation became much more engaging for all of us as the director of the aforementioned play, Prof Kirti Jain was the next speaker for the evening.
Kirti Jain’s Aur Kitne Tukde intervenes into existing accounts of gendered violence that narrate the ways in which the Partition radically altered the lives of numerous women. The play premiered at the National School of Drama in 2001.
Prof. Jain spoke about the process she employed during the rehearsals for this play and shared some very moving anecdotes vis-à-vis the obstacles she faced as its director. The scale of the tragedy of partition was such that for her and her actors to find a language to articulate the same became a gargantuan task. Therefore, she made her practice collaborative and democratic and brought in a lot of improvisation into the performance. In order to bring a distance between the very personal and emotional selves of the performers and the act, she spoke of endless sessions and of devising new techniques to denote the silence around this huge tragedy.

Prof Nivedita Menon, responded very pertinently to the above speakers and apropos to the matter at hand. She spoke of how the shadow cast by ‘citizenship’, that is, something, which ought to be seen as empowering can also, be otherwise. The exclusionary power of the nation state, did not factor the choice of its so-called ‘citizens’ while carrying on with their rehabilitation project. She also pointed out to the need to examine the violence inherent in the institute of marriage in our country, wherein; women are often coerced to lose their identity in the name of tradition.

Prof. Anuradha Kapur, in a continuation of Prof Jain’s erudition about the directorial process exercised by her, spoke about how the material generates performance. She congratulates the women directors who are experimenting with the form and are bringing in new processes in their theatre practice. She spoke of how the need for moving away from the realist language led to new and innovative dramaturgy. In this particular case, there was a need to make the audience understand the historical context of the character and hence, Prof Kirti’s use of material (like a slide) to show the anthropology of violence is commendable.IMG_1805

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One thought on “

  1. Sounds really wonderful–wish I had been there! I find especially important for those of us who are theatre/performance scholars and artists to see directly how performance can be part of changing historical perceptions, and how performance brings a different register of analysis and feeling to print archives. Reflecting on the content of the discussion, I am struck by how the state could be seen to exercise its responsibility for its citizens by making sure any who wished it would be re-patriated, but of course, as Nevidita points out, the state acts on its own without choice for the subjects, and so rather than supporting citizen rights, represses those rights, assuming authority.

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