KARACHI: Picking up from where she left off six years ago Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar said when she finished working on her book, The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories, she didn’t want to work on anything related to Partition.

“Writing about Partition had been an emotionally draining project but as it happens, it’s such a huge experience that I think this region has still a long way to go in terms of reckoning with it, understanding it and making sense of it,” said Brown University’s associate professor of history while speaking at T2F on Sunday evening.

“I almost sometimes wish we had another word for this experience called Partition — something that would allow us, like what the Palestinians call Nakba [meaning catastrophe] or what the Jews call the Holocaust. Something that will help us deal with not just the a territorial separation but rather the philosophical, the political questions that this experience raises to understand the world we live in today.”

Prof Zamindar is currently working on a book on the history of archaeology, visual practices and war on the northwest frontier of British India. She shared work that is being done on the Black Margins project which deals with the extraordinary violence unleashed by Partition against minorities in Pakistan and India. “To understand, as a historian, why there is so much violence against these categories of people called minorities, I started working on a project [Black Margins] with a friend who works with Muslims in India,” she said.

The project looks at violence against minorities in Pakistan and India as inseparable and generated by a shared historical logic. “We also see two separate nation states — we simultaneously think about them as conceptual categories,” she said adding that another aspect of the project looks at Pakistan as a profoundly Indian concept.

Discussing minorities, Prof Zamindar brought up the Dalit thought and went on to discuss Dr B R Ambedkar’s ‘Thoughts about Pakistan’ which was his response to the Lahore Resolution and his 1936 undelivered speech, ‘Annihilation of Caste’, which was later published.

She said Dr Ambedkar, who later went on to write the Indian constitution, did a very particular reading of the resolution. Prof Zamindar said that his texts not only anticipated what was going to happen in 1947, but also participated in what happened during that time. So, it is important to examine what this text is saying.

“In recent years ‘Thoughts about Pakistan’ has made a huge comeback in India discussed by very important scholars such as Partha Chatterjee and even celebrated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,” she said.

In ‘Annihilation of Caste’, she said, Ambedkar talks about the importance of courage and acquiring knowledge. He explains that without these two things — social change is next to impossible.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2016

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