Gender and violence during and after India/Pakistan Partition 1947

In a recent post, I made reference to a fascinating and very informative BBC documentary that deals with the final days of British rule on the Indian subcontinent and the eventual partition of that territory in 1947 into a Muslim-dominated Pakistan (east and west) and a Hindu-dominated India.  In part four of the documentary an elderly Sikh gentleman from the Punjab region tells the harrowing tale of how his female relatives were the victims of brutal violence. Many scholars have argued that the ethnicization of the violence that accompanied the Partition obscure the fact that women bore the brunt of the violence.  In a recent paper, Richard Lee writes about the gendered nature of the violence:

Women were arguably the worst victims of the Partition of India in 1947 and endured displacement, violence, abduction, prostitution, mutilation, and rape. However, on reading histories of the division of India, one finds that the life-stories of women are often elided, and that there is an unwillingness to address the atrocities of 1947. This reticence results partly from the desires of the Indian and Pakistani governments to portray the events as freak occurrences with no place in their modern nations. Literature can play an important role in interrupting state-managed histories, and ‘The Rebirth of Inherited Memories’ focuses upon the manner in which Shauna Singh Baldwin’s What the Body Remembers (2001) unsettles official versions of Partition. It examines how the novel acts as a counterpoint to ‘national’ accounts of 1947 through its depiction of the gendered nature of much of the violence, and it explores Baldwin’s representation of the elusive concept of ‘body memory’. The possibility of remembrances being passed on physically, or born within people, has found support in the eschatologies of Eastern religions, in Western psychological theories, and in recent scientific investigations into the ‘mind-body’ problem. The transmission of ‘body memories’ between generations serves to disrupt accounts that downplay the brutalities at the splitting of India. This paper draws upon a chapter of my doctoral thesis that investigates issues of memory and the enduring influence of Partition in South Asia.

The Partition of India in 1947

The importance of international borders can not be overstated. Despite predictions that the combined forces of globalization would undermine the importance and political meaning of borders, the territorially-defined state remains the world’s predominant form of political organization. As multi-national empires/states collapse, much of the violence that ensues is the result of efforts to draw and redraw what had once been internal borders. Here is a fascinating documentary about the partition of the Indian sub-continent, into India and Pakistan. The narrator observes:

As a British barrister draws a line on a map, the once peaceful land implodes. People are forced out of the villages they have lived in for generations. Fifteen million scramble to be on the right side of the border. At least one million die in the process.

 

Kurdish Nationalism

What are the prospects for an independent Kurdish state to form out of the wreckage of Iraq? How likely is it that Kurds who live in 5 separate states will set aside their differences long enough to coalesce around the common goal of creating a state for the Kurdish people? As we now know, the Kurdish territory in northern Iraq has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the establishment by Great Britain, France, and the United States of the “no-fly zones” in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. (Interestingly, the no-fly zones were established by these three states for putatively humanitarian purposes and had not received official sanction by the United Nations Security Council. For more, click here.)

Following the war-induced collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in 2003, the Kurds of Iraq have enjoyed de facto independence in northern Iraq, with a temporary “capital” at Irbil (though the Kurds wish to reclaim the city of Kirkuk, located in the middle of an oil-rich region, as the capital of any independent state in northern Iraq). In IS 309, we read Michael Ignatieff’s chapter on Kurdistan, from his 1993 book, Blood and Belonging, which provides a snap-shot of the situation of the Iraqi Kurds some two years following the establishment of the no-fly zones. Ignatieff addresses the potential for greater autonomy of the Iraqi Kurdish region from the Iraqi state/regime of Hussein and finds skepticism on the part of most Kurds. Fast-forward almost twenty years (has it been that long!!) and we find the situation on the ground has changed substantially. The difficulties, though, seem to remain and the prospects for Kurdish independence are no less clear today than they were some twenty years ago, particularly given the Turkish state’s response to Kurdish separatist sentiment on the territory of eastern Turkey. Here are a couple of interesting short documentaries on the current state of the Kurdish independence movement in Iraq and Turkey.

Here’s a video on the Kurdish situation in Turkey.

Ethnic Violence in Guyana–Economic Hardship and Ranking of Groups

Here is the video we watched yesterday in IS 309. The video reported on inter-ethnic violence (between those of east Indian heritage and Creoles/Africans/Blacks) that was occurring in the northern South American country of Guyana in 2004. I used the video to highlight some of the themes Horowitz explores in chapters 3 and 4 of Ethnic Groups in Conflict. What are some of the issues that you noticed when watching the video? For a good analytical study on inter-ethnic violence in Guyana from 1948-1999, see this article in the Journal of Peace Research. I provide the abstract for you below:

Coercive and elitist approaches to political control in post-colonial states like Guyana have often proved counterproductive with respect to resolving ethno-political conflicts in these parts. In Guyana, this contradiction is usually manifested in terms of the escalation of legitimate political competition into overtly violent ethno-political violence and polarization, and reinforced by the consequent devaluation of the more democratic or pacific alternatives to conflict resolution such as mass or grass-roots participation, intergroup negotiations, and third-party mediation. Recurring debates between Cultural Pluralists and Marxists on this issue have so far failed to shed light on the prospects for the more pacific approaches to conflict resolution. Closer analytic scrutiny of actual ethno-political conflict events in Guyana between 1948 and 1999 leads to the understanding that such conflicts derive largely from what is termed a continual crisis of political legitimacy reflected in the inequities of political representation and economic resource distribution across groups. The more democratic or pacific approaches are here suggested as most appropriate for the resolution of the political legitimation crisis and the ultimate realization of a sustainable peace among the diverse groups in the Guyana political system.

Rwandan Journalists Jailed for Stirring up Ethnic Tensions

Last week in IS 302, we addressed the issue of how governments should approach the existence of ethnic division in a post-conflict setting. We saw that Rwanda and Burundi have chosen different approaches. Burundi’s leaders have decided to address ethnic grievances via assuring ethnic balance in important institutions such as the military. Rwanda’s government has chosen a different approach, endeavouring to make the society as ethnicity-blind as possible. As such, there has been a zero-tolerance policy with respect to any demonstration or acknowledgement of ethnic particularism. As a recent Amnesty International report states unequivocally:

Rwanda’s laws banning “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” are vague and sweeping, and have been used to silence legitimate dissent. The laws were designed to encourage unity and restrict speech that could lead to hatred. However, they have had dangerous and chilling effect on Rwandan society.”

The most recent example of this “dangerous and chilling effect on Rwandan society” is news of the conviction of two Rwandan journalists of having “stirred up ethnic divisions.” As this BBC article makes clear, it seems highly likely that President Paul Kagame has been using the role of “hate media” during the Rwandan genocide to silence legitimate opposition:

Editor Agnes Nkusi was sentenced to 17 years, while reporter Saidath Mukakibibi was imprisoned for seven. Among several articles, the judge referred to one saying some Rwandans were unhappy with the country’s rulers. Prosecutors said this was “meant to stir [up] hatred and fury against the government”.

President Paul Kagame came to power in 1994, ending the genocide in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered. He has recently been accused of intolerance and harassing anyone who criticises him. His government defends its tough media laws, pointing to the role of “hate media” ahead of the genocide.

The newspaper was suspended for six months last year, just ahead of elections which saw Mr Kagame re-elected by a landslide. Nkusi was found guilty of disrupting state freedom, propagating ethnic division, genocide revisionism and libel.

Two Opportunities for Summer Study Abroad

Via the polcan listserv (Canadian Political Science Association) comes word about two opportunities for study abroad in the area of (ethnic) conflict. The first is a course offered in Kenya by the University of Toronto. The course, PCS361Y–Special Topics in Peace and Conflict Studies: Conflict in Africa: Causes, Consequences, and Responses–is described as “an intensive inquiry into the causes, consequences, and especially possible to conflict in Africa.” The course will be taught in Nairobi, Masai Mara, and Mombasa from May 13 through June 6. For more information, go here.

The second course will be taught as part of the American University in Kosovo summer program. Here is a description of the program:

American University in Kosovo is now accepting applications for the Summer of 2011 to study Peacebuilding, Post-conflict Transformation, and Development in the fun and safe ‘living laboratory’ of the Balkans. This four-week program offers a wide selection of courses in related areas from an impressive array of global scholars, diplomats, retired military officers, ex-combatants, practitioners, and representatives of international organizations. The goal of the program is to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Last year’s program included about 60 students from over 30 countries — including 6 Canadians. About 2/3 of the students were undergraduates — the remaining graduate students. Undergraduate course credits are transferrable. Several participants from 2010 referred to their experiences in the program as ‘life transforming.’

For more about this program, go here.

Theories of Ethnic Identity Formation and Ethnic Violence & Ivory Coast

In IS 309 this evening, we assessed the strengths and weaknesses of three competing theories of ethnic identity (and ethnic violence)–constructivism, primordialism, and instrumentalism. We read the following:

  • Fearon, James D. and David D. Laitin. 2000. Review: Violence and the Social Construction of
    Ethnic Identity,” International Organization, 54:4, pp. 845-877
  • Harvey, Frank P. 2000. Primordialism, Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Violence in the Balkans:
    Opportunities and Constraints for Theory and Policy,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 33:1,
    pp. 37-65
  • Collett, Moya. 2006. Ivoirian identity constructions: ethnicity and nationalism in the prelude to
    civil war,” Nations and Nationalism, 12(4), 613-629
  • Kaplan, Robert. D. 1993. Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through history Part I and One Chapter from each of Parts II, III, and IV.
  • Hechter, Michael. 1995. Explaining Nationalist Violence,” Nations and Nationalism, Vol 1(1), 53-68.
  • We then viewed a video on the breakdown of political life in the Ivory Coast and the descent of that once relatively prosperous west African state into civil war. The civil war was characterised as a battle between the “Muslim-populated north and the Christian-dominated south.” How accurate is this characterisation of the ethnic character of Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOjgiPMs7nc

    For information about the current political situation, in the wake of the refusal of former(?) President Laurent Gbagbo to acknowledge having lost power in elections held several weeks ago, watch these.

    ICG Report–Diamonds and the Central African Republic (CAR)

    The International Crisis Group (ICG) has just released a new report on the influence of diamonds on the political situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). We’ve read various papers on the link between resource wealth (“lootable resources”) and political outcomes, such as regime type and economic outcomes. This report analyses the link between the presence of large stores of diamond wealth in CAR, the level of political instability (it’s essentially a failing state) and the existence of endemic conflict.  From the executive summary of the report:

    In the diamond mines of the Central African Republic (CAR), extreme poverty and armed conflict put thousands of lives in danger. President François Bozizé keeps tight control of the diamond sector to enrich and empower his own ethnic group but does little to alleviate the poverty that drives informal miners to dig in perilous conditions. Stringent export taxes incentivise smuggling that the mining authorities are too few and too corrupt to stop. These factors combined – a parasitic state, poverty and largely unchecked crime – move jealous factions to launch rebellions and enable armed groups to collect new recruits and profit from mining and selling diamonds illegally. To ensure diamonds fuel development not bloodshed, root and branch reform of the sector must become a core priority of the country’s peacebuilding strategy.

    Nature scattered diamonds liberally over the CAR, but since colonial times foreign entrepreneurs and grasping regimes have benefited from the precious stones more than the Central African people. Mining companies have repeatedly tried to extract diamonds on an industrial scale and largely failed because the deposits are alluvial, spread thinly across two large river systems. Instead, an estimated 80,000-100,000 mostly unlicensed miners dig with picks and shovels for daily rations and the chance of striking it lucky. Middlemen, mostly West Africans, buy at meagre prices and sell at a profit to exporting companies. The government lacks both the institutional capacity to govern this dispersed, transient production chain and the will to invest diamond revenues in the long-term growth of mining communities.

    Chronic state fragility has ingrained in the political elite a winner-takes-all political culture and a preference for short-term gain. The French ransacked their colony of its natural resources, and successive rulers have treated power as licence to loot. Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the CAR’s one-time “emperor”, created a monopoly on diamond exports, and his personal gifts to French President Giscard d’Estaing, intended to seal their friendship, became symbols of imperial excess. Ange-Félix Patassé saw nothing wrong in using his presidency to pursue business interests and openly ran his own diamond mining company. Bozizé is more circumspect. His regime maintains tight control of mining revenues by means of a strict legal and fiscal framework and centralised, opaque management.

    The full report can be accessed here. Here is a Al-Jazeera English news report on the situation in CAR.

    “Ghosts of Rwanda” Documentary

    As a video supplement to the Rwanda chapter from Samantha Power’s book on genocide, and the Gourevitch book, we viewed the first part of the PBS Frontline documentary “Ghosts of Rwanda” in class today. Please view the remaining hour or so sometime before next Friday’s class as we will use the first portion of that session to continue our discussion on the international community’s failure to halt the slaughter of more than 800,000 Tutsis by the Hutu-led Rwandan government.Here’s the first part of the documentary. Click on the video to take yourself to Youtube, where you will easily find the remaining parts.

     

    Canada’s Official Recognition of the Armenian Genocide

    There was some uncertainty in seminar a few days ago regarding the Canadian government’s official stance on the Armenian genocide, which began in 1915. In short, Canada as of 2004 officially recognises the Armenian genocide. From a 2004 CBC story–“Canadian Parliament Recognizes Armenian Genocide”:

    The House of Commons has reversed a long-standing policy and passed a resolution denouncing the Turks for committing genocide against Armenians in 1915.The vote passed easily, 153-68.

    The motion said: “That this House acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity.”

    For decades consecutive Canadian governments have dodged the sensitive issue by calling what happened in eastern Turkey a “tragedy,” stopping well short of referring to the events as “genocide.”

    The U.S. dropped a similar resolution a year earlier after the White House warned it could hurt U.S. security interests.

    Before Wednesday’s vote in Parliament, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham issued a statement saying “Canada has had friendly and co-operative relations with Turkey and Armenia for many years. The Canadian government is committed to make these relationships even stronger in the future.

    For a transcript of the debate in the House of Commons, go here.