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Since 1st March, 1999
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The Trauma and the Triumph: Gender and Partition in Eastern India Edited by Jasodhara Bagchi and Subhoranjan Dasgupta, Stree, Rs 500

So you no longer seem to recognise us,/ We who have, over long thirty years, been trekking…/ Leaving the land of our birth…./ Our journey’s end' Will it ever,/ or will it be one long ceaseless trek…

The journey of the “refugees” — victims of mass displacement, torture, murder and rape — began long back in 1947 and seems to be going on ever since. Traumatic tales of the refugees of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), who were driven out in hordes and packed off to West Bengal, are not new. What has been overlooked however are the stories of the women of these displaced families, their trauma, their loss, sometimes their victory and how partition changed their lives as a whole, bringing them out of the cocoon of the household and its chores.

The Trauma and the Triumph compiles such tales based on true stories of such women who have struggled to protect their families from the pangs of poverty and hunger, and at times to protect themselves from the clutches of rapists and plunderers. The book encapsulates the suffering of the heroine of Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara. Nita, the sole breadwinner of her refugee family, ends up sacrificing her own needs and ultimately her life to fulfil the demands of her family members. The remorseful outburst of Nita, “I wanted to live”, serves as an indictment of the Bengal partition and reflects how it has affected the lives of thousands of women like Nita.

Edited by Jasodhara Bagchi and Subhoranjan Dasgupta, the book contains first hand accounts and interviews of victims. There is, on the one hand, accounts like that of Ila Mitra’s silent battle against the inhuman torture faced under the Liaqat-Nurul Amin regime in Selina Hossain’s Kanta Tare Prajapati. On the other, there are the memories of the “Brindaban” widows. This is a treasure trove for readers interested in understanding what led Bengal’s women to abandon their meek image and land on the mean streets of reality.

In the course of their struggle, these women found themselves acquiring newer roles — those of a provider as also an activist. As a third generation refugee herself, Rachel Weber in her essay “Re(Creating) the Home”, highlights this emergence of women. She believes that this fight turned out to be a liberating experience for the women and gave them an elevated status in the eyes of men. It was not an easy task for all, especially for women hailing from the zamindar families of East Bengal. The transition was often traumatic.

The book also highlights the continuity of the refugee problem. Renuka Roy in “And Still They Come” speaks of the difference between the nature of partitions of Punjab and Bengal. Victims in Punjab faced was a two-way migration that ended in mass brutalities and also paved the way for interchange of populations. In Bengal, the refugee flow was a gradual one and in one direction mainly, that from east to west. This migration continues till today — Hindus fled Bangladesh after the new government took over. “Uprooted and Divided” by Meghna Guha Thakurta also throws light on this one way migration.

The book contains translations of poems by Jibananda Das and Taslima Nasreen which give a glimpse of the pain of the loss of a homeland and the futile yearning of refugees to go back home. Santosh Kumar Ghosh’s “Hoina”, extracts from the play “Natun Yehudi” by Salil Sen and Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara, speaks of the courage and resilience of displaced women against a conventional and cowardly patriarchal society.

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