The Refugee Woman: Partition of Bengal, Women, and the Everyday of the Nation

  • Author / Creator
    Chakraborty, Paulomi
  • In this dissertation I analyze the figure of the East-Bengali refugee woman in Indian literature on the Partition of Bengal of 1947. I read the figure as one who makes visible, and thus opens up for critique, the conditions that constitute the category ‘women’ in the discursive terrain of post-Partition/post-Independence India. The figure of the refugee woman, thereby, allows us to map the relationship between the category women and the collective imaginary, specifically the nation. I argue that the figure of the refugee woman explicates, interrupts, and critiques the relationship of ‘women’ to the nation in the normative patriarchal nationalist discourse, which constructs women as a sign of the nation. The representational import of the refugee woman pushes the signification of ‘women’ in relation to the collective from a sign to that of a subject. My analysis of the refugee woman is, thus, a critical engagement with the tension between ‘women’ as figurative and ‘women’ as historical-material categories, although both are imagined within the field of discursive signification. I develop my argument by analyzing three major texts from West Bengal, India that respond to the Partition to critically apprehend the radical charge inherent in the figure of the refugee woman. These texts are the film Meghe Dhaka Tara (Cloud-Capped Star; 1960) by Ritwik Ghatak, and the novels Epar Ganga, Opar Ganga (The River Churning; 1967) by Jyotirmoyee Devi and Swaralipi (The Notations; 1952) by Sabitri Roy. The larger argument of the dissertation is that the Partition, as a historical event, lies in contiguity and continuity with the normative regime of the gendered ‘everyday world.’ Therefore, the Partition allows us to examine the historical configurations of power that make the gendered everyday but that cannot be easily discerned from within the ‘everyday.’ Within the rubric of this larger argument lies my contention that the figure of the refugee woman has the radical potential to make visible the traumatic relationship between the extraordinary violence of the Partition and the gendered, ordinary, everyday life.

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  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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  • Institution
    University of Alberta
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  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Sourayan Mookerjea (Sociology)
    • Zwicker, Heather (English and Film Studies)
    • Okome, Onookome (English and Film Studies)
    • Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (English, New York University)