Jyotirmoyee Devi's Writings on the Partition
By DEBALI MOOKERJEA-LEONARD
 Drawing upon oral histories and official records, recent feminist
studies by Ritu Menon, Kamla Bhasin, Urvashi Butalia, and Veena
Das document Hindu and Sikh families' and communities' refusal to
accept women subjected to sexual violence in the riots that accompanied
the Partition of British India in 1947. Contextualizing the desertions
of abducted and raped women within the social production of a discourse
of honor and of women's sexual purity, I examine the rejections
through a reading of the Bengali feminist author Jyotirmoyee Devi's
(1894-1988) short story "Shei Chheleta" ("That Little
Boy") and novel Epar Ganga Opar Ganga (The River
Churning). Jyotirmoyee Devi does not raise the vexed question:
Why are women's bodies subjected to a gendered form of communal
hostility? Rather, she analyzes how women's bodies are made the
preferred sites for the hieroglyphics of power diffused throughout
everyday domestic life. She critiques the over-emphasis on chastity
and tabooed social contacts among Hindus that led to their abandoning
the women abducted and/ or raped during the communal riots. In doing
so, her work sunders the silence surrounding the sexually-victimized
women that has operated as an effective denial of their citizenship.
Her writings address the representational deficiency in the social
and cultural historiography of the 1947 partition of Bengal of the
large-scale gendered violence—except for token references
in fiction. The locus of the trauma in research studies has been
the loss of homeland, migration, dispossession and refugee dilemmas.
Unlike Bengali udvastu (refugee) fiction that deals primarily with
the memories of a time and place that was and that will never be,
of refugees surviving on the platforms of the railway station at
Calcutta, and the ensuing economic struggle, Jyotirmoyee Devi focuses
on the society-wide repression of memory of the negotiations of
national borders performed on the bodies of women. Her concern for
raped women is evident as early as the dedication of her Partition-novel
Epar Ganga Opar Ganga: "To dishonored, violated and
humiliated women everywhere, and of all times." Her repeated
demands for accountability for the tragic consequences of Partition,
interrogating the meaning of Independence, and skepticism about
the gendered-nature and class-character of its privileges resonate
with the concurrent leftist view expressed in, "Yeh azadi jhuta
hai" (This independence is a lie).
 Jyotirmoyee Devi's writings address the ellipses of history,
and especially women's histories that are inextricable from the
histories of nation-formation but which have been until recently
only a few glosses in the margins, if not wholly omitted. She critiques
the political process that encouraged this forgetting and "restore[s]
women to [national] history" (Kelly, 1). After the feminist
scholarship of the last twenty years, the critique of the absence
of gendered national histories might not seem absolutely cutting
edge, but at the time the short story and the novel were published,
the 1960s, it was radical. More radical was her embedding of these
histories in the context of the national struggle at a time when
the euphoria of Independence had not faded. The republication of
her writings under the aegis of the Jadavpur University School of
Women's Studies, Calcutta, in 1991, and the subsequent English translations
from feminist presses like Kali for Women, Delhi, and Stree, Calcutta,
vouch for the pivotal position of her work in contemporary feminist
scholarship. It also coincides with the renewed interest in Partition
since the 1980s.
Jyotirmoyee Devi: Biographical details
 Born in 1894, married and widowed at an early age, Jyotirmoyee
Devi's life was largely structured by the cultural terrain of patriarchal
nationalism. Although her access to economic privileges as the granddaughter
of the Prime Minister to the Prince of Jaipur shielded her from
the crises affecting the lives of propertyless Hindu widows and
enabled her to pursue a literary career, she lived within the narrow
circumference of rituals and prohibitions that ordered the social
existence of women, and especially of widows. Embedded within this
social context, she mastered together a keen critique of the constructed
nature of gender, and of the systemic oppression of women. Her essays,
poetry, novels, short stories, and memoirs cover a wide area of
subjects ranging from women's histories, their education and gainful
employment, Hindu women's rights to property and to divorce in the
Hindu Code Bill, women in the Jaipur aristocracy, the condition
of prostitutes and "untouchables," to Partition. Her work
combines insights gleaned from a hybrid archive of Indian and European
intellectual/ philosophical traditions. In her individual capacity
as a writer and feminist she worked towards instituting women's
civil, political, and human rights. (I should here clarify that
"Devi" is not the author's last name. It reflects a convention
in the Hindu Bengali social tradition to refer to upper-caste women
as "Devi" meaning "goddess." Although the practice
is somewhat outdated now, women writers from a past generation most
of whom were from the upper castes are habitually referred to using
"Devi": "Swarnakumari Devi," "Anurupa Devi,"
"Maitreyi Devi," "Ashapurna Devi," "Mahasweta
Devi" etc. Since "Devi" fails to actually distinguish
between writers, I use "Jyotirmoyee Devi" throughout this
Introducing the problem
 Endeavoring to carry forward the preliminary feminist research
on Partition by Butalia, Das, Menon and Bhasin, my paper links the
rejections of abducted and raped women to the social production
of a discourse of honor and, especially, of women's sexual purity.
Deeply imbricated in a program of Hindu cultural nationalism in
India dating back to the nineteenth century, the discourse of women's
purity was deployed by elites to counter issues of foreign domination.
Predictably, at the interface with the colonizer—a racial,
religious, and cultural outsider—, women's sexuality, in the
late nineteenth century, was made a critical site of symbolic economies
involving the nation; thus it was a site of pedagogy and mobilization
for an embryonic collective political identity. From this period
of early nationalism and high imperialism first emerges the figure
of the chaste upper-caste, upper-and middle-class Hindu woman. And
in her role initially as Wife, and later as Mother, it was a figure
destined to function as the supreme emblem of a consolidated Hindu
nationalist selfhood. My first concern here, then, is to trace the
historical contours of the process through which the nationalist
intelligentsia reconstituted the gendered private sphere as the
only independent and hence, authentically Indian space.
 Through a peculiar sort of analogical reasoning, cultural nationalists
around the turn of the century mapped the symbolic purity associated
with the inner, or private, domain onto the actual bodies of women.
Interpellating the chaste woman's body as the bearer of an essential
Indian/ Hindu identity, the period witnessed her transformation
into an icon of the honor of the nation, the religious community,
and the untainted household. That is to say, the nationalists engaged
in a process of myth-making whereby feminine sexual purity was endowed
with the status of the transcendental signifier of national
virtue. (It simultaneously shielded masculine proto-nationalism
from the narration of its failures.) The formulation of an ideal
femininity did not grow out of some social pathology. Instead, it
was embedded in a mosaic of macrosociological dynamics of colonialism
and culture, wherein the central struggle was for control over state
apparatuses, property, and the law.
 The partition riots of 1946-47 and the destabilization of community
alliances that they entailed treated women's bodies as a site for
the performance of identity. According to the same patriarchal logic
that resulted in the mass rape of women from the "other"
religious community (Muslim), the "purity" of Hindu and
Sikh women became a political prerequisite for their belonging in
the new nation. (In the communal violence surrounding Partition,
Hindu and Sikh women sometimes committed suicide or were murdered
by kin men and these acts—designed to thwart the Enemy's aims
to dishonor the nation by violating its women—were lauded
as self sacrifice.) The Hindus in India viewed Partition as the
loss of territory of "ancient Bharata." If the "diseased
limb" of this territory could be sacrificed by the Indian National
Congress leadership for the independent possession of the erstwhile
colonial state apparatus, the women could not be so forfeited. And
newly independent India's "national honor" demanded the
repossession of national property (Hindu and Sikh women) from Pakistan.
The events around Partition—the migrations, mass killings,
and abductions—spurred the state to assume responsibility
for the restoration of its citizens. To enable this, the Indian
state entered into an Inter-Dominion Agreement with Pakistan in
November 1947 and mounted the recovery mission in early December
that year. (While the territorial claim for Pakistan was
viewed by the Congress as an unfortunate practical concession, the
Pakistani government's demand for the return of the Muslim abductees
was considered equally legitimate to the Congress' own demand for
the return of Hindu and Sikh women.) The violence on the part of
the state during the recovery mission often led to uprooting women's
settled lives in their new homes. This was normalized as benevolence,
while women's rights to self-determination regarding their future
domiciles (and citizenship) were obliterated. The process of repatriation
objectified them as only bodies marked by religious affiliation
and placed these bodies under the protection of the state. Also,
the presence of abducted Muslim women in Hindu and Sikh homes challenged
the state's claims to legitimacy in the arena of international politics
and it was therefore necessary to "return" them to Pakistan.
Women's bodies were narrativized, entailing a political process
that kept playing them out as something else. They were important
only insofar as their recovery and their return to the place where
they "belonged," a belonging determined by the state and
which advanced the state's claims both nationally (recovery of Hindu
and Sikh women) and internationally (return of Muslim women). The
production of women's bodies as symbolic booty and the direct correlation
established between women's purity and the vulnerable nation (chaste
woman's body = uncolonized sacred national space) are common to
several anti-colonial nationalisms. But, the relationship between
symbolic and fleshed bodies I have preliminarily sketched is context-specific.
Within Hindu and Sikh communities the marked refusal to recognize
the metaphoricity of chastity and its literalization both in acts
of rape and the repudiation of abducted women is interesting, but
not universal (Draculic, 1994; Yang, 1998). I examine the conditions
under which this collapse happens, how practical virtue and symbolic
virtue become evidence of each other, so that women sexually abused
by the rival community in the riots of Partition, unless excluded,
become representative of the fallen nation.
 The accumulating histories of violence and social death, I
contend, oblige a revision of a prior period because, legislations
around satidaha or widow burning (1829), widow remarriage (1856),
the Brahmo Marriage Act (1872), the Age of Consent Bill (1891),
and the Sarda Bill (1929) were not discrete moments. Rather, the
rejections violated women experienced in the aftermath of the partition
riots seem less anomalous when viewed as the culmination of developments
over the longue dureé. South Asian historians of gender have
made detailed studies of the many tumultuous debates around specific
colonial ordinances focusing on Hindu women. I urge the necessity
for situating the discussions in a historical continuum. Nationalist
anxiety about colonialism manifested itself in, and intensified,
gender pathologies, and the aura around chastity in the colonial
and nationalist era clearly had concrete consequences for women,
because their bodies were not simply sites for discourse but were
also sites of patriarchal constraint and violence. The repudiation
of abducted wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters was a dramatic
demonstration of the fact that nationalist discursive constructions
of Hindu femininity held abundant scope for violence. Nor is this
simply a historical issue in South Asia. The recent escalation of
Hindu nationalist/ culturalist sentiments in India urges a reassessment
of this essentializing ideology for women. Reports by feminist groups
on the recent violence in Gujarat illustrate the transformation
once again of women's bodies and sexuality during ethno-religious
conflicts into an important arena for enacting emphatically modern
gender pathologies. The scale and sheer egregiousness of sexual
violence inflicted on minority Muslim women during the recent pogrom
is chilling. The attacks on women, mostly of childbearing age or
who will soon enter their reproductive years, and the murder of
children, even fetuses, adumbrates a new and, in some respects,
more awful form of ethnic cleansing and partitions. On the other
hand, Hindu nationalist/ political discourses have used the discursive
figure of the "chaste woman" as a marker of Hindu "difference"
and as I insist throughout this paper, a re-examination of the political
deployment of "difference" scripted on women's bodies
in the ethnic/ cultural nationalisms, and issues of gendered citizenship
has consequences in contemporary South Asia. As Menon and Bhasin
The rise of religious and cultural nationalism in all the countries
of South Asia is cause for concern, in general, but especially for
women because of it tendency to impose an idealised notion of womanhood
on them. Such ideals are usually derived from an uncorrupted, mythical
past or from religious prescriptions, and almost always circumscribe
women's rights and mobility. When the question of ethnic or communal
identity comes to the fore women are often first to be targetted;
the regulation of their sexuality is critical to establishing difference
and claiming distinction on that basis (Menon and Bhasin, 1998:
 In the next section of this paper, I develop the contours of
the social organization of gender and of women's sexuality more
particularly. This discussion is followed by an analysis of Jyotirmoyee
Devi's writings on Partition as representative texts of women's
experience of social hostility following their violation and the
suffering that ramified out from this event to their rejection at
home and in their communities. However, I argue that this early
moment is simply a moment of breaking the silence. It does not proceed
much further analytically than to produce narrative and affect around
the costs of an ideology with which everyone as part of the community
was familiar. The pedagogy undertaken by Jyotirmoyee Devi did not
unveil the ideology so much as it made the object a subject. The
raped woman lost or was at least threatened with the loss of her
personhood through the violent event and the subsequent social death
that followed as abducted women were uniformly rejected across differentials
of caste and region. Jyotirmoyee Devi's writings measure the costs
of that ideology.
 The "women's question"—critical in India's
transition to modernity—emerged in the nineteenth century
in response to colonial censure of Hindu social and cultural practices.
The championing of the cause of Hindu women by the missionaries,
travelers in India, and the British administration was thus caught
up in a racially-inflected civilizational discourse of imperial
superiority. Orientalist historiography (by William Jones, N.D.
Halhed, H.T. Colebrook) had helped develop an alternate arena from
which early Indian (read Hindu) nationalist thought could offer
resistance to colonial politics in the form of claims to cultural
superiority. From their readings of Sanskrit/ Brahmanical texts,
the orientalists presented a romantic narrative of a glorious Hindu
past—a paradise peopled with cerebral women like Gargi and
Maitreyi—and lost through the invasion of Islam (Chakravarti,
1990). Notwithstanding this uncovering of an illustrious Hindu "tradition"
by the Orientalists, little was required to persuade both Anglicists
and Orientalists alike of the contemporary degenerate circumstances
of Hindu women. For instance, in his History of British India,
James Mill, culling examples from his reading of the Manavadharmasastra
(The Laws of Manu), debunked the claims of orientalist knowledge
regarding an advanced Hindu civilization and the distinguished position
it accorded to women. His and others' writings furnished an ethical
slant to expansionist schemes that proved beneficial for both administrative
and missionary interests—the "white man" was obligated
to save "the brown woman from the brown man" (Spivak,
296). For the colonizers the "scripturally enforced" oppression
of the Hindu woman's body (climaxing in satidaha or widow burning)
not only substantiated their belief in their own cultural superiority
over their subjects, but also provided a leverage to control the
private lives and practices of the natives by imparting a moral
legitimacy to colonial interventions. The withdrawal of previous
restrictions on the spread of English education among the natives
(to fill the clerical positions in the British administration) and
missionary work in India during the renewal of the East India Company
charter (in 1813 and 1833), significantly altered the former colonial
policy of non-interference in local social/ religious practices.
 Agitated responses from the elite native intelligentsia (such
as Peary Chand Mitra) refuting the contemptuous dismissals of Hindu
cultural practices constitute the bulk of proto-nationalist writings.
Appropriating civilizational histories advanced by orientalist studies,
many of the early social reformers—schooled both in western
liberalism and rationalist strands in the Indian tradition—also
insisted on a revision and modernization of conventions relating
to women. They enjoined the adoption of new norms by refining a
hermeneutic strategy sufficient to fend off colonial criticism.
Thus starting with the legislative prohibition on satidaha in 1829
and followed by the legalizing of widow remarriage in 1856, the
education of women also received considerable impetus with the founding
of girls' schools in Calcutta around the middle of the nineteenth
 If the pro-women activism and social reform projects as part
of an anti-colonial struggle (although it was the colonial legal
machinery that sanctioned many of the reforms) made a singular contribution
towards ameliorating the condition of women, it was only by way
of a secondary consequence. With the exceptions of Rammohun Roy
and Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, there was in the highly contested
encounters of discourses between colonialists' and emergent cultural
nationalisms (both reformist and revivalist) little actual solicitude
for the immolated widows or even for child-brides who suffered violent
intimacy ending in death. (There is a degree of ambivalence in Roy
regarding women who commit "sati" voluntarily or "swechchhasatis,"
an act he finds permissible, as opposed to those who are coerced
to perform the act. He makes no all-embracing critique of satidaha.
Rather, his disapproval depends on whether it is suicide or murder.
Also, it is interesting to note that the arguments put forward by
Roy supporting the banning of satidaha by suggesting that the widow
remain celibate—actually make Vidyasagar's program of widow-remarriage
impossible.) Lata Mani argues in the context of the ban on satidaha
that the anxiety was not so much about women as it was about civilization,
religion, and culture. Love, intimacy, and women's lives were subjects
of intellectual debates conducted entirely in the idiom of religion
in the public sphere; and it was in a public sphere dominated by
men that consensus on these issues was discursively developed and
decisions taken. "Woman" in the male nationalist discourse
was an empty signifier tethered to social and political contingencies.
And "tradition," the catchall term for things pre-colonial,
constituted a significant part of the politics of resistance and
represented to the native a discursive space over which colonial
control was not to be endured.
 Current scholarship on the nationalist movement in nineteenth-century
Bengal reveals the peculiar tensions caused by the intersection
of discourses of tradition and modernity (Bandyopadhyay, 1994; Banerjee,
1989; Chakravarti, 1990; Chatterjee, 1993; Murshid, 1983; Sarkar,
2001). For the Hindu orthodoxy—Sashadhar Tarkachuramani is
perhaps one of its best representatives—the slightest rearrangement
of social and cultural discourses on the Hindu family constituted
modernization and implied a disruption of traditional Indian domesticity
which was held tantamount to a loss of Hindu identity itself. The
orthodoxy and Hindu revivalist-nationalists were thus fiercely intolerant
towards any reconstitution of systems of meaning in the domestic
sphere. For instance, reforms such as the Widow Remarriage Act of
1856, by actually dismantling the prescription of monogamy for Hindu
women, fractured the institution of marriage from within. While
the Hindu patriarchy insisted that sati and ascetic widowhood were
both voluntary, love-inspired decisions on the part of the grieving
wife, the reform measures banning satidaha and, later child marriage
as well as legalizing widow remarriage curtailed the orthodoxy's
control and vigilance over women's sexuality. As the century continued,
the intrusion of the colonial state in reformulating Hindu domestic
life was more vehemently resisted. The conservative dissent crescendoed
to a furor over the Age of Consent Bill of 1891 following the premature
and painful death of the child-bride Phulmonee Devi. For instance,
an article defending child marriage published in the ultra-conservative
Dainik o Samachar Chandrika, in 1891, deployed a self-righteous
rhetoric according to which any decision regarding Hindu women's
sexuality was the exclusive privilege of the Hindu patriarchy (Sarkar,
1993: 1876). Bracketing off Hindu notions of women's purity as a
sacred and esoteric territory secured it as an area inaccessible
to non-Hindus and closed to the possibilities of social change through
reformist or colonial initiatives.
 Capitulating to the conservative hardline, the social reformers
tempered their liberalist rhetoric and framed their arguments favoring
the reorganization of the private sphere along modern lines in the
language of tradition, as if these cultural adjustments would further
realign society with the ways of living endorsed by the scriptures.
Also, the reformist-nationalists frequently focused on "symbolic
rather than substantive changes" (Chatterjee, 117) and not
on paradigm-shifts or recalibration of the centers of power within
the Hindu household, since these would jeopardize their own position.
For instance, Rammohun Roy pleaded the abolition of satidaha by
citing Manu's preference for ascetic widowhood. Similarly, Gourmohun
Vidyalankar's advocacy of female literacy, in Strisiksha Bidhayak
(1822), was based on the claim that an educated woman would more
fully comprehend the Shastric injunctions on propitiating the husband
and affines. Thus as these examples suggest, it was not always a
conflict between an obscurantist tradition on the one hand and modernity
on the other. Rather, tradition was remodeled, even legitimized,
through more informed and subtle textual interpretations; and yet,
the recasting of tradition was carried out with a certain modernist
vision. Phrased differently, the debates and agitations over hermeneutics
comprised "a battle between competing versions of modernity"
(Mani, 47). Hence the tradition-modernity dichotomy was itself inscribed
within the problematics of Indian/ Bengali modernity with each term
anchoring the limits of a dynamic discursive field.
 Partha Chatterjee argues that well before demands for self-determination
and political freedom began to define nationalist activity, it was
in the arena of culture that Indian nationalism established its
claims of sovereignty. This was effected by developing a separation
in the domain of culture between the provinces of the material and
the spiritual; these were then linked with another set of binaries,
the outer and the inner. The distinction enabled the Indian nationalists
to come to terms with the very conspicuous material success of the
West, identified as affairs of the "outer," while simultaneously
staking a claim for the superiority of the East (meaning India)
in matters spiritual, the "inner." Extending the analogy,
the inner/ outer split was then transferred to the spaces of social
activity. The "inner" was linked to the private, the domestic
sphere (ghar = home), and the "outer" with life
in the public sphere (bahir = the world). From there, establishing
an analogy between the public/ private distinction and the separation
of roles along lines of biological difference was but a short step.
If native domesticity needed modernization, a modernity defined
within an Indian idiom, it was to be performed from within the national
tradition and therefore to be essentially different from that of
the West. The modern woman would "have to display the signs
of national tradition" (Chatterjee, 9); improved and re-formed
through education, she was to be refined and different, not only
from previous generations and underclass, uneducated women, but
also from Western and westernized Indian women. Women complied,
or were forced to accord, with this patriarchal nationalism which
professed to recall them to their sacred responsibility; as carriers
of tradition they owed it to the nation to preserve (and even restore)
its pristine standing. If the native man was obliged to submit to
the demands of modernization imposed by the colonial state, this
was counterpoised by the woman's firm allegiance to her inner, essential,
national self. Chatterjee further contends that once middle-class
women acknowledged the protocols and definitions of social comportment
fixed by nationalism, it made possible their mobility outside the
home because their bodies were encoded with the "spirituality"
of a "superior" tradition.
 Of course, the symbolic burden women bear to represent ideal
and fallen authority is hardly limited to Bengal. Selecting her
example from Black nationalism, bell hooks notes the double suppression
of women in a colonized culture by both the colonial power and the
indigenous patriarchy in what amounts to almost an unified masculine
alliance against women. The deprivation of political sovereignty
is held by a national patriarchy as equivalent to a loss of masculinity.
To compensate for the loss, the indigenous patriarchy mimics the
balance of power it shares with its racial "superior"
by establishing a similar relation of domination with another subordinated
population. The "inferiority" of the native woman is thus
shored up in the interests of a self-serving patriarchy desperate
to consolidate a semblance of supremacy and power.
 In India too, the pro-women rhetoric of reformist-nationalists
did not challenge the patriarchal underpinnings of the prevailing
gender regime but reworked it to adapt to the altered social and
political circumstances. This resulted in the formulation of a new
patriarchy different not only from that of the West, but also from
"the patriarchy of indigenous tradition, the same tradition
that had been put on the dock by the colonial interrogators"
(Chatterjee, 127). The colonial administration's professed policy
of non-intervention in the private sphere on grounds of alleged
cultural sensitivity effectively granted a kind of sovereignty over
domesticity to the colonized male—as if in exchange for control
over the land. Thus, colonialism reinforced the hand of the native
patriarchy and itself even opposed the passage of progressive reforms
concerning women when these ceased to advance colonial purposes.
The nationalists' ideological reconstruction of womanhood interarticulated
with Hindu religious discourses, and in conjunction with the myths
of Sita, Savitri, and Sati established chastity, devotion, submission,
and patient suffering as national virtues for the "ideal"
 Since the woman's body constituted the specific site for the
exercise of native control, women's lives were thoroughly probed
into and detailed upon. The single largest area of discursive production
and regulation was women's sexual purity over which a strict supervision
was exercised, and its place established by defining it as the prerogative
of the husband or the future husband. Beyond this, the national
patriarchy also attempted to manage, by way of regimentation, the
entire space of women's cultural and social lives. The Manavadharmasatra—the
ur-text on Hindu domesticity during the nineteenth century—was
understood to decree the policing of women's sexuality, which was
to be harnessed and legitimized through marriage.
 It was the Hindu woman in her identity as the Wife (and later,
the Mother) who in the early days of cultural nationalism stood
under the fairy-lights of the modernization project. The home was
her preserve and her functions were the continuation of her husband's
line, nurturing the future (male) citizen-subject, and the reproduction
of male labor-power needed for the newly emergent peripheral capitalist
economy. As mentioned earlier, the agenda of cultural adjustments
formulated by the native intellectuals aimed at creating an enlightened
domesticity without transforming its "sacred" Indian (read
Hindu) character or effecting a re-distribution of power in interpersonal
relations. It was on an assumption of the willing subordination
or loving surrender of the Hindu wife to the authority of the husband,
as opposed to the repressive colonial power that the Hindu man encountered
everyday, that an initial nationalist critique of the coercive colonial
state was formulated. Tanika Sarkar notes that for the Hindu man
"the only sphere of autonomy and free will was located within
the Hindu family, to be more precise with the Hindu woman, her position
within an authentic Hindu marriage system and the ritual surrounding
the deployment of her body" (Sarkar, 1991: 98). Hemmed in within
the domestic sphere, the chaste body of the Hindu woman "pure
and unmarked, loyal and subservient to the discipline of the Shastras
alone" (Sarkar, 1993: 1871) represented the only national space
so far uncontaminated by the colonial contact, and was thus considered
the repository of authentic Indian values. Mandatory monogamy and
chastity for women constituted the bulwarks of tradition and were,
in consequence, pivotal to the self-definition of a culture that
considered itself spiritually free (and superior) but nevertheless
held subject to another materially more advanced. The sanctity and
exclusivism of the upper-caste household were ensured by upholding
taboos against contacts with other castes and religions as part
of a series of "purity" rituals that applied only to women.
The potency of both caste and religion as centripetal forces in
organizing community-identity is evident in the post-Independence
era, so that while the secular state legislated on affirmative-action
policies to end discrimination in the public sphere, both continued
to shape the social-cultural practices that structure everyday life.
 Whether the issue was satidaha, the legalization of
widow remarriage, the raising of the age for cohabitation, or even
education of women the haunting anxiety was related to the management
of female sexuality. Tenuous as the argument might seem, even the
project of the education of women was not spared the conservatives'
moral suspicion, who, for their part, contended that, by enabling
women's communications with the world beyond the home through literacy,
education would lead to illicit love (Borthwick, 1984). The fear
of the "westernization" of educated women—assertive,
promiscuous, with little regard for patriarchal authority—together
with a superstition of premature widowhood deterred women from education.
Lucy Carroll's study of the Hindu widow's rights to property reveals
that the legal system too enforced chastity and monogamy by linking
them with the rights of succession.
 The responsibilities for indoctrination into the new patriarchy
were delegated to miniature platforms of control: caste communities
and the family. The heads of households were held accountable for
ensuring the "proper" conduct and ideational development
of individuals through a disciplinary regime of constant vigilance.
The community was authorized to make and implement decisions in
the name of the larger interests of the nation. This augmented the
power of the community (especially through the joint-family system)
over individual members at a geometric rate. And, since elite young
women were mostly confined to the inner women's quarters ("antahpur"),
the disciplining gaze of senior women as "keepers of tradition"
wielded immense control over them.
 Reformist and revivalist brands of nationalism did not, of
course, invent chastity. The discursive production of sexual purity
as part of a political ideology of gender dates back (in India)
at least to the time of the Manavadharmasastra (c. 100 C.E.).
The newness was the political privilege—the immense prestige
and visibility—chastity acquired in the shift from a principle
of governance to a political prerequisite for belonging. It was
the location for a struggle of discourses on manhood, nationhood
and ideal citizenship, the site on which Indian identity was itself
poised. The development of the idea of an inviolate (and inviolable)
national space around purity of the "new" woman simultaneously
enabled the colonized Indian man, nettled by criticisms of effeteness
and effeminacy from the colonizers (aimed especially at Bengali
men), to recuperate in some measure his threatened masculinity (Nandy,
1983; Sinha, 1995; Chowdhury, 1998; Sarkar, 2001). It was by extending
a pledge of fierce protection and regulation of women's chastity,
the logic runs, that they exercised a guardianship that they had
failed to perform over the country.
 A similar anxiety bordering on obsession developed with regard
to the educated "bhadramahila" (literally, gentlewoman)—the
minutiae of her life, the exigency of her maintaining sexual purity
for the imagined political nation, together with a discursive support
for the norm. Such preoccupations dominate much of the conduct books
and other literary productions from this era, by both men and women.
However, women's writings that heeded the patriarchal definitions
of femininity were not functioning within the system only as its
stooges but were rather, responding to the liberatory promises advanced
by education. In fact the act and practice of reading constituted
radicalism and transgression more than the content of their works.
Despite the patriarchal attributes of the discourse and its insistence
on women's chastity, the deliberations around freedom from foreign
rule did inevitably issue into a discussion of freedom and rights
for women, if only for elite and middle-class women. Having summarized
above the production of a "new" Hindu Bengali femininity
in a colonial/ nationalist context, I hasten to add that colonialism
itself was little more than the incidental milieu within which Bengali
patriarchy was restructured, perhaps a catalytic force, but certainly
not fundamental to these transformations. If colonialism was anything
in excess of the supplementary context that catalyzed these alterations
in Hindu Bengali elite society, it is difficult to account for the
survival of these social and cultural practices beyond the colonial
 I have outlined, in this section, the organization of discourses
relating to chastity and women's ritual purity with the development
of Hindu cultural nationalism. I use it as background to situate
Jyotirmoyee Devi's critique of the reception of the traumatized
women victims of Partition.
The penumbra of history: women in "Shei Chheleta"
and Epar Ganga Opar Ganga
Partition and writing women's histories of rejection
 My reading of Jyotirmoyee Devi's works suggests that the lionizing
of "ideal" Hindu womanhood in the nationalist discourse,
the responsibility on "the gendered and sexed female body ...
to bear the burden of excessive symbolization" (Ray, 135) played
a significant role in the responses generated towards the women-victims
of Partition. I argue, following Veena Das but using a literary
archive, that "the violence of the Partition was folded into
everyday relations" and that the events of Partition "came
to be incorporated into the temporal structure of relationships"
(Das, 2000: 220).
 Jyotirmoyee Devi's writings mark a negation of the patriarchal
discourse of colonialism/ nationalism by exposing the brutal isolating
practices that ritualized forms of purity demanded. The compelling
question that animates Jyotirmoyee Devi's short-story "Shei
Chheleta" (1961) ("That Little Boy") and novel Epar
Ganga Opar Ganga (published under its present name in 1968),
is not so much how state-intervention affected the lives
of women, but rather: What happened after that? Both focus on the
reception, or non-reception, of women in the community to which
they had returned (or, were returned) on the basis of the religion
of their fathers/ brothers/ husbands. Some of the questions that
resonate through both writings are as follows: Why are women who
were abducted, raped and dislocated by Partition displaced repeatedly
after their "recovery" to boarding schools, or to hostels
for single/ working women, or forced to take to begging or, prostitution?
What makes their reinstatement in their original families impossible?
How does the symbolic burden placed on a woman by cultural nationalism
produce an immediate effect on the female body? What is the status
of the individual detail, and does the specific case matter?
 The charting of the histories of women's oppression acquires
the semantics of a political project for Jyotirmoyee Devi. Questions
of historical visibility or the denial thereof, the constitution
of the political subject through history, and the deliberate evasions/
perversion of history: the privilege of who gets to write,
whose history is written, and how are central to her
interests. That the state manipulates the process of the dissemination
of histories—for instance, the state sanctions for undergraduate
studies the work of historians with certain political biases while
refusing patronage to others—constitutes the core of Jyotirmoyee
Devi's critique of the writing of history in the opening chapter
of the novel Epar Ganga Opar Ganga (129). (The project of
history writing in the years immediately following Independence
routinely focused on the overcoming of imperialism. And being histories
of the nationalist movement for the most part, these typically centered
around a select group of ideologues from the Indian National Congress,
detailing their role in the freedom struggle.) Although her counter-history
in the novel incorporates a larger concern for the recuperation
of obliterated narratives of other subordinated groups—class/
caste—the focus is on women's absent histories. It analyzes
with relentless intensity the condition of the women-victims of
 Drawing upon the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata,
the novel Epar Ganga Opar Ganga was originally titled as
Itihashe Stree Parva or The Woman Chapter in History
("Stree Parva" or "The Woman Chapter" is the
title of one of the books in the original epic, whose generic title
is "Itihasa" or "History"). However, in her
authorial preface, Jyotirmoyee Devi indicates that despite its name
"The Woman Chapter" of the Mahabharata was not
about sufferings specific to women, but rather, it focused on general
grief and bereavement for the losses incurred in the battle of Kurukshetra.
She therefore refers to the epic's "Mausala Parva" or
"The Book of Iron Clubs" which makes an obscure mention
of the abduction and rape of the Yadava women. Critical about the
silences that fill the interstices of history, Jyotirmoyee Devi
draws a parallel between the suppression of women's histories of
oppression in Vyas' (author of the Mahabharata) scant attention
to the predicament of the abducted and raped women in the "Mausala
Parva" and the recent historical context of Partition. On
a comparable scale with the devastation of the subcontinent during
the battle of Kurukshetra, and the violation of Yadava women after
the death of their men in the battle, the Partition atrocities thus
constitute the epic of the modern Indian nation. Hence, it is not
coincidental that in Epar Ganga Opar Ganga the description
of the student population at the women's college at Delhi where
Sutara teaches, incidentally named Yajnaseni (after Draupadi in
the Mahabharata), bears traces of the Indian national anthem,
although mutilated to sustain the sacred geographic relevance. (The
song had been composed in undivided India.) The original line naming
the different provinces runs "Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha,
Dravir (South India) …" while Jyotirmoyee Devi eliciting the
all-India character of the college writes "There were students
from all parts of the split ‘mahaBharata,' … Marathi, Gujarati,
Madrasi (South Indian), Punjabi women …" (129) (maha: great;
Bharata: India). Conspicuously absent is the mention of Sindh (and
of Sindhi women in the college), since following Partition it was
Pakistani territory. The violence performed on the original line
thus becomes a metaphor for the severed subcontinent as well as
of the brutalities visited upon the women. Opening with Sutara Datta,
Assistant Professor of History, meditating over the absences in
the historical discourse, Epar Ganga Opar Ganga narrates
the costs of the violence surrounding Partition thus offering an
account that deviates from the glorious textbook histories of the
Indian freedom struggle. In telling a story that has been deleted,
it provides a corrective, re-inscribing the obliterated, unspeakable
women's bodily experience of the political division of the country
as the new "Stree Parva," the Woman Chapter.
 While the constitutive nature of the violence in Punjab and
Bengal might have been marked by regional specificities, Jyotirmoyee
Devi takes a holistic approach towards understanding the dilemmas
of women twice subjected to violence, initially sexual and later
social. And, indeed, the refusal to reintegrate women within the
community was not regionally specific. One of the textual strategies
she employs for the purpose is to continuously convene women from
Bengal and Punjab, the two partitioned provinces: Raj (Punjabi)
with Baruna and Sujata (Bengali) in "Shei Chheleta"; Sutara
with Kaushalyavati, Sita Bhargava, Mataji and other women from Punjab
in Epar Ganga Opar Ganga. Thus, Sutara's feeling of a special
affinity with her Punjabi colleagues and friends at Delhi is based
on a shared history of violence, homelessness, and migrancy. That
said, while the subject of Jyotirmoyee Devi's Partition-fictions
is the rejection of sexually assaulted women, the plots do provide
indications of a qualitative difference in the character of the
violence in Punjab and Bengal. The sexual and reproductive violence
Raj's mother (Punjab) is subjected to, or Kaushalyavati speaks of,
is replaced by a more cultural violence for Sutara (Bengal). (I
use the relative "more" because despite the focus on Sutara's
social marginalization, incidents of the abduction of her sister,
her friends' suicides/ abductions, and her personal sexual harassment
are also present.) The economic struggles involved with migration
transform in similar ways Raj and Sutara's lives from those of the
previous generation of home-bound elite women obliging both to find
gainful employment in civil society. This articulates simultaneously
the transitions in women's lives as they emerge as survivors in
the public sphere with Jyotirmoyee Devi's feminist convictions in
repeatedly emphasizing, in her fiction and essays, the importance
of women's financial independence.
 Jyotirmoyee Devi's Partition-victims are "deeply wounded
people" (Naim, 176). Raj's mother ("Shei Chheleta"),
Sutara, Kaushalyavati, "Mataji" (Epar Ganga Opar Ganga)
are exiled subjects "who in a most organic way, are tied to
a history and a place but who, overwhelmed by a yet another more
powerful history, must live out their days elsewhere" (Naim,
175-76). But the "elsewhere" Jyotirmoyee Devi's women
characters encounter is not only a different country but a different
life outside the domestic pale the possibilities of which they could
never have foreseen, and lacked the survival-skills their circumstances
demanded. The "intricate invasion" of history into the
"recesses of the domestic sphere" interrupt their lives
and the "borders between home and world become confused; and
uncannily, the private and the public become part of each other"
(Bhabha, 9). It is not liberationary promises, but material necessities
that goad the collapse of the gendered division of social space.
History violently intercepts Raj's mother's ("Shei Chheleta")
sheltered existence, ravages her home, invades her body, and eventually
makes her homeless. Originally from a wealthy family and married
into one, later raped and with child, Raj's mother adjusts to the
contingencies of life by perfecting her beggar-speak and cultivating
an ingratiating smile. Independence makes little sense in the lives
of migrant women like her for whom the freedom of the country is
tethered to betrayals by their families, by the nation, and more
substantially, by the loss of control over their bodies and the
erosion of consent. Since the narrative landscape is defined by
Raj, the readers are not clued in to whether Raj's mother "chose"
to migrate to India or was recovered on state initiative, a subject
that animates the gendered critiques of the state in recent studies
on Partition. (Feminist historians and ethnographers Ritu Menon
and Kamla Bhasin in Borders and Boundaries and Veena Das
in Critical Events critique state policy of intervention
in displacing "abducted" women, leaving no space for their
exercise of preference in their citizenship; many of the women at
the time of their "recovery" had married their abductors,
borne children and settled in their new lives and resisted state
repatriation efforts. Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal on the other
hand, argue that the events of abduction and rape, long before any
initiative by the state to restore them to their former communities,
serve as the starting point for an erosion of consent and the recent
scholarships "miss more than a historical nuance or two in
their dogged anti-statism." Martha Nussbaum, on the other hand,
indicates that the erosion of consent has a longer history originating,
not with the abduction and rape, but perhaps with the denial of
the woman's decision on the issue of marriage.) The debates around
the "Recovery Mission," however, do not constitute the
point Jyotirmoyee Devi makes in her writings. She projects the intense
community disdain towards the women subjected to tabooed (sexual)
contacts, the near-unlivability of their situation, and the possibility
of spaces outside of middle-class domesticity for raped women, as
well as the bonds fostered on a shared basis of suffering.
 Lahore and Delhi constitute the locales for Jyotirmoyee Devi's
short story "Shei Chheleta." The story is set in
mid-1950s Delhi, though its plot is structured around the communal
violence preceding Partition in Lahore. Raj, or Rajkumari, the "correctly"
born daughter, meets her mother, begging on the streets of Delhi
accompanied by an unfamiliar little boy—the "wrong"
child—several years after the Lahore riots of 1946-47 when
on the night of the attack her mother had been accidentally left
behind while the rest of the family evacuated. Her mother recognizes
her, but Raj shrinks from the embarrassed realization that her mother
had been raped in the communal encounters. Raj's family presumed
from the reports of suicides, arson, and communal violence that
the deserted woman had perished honorably in the riots. And whether
it is suicide or murder, the only contingency imaginatively viable
for her family is her death, implementing a deliberate closure of
the other "less respectable" and sinister possibility,
her abduction and rape. While the memory of a mother, whom for several
years Raj considered dead, mists her eyes, the moment of the meeting
with her, when comprehension of the beggar woman's identity dawns
on her, is saturated with anxiety and shame. The prospect of her
mother's alternative life is far too deviant for Raj and her existence
causes more uneasiness than the previous assumption of her death.
Raj seems caught in a Hamlet-like impasse: while she grows sentient
of the beggar woman's place in her life, she also desperately wants
to believe that she is mistaken. After their brief encounter at
the park, Raj searches all possible beggar haunts at Delhi, but
her mother has migrated again. (Her mother's retreat too can be
read as "shame," as an effect of the internalization of
Hindu patriarchal nationalist norms. The conscious omission of the
mother's name is intriguing: the narrator refers to her as "Raj's
mother," her mother-in-law uses "Badi Bibi" meaning
eldest daughter-in-law, "Bibi" is used, especially in
the Punjab, to address women; her husband "Bibi"; and
younger affines "Bibiji," "ji" is an honorific.
In addition to the routineness of the Indian practice of identifying
women by the names of their children—"Raj's mother"—this
anonymity might be explained as the customary use of relational
forms of address that are used to embed women in the familial to
the extent that there is almost a refusal to acknowledge their individuality.
Also, the deliberate oversight might allude to Raj's mother's condition
as nondescript, so that by remaining nameless she could be any among
the abundant casualties of the sexual and reproductive violence
associated with Partition. I add that with the exception of the
three young women—Raj and her friends Baruna and Sujata—everyone
else is referred to by their relationship to Raj.)
 Jyotirmoyee Devi's narrative technique—the use of short,
crisp sentences, mostly unsentimental prose except, in the third
section where she recounts the family's retreat from Lahore, frugal
descriptions, short paragraphs and, hence, frequent breaks—intensifies
the feel of the sad, broken lives she narrates.
She [Raj] lay wide awake. The vision of the beggar woman clad
in a dirty salwaar kammez with a ripped chunni covering her head,
a face pleading and weary, holding by hand a boy, small and skinny
like a beggar, returned to her. How long had she been begging? [...]
[...] She felt she should say something about it to her father,
or to her uncles. But what if they ask why she hadn't mentioned
What would she say? That she had not been able to recognize
her properly! Or, … or what?
She remembered the little boy. What could she have said about
him? Whose child was he? Mother's? Could Mother have come? Then
why did she hide?
Perhaps the woman was not her mother after all? ... Yes, that
was a possibility. A feeling of relief surged through her. The disquiet
But from the deepest reaches of her mind, a thin dark, beggar
woman with sad eyes, ill-clad holding the hand of a small boy, gazed
steadily at her, near the bushes of Queen's Park.
Her mother. And that little boy who wasn't her brother. (144-145)
 The mother's repudiation by the family, articulated in Raj's
intentional non-recognition, is combined with a tacit encouragement
from the community, in the figure of Raj's friend, Baruna. Baruna
trusts Raj's story insofar as the beggar woman they had met was
her mother; she commiserates with Raj's loss; but when the discussion
shifts to the child, she, like Raj, recoils from capitulating to
the existence of anOther sexual life for a Mother. When the child's
paternity becomes suspect, her initial compassion, "Why didn't
you say so right away? You could have taken her home" (144)
is displaced, not by a cautionary qualification but by an outright
denial, "Maybe you were not able to recognize her properly,
Raj. That was not your mother." Baruna's silences together
with her definitive dismissals of the possibility almost force the
victim into a "discreet disappearance," since, for the
survival of the community's myth of its own purity, it becomes almost
imperative to isolate, or negate, the raped woman, "that terrifying,
ejected, antisocial female element, a bogey for ‘good' girls"
(Sundar Rajan, 70). A Hindu woman's intimacy with a Muslim man would
constitute a transgression on grounds of violation of the codes
of conduct as well as a political betrayal of the nation since it
was along lines of religious faith, and the impossibility of a harmonious
coexistence, that a demand for Pakistan, a separate homeland for
Muslims, was first raised and eventually led to partitioning the
 The anxiety over the "wrong" children was not restricted
to the families only, but as studies by Menon, Bhasin, Butalia,
and Das illustrate, debates were held in political circles to settle
the perplexing issue of their citizenship. Also, cognizant of the
social odium women with children born from the attacks were likely
to encounter, the state not only sponsored orphanages for abandoned
children, but also organized clandestine mass abortions for gestational
women (abortion was illegal in India until 1971). (It is thus important
to note that, while Raj's mother must have been certain of the social
contempt she would endure and she had the option of terminating
her pregnancy or abandoning the infant, nevertheless, she exercises
her discretion in keeping him with her. In doing so, she bargains
her motherhood at the cost of jeopardizing her domestic security.)
While the child's presence as proof of the mother's sexuality outside
of marriage shatters cultural templates dictating a virtuous womanhood
(fundamental to which, as noted earlier, are monogamy and chastity)
and makes impossible her re-absorption in her former family/ community,
the child is itself an abiding proof of the failed manhood of one
community. The child fathered by the Enemy is testimony to the rivals'
virility in gaining control over the community's women, and thus
a reminder of the national humiliation.
 I concur with Veena Das' contention, in her work on national
honor and practical kinship, that, "it is the ideology of the
nation which insists upon ... purification" (Das, 1995: 80).
However, I take issue with her position that unlike the nation,
"practical kinship ... knew strategies by which to absorb them
[women and children] within the family. ... [And] in the face of
collective disaster the ... community showed a wide variety of strategic
practices were available to cushion them from the consequences of
this disaster" (Das, 1995: 80-81). To the contrary, empirical
evidence from the work of Butalia, Menon and Bhasin and my reading
of Jyotirmoyee Devi's texts finds the community and the nation operating
in an expedient alliance, so that the purity of the one supplements
the purity of the other. The nation not only preserves the interests
of the community but also, as Benedict Anderson has pointed out,
experiences itself as a community. I find it more useful to consider
the "[f]amily, community and state ... as the three mediating
and interlocking forces determining women's individual and collective
destinies" (Menon and Bhasin, 1998: 255). Perhaps some Hindu/
Sikh women, as Das's research demonstrates, found acceptance in
their original communities. Sometimes it came in exchange for their
silence or after abandoning their children in the custody of social
workers. However, Das, citing state-sponsored pamphlets that solicited
families in an idiom of purity, to accept "reclaimed"
members (Das, 1995: 80), writes that "[e]ven in 1990, Menon
and Bhasin (1993) found women living in camps in some cities of
Punjab, either because their families had never claimed them or
because they had refused to go back to their families" (Das,
1995: 82). Butalia claims that, for many repatriated women,
the ashrams became permanent homes … there they lived out their
lives, with their memories, some unspeakable, some of which they
were able to share with a similar community of women. And there
many of them died … As late as 1997 some women still remained in
the ashram in Karnal; until today there are women in the Gandhi
Vanita Ashram in Jalandhar. (Butalia, 1998, 129)
On a different register and with a different status from facts
and raw data, but furnishing a more textured understanding, literary
writings on the horrors of Partition by Lalithambika Antherjanam,
Rajinder Singh Bedi, Jyotirmoyee Devi, Krishna Sobti also corroborate
the claim that a large number of women were deserted by kin and
community on grounds of their loss of "purity." Jyotirmoyee
Devi's novel Epar Ganga Opar Ganga narrates the pains of
the social quarantine forced on the women, their silenced memories
that could be shared only "with a similar community of women."
In "Lajwanti," Bedi notes the refusal by "husbands,
parents, brothers and sisters … to recognize" (58) missing
wives, daughters and sisters reclaimed from Pakistan, so that he
even has one character say "‘We don't want these sluts … they
were defiled by Muslims'" (64).
 As I discussed above, through the initial accentuation of
the chastity of Hindu women as a marker of the superiority of Hindu
culture, together with the later expulsions of women in contact
with the Other, the woman's body functioned as a frontier safeguarding
the nation and the community's collaborative interests. In her study
of the role of gender in the consolidation of a Hindu identity,
Sangeeta Ray also notes the scripting of difference on the body
of woman by way of embedding it in a set of regulated social and
cultural practices that purport to maintain a historical continuity
with the past, which the Other presumably lacks:
The raped female body encompasses the sexual economy of desire
that is denied the mythologization of the purity of one's own ethnic,
religious, and national gendered subject. The inevitability of rape
leaves women with the "choice"of committing suicide so
that she can be accomodated within the narrative of the nation as
legitimate and pure, albeit dead, citizen. Those who survive rape
are refused entry into the domestic space of the new nation. … The
purity of the family mirrors the purity of the nation, and the raped
woman cannot be the vehicle of the familial metaphor that enables
the narration of the nation (Ray, 135-136).
Epar Ganga Opar Ganga
 Ray's remark is useful in reading Jyotirmoyee Devi's later
novel Epar Ganga Opar Ganga and, despite the anger that suffuses
the work in consequence of the new national citizenry's dealings
with women—including those without visible signs of violation,
her optimistic aesthetic intervention opens up a textual possibility
for resituating them in the core of middle-class domesticity. The
novel unfolds in the background of a blaze of communal violence,
arson, murder, and rape in the Noakhali and Comilla districts of
east Bengal subsequent to the Great Calcutta Killing in August 1946.
A young woman, Sutara Datta, loses her parents in the communal fury:
her father is murdered, her mother attempts suicide (and is eventually
untraceable), and her sister is abducted. Sutara herself loses consciousness
in the course of an attack. She convalesces in the care of her Muslim
neighbors (Tamijuddin's family), who escort her to the "safety"
of her brothers in Calcutta. She joins her brothers and sister-in-law
Bibha at the home of Bibha's parents where they have taken refuge
to escape the violence of the Calcutta riots, but the elderly women
of the household disapprove of Sutara's presence hastening her further
displacement. Shunned by family and the community, Sutara is sent
to a Christian boarding school for women, a non-Hindu space where
the student-body is primarily constituted by lower-castes or low-caste
converts and women in situations similar to hers. She completes
her studies and eventually realizes that she is unwanted not only
in the extended family but also among her closest kin, her brothers.
She finds employment teaching history at a women's college at Delhi.
Her correspondence and encounters with her Muslim neighbors from
her village, who had rescued her and who continue to cherish her,
comes to an abrupt end when they suggest a matrimonial alliance.
The novel ends with Pramode, Bibha's brother, proposing marriage
 The novel is structured in four parts, the last three the
"Adi Parva" (The Beginning), the "Anusashana Parva"
(The Disciplining), and the "Stree Parva" (The Women Chapter)
derive their names from books of the Mahabharata; the first
short section is titled "Sutara Datta." The second, third,
and fourth sections plot Sutara's continuous migrancy; hence, the
locale for the second is a village in Noakhali, the third Calcutta,
and the fourth Delhi. Further, towards the end of the fourth section,
the author hints at a future possibility of Sutara's passage to
England with Pramode. Within these larger changes of location there
are smaller displacements too: Sutara is transferred from her original
home to that of her neighbors' at Noakhali; from the residence of
her extended family to the boarding school at Calcutta. Small or
large, each of the transitions also bears a permanent character,
i.e. Sutara never returns to the original site, whether it is her
parents' home, her Muslim neighbors at Noakhali, or to her brothers
and extended family at Calcutta. Her perpetual movements advance
the feeling of homelessness, and each site becomes a new place of
exile. (Significantly, it is among the women refugees from West
Punjab, residing at Delhi, that Sutara, for the first time, feels
the bond of community, of being part of a shared history of violence.)
As with Raj's mother in the short story discussed above, gendered
migrancy constitutes a central trope in the novel.
 The attack on Sutara, followed by her prolonged contact with
the Muslim family who sheltered her, brands her as "impure,"
"polluted," an Other, in her "native" community,
whose material practices in the performance of daily life are troubled
by her presence. Her integration in her original community is almost
impossible because her body carries an alternative history, the
imprint of another set of practices that constitute another everyday
life. The details of her life are rendered meaningless for others,
and the course of future events, the multiple instances of psychological
harassment, is determined by the single incident of bodily violence.
In stating a claim for exemplarity, Jyotirmoyee Devi furnishes a
bounty of details, but she suggests simultaneously that the details
are inconsequential: Sutara, like Raj's mother, could have had a
particular kind of life, she could have had a particular kind of
dignity, or she could have had no dignity, but the moment she is
sexually assaulted she becomes a non-person, the details of whose
life and personhood translate only into so many petty minutiae.
The event of violation assumes the rank of the definitive
moment of Sutara's life. It determines the plot, so that the novel
itself enacts the simplification of the character socially. Sutara
becomes paralyzed in deciding its conditions, in determining the
status of the detail in her own life. Like Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri
in Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?,"
the woman's (Sutara/ Raj's mother) only practicable mode for signification
is by the negation of a negation. However, eventually neither Raj's
mother nor Sutara may be defined by the sexual violence they encounter.
 Sutara's alterity is insupportable in the upper-caste Hindu
family that had been made secure from all contact with the outside
through discourses of cultural nationalism insisting on Hindu domesticity
as the sanctuary for launching (and sculpting) a Hindu national
It is difference that constitutes community identity—different
religion, different set of customs, different foods—so that
communities, like nations "are forever haunted by their definitional
others" (Parker et al, 5) and Sutara's position at the periphery
of two rival communities makes her loyalties suspect. Thus, Jyotirmoyee
Devi situates Sutara within the "woman-as-nation" paradigm,
but in her writings the fallen woman is the symbolic representation
of the nation. It is interesting to note that women's citizenship
is contingent not only on residence in the right country,
following the right religious faith, but also on their possessing
the right (inviolate) body. In the domain of
the elite home, the definitive factor for belonging was unsullied
 The gender dynamics in the novel operate not on the basis
of an antagonism between men and women. Rather, excepting the gendered
character of the violence during the night of the riot, the novel
highlights the role of women not as "victims" of a patriarchal
culture but in policing one another and as active reproducers of
repressive masculinity (and femininity) against women. While Jyotirmoyee
Devi deems the fetish of women's bodily purity as the cardinal cause
of Sutara's miseries, she also indicates that its perpetuation was
guaranteed by women who, as Nira Yuval-Davis and Floya Anthias caution,
"actively participate in the process of reproducing and modifying
their roles as well as being actively involved in controlling other
women" (Yuval-Davis and Anthias, 11) As preservers of domestic
sanctity, women were authorized to take crucial decisions in assessing
other women's rectitude. In Epar Ganga, Opar Ganga, Bibha's
mother and aunts endorse the continuity of patriarchy and veto Sutara's
existence for reasons of her contact with the forbidden that disrupted
her caste and religious practices. Bibha's mother monitors, with
a reproving vigilance, the social and intimate contacts between
family members. She orchestrates Sutara's alienation both from her
brothers, and the extended family, in the name of safeguarding the
future for Bibha's daughters. When her (Bibha's mother's) efforts
to isolate Sutara are defeated by her idealist son, Pramode's decision
to wed her, she reproaches Bibha for restoring her orphaned sister-in-law
(Sutara) to her extended family in Calcutta:
After a long silence, [Bibha's mother] turned to Bibha, "I
told you repeatedly not to bring that girl [Sutara] here. Don't.
Don't get her. But you persisted! You let her stay here. Good for
you! Saved your face from people's comments. A fine thing you did
ruining my family; dug a canal and courted a crocodile into my backyard.
... What was the point in fetching her anyway, she who had lived
with those unclean non-believers [Muslims]? Whatever happened was
her misfortune. She should have stayed back. There are countless
women like her in that country [Pakistan]. You think she retained
her religion-caste purity living with them for such a long time?
Who knows what she ate! And then, what had happened? That about
which no one knows. She certainly could not have remained a Hindu
living with Muslims!" Anger, disappointment, and revulsion
swept through [Bibha's mother] and she burst into tears. (243-44).
Bibha's mother, perhaps the most vocal of all, is by no means the
only character in the novel to voice such sentiments. (However,
it is her acknowledgment of the possibility of marriage, even in
its denial, that is radical.) Sutara's stay with a "mlechchha"
(impure) Muslim family realizes the worst fears of "pollution"
in the upper-caste Hindu household and her body seems to undergo
a process of losing her original caste, and as a result, she is
treated as a low-caste "untouchable." As the term "untouchable"
suggests, she cannot inhabit the same space as the other members
of the family. (While she is unwelcome in her native community,
Sutara cannot enter into a meaningful relationship with her Muslim
neighbors through marriage despite the kindness and sustenance she
receives from them, because engaging with Muslims flags a betrayal
of her parents' deaths, her sister's abduction, and her personal
experience of violence.) At Subha's (Bibha's sister) wedding elderly
women who have no clue to the exact nature of the events during
the night of the attack, make suggestive gossip about her past,
and a wellwisher warns the family that guests, especially the women,
would probably refrain from participating in the wedding dinner
for fear of the contagion of Sutara's contaminating presence. Only
after Sutara escapes the supervision exercised by the patriarchal
family and community and migrates to a new space of economic independence
is it possible for her to establish some genuine social solidarity—a
sisterhood with refugee women from West Punjab. Jyotirmoyee Devi
illustrates the modalities of women's participation in social processes
"as reproducers of the boundaries of ethnic/ national groups;
as participating centrally in the ideological reproduction of the
collectivity and as transmitters of its culture; as signifiers of
national differences" (Yuval-Davis and Anthias, 7). Thus, the
women ensure the continuation of the ideology of purity developed
in the name of an abstract national good. The question that begs
itself here is that, while the national patriarchy has a stake in
controlling women's sexuality ranging from material questions of
property to more abstract ideas of national/ community purity, why
do women participate in segregating other oppressed members of their
own sex? The answer lies, not in false consciousness, but perhaps
in that (chaste) elite women benefited from these dissociative practices
in the form of privileges patriarchy offered, for instance, a greater
access to the public sphere, in exchange for endorsement of its
views; they were even considered ethically superior, to say nothing
of the experience of their empowerment.
 Jyotirmoyee Devi reinforces subtly the implication of Sutara's
violation through such incidents as Sutara's quarantine on the night
of Subha's wedding. She also jogs the reader's memory with allusions
to Mary Magdalene, Lucretia, Amba, Draupadi, and Sita. However,
it is critical to note that in both the short story and the novel
the event of the assault that ruptures the women's "good"
past lives from the "tainted" presents and futures, is
not central to the narrative; and in the case of the novel even
left slightly ambiguous.
Didi [elder sister, Sujata] suddenly let out a sharp, shrill scream,
"Ma, Ma, Mother, oh! Baba" and keeled to the ground.
Their mother, unlocking the door to the cowshed, was shocked.
Then she said, "I'll be there rightaway, dear."
But Mother could not reach them [Sujata and Sutara]. Shadows
had engulfed her. They were trying to seize her hand. But, Mother
freed herself and ran to the pond behind the house and leaped into
The fire had set the whole area ablaze. One of the men tried
to stop her, another said, "Don't bother. Let her go, that's
the mother. Leave her." Didi was nowhere, had she died?
What's the matter with Didi? Sutara did not see her again.
She wanted to run to where Mother was, but her feet were caught
in something and she stumbled.
And then? (135-136)
Jyotirmoyee Devi's sparse description retains a feel of the sinister
and elicits the horror of the events despite the somewhat euphemistic
quality of her prose. Beyond this arrested narration and another
mention that "Psychologically and physically Sutara was devastated"
(137), the trauma of the sexual assault resurfaces mostly as a confused,
nebulous memory, with scattered references to her torn and dirty
clothes, her friends' suicides, drownings, and abductions. Both
in the short story and the novel, the staging of sexual violence
remains beyond the narrated (and the narratable?). What the novelist
represents are the aftereffects of that trauma. It is best, I feel,
not to read/ dismiss Jyotirmoyee Devi's syncopated, circumlocutive
writing as reticence or, as residual prudery of a post-Victorian
novelist, because the use of the Bengali equivalent for "rape"
is not rare in her writings, especially in her essays. Rather, the
veiling of bodily trauma through language constitutes a counter-discourse
to the economy of display of woman. Her prose recovers something
of the private pain that women suffered. Also, her seeming reluctance
to engage further with the issue of violation is not to devalue
the sexual terrorization of women (she discerns the threat of sexual
assault as a primary form of control over women's bodies) but rather,
not to compromise the unmitigated intensity on women's rejections
in their after-lives in the community. (Or, is it possible that
because Sutara was destined to reenter the space of elite domesticity
that Jyotirmoyee Devi chose to maintain its "sanctity"?
And was her allegiance to that space responsible for withholding
details of the attack on Sutara's body? Or, was it anxiety about
her readership? Any of these contentions would diminish the potentials
of her indisputably radical critique of patriarchy, and I feel are
less valid since she was a fairly established writer at the time
the novel was published.)
 The initial withering away of Sutara's matrimonial possibilities,
based on the single event of sexual abuse, which Bibha's mother
euphemistically refers to as "other problems," illustrates
how sexual violence, in a twisted way, involves a process of de-gendering
the body. In her essay "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American
Grammar Book," Hortense Spillers contends that to have gender
is to have a relation to privacy and dignity, especially, to sexual
dignity, and that African-American women, in the specific context
of slavery she studies, do not have a gender in that sense, because
they have no access to privacy. Following Spillers, I would argue
that rape de-genders the woman's body in the default ideology, insofar
as it takes away personal dignity, the capacity for it, and for
being an agent in their own lives. It is significant that between
Sutara's restoration to her extended family in Calcutta and her
finding employment in Delhi, she has little textual presence by
way of speech. Although her condition constitutes the problematic,
and she is constantly acted upon, she rarely speaks. I understand
her silence not as resistance but as a metaphor for her loss of
social agency through what Spillers refers to as the "theft
of the body" (italics in original) (Spillers, 67). Sutara's
silence is socially structured and policed by the family (her brothers'
paucity of interaction with her); by the community (she is not invited
to social events); and by the state (the prohibition on biographical
exchanges between students at the residential school she attends).
In reinserting Sutara back into the script of middle-class domestic
sexual economy, the novelist re-genders her, by way of establishing
a claim for a different destiny for gender, and eventually, makes
the details of people's lives matter once again.
 Unlike Veena Das's suggestion that marriage was a strategic
practice of the community through which some repatriated women were
rendered invisible through absorption within the family, I read
Pramode's wedding proposal to Sutara neither as a community game
plan nor as a fairy-tale ending, but rather, as an individual act
of will. Pramode and Subha, Bibha's brother and sister, witness
Sutara's repeated disgrace and disenfranchisment within their family.
The high-points in this continuum of harassment are the quarantine
on the night of Subha's wedding, the overheard gossip between their
aunts insisting on Sutara's being left with the Muslims, and the
deliberately delayed invite she is sent in order to prevent her
from attending her niece's wedding. (While Sutara's reinsertion
within middle-class respectability might signal a compromise to
the love-interest—of which there is not much in the novel—Pramode's
proposal is not inconsistent with character-development. Both he
and Subha are sensitive, even apologetic, throughout the novel to
Sutara's distress induced by the seniors in the family.) Beyond
simply constituting a "happy ending" at the level of the
plot, Pramode's proposal has a sharp feel of a conscious act of
good will by a responsible citizen, if slightly patronizing: "Very
gently, Pramode asked, ‘You won't say no, will you? We, Subha and
I, talk about you often. We liked you a lot. Can't tell whether
it's love, but we were pained by your plight. Could you try and
like us?'" (249). Perhaps not the first admission of her distress
by her kinsfolk (Pramode's father, Amulyababu, is pained by her
condition earlier on), it is nevertheless the first proactive step
taken to reintegrate Sutara within the Hindu fold. Although this
"restoration" within the community remains incomplete
since Pramode's impending departure for England off-centers him
to some degree, it nonetheless contains a possibility, if slightly
contrived, of transcending community disdain through individual
 Sutara's entry into middle-class respectability marks a definitive
break from the fixation with purity and routine rejections but at
once weakens the radical possibilities of a life as a single, independent
woman. Re-contextualizing Sutara within bourgeois domesticity, Jyotirmoyee
Devi immediately undermines the happy-ending by returning to themes
of the solitude of socially excluded women (hinting also at their
[Sutara] switched off the lights in her room. Stars sparkled in
the dark Chaitra [March-April] sky. At the edges of the garden [surrounding
the women's dormitory] a few Eucalyptus trees stood straight and
tall, apart and lonely. Like the residents of the [women's] hostel.
Solitary trees lacking shrubbery, fruits and flowers, branches and
twigs. Cyclones would bend but couldn't break them." (253)
Separated from middle-class domestic life, Sutara with her colleagues
and friends working in the college and residing in the dormitory
constitute a community, a women's community that disregards regional
differences and sustains a group-therapeutic function through a
mutual support system. From a lukewarm suggestion of women's solidarity
in miniature in "Shei Chheleta," signaled by Raj's relief
after sharing with her friend Baruna "[w]hat she had never
disclosed to her near and dear ones, not even to her father, what
she had concealed from her uncles, brothers, and sisters" (143),
the author develops and fine-tunes the idea in the novel. Although
by distancing Sutara from the collective, Jyotirmoyee Devi declines
to advance it as fully as she might have, however, despite the ambiguity,
her recognition of the potentials of feminist solidarity is exceptional.
 An interviewee, cites Urvashi Butalia, unable to find a rationale
for the orgy of brutality he had participated in during the Partition
riots, described it as temporary insanity: "[O]ne day our entire
village took off to a nearby Muslim village on a killing spree.
We simply went mad" (Butalia, 1998: 56).
 I contend that the rejections of women, on the other hand,
cannot be explained using the language of insanity and catastrophe,
or as an unleashing of the vulgar self. Rather, I illustrate in
this paper that the rejections of abducted Hindu/ Sikh women were
motivated and even ideologically rationalized by a long and complicated
history of the patriarchal fetish on women's sexuality. Hence, I
suggest the need to situate the abandonments as telos of the political,
cultural, and legal debates around elite (Hindu) women's issues
from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A revisiting
of the past, I insist, tracks the violence involved in the translation
from the discursive to the visceral. Using Jyotirmoyee Devi's writings,
I indicate that they offer possibilities for reconsidering the exclusive
nature of community membership, the discursive violence sanctioned
in the name of tradition, the recuperation of expelled bodies, and
gendered citizenship as well as the exigency for women's histories
not subsumed under grand titles of national history. In writing
about women's oppression—the language for which, as she states
in the preface of her novel, has not yet been developed—Jyotirmoyee
Devi exposes the silence surrounding uncomfortable social issues.
In populating her works with women who refuse to annul the self
by suicide subsequent to the event of rape, and who instead choose
to survive, her woman-centered narratives differ from the "master"
narrative that recommends women choose death to dishonor. In the
introduction to her essay "Life after Rape"—an essay
that will unfurl the quarrels of feminist writers with the "master"
narrative—Rajeswari Sunder Rajan asks, "How are rape,
narrative structure and feminist politics imbricated? How may we
contest the claims of universal/global validity advanced by feminists
and narrative theorists on the grounds of rape/desire?" (64)
Her comparative analysis of three rape narratives—Anuradha
Ramanan's Tamil short story the "Prison" (1984), Samuel
Richardson's Clarissa (1748), and E.M. Forster's A Passage
to India (1924)—illustrates how Ramanan's feminist
politics, like that of Jyotirmoyee Devi's, refuse to abrogate the
violated woman on grounds of shame and ritual purity. Richardson
and Forster's narratives, as Sunder Rajan illustrates, are less
tolerant. I conclude the paper citing a factual instance of intolerance
towards raped women expressed by a major proponent of non-violence:
Gandhi. Gandhi not only advised women subjected to sexual violence
in Noakhali, in 1946, to consume poison and end their lives rather
than live with the shame of rape, but in 1947 during the Partition
riots he went further exalting suicide, even murder, as deterrence
I have heard that many women who did not want to lose their honour
chose to die. Many men killed their own wives. I think that is really
great, because I know that such things make India brave. After all,
life and death is a transitory game. ... [T]hey [the women] have
gone with courage. They have not sold away their honour. Not that
their life was not dear to them, but they felt it was better to
die than to be forcibly converted to Islam by the Muslims and allow
them to assault their bodies. And so those women died. They were
not just a handful, but quite a few. When I hear all these things
I dance with joy that there are such brave women in India (202).
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. This paper was written under the generous auspices
of a dissertation fellowship from the American Association of University
Women Educational Foundation. I thank Sibaji Bandyopadhyay, Lauren
Berlant, Carol Breckenridge, Ann Kibbey, Spencer Leonard, Martha
Nussbaum, Kumkum Sangari, Clinton Seely and the reviewers from Genders
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DEBALI MOOKERJEA-LEONARD is a doctoral candidate
in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at
the University of Chicago. She is completing her dissertation "Unfinished Histories: Gendered Violence in Postcolonial Bengali Writings by Women."
She has published articles and translations in journals both in
India and the U.S.