Academic journal article Genders

Postcolonial Masculinity: 1947, Partition Violence and Nationalism in the Indian Public Sphere

Academic journal article Genders

Postcolonial Masculinity: 1947, Partition Violence and Nationalism in the Indian Public Sphere

Article excerpt

If the humanities have a future as cultural criticism, and cultural criticism has a task at the present moment, it is no doubt to return us to the human where we do not expect to find it, in its frailty and at the limits of its capacity to make sense. We would have to interrogate the emergence and vanishing of the human at the limits of what we can know, what we can hear ... to create a sense of the public in which oppositional voices are not feared, degraded or dismissed, but valued for the instigation to a sensate democracy they occasionally perform (Butler, 151).

[1] Much of the current scholarship on the vexed relationship between nationalism and gender, especially feminist cultural criticism and the postcolonial critique of nationalist discourses, has illuminated how women are constructed as signs and symbols of the nation or ethnic/cultural community in nationalism. As such, women's bodies often begin to bear the symbolic burden, as evidenced by colonial historians like Partha Chatterjee and literary critics like Sangeeta Ray, amongst others, of signifying culture and tradition, community and nation (Chatterjee, 233; Ray, 25). However, in the process of examining the gendering of nationalism, these critiques translate the relation between "gender" and nation, as one between "woman" and nation. This leads us to questions we are now prepared and need to address, about men and masculinity in the production of gender: What happens to men's roles, male bodies, and conceptions of masculinity in the discursive articulation of nationalism in the public sphere? How are male bodies represented, deployed and refashioned in the creation and contestation of nationalism?

[2] To complicate the equation of "gender" and "woman," to offer a fuller account of the gendering of nationalism, I want to argue that it is imperative to examine the construction of both masculinity and femininity together in the articulation of cultural and national belonging in public and political discourse. Thus, while recent feminist work has argued that women become symbols of the nation in moments of ethnic conflict--not only in South Asia, but around the world -, I suggest that a new look at the narration of violence against men in the postcolonial Indian public sphere reveals that masculinity and men as gendered subjects can also become critical sites for the symbolization of nationality and belonging. While the violence perpetrated by men against women's bodies has received much attention, this essay deliberately focuses on the cultural representation of violence suffered by male bodies in the public sphere.

[3] New directions in feminist studies have begun to take up this problem of rethinking masculinity, towards reconceptualizing the project and politics of feminist transformation. With the exception of Mrinalini Sinha's Colonial Masculinity, these studies explore new conversations and questions about the historical and cultural production of masculinity in largely Euro-American contexts (Gardiner, 5; Eng, 32). For example, in his historical exploration of Euro-American conceptions of masculinity, Leo Brady has already illuminated how the ideal of European masculinity "has been shaped by the idea of the nation and citizenship" (451). This piece seeks to pluralize this engagement, by exploring the question of masculinity and nationalism in decolonization and postcoloniality. In interrogating the slide from "gender" to "woman" by re-examining masculinity, I hope to, as Peter Hitchcock suggests about masculinity in a different context, "complicate our historical sense of the relationship between" gender and nation. Many scholars like Anne McClintock and Elleke Boehmer have suggested that in the nationalist scenario, women "are typically constructed as the symbolic bearers of the nation" while in contrast, men are "contiguous" with each other and with the national whole (92). However, in the literature of the 1947 Partition of India, it is notable that often, men become symbolic national icons; through their suffering masculinities, they index the violence of both colonialism and elite nationalism. …

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