The book “Memories in the Service of the Hindu Nation: The Afterlife of the Partition” by anthropologist Dr. Pranav Kohli presents the findings of an extensive ethnographic study conducted over fourteen months, focusing on survivors of the Partition from west Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. The research was conducted in Delhi and its surroundings between 2017 and 2018. The author explores the connection between the global rise of far-right nationalism, the process of globalization, and the memories of victimhood. Specifically, the book delves into Hindu nationalism in India, shedding light on the tragic consequences that can arise from a history of trauma.
The central question posed by the book and this conversation with Pranav Kohli and writer, researcher and lawyer Prannv Dhawan is: “What does it mean to remember the Partition in the time of fascism?” Kohli and Dhawan discuss the experiences of displacement and everyday violence resulting from the political policies of Partition, drawing relevance to the current global context of forced displacement across national borders.
Through an analysis of trauma reincription in Partition memories and its correlation to the justifications of contemporary Hindu nationalist violence, Kohli elucidates the cycles of violence and the ways in which Hindu nationalism shapes the narratives of Hindu Partition survivors.
By examining the deployment of memory to reinforce notions of national belonging and exclusion, Kohli contributes to the understanding of the increasing xenophobia in multicultural democracies. The book addresses the perplexing phenomenon of how “mob” violence can be attributed to outsiders without individuals recalling or acknowledging their own acts of violence.
In this episode of BIC Talks Dhawan speaks to Kohli about his analysis, linking memory, sacrifice, and theodicy, offering a novel conceptual lens to connect the Partition of India in 1947 with contemporary homegrown Hindu fascism and provides thought-provoking ground work to anthropologists studying religion, nationalism, and memory, as well as researchers focusing on modern Indian cultural politics.