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    The sexual politics of partition


    by Sunny on 17th August, 2007 at 2:28 pm    

    This was published today on comment is free.

    ********

    In 2004, just before local elections, the British National Party aired a party political broadcast featuring a Sikh man talking of the hardships his family faced during partition. He recounted how his family were killed by Muslims and said they were not to be trusted. Mr Singh made another appearance later on BNPtv, where he talked of his experience at length.

    The BNP’s strategy wasn’t merely a shot in the dark. It was based on earlier dealings with extremist Sikhs who were openly willing to form alliances with the BNP against Muslims. “Divide and rule”, the mantra that British forces used so effectively in India, had been transplanted to modern Britain.

    In many ways, this is not surprising. While the 60th anniversary of Indian and Pakistani independence has brought us a dearth flood of programming where people re-visit the respective countries or talk of their experiences, less light is shed on how the carnage of partition still impacts Britain’s South Asian Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities. It is impossible to provide a good overview in a short-ish blog, so I will focus here on one key element: the role of women.

    In patriarchal and feudal societies, women are almost always seen as the bearers of culture and “honour”. Traditional, conservative South Asian culture fetishises women to such an extent that, while the official line says they are held in high esteem and regard, in actual fact, they are treated simply as vessels of that honour, and their lives are forced to be structured around preserving that. They are not allowed to do anything that compromises those ideals, while men have much freer rein without the same burden.

    Partition exposed this deeply ingrained misogyny in the most brutal fashion. When Muslim, Hindu and Sikh men wanted to take revenge for their peers being killed by the other, they deliberately went out searching for women of other religions to rape and kidnap. When villages were confronted with angry baying mobs, the women were told to commit suicide by jumping in the well for their own benefit rather than fall in the clutches of the other (this is told and handled amazingly in the film Khamosh Pani - Silent Waters).

    It intensified bigotry on all sides, and this was frequently expressed in a battle by besmirching women’s honour.

    Second- and third-generation Britons have largely moved on from those times. Tensions do flare up sometimes when discussing history (especially on discussion forums or even Wikipedia). But the growth of a pan-South Asian subculture in Britain over the 90s (largely driven by music and a secular media) ensured that young Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were constantly rubbing up against each other, striking up friendships and forging relationships in ways their parents would not have. At university, undercover inter-religious relationships are rife.

    But brown folk are unfortunately easily manipulated by bigots. The rallying cry that “your women are under attack” is used even today as a surefire way to get hotheads riled up. During the anti-Muslim pogroms of 2002 in the Indian state of Gujarat, men were recorded by human rights groups as deliberately raping or sexually mutilating women with the aim of destroying their honour. The situation isn’t any better in Bangladesh, Pakistan or neighbouring Afghanistan.

    Closer to home, the Hindu Forum of Britain recently alleged in several newspaper articles that Hindu and Sikh women were being forcibly converted to Islam without producing a single case the police could investigate. The Midlands-based Sikh Awareness Society has been accused of making similar claims.

    Similarly, there are cited cases of Muslim girls being forced to cover up with a hijab or niqab by their parents, usually with the view that men would otherwise prey on them. I agree with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown when she said, “The niqab expunges the female Muslim presence from the landscape and hands the world over to men. It rejects human commonalities and even the membership of society itself.”

    Of course, brown folk are not alone in this misogny. When sexual predators of Asian origin molest white girls, then the same narrative surfaces in the media and with racists - without any comparison with white men engaged in similar crimes.

    These are the same old battles between prejudiced people, played out by manipulating and coercing women.

    Sixty years on, there are instances where I feel people have learnt their lesson and moved on. But those willing to stoke up prejudices for their own political purposes are never far from the surface.

    ********

    Update: Gracchi at Westminster Wisdom blog has written up more on this article.



    Print this page and comments   |     |   Add to del.icio.us   |   Share on Facebook   |   Filed in: Current affairs, South Asia, Sex equality




    31 Comments below   |  

    1. Sofia — on 17th August, 2007 at 2:41 pm  

      I liked this article and also the view that sexual politics is often played out during war time. Look at what happened in Bosnia, abu ghraib (not against women though).

    2. Nyrone — on 17th August, 2007 at 3:55 pm  

      I always wondered if there was any truth to the stories circulating that women were also being held at the Abu Ghraib Prison.

      Great Piece Sunny.

    3. nush — on 17th August, 2007 at 5:13 pm  

      Preying on fear is what allows the buffoons to get reaction. It worked in 1947 to horrendous effect and is still happening now.

      I have to say a few generations down the line the ‘fear’ exists with people I know who went through partition using this as an example to push buttons is so so low.

    4. DesiPundit » Archives » Sexual politics — on 17th August, 2007 at 6:10 pm  

      […] examines the intersection of sexual politics and religious bigotry. Partition exposed this deeply ingrained misogny in the most brutal fashion. When Muslim, Hindu and […]

    5. Cisoux — on 17th August, 2007 at 6:35 pm  

      Of course, brown folk are not alone in this misogny. When sexual predators of Asian origin molest white girls, then the same narrative surfaces in the media and with racists - without any comparison with white men engaged in similar crimes.

      Are there gangs of white paedophiles who specifically target only Muslim girls though? Are there any other examples of gangs of sexual predators who systematically groom under age girls of only one specific race? That’s the issue that makes what we see in Lancashire particularly sinister. It seems that a warped view of the innate worthlessness of non Muslim females is a significant factor in this phenomenon, that all non Muslim females are intrinsically ’sluts’. This is what makes this a racialised and particularly sinister occurence.

    6. Ravi Naik — on 17th August, 2007 at 6:42 pm  

      Great piece. By the way, I was quite angry at the times article you cited which I read a few days ago, where two asian men molesting white girls is made into an “asian problem”. This is racism at its worst, and I am surprised they can get away with it.

    7. Ravi Naik — on 17th August, 2007 at 6:45 pm  

      “This is what makes this a racialised and particularly sinister occurence.”

      The paedophilia is not enough for you?

    8. Cisoux — on 17th August, 2007 at 6:48 pm  

      The paedophilia is enough. But paedophiles that hunt and groom girls of only one specific ethnic group adds an extra touch of the repulsive to the phenomenon. Can you imgaine if white men only sought to groom Muslim girls for under-age sex?

    9. Sunny — on 17th August, 2007 at 6:53 pm  

      Can you imgaine if white men only sought to groom Muslim girls for under-age sex?

      Are you certain they only went out looking for white girls? Maybe they were happy to take whatever kind of girls who would fall for their efforts.

    10. Cisoux — on 17th August, 2007 at 6:57 pm  

      If a gang of white men only groomed Muslim girls because they were the only ones who would ‘fall for their efforts’ it would not lessen the implications of that racialised aspect of the phenomenon.

    11. Sunny — on 17th August, 2007 at 7:04 pm  

      So… older white men going to places like Sri Lanka (for little kids) or other parts of the Far East for wives is racism?

    12. Anas in Ireland — on 17th August, 2007 at 9:17 pm  

      Are there any other examples of gangs of sexual predators who systematically groom under age girls of only one specific race?

      Thailand?

    13. Adnan — on 17th August, 2007 at 9:20 pm  

      Great article, Sunny. Of course, The Times failed to mention anything about White guys also being involved. However, there were plenty of messages from Asians (Hindus, Sikhs, Chinese) who were incensed that all Asians were being tarred with the same brush when it was Muslim Pakistanis (it’s part of their Muslim / Pakistani make-up don’t you know) in the Comments section.

    14. Adnan — on 17th August, 2007 at 9:24 pm  

      Oh dear, Sunny has one of the right-wing morons on CIF called you a Muslim yet?

    15. Anas in Ireland — on 17th August, 2007 at 9:31 pm  

      The film Pinjar is also a really brilliant exploration of this theme. It impressed me a lot which is surprising since I usually can’t be bothered with Bollywood flicks.

    16. Chris Stiles — on 17th August, 2007 at 11:24 pm  

      Confining myself to the following:

      So… older white men going .. other parts of the Far East for wives is racism?

      Yes. Sometimes certainly, sometimes not, and a lot of the time a mixture of admirable and less admirable motives.

    17. Puffy — on 18th August, 2007 at 11:06 am  

      I winced when you included the bit about Muslim/white girl thing, in the name of “inclusivity” I suppose.

      In a warped kind of way I wish this HAD been made into a big deal just because of “racism”. On the contrary - it’s a massive problem that’s been brushed under the carpet for years precisely because of fears by people working in the field of being accused of being racist.

      At a meeting about a year ago someone who had been doing a major piece of research on a related topic revealed the true extent of the problem and the fact that the “state”, ie from the social services and police upwards, would do next to nothing about it.

      Yet a couple of the stories in the press and the predictable reaction - its racism and they’re “all” at it.

      Well no, sorry, they’re not. It’s unique to the Asian (Muslim) community and in some ways actually worse than terrorism in its manifestation of utter disrespect for the host community’s children, and the community should be deeply ashamed about it and do something rather than wringing its hands in denial.

    18. Sunny — on 18th August, 2007 at 2:44 pm  

      Well no, sorry, they’re not. It’s unique to the Asian (Muslim) community and in some ways actually worse than terrorism in its manifestation of utter disrespect for the host community’s children

      I never said talking about paedophilia involving two people of different races is racism. By all means we should uncover such problems.
      My annoyance is over the fact that such a huge deal is made out of a criminal act because the criminal is brown/Muslim.

      There’s a famous argument between Bill O Reilly and his fellow Fox News presenter (forget his name) over this story of an illegal immigrant who kills someone. O’Reilly is unsurprisingly making a big deal out of it because the guy is a killer AND he’s Mexican. But it has no real influence on the person’s behaviour, unless one think Mexicans are more violent.

      I’m not in favour of people burying such incidents in fear of being called racist. I’m just annoyed with the tabloid hysteria that goes with it.

    19. dollymixedup — on 18th August, 2007 at 4:19 pm  

      I don’t think it is only the Asian (muslim) community.

      Im 32 and experience sexual harrassment on the street from recent male immigrants on a daily basis. The number of white school age girls “hanging out” with groups of these men worries me - these men are as likely to be middle eastern, african or roma as Asian, but rarely British (and I include second generation BME communities in this)

      I long for the old days when the only crap I got on the street was “lesbo” or “hippy” from school kids.

      Now I get followed and asked out by men who call me “sexy baby” and argue when I (politely) ask them to leave me alone or even worse continue to follow me.

      i think tabloid hysteria goes with everything these days
      There does appear to be a problem so what to do? I’d guess at education but from who? And in what form?

      Perhaps if the poor white girls who live round here hadn’t had all the ambition and respect sucked out of them at an early age, falling for older persuasive men and then “falling” pregnant wouldn’t seem so attractive.

    20. Ravi Naik — on 18th August, 2007 at 6:20 pm  

      “There’s a famous argument between Bill O Reilly and his fellow Fox News presenter (forget his name) over this story of an illegal immigrant who kills someone. O’Reilly is unsurprisingly making a big deal out of it because the guy is a killer AND he’s Mexican. But it has no real influence on the person’s behaviour, unless one think Mexicans are more violent.”

      The other presenter was Geraldo Rivera. The case was about a drunken driver who killed a girl. Bill O’Reilly and Michelle Malkin are persuing this strategy of handpicking such cases involving illegal immigrants and making the case that if you didn’t have them in their country, then Tommy would be able to find his puppy and smile again.

      The same thing applies here, as you have mentioned. The BNP has persuing this strategy for years, handpicking criminal cases involving minorities, focusing in particular on muslims, and making the point that if asians (muslims) were not living here, then…

      It is also sad (looking at the comments in the times article) that Asians fall for this narrative as well, claiming that indians, hindus, sikhs are not paedophiles, that this is a muslim and Pakistani problem. I think we are all susceptible of being grouped for the crimes of a few by the sole virtue of being an ethnic minority. Shall we add insult to injury by using such dispecable and unethical strategy?

    21. Don — on 18th August, 2007 at 6:55 pm  

      Since we seem to have revived the Oldham grooming story, can I suggest that the best last word lies with Angela Sinfield?

      http://politics.guardian.co.uk/farright/story/0,,1738694,00.html

    22. El Cid — on 18th August, 2007 at 7:30 pm  

      A belated thumbs up for an excellent article Sunny.
      I’ve only just read it.

    23. bikhair aka taqiyyah — on 19th August, 2007 at 6:17 am  

      This conversation is lovely. Isnt this how Jim Crow got its start? No, but you get my point.

    24. Ramiie — on 19th August, 2007 at 8:53 am  

      …all non-african cultures agree on one thing though - its a gross insult on their honour for a black man to touch their women. Funny that.

      Mind you the whites have gotten more relaxed about this - mainly because their women can’t keeo their hands off our bananas…but amongst the Asians, there is more work to be done..and of course when the dainty Asian ladies realise that they can have a banana withough getting strangled with a chuddie they’ll be rushing us too

      LOL

    25. Sofia — on 19th August, 2007 at 9:07 am  

      Since when did this turn into another Muslim debate…jeeez

    26. The Dude — on 19th August, 2007 at 11:52 am  

      Sunny

      You’ve nailed this just right and silenced the likes of Cisoux in the process. Black men the world over have a real problem with black women.

      Two years ago in Birmingham a rumour did the rounds than a gang of asian men had raped a poor defenceless black woman, without a single shred of evidence being offered in support. But instead of the Black Community coming together and recognising this event for the shame that it was, we just collectivily stuck our heads in the sand.

    27. Osama Saeed — on 19th August, 2007 at 3:37 pm  

      “But brown folk are unfortunately easily manipulated by bigots.”

      Are they? Really? Because they’re brown? More than people of other colours? Quite a breathtaking statement.

      When sexual predators of Asian origin molest white girls, then the same narrative surfaces in the media and with racists - without any comparison with white men engaged in similar crimes.

      I think you’re doing something like this yourself with your “Partition exposed this deeply ingrained misogyny in the most brutal fashion” assertion. Whenever you see a breakdown in law and order, rape invariably forms a major part of it. It’s not just those that regard honour as a major thing. Rape was used as a tactic by Serb forces in Bosnia, and has been seen used by American forces in Iraq, and in sundry other conflicts. It’s a domination thing, fulfilling latent sexual desires that wouldn’t be possible in normal calm times.

    28. Don — on 19th August, 2007 at 3:58 pm  

      Osama,

      I agree that this is a universal, we see it in animals as well as humans. But there is something particularly vile about it when it is a concious military tactic, as it often is.

      I would question whether the undeniable instances of rape and abuse by US servicemen in Iraq is part of such a deliberate policy, although I’d concede that the sexual aspects of the Abu Ghraib abuses probably were approved by psy-ops geeks with zero combat experience and third rate psychology degrees.

      By the way, I believe it was Moses who first formulated this as a deliberate policy. Numbers 31:14 -31:18.

    29. curious? — on 19th August, 2007 at 9:58 pm  

      something on a different note but regarding partition

      http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article2283238.ece

    30. Laban Tall — on 20th August, 2007 at 5:38 pm  

      For stories from people who were there try the Radio Four series ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’. The first part deals with what happened to thousands of women who survived the massacres - abducted as booty (no pun intended).

      It’s medieval - if not Biblical - stuff - men, many doomed to be killed themselves, slaughtering their wives and daughters to prevent them being dishonoured by the enemy. The difference being that this happened within living memory. Participants - victims and perpetrators - may still be alive. The last time stuff like that happened in England was probably the Danish invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries, and before that the Saxon cleansing of the Celts from what is now England.

      “During this period, so many women disappeared that the newly formed governments of India and Pakistan were compelled to act. They formed official ‘recovery’ departments to bring their women back…sometimes with even more tragic consequences. Sleeping With The Enemy tells the story of Ranjit Kaur, a Muslim woman who survived a massacre and was then claimed by a Sikh man who married her. She was 10 years old.”

      To prevent such perceived ‘dishonour’, Bir Bahadur Singh, a Sikh man, relates how he watched his father publicly behead his teenage sister - along with 25 other female members of their family - in front of a Muslim mob.

      I said nothing like that had happened in England since the 8th century - there was one more such (smallish) episode in England, where Jews led by Rabbi Yom Tob killed themselves at York in 1290 rather than fall into the hands of a bloodthirsty Christian mob (animated and led by a number of people who owed money to Jews).

      Be warned - it’s not nice stuff. I wouldn’t listen just before bedtime if I were you though.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/sleepingwiththeenemy.shtml

    31. Katherine — on 21st August, 2007 at 12:10 pm  

      Oh this is just brilliant. A story that is about the mistreatment of women by men, and the specific gender-based consequences of certain historic events - and the male commenters manage to turn this into a religious and racial debate. Well done guys; nicely dodged.

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