Women Protagonists in Post Partition Indian Cinema- Discursive Constructions of Memory and Trauma in Historical Perspective


The study explores and examines the cinematic representation of women experiences during the historical event of the Partition of British India. Partition of India not only created two newly independent nations Indian and Pakistan but also resulted in one of the greatest forced migrations in human history. By using mixed methods- content analysis of 9 women characters and qualitative in-depth interviews with subject experts and industry professionals, the study argues that representation of Indian Partition, the struggle and trauma, has always been from the point of view of one dominant gender. The study also discusses how Indian cinema is a representation of its severely patriarchal society. The findings show that even after being the protagonist of the film, the representation of these women characters is weak and extremely stereotyped. It also explores the reasons where it analyses the response of industry experts from in-depth interviews to seek answers, that, as the producers of the content what are the reasons behind the stereotypical representation of women in films, specifically concerning the event of Partition of India.

During Partition, amid the massive confusion and panic, nearly one million people died even as an untold number of women suffered a fate worse than death. Violence has always been given a physical connotation, but during Indian Partition, it was much beyond the physical aspect. Uncountable women were victimized. Some were either forced to commit suicide or were abandoned by their families. Historical documentation mention that many women married their rapists, converted into their religion, migrated (mostly forcefully) and never saw their natal families ever again. Women lost agency over their bodies. Within patriarchal structures, women are often believed to be the embodiment of the honour of the whole community to which they belong. Accordingly, in times of ethnic, religious or other violent conflicts, they become the major targets as attacking a woman’s body signifies an assault on the family and the community. Rape has always been a potent weapon of war in humiliating and emasculating the enemy. Women become both symbols and substitutes for the nation.

The study is epistemologically based on the concept of constructivism, where the representation of post-partition trauma of nine women film protagonists is studied, analyzed and discussed. These characters are selected from the films which are based on the event of Indian Partition (affecting Punjab and Bengal). With ‘Character’ as the unit of analysis, the coding categories included religion, age, occupation, socio-economic status, marital status, education, relationships in the film; sex-role behaviours and personality traits. Interviewing the industry/ subject experts like film directors, film critics, authors, screenplay writers, journalists and film scholars not only helped the researcher to entangle and delve in the reasoning of representation of these female characters but also helped to explore further the construction of memory and trauma around the event of Partition of India, hence helping this study to document post-partition cinema narratives in a historical and feminist framework.