book Review

Diasporic Politics and Partition often struggled to assimilate culturally
and linguistically, as well as financially.
After the creation of Bangladesh in
1971, Bihari Muslims faced renewed
Vanita Sharma difficulties, particularly since some of
them had sided with west Pakistan. Whilst

A
decade ago historians complained Partition and the South Asian Diaspora:
many chose to stay and take Bangladeshi
that the 1947 Partition of British Extending the Subcontinent by Papiya Ghosh; citizenship, others felt that they did not
 India had been almost completely Routledge, New Delhi and Oxon, 2007; belong in this new nation; some tried to
pp ix-286, Rs 650.
ignored in the historiography of south return to Bihar, whilst others hoped for
Asia. Now there is a rich and diverse body repatriation in Pakistan. However, the
of scholarship on the subject, and Parti- countries. The strength of ideological and majority who wanted repatri­ation to
tion has evolved to become a distinct field cultural links between the diaspora and Pakistan were left behind in Bangladesh,
of academic concern within south Asian the subcontinent have been manifested in where till today thousands are still stuck
studies. The focus of historical research a variety of ways. These range from the in refugee camps awaiting an official
has shifted away from an examination global audience that they provide for repatriation scheme.
of high politics to looking instead at the Bollywood films, to the backing provided Ghosh explains that the lack of long-
human impact of Partition, at both the for political movements in the subconti- term resolution of the citizenship issues
regional and local level. Papiya Ghosh nent, such as, for example, the Khalistan faced by Bihari Muslims led some to
argues that one area that has so far re- demand, which was strengthened by the migrate out of south Asia, leading to the
ceived little attention is the impact of support it received from diaspora Sikhs in creation of Bihari diaspora. In the first
Partition on the global south Asian the UK, US and Canada. chapter, Ghosh examines a series of
diaspora. She argues that diasporic poli- Bihari Muslim family histories to show the
tics have not simply been moulded by Rootless and Homeless multiple migrations that they have made
events in south Asia; but rather that the However, to fully understand the way that over the last six decades – moving from
diaspora has often had a strategic, influen- politics and the processes of identity Bihar to east Pakistan, to west Pakistan,
tial and, at times, crucial role in support- formation have evolved amongst the and then sometimes onwards to the UK,
ing and challenging how the subcontinent diaspora, Ghosh argues that we must in- US, the Gulf, Europe or Australia. In the
has taken shape after Partition. terrogate how the diaspora has been influ- second chapter, Ghosh shows that the
Partition and the South Asian Diaspora enced by the “partitioned subcontinent”. Bihari diaspora has also assumed a
was written before Ghosh was tragically In this book, she uses government and strategic importance in the attempts to
murdered in December 2006. Published private archives, refugee camp narratives, resolve the problems faced by the stateless
posthumously, it is a path-breaking book fictional literature and family histories, Biharis who are still left in Bangladesh.
which introduces a fresh set of questions together with organisational histories Ghosh looks at how the stateless Biharis
to the scholarly debate about the far- and reports, web postings and news­ have lobbied for international recognition
reaching social and political consequences paper articles to weave together an for their case for repatriation to Pakistan,
of Partition. analysis of the dias­poric interventions in and she shows how, from as early as 1972
The south Asian diaspora is a diverse south Asia. Ghosh demonstrates that over and up to the present day, the Bihari
group in terms of their historical origins, the last six decades “diasporic inter­ diaspora in the UK and elsewhere has
religion and geographical locations. They ventions, mediations and organisations played a vital role in gaining international
migrated abroad at different times, for dif- have been at the centre of a range of en- support for their cause.
ferent reasons and to different places. gagements with issues of refugeehood
Some are the descendants of indentured and citizenship, and equally, about Post-Partition Politics
labourers who immigrated in the 19th hosting the homeland”. However, what makes this book so inter-
century, whilst others come from families In the first half of the book, Ghosh esting is that Ghosh shows how the lack
who immigrated for economic reasons at explores how the south Asian diaspora has of resolution of the case of stateless
various periods over the last two centu- influenced the case for the stateless Biharis Biharis must also be understood within
ries. They are located in large numbers in living in Bangladesh. Ghosh begins by the context of post-Partition politics
west Asia, Africa, north America, Europe providing an in-depth examination of within Sindh. She argues that the
and Asia. Despite their physical distance, how Bihari Muslims were affected by tensions between native Sindhis and
the south Asian diaspora has often Partition. She explains that whilst many Muhajirs over resources and political
retained financial, ideological and cultural Bihari Muslims had been keen supporters influence have made the problem
links with the subcontinent. Remittances of the Muslim League, Bihar was destined much more complex. In Pakistan, the
sent by them to their families in the to stay part of India because it did not Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM)
subcontinent continue to play an impor- have a majority Muslim population. party has supported the stranded Biharis
tant role in the economies of south Asian Those who migrated to east Pakistan by using them as an example to reinforce
Economic & Political Weekly  November 17, 2007 33

However. Never. but also to tackle its promote peace and greater interaction have argued they were marginalised support bases within the diaspora. from amongst the Hindu Centre (CERAS) and the International The new epw blog feature on the web site diaspora across Africa. In response.epw. Hindutva politics. which a south Asian or Asian identity has national approach which includes the tions to garner understanding for the been mobilised within the diaspora in the impact of Partition on the diaspora. Ghosh looks at Recent scholarship on Partition has particularly after the MQM leadership how the regional identity of south Asia is broadened its focus to include cross- was exiled to the UK. financial and ideological support. Four topical Ghosh also examines how the diaspora Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR). and peace studies. Thus. publicising their argument that it September 11. For instance. US. The within Sindh would only serve to worsen have received funding support from second and third volumes were going to their position and make them into a the Hindu diaspora. and of Partition. some are now moving Asian diaspora politics that Ghosh pro- was the Sindhis.com sevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Forum of Indian Leftists in US. Ghosh investigate the Pakistan movement in minority in their own province. Ghosh points out that the diaspora and Kashmiris in the diaspora have also ward Classes (OBCs) and dalit Muslims in has played a vital role in influencing used their diasporic locations to defend contemporary Bihar. both ideologically Watch in the UK. comparative studies. both in reaction and interventions over the last six decades have been used to highlight Sindhi to racism and to aid their assimilation. and cleavages are open. not just for those vened in response to majoritarian need to be seen with another simultane. the South Asia Research EPW Blog and financially. and challenge to. looks at how immigrants from the sub­ Extending the Subcontinent. South Asia Parishad (VHP) have built up a support Solidarity Group and Awaaz – South Asia base for Hindutva. Here briefly explores how Bangladeshi Hindus Bihar. and the politics of the Other Back- too. She between its people. opens the way for more case studies on The second half of the book examines and Sikhs and Hindus on the other. Sindhis ideology in India. but also those working in the explores how the diaspora has played an the subcontinent and in the south Asian field of diaspora studies. Sindhis diaspora organisations to break the Bihar case study – Ghosh was among the now fear that a repatriation of Biharis channels through which the VHP and RSS few scholars to work on this area. by giving the party Coalitions of the Diaspora a new perspective on Partition. and cross-national organisations in the 34 November 17. which would further explore the province after Partition. these issues. However. including the Email: vanitasha@gmail. groups in the subcontinent like the South selection of the week's articles. articles from the current issue are posted has had an important role in resisting Hin. book takes things one step further. communal riots in Gujurat in 2002). alliances have been built between subcontinent. Ghosh’s dias­poric locations and in the subconti.in). because of her the political landscape by providing their positions within political debates in death these volumes will not materialise. All visitors dutva ideo­logy.book Review the MQM’s argument that the Muhajirs. she succeeds Ghosh examines how the World Sindhi continent have mobilised behind a shared in demonstrating how diasporic politics Congress and World Sindhi Institute “Asian” identity in the UK. and thereby and Pakistan. Ghosh stresses that “these trends to a broad audience. She looks at how since the Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD). forced migration important role in both the popularisation diaspora” (p 177). interested in the history of south Asia and politics in the subcontinent. 2001. She traces the different ways in stressing the importance of taking a trans­ Sindhis have also used diasporic institu. of. and facilitates quick comments by readers on a and Europe. also being re-imagined within various national. This book will be of interest how the south Asian diaspora has inter. she points out that after tion. and to show how they are and particularly those from the minority different groups within the diaspora in working together to strengthen the re- pro­v inces. socially. In the last part of the book. and the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for on the epw blog every week. important this area of research is. ing up between Muslims on the one hand. She uses to the site are encouraged to offer their 1990s (triggered in particular by the these organisational histories as a lens comments and engage in a debate. have been shaped by the legacies of Parti- frustrations to the international commu. by Sindhi Resistance nent. communal riots that followed the through which to highlight the alliances Please visit the blog section on our web destruction of the Babri masjid and the that have been built between diaspora site (www. Canada South Asia Forum (INSAF) in Canada. support to both sides. 2007   Economic & Political Weekly . In addition. The comprehensive survey of south nity. were let down by Partition the US and UK to challenge Hindutva gional identity of south Asia.org. In Sindhi resistance to Bihari repatriation US. economically and politically examines examples of various inter­ The book was intended as part of a tril- following the influx of Muhajirs to their ventions. such as the attempts made by ogy. UK and Canada. away from an emphasis on a shared vides in this book serves to highlight how who have suffered the most as a result “Asian” identity. theless. rather than the Muhajirs. she Partition and the South Asian Diaspora – and to challenge the MQM position. Ghosh ous process: that of coalition-building in Partition. ries of various groups. She shows that the subcontinent. Ghosh looks at the organisational histo- She looks at how the Rashtriya Swayam. this book is a tri­bute to the rich- the diaspora bolstered the political ness of her scholarship and has opened up position of the MQM. Sadly.