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Reviewed Work(s): The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India by
Urvashi Butalia
Review by: Phyllis Herman
Source: International Journal of Hindu Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Aug., 2000), pp. 201-203
Published by: Springer
Stable URL:
Accessed: 25-03-2017 10:58 UTC

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Book reviews and notices I 201

In developing the first point, Burton cites a number of salient passages from
works widely believed by contemporary scholars to have been composed by
N?g?rjuna and in this section presents a convincing case for his interpretation.
This is not, however, anything new in the scholarship of N?g?rjuna's thought,
and to a large extent, Burton rehashes analyses that have been presented before.
His argument for the second proposition (the mentally constructed nature of
phenomena) is less convincing, since he fails to find a single passage in any of
N?g?rjuna's works that actually makes this claim. Nonetheless, Burton proceeds
as if he has proven his case and then goes on to lambaste N?g?rjuna for being
inconsistent for advancing a position that he never actually appears to have
advocated. This is, in my opinion, the major flaw in this study: throughout the
book Burton attributes positions to N?g?rjuna with little textual evidence (many
of them highly dubious notions) and then accuses him of being inconsistent and
of engaging in flawed reasoning.
There are some parts of this book that are well argued and well presented, but
Burton's study suffers by comparison to some of the other better critical analyses
that have appeared in recent years, most notably Richard Hayes' masterful
article, 'N?g?rjuna's appeal' (Journal of Indian philosophy 22: 299-378), which
highlighted a number of significant inconsistencies in N?g?rjuna's thought,
particularly shifts in how he uses the term svabh?va. While Burton repeats a
number of Hayes' arguments, it appears that he failed to grasp the importance
of the shifting valances of the use of svabh?va that Hayes identified, and he
appears to assume (wrongly, I believe) that N?g?rjuna only uses the term in one
sense, that is, as implying that 'all entities originate in dependence upon the
constructing mind' (93).
Some of Burton's arguments are quite sophisticated, and this book is well
worth careful reading for anyone interested in critical evaluations of N?g?rjuna's
philosophy. Unfortunately, many of his contentions are based on little real
textual evidence, and the reader is often left wondering how he arrived at such
certainty regarding some very dubious claims. Most of the compelling argu
ments have been advanced before by other writers, and there is little that is
really new in Burton's study.

Australian National University, Canberra John Powers

Urvashi Butalia, The other side of silence: Voices from the Partition of India.
Durham: Duke University Press, 2000. xvi + 308 pages.

In this fascinating yet unsatisfying book, Urvashi Butalia sets out to recover

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202 / International Journal of Hindu Studies

Partition narratives from those who remain largely invisible in 'written history'
(7): ordinary people, women, children, and scheduled classes. Her enterprise
is personal as well as political and theoretical and not only because she is a
feminist. 'Blood,' the first chapter, grapples with the stories of her uncle who
converted to remain in Pakistan and her mother who, with most of the family,
fled to India. Butalia's bitterly divided family is a microcosm of the Partition
and its ongoing repercussions for the Indian subcontinent.
Each of the next six chapters brings one or two interviews as well as various
official and informal documents to bear as Butalia develops her ideas about
Partition, the processes of memory, and the uses of oral history. The book's
contents are constrained by the reality that Partition's horrors still shape what
is and is not spoken by 'bit-part players' (73) such as her informants. Because
they usually frame Partition as a tale of intercommunal violence involving men,
families, and communities, omitting the fates of women and children, and
because she herself is largely unable to locate the voices of women survivors and
their children, Butalia repeatedly falls back on the very sources that she finds
Despite these setbacks, Butalia's book succeeds in vividly portraying Partition
as a war waged on and in women's bodies. In 'Women,' Butalia combines
governmental 'listings* of Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim women raped, abducted, or
murdered during Partition, with testimony from female social workers who dealt
with Partition's aftermath and supplied those data. Their narratives about the
complex problems faced in locating, recovering, and placing abducted women
and their 'mixed blood' children are, in themselves, a valuable addition to the
unwritten history of the lived experience of Partition. In ' "Honour," ' survivors
from Sikh villages, both women and men, proudly recount the 'martyrdom' of
their women. Their memories of mass suicide and the killing of daughters,
wives, mothers, and sisters reveal the fate of many women across India and
Pakistan. In 'Children,' the near silence of those born to women raped or
abducted during Partition speaks volumes. In ' "Margins," ' we hear from a
Dalit woman who was a child during Partition. Her story reveals, Butalia
argues, that 'unlike women and children, Dalits had a sense of themselves as a
group' (259) separate from Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. Because of this, and
because Dalits' 'services' were necessary to all, most 'untouchables' came
through Partition unscathed.
The other side of silence is meant to give voice to the heretofore silent
survivors of Partition violence in the Punjab, yet primarily it reveals how little
the conditions that kept the marginalized out of public histories and official
records have changed. Indeed Butalia's impulse to smother the voices of her
'seventy or so' (11) informants with methodological caveats is one such

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Book reviews and notices I 203

condition, as is her decision to print only a handful of interviews, which goes

directly against her goal of particularizing 'the generality of Partition' (3).
The individual accounts that are reproduced are so powerful in their simple
narration of appalling events that we are left yearning to hear far more from her
informants as well as other survivors, including those who, like the Sikh
villagers, committed violence or, like Butalia's uncle, converted. The book's
interviews and the desire for more they inspire can and should prompt the
gathering, before time simply runs out, of more first-person narratives and other
tellings of this massive communal tragedy. If this happens, The other side of
silence truly will have changed the history of Partition.

California State University, Northridge Phyllis Herman

Sarah Caldwell, Oh terrifying mother: Sexuality, violence, and worship of the

goddess Kali. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999. xi + 320 pages.

In my view, there are two books squeezed between the covers of this one
volume. One is an impressive achievement; the other is somewhat less easy to
Let us begin with the first book, which is an interpretive ethnography of
Kerala's mutiy?ttu, a dance drama performed in temples as an act of worship for
the goddess Bhagavati. Sarah Caldwell's account is based on slightly over a
year's field research that focused especially on the rite's male performers. The
drama enacts the victory of Bhadrakaji (a ferocious form of Bhagavati) over a
mate demon, D?rika. The most important role is that of Bhadrak?H herself; the
actor, who becomes feverishly possessed, wears distinctive wooden headgear
depicting the goddess' fury. Caldwell traces the drama's folkloric roots and its
relationships with the political and social systems of the region and describes
the ways in which ideas of divine female power inform, and are informed by,
perceptions of the natural and human landscapes of the region. Within the male
dominated world of mutiy?ttu the goddess emerges as an angry punitive mother
and/or sexual devourer, images Caldwell traces to the psychodynamics of
maleness in Kerala.
Matriliny to the contrary notwithstanding, patriarchy is alive and well in
Kerala, and Caldwell gives much attention to the relationship between this
fact and the meanings of mutiy?ttu. She suggests that the Bhagavati cult of
Kerala, once in the hands of women, has been co-opted by upper-caste men. The
symbolism of the goddess has the potential to be a vehicle for the expression of
female protest. Currently, however, female possessive behavior is pushed to the

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