Partition of India and Monuments
Broken Column: The Monuments of Forgetting
In this detailed blog post I share the conceptual underpinnings of the Broken Column anti-memorial, how it triangulates public monuments in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, through artistic interventions, and how it juxtaposes the counter-memories of the Partition of India in 1947, and the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, as an India-Pakistan-Bangladesh memory triad.
The Sites of Memory
This is an ongoing site-specific, research-based art project that interrogates the role of public monuments in the formation of collective memory. The primary sites of my research are - 1. Jallianwallan Bagh memorial in Punjab, India 2. Minar-e-Pakistan monument, in Lahore, Pakistan 3. Martyred Intellectuals monument in Rayer Bazar, Dhaka, Bangladesh
These sites of memory or lieux de memoire in Pierre Nora’s words are rich with collective memories of the Partitions of 1947 and 1971. In addition, certain historical objects from these countries have also been included in this project as objects of memory, (Nora, 1989).
Jallianwallan Bagh memorial, Amritsar, Punjab, India
On April 13, 1919, British General Dyer, massacred about 1500 people and injured over 2000 people. They were part of a group of unarmed 5000 men, women, and children, holding a peaceful protest in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. The brutality of the massacre stunned the nation, and immediately radicalized the Indian independence movement. Up until then, the Indian National Congress led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were advocating for Dominion status.
Jallianwallan Bagh memorial was constructed right after the Partition of 1947. It was commissioned in May 1951 and inaugurated on April 13, 1961, 42 years after the 1919 massacre. Even though India never built an official monument to the Partition of India of 1947, I contend that this memorial does double duty in covertly memorializing 1947 and overtly memorializing 1919.
Minar-e-Pakistan monument, Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
The Jallianwallan Bagh massacre sparked off the revolutionary movement led by Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, and others of the Ghadar Party. Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims started demanding full independence from the British. The Purna Swaraj (Complete Independence) declaration was made on 26th January 1930 at this site on the banks of the Ravi river, jointly by the Muslim League and the Congress.
But in the next decade, it became clear that the Congress had too much of a Hindu bias. This resulted in the Muslim League asking for a separate Muslim state, in the Pakistan or Lahore resolution on 22nd-24th March 1940, on the same site as the 1930 declaration.
The Minar-e-Pakistan was built on this historic site with a storied history. The construction started on 23 March 1960, 20 years after the Pakistan Resolution, and it was inaugurated on 21 October 1968. Pakistan also never built an official monument to the Partition, but I contend that this monument does double duty by covertly memorializing 1947 and overtly memorializing the Pakistan Resolution of 1940.
Martyred Intellectuals monument, Rayer Bazar, Dhaka, Bangladesh
On 26 March 1971, Bangladesh declared itself independent of Pakistan, which started the Bangladesh War of Independence. The Pakistan Army started a violent effort to suppress the Bengali independence movement. On December 14, 1971, about 1200 professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers, and writers were rounded up in Dhaka. They were tortured and later executed en masse, at Rayer Bazar and Mirpur, in Dhaka.
Construction on the Rayer Bazar memorial started in 1996 and it was inaugurated in 1999.
A memorial museum was also constructed in Mirpur on the mass grave site, Jalladkhana Killing field, and it was inaugurated on 21 June 2007.
Skin of the Monument
For the Broken Column anti-memorial, I make latex and silicone casts of stairs, walls, doors, niches, and ornaments, capturing details and textures of intimate spaces within the larger architecture of these monuments.
"The silicone and latex casts are like the 'skin' that make the “body” of the monument accessible in a corporeal manner."
- Pritika Chowdhry
Liberation War Museum, Dhaka, Bangladesh
In addition to the above three monuments, the Broken Column project also includes latex casts from the Jalladkhana Killing Fields museum, and the Liberation War Museum, both very significant sites of memory in Dhaka. Latex casts of the guns, pistols, and bombs used by the Bangladesh Rebel Army in the Liberation War of 1971, in the collections of the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka are also included in this installation. These are the "objects of memory," historical objects imbued with significant memory of a traumatic event.
Jalladkhana Killingfield Museum, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Jalladkhana Killing Field is located in Avenue 1, Mirpur, Dhaka. It is a mass grave from the Bangladesh Liberation war.
Jalladkhana killing field was a pump house in 1971, and the Pakistani army, Muhajir people, and their local supporters started killing people after the outbreak of war. They forcefully gathered the people of the Mirpur area in the pump house and killed them. It was also used to dump dead bodies of people killed in other places in Mirpur. Then their bodies were thrown into the well of the pump house.
In 1999, Bangladesh Army carried out extensive excavation of the Jalladkhana killing field. They recovered 70 intact skulls and 5,392 bone fragments. Jalladkhana Killing field has been converted into a museum with open access. The museum was established on 21 June 2007. This is one of the few mass graves that are well preserved but most mass graves from the Bangladesh Liberation War are not. Many have had buildings or roads constructed on top of them.
Eminent artists, Rafiqun Nabi and Munir-uz-Zaman created the mural titled Jibon Abinashwar (Life Immortal) on the back wall of the garden. This site is one of over 1500 mass graves in Bangladesh, and this memorial displays plaques with the name, location, and other details of 467 mass graves from across the country. I decided to make a latex cast of a section of the mural. On the other end of the garden, where the two ends of the triangular walkways meet, is the pump house which served as the torture chamber. Below that is the 20-feet deep water tank, now enclosed around the border with black tiles. The 20-feet deep water tank is where the skulls and bones of the massacred people were dumped. I decided to make a latex cast of the top cover of the water tank as well.
Latex Casts of the Soap Factory
Casts of sections of the Soap Factory in Minneapolis are also included in this installation to acknowledge my specific location as a diasporic South Asian woman in the US. The Soap Factory is an evocative historical site and this project was exhibited as a whole for the first time in the Soap Factory in 2014, as part of the R.U.R. exhibition curated by Benedict Heywood.
Counter-Memories of the Partitions of 1947 and 1971
This project investigates how collective memories of the partitions of 1947 and 1971 are made legible or erased through these monuments. These relational sites of memory are architectural palimpsests where memories of multiple events have sedimented over time. These national monuments are complicit in creating a narrative that aggrandizes the nation.
Rape as a Weapon of War
As significant as these monuments are to the collective memories of the two partitions and the three nations, they fail to acknowledge or memorialize the trauma that the women of the three countries endured during these violent events. The elision of this trauma forms the counter-memory that hangs heavy in these monuments.
Counter-Memory by Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault coined the term, “Counter-Memory” to describe a modality of history that opposes history as knowledge or history as truth. For Foucault, counter-memory was an act of resistance in which one critically examines the history and excavates the narratives that have been subjugated. (Foucault, 1977)
An Anti-Memorial to the violence of 1947 and 1971
Latex and silicone casts of sections of the monuments such as stairs, walls, doors, niches, and ornaments, capture details and textures of intimate spaces within the larger architecture. I think of these casts as the “skin” of the monuments which reveal every mark, stain, and blemish that has accumulated on their surfaces since they were constructed. In this visceral and abject form, these casts are able to allude to the counter-memories that are elided from these monuments and are thus able to function as an anti-memorial.
James E. Young on Anti-Memorials
James E Young describes an anti-memorial as, “Anti-memorials aim not to console but to provoke, not to remain fixed but to change, not to be everlasting but to disappear, not to be ignored by passers-by but to demand interaction, not to remain pristine but to invite their own violation and not to accept graciously the burden of memory but to drop it at the public’s feet.” (Germany’s Memorial Question: Memory, CounterMemory, and the End of the Monument, Fall 1997)
The Memory Triad
The monuments are completely separate from each other geographically and politically, and indeed function in contradiction to each other as they each imprint the nationalistic version of the collective memory of each nation. However, these latex panels are now dislodged from their original geographical and architectural context. An installation comprising of all these panels in one location is then able to create a metaphoric triangulation of the counter-memories of these three sites of memory.
Hence, this anti-memorial is able to function as a “memory triad” despite the geographical and political disconnect between these monuments and the conflicting nationalist politics of the countries in which they exist. This triangulation was never the original intent of these monuments. In their anti-monumentalism, this work connects as well as exceeds each individual monument’s historical context.
Intertextual References in Broken Column
“Intertextuality is the shaping of a text's meaning by another text. It is the interconnection between similar or related works of literature that reflect and influence an audience's interpretation of the text. Intertextuality is the relation between texts that are inflicted by
means of quotations and allusion,” (Wikipedia). I often title my works in order to make intertextual references to a literary work, or a film, to shape the meaning of my work in certain ways.
Attia Hossain’s Sunlight on A Broken Column
The title of this project, “Broken Column,” is an intertextual reference to Attia Hossain’s novel, “Sunlight on a Broken Column.” The novel is a beautiful work about the coming of age of a young Muslim girl in the turbulent times of the Partition in Lucknow, in India. The author was also a Muslim woman, and I felt it offered a particularly poignant intertextual reference for my project which is about the counter-memory of what Hindu and Muslim women endured in the Partition.
Urvashi Butalia’s The Other Side of Silence
"It is that small crack, covered over by silence. It is very important. Not to fill it with words, because they would be so very inadequate. But with art that can gently enter that crack and softly illuminate it, so that we may feel it in the cracks of our hearts.
(The Other Side of Silence, 2000)
The other work I want to mention here is “The Other Side of Silence” by Urvashi Butalia. This work is absolutely remarkable in its path-breaking feminist historiography of the Partition. I want to mention just one passage here, that to me is the most poetic description of
She is narrating one of her many interviews with survivors of the Partition, with a family that had lost many family members and two of their sisters had been abducted. Throughout the interview, they did not mention the sisters. And Butalia describes it thus, “…it struck me that that awkward silence, that hesitant phrase was perhaps where the disappearance of the two sisters lay hidden: in a small crack, covered over by silence,” (The Other Side of Silence, 2000).
"And this is why I make this work. It is that small crack, covered over by silence. It is very important. Not to fill it with words, because they would be so very inadequate. But with art that can gently enter that crack and softly illuminate it, so that we may feel it in the cracks of our hearts." - Pritika Chowdhry
Nora, P. (1989). Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire. Representations. Representations, 7-24. Foucault, M. (1977). Nietzche, Genealogy, History. In D. F. Bouchard, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (p. 160). Cornell University Press. Germany’s Memorial Question: Memory, CounterMemory, and the End of the Monument. (Fall 1997). The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol 96, no 4, 855. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intertextuality Butalia, U. (2000). The Other Side of Silence. Duke University Press. Foucault, M. (1977). Nietzche, Genealogy, History. In D. F. Bouchard, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (p. 160). Cornell University Press. Lubar, S., & Kendrick, K. (2021, December 5). Retrieved from The Object of History: https://objectofhistory.org/guide/connections/index.html. Nora, P. (1989). Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire. Representations. Representations, 7-24. Tanim, F. K. (2007, July 6). Retrieved from https://faizulkhan.blogspot.com/2007/07/memory-remains-war-memorial-at-mirpur.html. Young, J. E. (Fall 1997). Germany’s Memorial Question: Memory, Counter-Memory, and the End of the Monument. The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol 96, no 4, 855.