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Silent Waters:
The Uncounted

Anti-Memorial to the Partition of India, 1947 and the Bangladesh Liberation War, 1971

The Partition of India in 1947 and the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, were extremely bloody and ethnic violence was perpetrated at an unprecedented scale. These traumatic geopolitical events have shaped the national and individual psyche of  South Asia.

Large-scale Forced Migrations

Over 20 million people were displaced in the Partition of India in 1947 (Wikipedia 2021), and over 30 million were displaced in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 (Wikipedia 2021). The trauma that this displaced population suffered has been appropriated by state actors to create a “victim nationalism” for the purpose of propagandist nation building, but the actual victims have not been memorialized in a meaningful way.

Installation view of 101 larger-than-life-scale ceramic feet, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry, Anti-memorial to Partition if India 1947 and Bangladesh Liberation War 1971

Installation view of 101 larger-than-life-scale ceramic feet, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry

Rape as a Weapon of War

Over 300,000 women were abducted and raped during the 1947 communal violence, on both sides of the border. And 200,000 – 400,000 women were raped in the War of 1971. The memory culture of the Partition 0f 1947 and the War of 1971, focuses on the deaths and displacements of 1947 and 1971, but the women are rarely ever mentioned. Another aspect of Partition violence that is mentioned even less or not at all, is the male body as a site of sexual or sexualized violence.

The Uncounted

The full extent of the forced migrations and the mass rapes have been difficult to quantify because accurate data gathering was very difficult in the chaos of those times. As many victims and refugees were counted, there are probably as many or more that were never counted (Gupta 1993).

What is 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)

Khamosh Paani (Silent Waters) movie

Hushed stories of defiled women jumping into the village well to commit suicide and save the family honor have become a cultural trope in the collective memory of the Partition. A poignant movie, "Khamosh Paani (Silent Waters)," deploys this trope in a nuanced and sensitive manner. The title of this installation is an intertextual reference to this beautiful movie.

Close-up of one of the ceramic feet in Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial for the Partition of 1947 and the Bangladesh War of 1971

Close-up of one of the ceramic feet in Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry

The forced migrations and the mass rapes are the counter-memory of the Partition that is elided from the popular memory culture of the Partition. There is a sense of subterranean shame, a sense of unease, that prevents the acknowledgment of the sexual violence that happened during the Partition riots. 

Counter-Memories of the Partition of 1947 and War of 1971

The Anti-Memorial

When a memory is unbearable, how do you memorialize it?

Traditional rituals and forms of memorialization would not have worked to memorialize these grim events. I felt that what is needed is an anti-memorial that will not let people forget the occurrence of mass displacements and mass rapes in 1947 and 1971 (Young Fall 1997).

What is an Anti-Memorial? James E. Young

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.” (Young Fall 1997).

Installation view of 101 larger-than-life-scale ceramic feet, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial for the Partition of India 1947 and the Bangladesh Liberation War 1971

This anti-memorial seeks to memorialize the fatigued, brutalized, and defiled bodies of the refugees and migrants of partitions of 1947 and 1971. Silent Waters deploys twice-life-sized feet to function as an anti-memorial to reveal the counter-memories buried in the collective narratives of trauma, in the partitions of 1947 and 1971

Realizing the close relationship of trauma and counter-memory, I am striving to create a visual language that can reveal suppressed memories of trauma.​

Installation view of 101 larger-than-life-scale ceramic feet, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry

I feel that any kind of commemorative gesture for such an abject issue would need to be multiplicitous, fragmented, temporary, and peripatetic, in other words, an anti-memorial.​

This site-specific installation is comprised of 101 larger-than-life-scale ceramic feet. The feet are hollow and glazed jet black inside and out. Feet are a particularly androgynous fragment of the human body and here they depict the mass displacement of people in 1947 and 1971 and also acknowledge both the male and female body as sites of sexual violence. 

Water and Salt

Water has a ritualistic and ceremonial role in the funerary rites of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communities. The empty ceramic feet filled with saltwater function as a surrogate for the absent, defiled bodies.

The feet are filled with salt water, and as the water evaporates it creates a residue of crystallized salt inside the feet. The presence of water in this anti-memorial is poetic – by taking the shape of the feet, and filling the space in the hollow feet, it transforms the feet into containers of memory.

Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry

Close-up of the ceramic feet with water and salt, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry

Installation view of 101 larger-than-life-scale ceramic feet, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial for Partition of India 1947, and Bangladesh Liberation War 1971

Installation view of 101 larger-than-life-scale ceramic feet, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry

101 Feet

Why 101 feet? In India, it is considered auspicious to make offerings of money in the amounts of 11, 21, 51, 101, 501 and so on in temples. Therefore, 101 feet is a symbolic number to make a memorial offering to the men and women who were brutalized in the Partition riots.

Soundscape

A minimalist soundscape accompanies this installation and comprises the sounds of rain, running feet, and a body falling into the water, presumably a well. This soundscape plays in a loop in the space of the installation.

Partition Memorial Project

Silent Waters is the second in a series of art installations that are memorialized partitions (Partition Memorial Project 2007). My starting point for this series was intensive research in the history of the partition of India in 1947, and the ethnic violence that erupted in the South Asian subcontinent as a result of this watershed event.

Close-up of the ceramic feet with water and salt, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial for Partition of India 1947 and Bangladesh Liberation war 1971

In the making of these works and doing further research, I realized that there are multiple histories of partitions. In fact, I found that partitioning communities and nations along ethnic lines is a recurring motif in geopolitical conflicts of the 20th century. Remembering the Crooked Line project seeks to make transnational connections between seemingly disparate geopolitical histories.

Close-up of the ceramic feet with water and salt, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry

​Intertextual References

The title of this anti-memorial makes an intertextual reference to the movie, Khamosh Paani (Silent Waters)

(Sumar 2003). I often mine literary or film sources to articulate and cite specific theses in my work. Intertextuality is a literary device that creates an 'interrelationship between texts' and generates related understanding in separate works. In this case, I am creating an interrelationship between a visual work and a film. (Intertextuality n.d.)

Installation view of 101 larger-than-life-scale ceramic feet, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial for Partition of India 1947, and the Bangladesh Liberation War 1971.

Installation view of 101 larger-than-life-scale ceramic feet, Silent Waters, by Pritika Chowdhry

Bibliography

Foucault, Michel. 1977. In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, by Donald F. Bouchard, 160.

Cornell University Press.

Gupta, Dipankar. 1993. "The Indian Diaspora of 1947: The Political and Ethnic Consequences of

the Partition with Special Reference to Delhi." In Ethnicity and Migration: The South Asia Experience., by Milton Israel and N. Wagle. Toronto: University of Toronto.

n.d. Intertextuality. Accessed November 11, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intertextuality.

2007. Partition Memorial Project. Accessed November 3, 2021.

https://www.partitionmemorialproject.org.

2021. Wikipedia. November 4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_India.

2021. Wikipedia. November 4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladesh_Liberation_War.

Young, James E. Fall 1997. "Germany’s Memorial Question: Memory, CounterMemory, and the End of the Monument." The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol 96, no 4 855.