Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Neeti Nair's "Changing Homelands"

Neeti Nair is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, and reported the following:
Well, true and false. My book Changing Homelands is about politics in a province of British India called Punjab and my narrative stretches across four substantial decades. Page 99 captures a crucial moment in April 1919 when a rather complex actor named Swami Shraddhanand has the attention of tens of thousands of Hindus and Muslims in Delhi. Addressing a funeral procession – the dead were victims of police firing – Shraddhanand says:
This day is a blessed one, on which an unbreakable tie of union has been established between the Hindus and Muhammadans. God grant that this union may be cemented still further and no power may be able to undo it. Do not think that the blood which has been spilt today has been shed in vain. What advantage can be greater than a union between the Hindus and Muhammadans?
In most liberal academic histories Shraddhanand is dismissed as a reactionary bigot for his role in allegedly fomenting prejudices between religious communities in the mid-1920s. However, I study his role in the 1919 movement and his memory of it just before his death in 1926 alongside his activities as a so-called bigot to try and understand Shraddhanand’s actions in all their contradictions.

In a sense Shraddhanand is not unique. Several Punjabi political leaders, and indeed all-India figures like Gandhi and Jinnah, worked in contexts where they had to address multiple constituencies and swiftly changing circumstances. My book engages with these contexts, and in a final chapter, I explore the way memories of Punjab before it was violently partitioned in 1947 intersect with the lives of Punjabis in post-Partition India.

Page 99 does give the reader an essence of an event that has hitherto been neglected because it doesn’t fit into neat theories about conflict between religiously defined communities or distinctions between the “good nationalist” and the “bad communalist.” But the reader will need to read before and after to make sense of this tantalizing moment in India’s history.
Visit Neeti Nair's faculty webpage, and learn more about Changing Homelands at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue