The socio-religious divides produced by the partition led to the creation of fragmented identities that struggled to reconcile themselves with the violent reorganisation of the nation, community and family. In Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Pinjar (2003), the religious fault lines are made apparent in their obtrusive control over women’s bodies, which become sites of conquest whereby masculine dominance can be inscribed; this trauma of gendered communal violence coupled with mass dislocation fundamentally reshaped the psyche of the female subject. I am going to take a look at the phallocentric inscribing of female bodies as a political act inherent to the formulation of religious divides and the film’s inquiry into partition trauma through its portrayal of religio-spatial hybridity, liminal identities, and fluidity of the psyche beyond ethno-state boundaries.
Pinjar structurally recreates the partition by showing two different temporal spaces, of pre-partition and post-partition, studying their similarities and renegotiations. The film’s depiction of the pre-partition paradigm alerts us to the layers of religious antagonism buried beneath the sedate normalcy that is ruptured by Puro’s abduction by Rashid. This act signifies the status of women as objects – the conquest of their body authenticates masculine socio-religious fulfilment and identity formation. Puro is reduced to the level of a shuttling commodity whose coercive exchange marks Rashid’s familial male avengement; he carries with him the generational trauma of his Sheikh ancestors whose property and women were appropriated by the Shah household. Coerced by the patriarchal Muslim community, who ‘called on his blood’, his decision to abduct Puro exemplifies the continuance of cycles of abuse that characterise the historical relationship between the Hindu-Muslim communities, whose successive generations inherit the trauma of their forbears. This ordeal exposes the submerged fissures that comprise the masculine struggle for dominance based on religious differentiation and superiority. For such a polity, women’s bodies become inscriptive surfaces to demonstrate religious and nationalist politics.
Post her abduction, Puro existed in a liminal space as an object in the rift between the Hindu-Muslim divide – a monstrosity that could not be tolerated in a new socio-political paradigm insistent on recreating identities as polarisations and not hybrids. The establishment of a post-partition social order based on strictly enforced religious division mandated her expulsion. Her body, then, is stigmatised as impure or profane.
Her family’s refusal to accept her back after she runs away is governed by the moral and gendered notions of purity that surround the Hindu female. Hindu patriarchal hypocrisy is further accentuated by depicting Hindu men as abductors of Muslim women pre-partition, complicating the image of the Muslim man as the barbaric “other” solely responsible for all patriarchal violence. Pinjar is a clever reconstruction of the Ramayana myth, with Puro as Sita, whose marriage to Ram(chand) is hindered by the “Muslim Ravana” who abducts her. The film is able to upturn this mythologisation, which was a prevalent post-partition Hindu interpretation of the abducted Hindu woman as the pure and sacred Sita corrupted by the Muslim “other”. Rashid’s metamorphosis from abductor/Ravana to co-rescuer/non-Ravana occurs when he resolves to help Lajo escape, in opposition to the larger belligerent Muslim community whom he decides to repudiate, breaking the cycle of abuse by refusing to carry ancestral grudges. His deed of carrying Lajo away on a horse duplicates and negates his previous abduction of Puro. The reconciliation between Ramchand and Rashid, the proto-Ram and Ravana figures, following Lajo’s return to her household, affirms the need for change, forgiveness and mutual kindness to govern the relationship between the two communities.
Lajo’s rescue is juxtaposed with the treatment of Puro, who was abandoned by her family once she was abducted leaving her in a space of liminal displacement as Puro-Hamida. The hybridisation of Puro is constructed through the erasure of her original identity as she is marked with the tattoo of “Hamida”, which she unsuccessfully tries to wash away. This space of liminality as an oppressive cage undergoes transference post-partition, becoming an exclusive space of interaction between the borders that can render some form of reconciliation. She is able to traverse the convoluted spaces of Ratthoval to look for Lajo by marking her body as a working-class Muslim woman who chews betel leaves, has an exuberant attitude and astute bargaining skills. The hyphenated identity of Puro-Hamida represents a hybrid space outside acceptable womanhood that allows her to treat Lajo’s body as a site of harrowing injustice as opposed to one of irreconcilable defilement.
Puro at the end makes the non-normative choice to not return to her original family, community and nation, which once denied her, desecrating her as impure. In doing so, she denies the rigid categorisation of ethnocentric nationalist identities propagated by the newly independent states of India and Pakistan.