Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Women as Martyrs: Mass Suicides at Thoa Khalsa During the Partition of India

Arunima Dey


The paper is an attempt at understanding the mass suicides committed by women during the communal riots instigated by the partition of the Indian subcontinent.  Firstly, the position and the role assigned to women are investigated by applying Giorgio Agamben’s concept of bios and zoē within a gendered perspective; this forms the introductory theoretical framework of the topic. The core part of the paper concentrates on one significant event which took place in the village of Thoa Khalsa, Rawalpindi district in March 1947, where ninety women took their own lives as a desperate attempt to avoid rape, abduction and religious conversion, thereby averting the ruination of their community’s honour. Bhisham Sahni’s depiction of the episode in his semi-autobiographic novel, Tamas, along with testimonies and print media sources, allows for exploration of the notion of national and religious honour and more importantly whether the suicides were a decision made by a person actively responsible for her own fate or rather someone passively succumbing to the patriarchal expectations of the state and community.

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