Violence, Martyrdom and Partition
Rahul Ramagundam
A DAUGHTER'S TESTIMONY by Nonica Datta Oxford University Press, 2009, 235 pp., 695
August 2009, volume 33, No 8/9

‘Subhashini’, the author declares at the beginning of the book ‘is all but absent from history, though history is not absent from her life’. A cryptic statement as this carries us nowhere. Who is it who does not have history in their lives, although not all lives are in history or are material for history? In the beginning of their introduction to the discipline of history, students are told, as E.H. Carr pointed out, not every fact from the past constitutes history. But it is ‘archival-history’ from whose ‘tyranny of facts’ the author seeks deliverance. In contrast, she crafts a ‘memory-history’ from out of ‘inconsistencies, ambiguities, contradictions’ that is a remembered past, an oral testimony. Going a step further, Datta claims to have written a ‘parallel history’ and not a ‘factual document’, whatever it is, as she withholds herself from enunciating any further. That is a pity as her bold claims are soon lost in a labyrinth of verbiage and in the din of hyperbole.

Nonica Datta’s ‘parallel history’ depends entirely on the testimony of one person, Subhashini (1914–2003), who for over six years (1997–2003) spoke in Hindi to the author-interlocutor of her past, most of which are of those historically tumultuous years of 1942–47. The author in turn took three years of fellowship from the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library to transcribe the conversation into English. The result is A Daughter’s Testimony. Subhashini’s testimony, spatially located in and around Rohtak district in Haryana, is wholly constituted of three connecting metaphors: Kanhi-Puthi-wala Kissa, Bhagatji ka Balidan, Pitaji ka badla. Briefly, Kanhi-Puthi-wala Kissa is a story about Karamat, a Rangar Muslim, and his dangerous liaison with a Jat widow Shiriya and her daughter, Chalti. Haryana has evolved many a social system to avoid land subdivision. Karewa, a marriage arrangement in which a son formally cohabits with his widowed sister-in-law is one of them. Shiriya refused karewa and, in disregard of all socially accepted norms, forged a relationship with the landed and influential Karamat. She married Karamat and also got her teenage daughter to marry him. ‘How can a Mussalman do such a thing with impunity?’ Their violation of the social norm resulted in family’s retaliatory and brutal killing of both women.

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