Narratives of belonging : Aligarh Muslim University and the partitioning of South Asia



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The partition of India that accompanied that nation's independence in 1947 created the additional state of Pakistan; by 1971, this Pakistan had fractured into the two independent states of Pakistan and Bangladesh. This dissertation seeks to expand our temporal and spatial understanding of the sub-continent's partitioning by examining the experiences of a group of South Asian Muslims across time and space. As this dissertation will show, South Asia's partitioning includes more than the official history of boundary creation and division of assets, and more than the people's history of unbridled violence. I have oriented my investigation around a single institution, the Aligarh Muslim University, and spoken to former students of the 1940s and 1950s, whose young lives were shaped by the independence and partition of India. The memories of these former students of Aligarh University offer a lens for examining the "multiple realities" of partition and the decolonized experiences of South Asian Muslims. The educational institution at Aligarh, founded in 1875, had long been concerned with cultivating a sporting, activist, masculine identity among its students; Muslim League leaders further empowered that identity as they recruited students for election work in support of Pakistan. The students embraced the values of the demand for Pakistan that appeared to be consistent with the values engendered at Aligarh. This dissertation uncovers the history of these students throughout the 1947 partition and beyond. It explores unexpected histories of trauma among communities who "chose to stay" but later experienced a powerful discontinuity in independent India. It exposes contradictions evident in remembered histories from Pakistanis who express triumph and grief at the prospect of Pakistani independence. Finally, this dissertation assesses the position of Muslims after partition and how the "disturbances" that began in the late 1940s continue to affect them today in both lived and remembered experience. As a site for examining the "disturbances" of partition, Aligarh University proves to be a hub of a community that was and remains deeply disturbed by the changes partition wrought.