Cover: Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, from Harvard University PressCover: Changing Homelands in HARDCOVER

Changing Homelands

Hindu Politics and the Partition of India

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$71.00 • £61.95 • €64.95

ISBN 9780674057791

Publication Date: 04/01/2011


356 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

3 halftones, 4 maps

Not for sale in Indian subcontinent

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Historian Neeti Nair’s Changing Homelands, a fine addition to the new generation of Partition scholarship, adeptly navigates sensitive historical terrain to shed new light on the complicated story of Punjab’s Hindus, and the relation of Punjab to the larger Indian national movement… Nair traces the evolution of the term ‘communalism’ in anti-colonial nationalist politics from the first decade of the twentieth century, thereby complicating the easy synonymy the term has come to occupy with exclusionary bigotry today. This is crucial work if we are to dissipate the polarized debates that we have inherited and often perpetuate. In excavating the role played by the politics of Punjab’s influential Hindu minority, even as she attempts to impart multiple dimensions to the key players and situations involved, Nair puts forward an original, bold and responsible interpretation which adds considerably to the existing literature that focuses overwhelmingly on Muslim politics and the role of the British in ‘explaining’ Partition and the inception of communal politics in India.—Sahana Ghosh, Contemporary South Asia

The well-researched study, providing a wealth of information drawn from a wide variety of sources, serves more than a purely academic purpose. It gives the lay reader a clearer understanding of the subcontinent’s history in its crucial phase, the part of history that continues to be distorted by diverse groups of holy crusaders.—J. Sri Raman, The Hindu

The book makes a serious claim that the partition of Punjab should not be seen merely in relation to the ‘known’ politics of the Muslim League; rather, to understand the events of 1947, one needs to look at the complex politics of colonial Punjab, particularly the ideas, beliefs and moves of those Punjabi leaders, who claimed to represent the interests of ‘Hindus.’ …The modes by which ‘politics,’ an organized and collective activity, is performed in a colonial context is another important and perhaps the most fascinating theme of the book. One finds an engaging discussion on three well-known political figures—Lala Lajpat Rai, Swami Shraddhanand and Bhagat Singh. Nair does not take the conventional route to approach these figures; rather, she tries to place them in their own context to unpack those political aspects, which are not associated with the established images of these leaders… Nair makes a powerful claim that the given histories of Partition need to be questioned to understand the processual nature of such events. In this sense, Nair makes a serious contribution to Partition Studies—an emerging field of intellectual engagement with histories and memories of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent.—Hilal Ahmed, The Book Review

Provides a valuable corrective to the historiography of politics in late colonial Punjab that has more often than not been over-determined by the impulse to explain partition… Nair marshals a wide range of sources to demonstrate that while some Punjabi Hindus undoubtedly supported partition, the historical evidence does not demonstrate that this particular way of imagining a homeland and belonging to it had gained overwhelming support, or even the upper hand, among all or most Punjabi Hindus in the decades preceding partition… Neeti Nair’s main contribution lies in providing a revisionist perspective to the Punjabi Hindus’ complicity in partitioning the province; but Changing Homelands is much more than a regional study of the ‘high politics’ of partition in the Punjab. With consummate skill, the narrative interweaves archival research with oral history, and fleshes out the connections between the high politics of partition and the situation on the ground. Her work is emblematic of a new wave of partition studies, in which an untenable separation of elite and subaltern politics has given way to rich mappings of their interconnections.—Uditi Sen, Journal of Genocide Research

Gives you new food for thought.—Syed Badrul Ahsan, Daily Star

An extremely able work.—A. G. Noorani, Frontline

Neeti Nair confidently handles the tangled responses of Punjabi Hindu politicians to the issue of minority rights and safeguards in the late colonial era, thereby shedding fresh light on Punjab’s relationship to the Indian nationalist movement… Nair consults a variety of source materials and offers original interpretations for her readers.—Ian Talbot, American Historical Review

Drawing on an impressively wide range of archival sources, Changing Homelands gives us a compelling account of the contingent and far-from-inevitable onset of partition in Punjab.—Nikhil Rao, Journal of Asian Studies

[Changing Homelands] challenges the conventional understanding on the political causes leading to division of a nation into two… [Nair’s] account is to a large extent groundbreaking and adds a new perspective to the existing discourse on India’s partition. There is an underlying inquisitiveness embedded throughout this exhaustive account for which the author deserves critical appreciation… The author’s arguments are imposing and sure to draw attention. Her language is clear and engaging and her bibliography offers a rich assortment including several primary documents which authenticate the narrative and add further value to the overall broader arguments.—Priyanka Singh, Canadian Journal of History

Neeti Nair has written a comprehensive and complex history of the Punjabi Hindus in the first half of the twentieth century. Changing Homelands begins by tracing the rise of communalism in the 1920s and ends with partition in the 1940s. The author has offered new insights about the role of prominent personalities, like Swami Shraddhanand, Lajpat Rai, and Bhagat Singh… Changing Homelands is…a valuable account of the partition of the Punjab. More important, Nair’s book is probably the most substantial and nuanced history of urban Punjabi Hindus that has been written so far. She will be widely read.—Rohit Wanchoo, H-Net Reviews

Neeti Nair’s Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India raises the pivotal question of Punjabi Hindus who, being ‘suddenly’ rendered a minority in their land, had to migrate to what became/remained India. The case of the Punjabi Hindus is atypical—they were minority Hindus in Muslim-majority Punjab, who had to migrate to become part of a majoritarian Hindu community in India. In India today, where Muslims constitute the major minority, it is hard to imagine Hindus as a minority. The book can help us imagine, across time, the fate of such a large minoritarian Punjabi Hinduism. This is historically significant as the present state of minority Hinduism in Pakistan (chiefly in Sindh) is too miniscule to provide a useful comparative point of analysis. Nair’s book helps sensitize us to the enormous contingency of majority and minority formation—and perhaps no question is more significant for South Asian polities today…Nair’s book demonstrates the compound causal assemblages and nexuses that led to Partition rather than the teleology of ‘communalism’—and the chief value of this type of analysis might lie in the fact that the identified political elements can then be meaningfully re-assembled in a way that can moderate conflict, guilt and misunderstanding in the present.—Nikhil Govind, India International Centre Quarterly

It is in this emphasis on the heterogeneous history of nationalism and Partition, and in its contestation of the exclusivity of categories like communal, anti-colonial or nationalist that this book can claim its distinctive place in South Asian historiography… In recent years a number of historians have argued about the nation living in heterogeneous time. This book buttresses that argument with significant empirical evidence, culled from conventional archives as well as retrieved through oral history methods. In that sense, it is an important addition to the genre of Partition literature.—Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, Indian Historical Review

This book is an important addition to the field of ‘Partition Studies’ that has sought to complicate the earlier historiographical silences around the 1947 Partition of India and its narrativization as an aberrational moment of insanity in an otherwise non-violent history of Indian national independence. Nair’s revisionist attention to the warp and weft of religious anticolonial politics in early twentieth century Punjab illuminates the disjunctures and differences between the power negotiations among religiously defined Punjabi communities that retrospectively got named ‘communalist’ and contemporary Hindutva… Through careful and textured archival analysis of the political discourse around key events leading up to the Partition, Changing Homelands offers us a fresh and valuable perspective on the Punjabi experience of Partition and its continued affective resonance for so many refugees and their descendants in contemporary Delhi. It is as much a book about modern power relations in South Asia as it is a book about the failures and lost opportunities that constitute the history of Partition. This book is useful not only for those interested in the Partition, but also for those interested in the history of empire as well as South Asia.—Kavita Daiya, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

An important addition to the emerging research on this region’s politically traumatic event, Neeti Nair’s Changing Homelands highlights how Partition memory, stored in oral histories, has been largely constructed by the region’s subsequent politics and by people’s willful act of forgetting some portions of history… The story of Partition is only now beginning to be unpacked, as South Asians try to break free from the formulaic versions fed to them in the initial nation-building decades. In this context, Nair’s juxtaposing and interrogating of different strands of memory-making tools will be immensely useful, especially because oral history is just now taking off in India. While many academic historians dismiss oral history as inauthentic even today, this book helps the reader go beyond the simple act of rejection or acceptance. It advocates a more nuanced study of how memory works and how history is fluid and unfixed.—Rama Lakshmi, Oral History Review

Nair offers fresh interpretations of Punjab’s relationship with the national movement.—Sohini Majumdar, Refugee Watch Online

It is an excellent work of meticulous research. Its argument is sharp and well executed. In many ways, what Joya Chatterji accomplished in her book, Bengal Divided (1994), Nair does for Punjab. Nair’s is a fine illustration of Rancière’s dissensus: it derails the received wisdom on Partition. Nair cogently builds her argument by dwelling on Punjabi Hindu politics. She discusses diverse ideological currents among Punjabi Hindus (and Sikhs) and attends to their entanglements, inconsistencies and evolution.—Irfan Ahmad, South Asia

[An] extremely impressive study of the Partition of India… Nair’s accomplishment in Changing Homelands is, above all else, her meticulously close attention to detail as she patiently unravels a number of vital strands in this larger tangle. She delivers a necessarily dense and complex, but very readable, narrative of what transpired in the Punjab (her focus), primarily over roughly a half century.—Geoffrey Kain, South Asian Review

As a history of activities of Hindus in the Punjab, this book is a useful addition to understanding the history of the Punjab.—R. D. Long, Choice

This engagingly written book places Punjabi Hindus at the center of Partition scholarship. Nair’s often devastating examination of the complex considerations and unfathomable burdens that weighed on the minds of millions as they ‘chose’ to migrate reveals fresh thinking about religion and politics in South Asia.—Mridu Rai, author of Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir

Nair’s powerful book claims that for Punjab’s Hindus there was nothing inevitable about the coming of partition. She offers new and challenging interpretations of major events and personalities, which will transform our understandings of Punjab’s relationship to the Indian nationalist movement. Her discussion of Punjab’s partition and the subsequent memory of partition among Delhi Hindus is a tour de force.—David Gilmartin, author of Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan

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