ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Encapsulating Betrayal: Partition (1947)


Avarna Ojha - Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom


36 – Interrogating Deviance and ‘Crime’ in Colonial and Postcolonial South Asia


“…The Congress party aides were highly corrupt in their dealing with the Delhi refugee camp… (Vimal, 2018).”

“…The corrupt policeman forcibly removed my street food stall and arrested me…he and other refugee dwellers did not want me to set up an independent market in the [Kurukshetra] refugee camp… (Madan, 2018).”

“…Survivors were unwilling to discuss partition in the immediate years following independence as it seemed unpatriotic and disloyal to do so…(Desai, 2017).”

These quotes are from oral testimonials of survivors of partition of British India (1947). Along with millions of refugees, they also migrated across the border and underwent tremendous emotional turbulence. Amongst other traumatic memories, they viscerally held on to their experiences of corrupt activities. ‘Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions we depend on for survival violate us in some way.’ While interviewing survivors of partition for the digital archives ‘The 1947 Partition Archive’ in 2018, it became apparent to me that amidst these transformative experiences, refugees held onto the memories of corruption in refugee camps very strongly. Unquestionably these memories endured due to emotions of betrayal and nostalgia. Utilizing select oral testimonials, media reports and literature, I will trace the facets like what constitutes corruption, refugees’ idealization of a newly formed nation, and evolving notions of governance and corruption mirrored across impermeable borders.