A Story About the Plight of Women Abducted During
the 1947 Partition of India
Rajinder Singh Bedi is considered the second best, Saadat Hasan Manto is the highest regarded, Urdu short story writer. Like Manto, his best known work centers on the immense human cost of the of the 1947 Partition of India into Pakistan and India. Much the worst of this holocaust (death tolls range from 1/2 a million on up to 2 million) was felt by the women as men of diverse groups took their revenge by raping and abducting women of other groups. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu women were abducted by Muslin and vice-versa. Many of the women killed themselves from shame. (You can find some background information on this here.)
Bedi (1915 to 1984) was born in Punjab region of Pakistan and moved to India at the time of the Partition.
He was educated in Urdu. In his early working career he was a postal clerk. Later on he got a job at All India Radio. It was there he began his writing career. From here he moved to script writing for Bollywood movies and then into directing. It will be for his 72 short stories that he is remembered.
"Lajawanti" is about a once happily married couple. Then in the riots that resulted in the Partition of India (the effects were at their very worse in the Punjab region where the story is set and where Bedi grew up) the wife Lajawanto was kidnapped. It is also a story about human cruelty. Not just the cruelty of the abductors but of the husbands and family of the abducted women.
As the story opens we see Lajawanti expects to be beaten. It is part of the marriage custom and it almost seems a wife regards a husband who never beats her as "unmanly". Then she is abducted and taken over the border. Years go by and her husband tries to get along with his life. In time Pakistan and India authorities begin to arrange for the swapping of abducted women. A truck load of Hindu women would be exchanged for a truck load of Muslim women. There were lots of problems and quarrels over this. Sometimes men of one side managing the exchange would complain that all they are getting back is "useless old and middle aged women". The real cruelty to the women in many cases came when they returned.
Lajawanti's husband is at first overcome with joy when one day she was among the returned women. Lajawanti used to routinely beat his wife for the smallest matters. He asked if the man she spent longs months with while abducted beat her. She says no. Then the husband begins to wonder why she looks better and healthier than before she was abducted. Maybe she was happier with the other man. He promises never to beat her again and he keeps his word. He never criticizes her like he used to. They never fight over anything. At first she is very happy. Then she realizes why this has happened.
"Lajwanti" depicts a world where women have totally internalized the idea that they are little more than property. Imagine the horror of being abducted, taken to another country and being raped over and over for perhaps years. When you at last return to your home country, you are totd that your failure to kill yourself has brought great shame on your family and in many cases are driven from your old home.
You can read this story HERE
Indian short stories are a new chapter in my reading life. I have already found links to 100s of what seem like very worth reading short stories.
If you have any experience with South Asian short stories, please leave a comment.