Cornell University

Colonial Infrastructure and the Politics of Partition of Punjab, by Mubbashir Rizvi

Monday, November 4, 2019 at 12:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

In this paper, I speculate on the role of colonial infrastructure and technological change in shaping the climate for mass violence in Punjab during the partition of British India. The Punjab was not unique to experience the upheavals of partition but as several scholars have noted the scale of the violence in Punjab, especially in the region known as the canal colonies in central Punjab, was unparalleled in the subcontinent (Khan 2017).  In taking account of the regionality of partition violence in Punjab, I build on recent work on infrastructure studies to analyze three administrative projects; the 1850 Permanent Land Settlement of Punjab, the canal colonization projects in Central Punjab (1885-1946) and the Land Alienation Act of 1900, with an eye towards the bio-politics of partition. In this essay, I build on the concept of “infrastructural violence’, or what Hannah Appel has defined as the uneven distribution of infrastructure that creates socio-spatial divisions between enclaves of connection and zones of abandonment. The social transformation that accompanied the permanent settlement of land, and irrigation projects prompted Imran Ali, the historian of Punjab to describe Central Punjab as "a virtual human laboratory, as castes, clans and tribes from different parts of the province converged on the new lands” (Ali 1988: viii). By the turn of 20th century Central Punjab was the center for commercial agriculture in South Asia (Gilmartin 1994, Ludden 1999). In this paper, I will track how canal colonization ushered in a new “politics of recognition” that proved so consequential in the run up to the partition of British India.

Mubbashir Rizvi is an Assistant Professor in Cultural Anthropology at Georgetown University. He holds a Ph.D. in Social-Cultural Anthropology from the University of Texas-Austin, and a BA from Brooklyn College, City University of New York. His research and teaching interests span social movements, environmental justice, postcolonial militarization and decolonization. His forthcoming book, The Ethics of Staying: Social Movements and Land Rights in Pakistan (Stanford University Press May 2019), examines the rise of a land rights movement that challenged the Pakistani military’s policy to privatize state-owned farms.  Rizvi examines the role of social movements and technological change in shaping political agency in rural Pakistan. He has written on the moral economy of infrastructure projects, the use of counter-terrorism policies to suppress peasant land rights demands and the complexities arising from civil society/ NGO involvement in grassroots struggles.  His publications appear in History and Anthropology, Anthropology Today, and Text, Performance and Practice. Dr. Rizvi is pursuing a new project on Muslims and the Question of Decolonization. This project traces the relationships between Black and Asian diaspora communities to understand how the presence of Islam in the West is used to redraw the racial, national and civilizational boundaries in Euro-American political discourse.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, City and Regional Planning, Anthropology






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