University of Illinois at Chicago

Boundaries and Belongings: Muslim Migration, Homelands, and Subjectivities in Bengal, 1945 – 1970

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posted on 2023-08-01, 00:00 authored by Sohini Majumdar
This dissertation takes an interdisciplinary approach to examine the history of border-making, migration, citizenship, and construction of identities in South Asia at the critical juncture of the end of the British Empire and the formation of the new nation-states of India and Pakistan. It focuses on Bengal, a colonial province that became partitioned between India (West Bengal) and Pakistan (East Bengal and later, East Pakistan) in 1947. It zooms in on the Muslims who lived in the Bengal region, a community who became divided between the two countries, to understand how the creation of the new nation states intersected with lives of ordinary people. It therefore opens the scope to document voices of those people who, until very recently, were marginalized in official narratives. The three main questions that this dissertation investigates include how state policies affected ordinary people, how people negotiated with a very difficult crisis, and how new identity formations unfolded as large masses became citizens of a new state and lost their belonging to an older country. In so doing, it shows how people who were hitherto colonial subjects were remodeled as nation citizens. A primary aim of this dissertation is to show that categories and collectivities, such as citizen, refugee, migrant, or minority, are not a-priori ontological realities, but constructs produced through everyday negotiations between the state and the people. My research shows that partition was not only about violence, as is often believed, but also about social, cultural, and emotional transitions. By mapping a wide variety of emotions that accompanied the displacements, ranging from confusion, trauma, loneliness, and alienation to nostalgia, hope, and expectations, I trace how these human sentiments and experiences essentially gave meaning to a border that had not existed until 1947.



Mantena, Rama Sundari


Mantena, Rama Sundari



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Stauter-Halsted, Keely Hostetler, Laura Liechty, Mark Sarkar, Tanika

Submitted date

August 2023

Thesis type



  • en

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