Island, Mainland, and the Homeland Question: Gendered Oral Histories of Displacement(s) and Peripherality | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


Andaman Islands, straddling the margin of South and Southeast Asia at the edge of India’s territory, is a geopolitically sensitive, hyper-masculine island-space where the mainland has inscribed its nationalist depictions of history. Post-colonial social engineering policies have resulted in the settlement of various mainland communities, including the Bengali Hindu refugees and migrants of India’s eastern Partition (1947), in the islands. The settler women’s participation in and contribution to the settlement, however, continue to remain peripheral in the statist narrative of rehabilitation. Focusing on the settler women’s oral histories, this paper brings out their agential role in negotiating with the state’s rehabilitation regime, participation in nation-building, and articulation of their subjectivity in the context of this imposed peripherality. The settler women’s oral history presents a gendered history of displacement, transportation, settlement, and the island-space itself. Forgotten by the mainland-centric Partition discourse on account of being settled at the frontier, the settler identity is shaped by the erasure of the memory of multiple displacements and a strong rooting in the islands, distanced from the mainland. Further, benefits associated with being ‘Islanders’, coupled with their claim as ‘settlers’, differentiates their experience from other refugees and migrants of the eastern Partition settled across the Indian mainland. An explication of the imposed peripherality, through the lens of location, gender and caste, reveals the island-mainland relationship in the settler women’s worldview, and highlights the context of rooting the ‘homeland’ in the islands.


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