The Dark Divide

Exhuming women’s narratives of decades of brutality in divided Bengal

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31 May, 2024

Following the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens, violence broke out in North East Delhi during the final weeks of February 2020. On 25 February, I arrived at Shiv Vihar in North East Delhi, later recognised as one of the worst-affected localities in the large-scale conflict, to document the acts of violence and terror. I requested the local police to direct me to the areas where the unrest was occurring. As soon as they found out I was from West Bengal, I faced harassment and abusive slurs. One police officer told me, “Bengalis are Bangladeshi and you will be dumped to the detention camps.” Another began touching me and saying, “We love Bengali women.” A few moments later, a Punjabi policeman came to my rescue, telling me to get out of there quickly and to stop using my camera.

As I navigated the area, I witnessed Hindu mobs chasing women and children, hurling acid bulbs at them in broad daylight. The women wore burqas.

In May 2020, violence broke out in my home state. Reports of communal tension emerged from Bhadreswar, a town 40 kilometres from Kolkata, starting from 12 May. When I returned to West Bengal, I felt compelled to revisit the history and stories of Partition beyond what I had heard in my childhood. Families and those in my neighbourhood, especially women, helped connect the dots. The communal violence I had witnessed in Delhi was not unfamiliar; many women before me had their own memories of such brutality.

Through the project “Nothing Left to Call Home,” I began unearthing women’s narratives of the complex communal events. This visual research project explores the historical patriarchal violence against women in West Bengal and Bangladesh, examining the connections between religious intolerance since Partition, electoral manipulation, and local civic engagement by analysing the longstanding coexistence of Hindus and Muslims.