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“Forced” and “Voluntary” Suicides during Partition

I thought this was relevant to the discussion we had on the reclamation of agency, specifically feminist agency under feminist poststructuralism.

The wording that addresses these deaths is significant because of the ideology that it perpetuates. According to some feminists, the phrase “preferred voluntary death” should not be misinterpreted as “desirable." These feminists believe that even though these women may have killed themselves of their own physical accord, their decision was hegemonized according to the values and beliefs of the patriarchal community they belonged to. These “voluntary deaths” may then be construed as “orchestrated murders” or “forced suicides.”

From a feminist poststructuralist perspective, the "voluntary" participation of the women of Partition committing mass suicides can be looked at as a display of feminist agency. The women of Partition may be said to have had internalized patriarchal notions of honor; they either truly believed that they were playing a pivotal role in upholding the honor of their nation, or they were choosing death over the torture and humiliation that would come with their capture. This, however, affirms the idea of these choices being "forced" choices because during Partition, women's opportunities to display their patriotism and nationalism were a lot more limited than men's. Female socialization in this kind of a society further increased their dependency on the men in their communities, and made them more susceptible to coercion and mainstream perceptions of morality and agency.

This was a bit of a challenging concept for me to understand because it suggests that even when women did take control over their own bodies to display agency and reclaim their identities, they were doing so while under the influence of patriarchal ideologies that they had been living under all their lives. Can that then be seen as feminist agency?

I would recommend watching Khamosh Pani, a film that explores the restrictions around female mobility and sexuality during times of war, and how feminist agency can often be seen to exist within masculinist discourse.

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This was very informative. These women killed themselves for the sake of "honour" which is a patriarchal notion in itself. But it's tragic how because of their gender they had to choose these "voluntary deaths" in fear of the sexual violence there bodies could have been possibly through.


Preferred voluntary death is definitely not desirable. Because who wants to suicide because of free will or who has a desire for suicide? No one. They do so because of so much trauma and pressure they go through.


It is absolutely true that the "voluntary suicides" of women was not really a result of their free will, because unfortunately, they never had any free will in patriarchal setting of the society. The honor of the patriarchal society laid on the shoulders of the women.

I studied in my Pakistan Studies course here at LUMS in which the bitter realities of the partition unfolded and one of them was that women suffered more in the war between men!


I totally agree that “preferred voluntary death” must not be misinterpreted as “desirable." This is because it was breaded into the minds of women, throughout their lives, that their whole life revolves around the men in their life, and that they are solely responsible to save the honor of their family even if it costs them their lives! Although many women preferred voluntary death during the violence of partition, but one main notion attached to their "voluntary suicides" was that they did it to save the honor of their tribe/men. I remember an Indian movie, Padmavat, in which all women of the Rajpoot tribe commit suicide because it would had been "disgraceful" for their tribe if the men of Hindu tribe…

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