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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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