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Fear and Belonging - The Specter of Violence in Aligarh, 1947: Lecture by the 2015 S.S. Pirzada Dissertation Prize Winner, Dr. Amber H. Abbas

Lecture | April 25 | 3-6 p.m. | Stephens Hall, The Townsend Center (220 Stephens Hall)


Amber H. Abbas, Assistant Professor, Department of History, St. Joseph’s University

Janaki Bakhle, Associate Professor of History

Institute for South Asia Studies, Berkeley Pakistan Initiative, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada Endowment on Pakistan


The Pirzada Dissertation Prize Committee congratulates Dr. Amber H. Abbas (Assistant Professor, St. Joseph’s University) on receiving the first S.S. Pirzada Dissertation Prize in Pakistan Studies.

The conferral of the award will include a lecture by Dr. Amber Abbas titled. "Fear and Belonging: The Specter of Violence in Aligarh, 1947." This talk is based on Dr. Abbas’s dissertation "Narratives of Belonging: Aligarh Muslim University and the Partitioning of South Asia," completed at UT-Austin under the supervision of Professor Gail Minault.

The partition of India that accompanied its independence from Great Britain in 1947 also created the additional state of Pakistan; by 1971, this Pakistan had fractured into the two independent states of Pakistan and Bangladesh. This dissertation seeks to expand our temporal and spatial understanding of the sub-continent’s partitioning by examining the experiences of a group of South Asian Muslims across time and space. As this dissertation will show, South Asia’s partitioning includes more than the official history of boundary creation and division of assets, and more than the people’s history of unbridled border violence. I have oriented my investigation around a single institution, the Aligarh Muslim University, and spoken to former students of the 1940s and 1950s, whose young lives were shaped by the independence and partition of India. The memories of these former students of Aligarh University offer a lens for examining the “multiple realities” of partition and the decolonized experiences of South Asian Muslims.

The educational institution at Aligarh, founded in 1875, had long been concerned with cultivating a sporting, activist, masculine identity among its students; Muslim League leaders further empowered that identity as they recruited students for election work in support of Pakistan. The students embraced the values of the demand for Pakistan that appeared to be consistent with the values engendered at Aligarh. This dissertation uncovers the history of these students throughout the 1947 partitioning and beyond. It explores unexpected histories of trauma among communities who “chose to stay” but later experienced a powerful sense of discontinuity in independent India. It exposes contradictions evident in remembered histories from Pakistanis who express both triumph and grief at the prospect of Pakistani independence. Finally, this dissertation assesses the position of Muslims after partition and how the “disturbances” that began in the late 1940s continue to affect them today in both lived and remembered experience.

As a site for examining the disturbances of partition, Aligarh University proves to be a hub of a community that was and remains deeply transformed by the changes partition wrought.

The Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada Endowment on Pakistan, established by Rafat Pirzada and his wife, Amna Jaffer, and named after Rafat Pirzada’s father, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, supports i) the Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada Dissertation Prize on Pakistan (an annual dissertation prize for the best work in the humanities, social sciences, law, or public health on Pakistan, the region that is Pakistan, or things to do with Pakistan), and ii) the Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada Lecture on Pakistan (an annual lecture that spotlights the winner of the S.S. Pirzada Dissertation Prize). Rafat Pirzada is a Silicon Valley based entrepreneur and venture capitalist.

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