The Partition has been one of the darkest phases witnessed by India. It still evokes painful memories in the minds of those who have experienced and survived it. A lot of literature has been dedicated to the Partition. Most focus on the violence and trauma caused during the riots that took place during the Partition. However, ‘The River Churning’ stands out because it is one of the very few that present the social consequences of the Partition. Originally written in Bengali by Jyotirmoyee Devi it focuses on the aftermath of the Partition. In the Author’s Note in the English version Jyotirmoyee Devi indicates that women have always been conveniently excluded from the chapters of history as it has always been written by men. They have never got the same kind of respect as men. This is clearly indicated in the plot of the book.
Set in the village of Noakhali in East Pakistan in the year 1946, the story is about Sutara, whose entire family except her brothers who live in the city is killed during a pre- Partition riot. Sutara is also raped but is alive. She is given shelter by a Muslim friend of her father. His family nurses her back to health and then reunites her with her brothers. She is ostracized by her Hindu relatives because she has lived with a Muslim family for six months. She is despised because she is ‘polluted’ and ‘ritually unclean.’ She finds some support with a cousin and his father. But they can hardly do anything to help her. Her own brothers do not stand up for her.
The womenfolk especially treat her like an alien. They feel that her acceptance in their house would jeopardize their own children’s acceptance in the society. It’s a shame that in spite of being women, they are unable to understand Sutara’s plight. They are unable to understand her pain and her feelings. Sutara endures many traumatic humiliations and rejections until she is sent to a hostel where she is completely cut off from her family. She has some support in the form of Amulya Babu and Promode who accept her as she is. But they can’t do much for her except try and ease away her pain through their gentle words.
Amulya Babu rightly draws a comparison between independent India and Sutara. India attained independence but at the cost of Partition. Sutara too was given antoher chance to live but it came with a very heavy price of constant humiliation and rejection. He feels sorry for Sutara and feels it would be best for her to live away from the family. On the rare occasions that she came home, Amulya babu did all he could to ensure that Sutara would not suffer at the hands of the womenfolk. But not all his efforts were successful. Gradually, she stopped coming home all together and started living a new life in Delhi where no one knew her past and where she found acceptance.
The riots that took place are not highlighted often. In fact, they are hardly described in detail even though they change Sutara’s life forever. The author has used very simple language to tell her story. The plot in itself is very simple and easy to understand. Jyotirmoyee Devi tells her story with ease without preaching. The picture that she paints causes us to stop and think about the plight of women in our country. The story is very fast paced. Towards the end, one does not feel pity for Sutara. Instead one is filled with admiration for her determination and her will to survive through everything that is dished out to her. It is interesting that at no point does she even contemplate suicide. In a way her experiences make her very strong.
In order to get a complete picture of the Partition, this book is a must read as it presents a side which is not normally found in Partition literature.