The Saltlist

Satire in the Age of Letters and Technology- more than just a pinch of it.

The Other Side Of Silence By Urvashi Butalia


By Nupur Nagpal

Book : The Other Side of Silence: Voices From the Partition of India

Author : Urvashi Butalia

Published by : Penguin books

Published in: 1998

The Other Side of Silence: Voices From the Partition of India,has been one of the most influential books in South Asian studies of the past decade. The book is the product of more than seventy interviews conducted with survivors of the Partition, and emphasizes particularly the role of violence against women in the collective experience of the tradgedy. It is based on the fact that the Partition occurred in the shadow of the independence of Pakistan and India in 1947, and resulted in the largest mass-migration in human history. Twelve million people relocated in the course of a few months, and in the violence that accompanied the dislocation of so many, about 1 million people were killed.

This book entails the experiences of the survivors of partition, the most historic event occurred in the history of India. Unlike most history books I’ve studied at school and other novels about partition, this book actually paid attention to the sociological, human aspect of the partition instead of the chronological order of how things occurred and who made them happen.

This 370 page book is in the form of an oral narrative, the details of the interviews have been transformed seamlessly into a story. As the book is mostly oral history, it doesn’t have much of dry facts and figures and the events are tinted with personal opinions and experiences of the interviewees.

Butalia’s language is simple yet effective, she’s also used a lot of words from Punjabi and Hindi to keep the authenticity of the interviews.

The book is divided into eight chapters which talk about several different themes like women, honour killings, marginalized society, children etc. each of these chapters have several individuals whose stories fit these themes, the book doesn’t have a specific chronological order, the stories and chapters are intertwined and themes, overlapping.

The author has beautifully woven so many tragic, and often brutal stories, into the partition narrative. This oral history makes a huge human/sociological contribution to the rather broader and more clinical accounts of 1947.

Although the author admits her stories are from one side due to restrictions, both sides can relate to her account.The author has streamlined public history with personal memory in an excellent way.

The book is the result of years of painstaking research and numerous interviews, The Other Side of Silence seeks to put centre-stage the ordinary people `upon whose bodies and lives history has been played out’, especially the stories of those who have hitherto received little attention – women, children and the so-called `scheduled castes’.

The great strength of this book is that it doesn’t strain to achieve an historian’s feigned impersonality, but I wish the books narrative had been simpler as the stories are overlapping and go on for too long, this results in confusion and ambiguity. Also the reader loses track of the story/characters in some parts.

The Other Side of Silence is compelling, breaks new ground and deserves the widest possible readership.


One comment on “The Other Side Of Silence By Urvashi Butalia

  1. Indian Bazaars
    August 15, 2011

    I had the opportunity to listen to Urvashi Butalia speak about her work at the Oral History Symposium organised last month by the Center for Public History in Bangalore. It was absolutely wonderful to listen to her stories about Partition, her interactions with the people interviewed and the gathering of her own experiences through this process.

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This entry was posted on April 16, 2011 by in Books and Authors.

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