[(essay date 2017) In the following essay, Daiya uses Train to Pakistan to illustrate how male and female genders are turned into symbols for a nation in times of crisis.]
If the humanities have a future as cultural criticism, and cultural criticism has a task at the present moment, it is no doubt to return us to the human where we do not expect to find it, in its frailty and at the limits of its capacity to make sense. We would have to interrogate the emergence and vanishing of the human at the limits of what we can know, what we can hear … to create a sense of the public in which oppositional voices are not feared, degraded or dismissed, but valued for the instigation to a sensate democracy they occasionally perform.(Butler, 151)
Much of the current scholarship on the vexed relationship between nationalism and gender, especially feminist cultural criticism and the postcolonial critique of nationalist discourses, has illuminated how women are constructed as signs and symbols of the nation or ethnic/cultural community in nationalism. As such, women’s bodies often begin to bear the symbolic burden, as evidenced by colonial historians like Partha Chatterjee and literary critics like Sangeeta Ray, amongst others, of signifying culture and tradition, community and nation (Chatterjee, 233; Ray, 25). However, in the process of examining the gendering of nationalism, these critiques translate the relation between “gender” and nation, as one between “woman” and nation. This leads us to questions we are now prepared and need to address, about men and masculinity in the production of gender: What happens to men’s roles, male bodies, and conceptions of masculinity in the discursive articulation of nationalism in the public sphere? How are male bodies represented, deployed and refashioned in the creation and contestation of nationalism?
To complicate the equation of “gender” and “woman,” to offer a fuller account of the gendering of nationalism, I want to argue that it is imperative to examine the construction of both masculinity and femininity together in the articulation of cultural and national belonging in public and political discourse. Thus, while recent feminist work has argued that women become symbols of the nation in moments of ethnic conflict—not only in South Asia, but around the world—, I suggest that a new look at the narration of violence against men in the postcolonial Indian public sphere reveals that masculinity and men as gendered subjects can also become critical sites for the symbolization of nationality and belonging. While the violence perpetrated by men against women’s bodies has received much attention, this essay deliberately focuses on the cultural representation of violence suffered by male bodies in the public sphere.
New directions in feminist studies have begun to take up this problem of rethinking masculinity, towards reconceptualizing the project and politics of feminist transformation. With the exception of Mrinalini Sinha’s Colonial Masculinity, these studies explore new conversations and questions about the historical and cultural production of masculinity in largely Euro-American contexts (Gardiner, 5; Eng,...