"Pinjar" by Amrita Pritam

Delhi: Tara press, Shilalekh Publishers, 2014. 112 pages.

Amrita Pritam was one of the most prominent female poet and writer of the 20th Century. She wrote both in Hindi and Punjabi. In her career spanning over six decades, she wrote over 100 books which include poetry, fiction, essays, and biographies. She was born in 1919 in Gujranwala, West Punjab which is now part of Pakistan.


During the Partition in 1947, Amrita along with her family migrated to India from Lahore, which became part of Pakistan. She has personally experienced and seen the horrors of that time; it had a huge impact on her life as well as her writings. In her writings one can see the themes of feminism; she was not hesitant either to write about the desires, dreams, and passion of women. She always tried to portray the reality of society through her writings in the common man’s language. One of her most notable work is ‘Pinjar’ published in 1950, later the novel was adapted for film with the same name. The movie was released in 2003 and became a National Award winner that year. The novel was based on the theme of the partition of India and its impact on women. In ‘Pinjar’ amrita created her most memorable character of ‘Puro’- a woman who faced the worst circumstances of the world in a young age. The theme of partition and the sufferings of women is seen in Amrita’s other notable writings such as her poem ‘Ajj akhan waris shah nu’, her autobiography ‘Rasidi Ticket’.


Amrita Pritam’s Pinjar is a tale of partition and the impact it has on people, prominently on the lives of women. The word ‘Pinjar’ means skeleton in Punjabi, its used in the literal sense symbolically to point out the hollowness of the lifeless bodies. The novel has been written from the female perspective about the plight of females through multiple narratives with the help of different characters. ‘Puro’, ‘Rajjo’, ‘Pagli’, and ‘Lajjo’ are the characters who became victims of the patriarchal society, they survived through the partition physically but in turn die in every single moment. Their struggles were endless, so were their pain and sufferings. Puro became the symbol of what women had faced and went through during partition. The partition of India was the biggest event of mass migration in the world, in which 12 million people were displaced and forced to migrate. Among the victims and sufferers of partition women were the worst affected. They faced violence on different levels- communal, familial, and forced rehabilitations/relocations. The communal riots during partition soon turned into gender based violence, where men from opposite religious communities kidnapped, raped and attacked women belonging from other communities, Amrita tried to portray the same through her writing. Pinjar is an extremely painful and heart wrenching tale of ‘Puro’, from her life in her parental home in Amritsar, pre-partition India to her days as Rashid’s wife with new identity as ‘Hamida’ in Pakistan. Pinjar is about her journey, her transition from being ‘Puro’ to becoming ‘Hamida’, her longing for her family, home and identity.


‘Pinjar’ shows how the partition became the attack on the body and soul of Motherland along with its daughters, what was left behind was the hollow skeleton. This fate for the nation as well as for the women of these nations was result of male brought choices, their quest and lust for power and pride. Their destinies was decided by the men, it was all a play of power both in changing Puro’s life as well as the making of India and Pakistan. Amrita m does not see much difference between the Partition's political violation of the homeland and its consequences of actual violation of women.


The social institutions play an important part in any society and amrita has portrayed the same in her novel. The religion, family, gender, class and ethnicity are all at play in this story. The two nations were divided on the name of religion Pakistan- an Islamic nation and India- the secular nation. The idea was to divide the nation for the sake of communal harmony but what really happened became horrors for the people who experienced the partition personally. Large scale violence happened on the name of religion, women were raped, children were killed and men were tortured. Religion was used as a mask to hide the inhuman faces, men became animals with human faces. Animals who feed on the lifeless bodies – on the ‘skeletons’. They got the chance to act without any sense of morals and values, wrong or right, beyond the limits of humanity. The abduction and rape of women of one community by the men of the other was a way of 'dishonouring' the other community as real and symbolic subjugation. Inherent in these acts are also the notions of women as property. In both cases Amrita Highlights, it is the women that suffer the humiliation.


In the patriarchal-feudal Indian society women are regarded as a symbol of family’s honour, controlling her is defined as power. When it comes to rivalry or any kind of animosity, showdown they are the one who are targeted first for the sake of pride and honour. Puro was abducted by Rashid because of their family’s past animosity, as a revenge for their pride. It was patriarchal justice in their feudal mindsets. Her own family disowned her when she tried to return back, afraid of shame and disgrace. It was the same family for whom she got punished for, she went through all the torture because of what her forefathers had done in the past. She didn’t had the choice but to accept the injustice as her fate and becoming ‘Hamida’, but even after becoming ‘Hamida’ she couldn’t forget ‘Puro’. She was always dreaming and thinking about her family, her home, and her brother.


Pinjar tells the story of a women’s dilemma, she was caught between two nations and struggling with dual identity. She was disowned by her family, married to her kidnapper; her identity was changed along with her name. In this novel it shows that the status of women was the result of political and social manipulation of that time. Amrita’s personal experience of Partition and independence helped her portraying the reality in her novel. Puro and other women character’s narrative shows how the patriarchal system throws them on the threshold of the society and makes them vulnerable. Amrita’s ‘Pinjar’ is an important work of literature among her contemporaries who wrote on the same theme, one because it talks about the female perspective and narratives which other male writers often ignored. Secondly as a woman herself she could portray the emotional turmoil which her characters went through with accuracy and clarity. Male writers while writing on the theme of partition often limit themselves to the political scenarios, even while writing about women they focus on the physical violence. There is need to explore the female perspective and narratives of Partition as they are the ones who suffered the most during that time, also their stories and experiences were often ignored or hushed in silence for the sake of family honour and pride.

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