Women as Martyrs: Mass Suicides at Thoa Khalsa During the Partition of India


  • Arunima Dey Universidad de Salamanca


The paper is an attempt at understanding the mass suicides committed by women during the communal riots instigated by the partition of the Indian subcontinent.  Firstly, the position and the role assigned to women are investigated by applying Giorgio Agamben’s concept of bios and zoē within a gendered perspective; this forms the introductory theoretical framework of the topic. The core part of the paper concentrates on one significant event which took place in the village of Thoa Khalsa, Rawalpindi district in March 1947, where ninety women took their own lives as a desperate attempt to avoid rape, abduction and religious conversion, thereby averting the ruination of their community’s honour. Bhisham Sahni’s depiction of the episode in his semi-autobiographic novel, Tamas, along with testimonies and print media sources, allows for exploration of the notion of national and religious honour and more importantly whether the suicides were a decision made by a person actively responsible for her own fate or rather someone passively succumbing to the patriarchal expectations of the state and community.


Indian Partition, communal violence, suicide, Indian women, patriarchy, honour


AGAMBEN, GIORGIO (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen), Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

ALTHUSSER, LOUIS (1971). Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays (trans. Ben Brewster), Delhi: Aakar Books, 2006.

ANZALDÚA, GLORIA (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999.

BUTALIA, URVASHI (1998). The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India, Navi Mumbai: Penguin Books India.

CHATTERJEE, PARTHA (1989). “Colonialism, Nationalism, and Colonialized Women: The Contest in India”, American Ethnologist, Vol. 16 Nº 4, November: 622-633. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/645113?origin=JSTOR-pdf > accessed 4 March 2014. DOI: 10.1525/ae.1989.16.4.02a00020

FOUCAULT, MICHEL (2003). Society Must be defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76 (trans. David Macey), Mauro Bertani & Alessandro Fontana (eds), New York: Picador.

MENON, RITU (2002). “Do women have a country?”, In: Rada Iveković and Julie Mostov (eds). From Gender to Nation, New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2004: 43¬-62.

PANDEY, GYANENDRA (2001). Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

SAHNI, BHISHAM (2001) Tamas, Navi Mumbai: Penguin Books India.

Author Biography

Arunima Dey, Universidad de Salamanca

PhD Student in the Department of English, University of Salamanca,





Download data is not yet available.