The Women of Midnight

The works are stark and replete with pathos, such as The Prey, three paintings which depict how women were turned into objects, meant to be distributed between India and Pakistan.

Written by Divya Goyal | Updated: August 20, 2017 5:58 pm
The works are stark and replete with pathos, such as The Prey, three paintings which depict how women were turned into objects, meant to be distributed between India and Pakistan.

Seven decades after the Partition, an Indian-origin artist, settled in London, is shedding light on the suffering of women who bore the brunt of one of the darkest chapters of Indo-Pak history. Kanwal Dhaliwal, a graduate from Government College of Art, Chandigarh, with roots in Punjab, has created a series of painting in oils and acrylics, titled “The Partition”.

“Do you think it were the Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs who were the victims of the Partition? No, the women of both countries were the worst sufferers as their identities changed overnight, many were forced to commit suicide as their families wanted to get rid of them. I have tried to bring out their pain on canvas in this series,” says
the artist.

The works are stark and replete with pathos, such as The Prey, three paintings which depict how women were turned into objects, meant to be distributed between India and Pakistan. “Raped, murdered, forcefully married, converted, molested and thrown in the heaps of corpses like unclaimed luggage on both sides of the border. ‘Indian’ women overnight turned into a ‘Hindu’ wife or a ‘Muslim’s sister, displaced and abandoned by their own families in the name of honour,” says the artist.

In another painting, a representation of the land in the form of a woman lies on the ground, bare chested and with a dagger bearing the flag of Great Britain on it. The sharp end is bloodstained as the dagger pierces through the chest, dividing a mother into two parts. The border line is blood red.

In the The Carnage, an undivided Punjab is swept through by three stakeholders — Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. On the top is the British Empire, as fields of gold and the glistening white cotton crop shows the prosperous Punjab of the time, waiting to be butchered. “It illustrates the death and decay of Punjab at the hands of not only the British but its own people who turned perpetrators,” says 56-year-old Dhaliwal.

With the backdrop of the UK flag, a woman half dressed in the colours of saffron (India) and green (Pakistan) lies in a pool of blood in Punjab. In another painting, she lies helplessly on the border, while words such as azadi in Hindi and Urdu stare at her from the right and left, respectively. “Not the whole of India, it was Punjab which actually got partitioned. For almost a decade now, I have been reading and researching on the many aspects of the Partition. But sadly, people don’t want to talk about what our women went through at the time. So, I decided to work on this series,” he says.

Dhaliwal, who taught art at a school in Chamba for seven years before moving to the UK, says that his works have been influenced by the writings of Saadat Hasan Manto and Ishtiaq Ahmed.

“The most detailed and authentic work I have read on Partition is The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts by Ahmed, who has documented minute details,” says Dhaliwal.

He has also worked on a series, The Valiant Ones, which included portraits of prominent personalities from India and Pakistan. As for showcasing a series such as this in the UK, Dhaliwal says there are no constraints on artistic freedom. “I cannot expect the British government to acknowledge my work, but people do. My work is a truthful expression of what actually happened and people from India, Pakistan and the UK are appreciating it,” says the artist.

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