Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Bhatia, Nandi

2nd Supervisor

Hubel, Teresa


This dissertation explores shifting representations of raped and abducted women in Indian films and television shows about the 1947 Partition. In the wake of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, which marked a watershed moment of popular protest in major Indian cities, newspapers and media channels referred to major rape cases from earlier decades to draw attention to the scale of gendered violence but without acknowledging the violence of 1947. While there is academic scholarship on the representation of Partition in Hindi cinema, there are only a few studies centered on Partition's gender-based violence. Drawing on Judith Butler’s concepts of biopolitics and precarity, and feminist historiographical research on Partition by Urvashi Butalia, Kamla Bhasin, and Ritu Menon, this study deploys a postcolonial feminist theoretical framework to explore why there are limited depictions of women who were subjected to violence during the Partition. Through the study of archival documents, close reading of filmic and literary texts, and interviews with filmmakers, I examine how Hindi cinema and the television industry situate a raped woman’s body at the intersection of hyper-nationalism, violence, shame, honour, and silence. By studying the social, political, and economic conditions since 1947, I argue that censorship laws, the rise of Hindu fundamentalism (Hindutva), and self-censorship are the primary reasons why these women’s representations are scarce in Indian popular culture. Thus, despite the #MeToo movement's call - globally and within India-- for attention to gender-based violence, cinema and television continue to contribute to the forgetting and erasure of the lives and experiences of women during the 1947 Partition.

Summary for Lay Audience

Although the issue of gender-based violence received global attention in 2017 during the #MeToo movement, the turning point for India was the heinous 2012 Delhi rape case. While the news media reports rape cases as early as 1970s, there has been no recognition of women’s experiences during the 1947 Partition, especially of the women who were raped, abducted, and later recovered by the Central Recovery Operation (1948-1957). This dissertation seeks to understand why their representation is absent in popular culture. Partition scholars argue that literature validates the experiences of these women, counteracting the official narratives defining this tumultuous period. Like literature, cinema and television are mediums where the stories of raped and abducted women are made visible to the larger public, enabling the audience to experience their psychological, social, and emotional traumas. I analyze the representations of these women in Hindi commercial cinema and television since 1949 and contend that if we cannot see or hear them, then their existence is made invisible to us. Why do filmmakers not pursue this topic in commercial Bollywood? What are ethical ways of representing their traumatic experiences? By studying the social, political, and economic conditions shaping each era, I argue that the formal censorship laws, the rise of Hindu fundamentalism (Hindutva), and self-censorship are the primary reasons why these women’s representations are scarce in Indian popular culture. Chapter one details the history of these raped and abducted women, the role of state, and early pre-censorship representations of these women in Aag (1948), Lahore (1949), Apna Desh (1949), and Chhalia (1960). In Garam Hava (1973) and Govind Nihalani’s series Tamas(1989), it becomes apparent that Hindutva groups are acting as proxy censors to prevent the production and release of Partition films. These increasingly violent groups weaponize culture against filmmakers opposing their version of Hinduism, as discussed through Earth (1998) and Hey Ram (2000) in the next chapter. Chapter four explores the politics of choice and subjectivity in Gadar (2001), Pinjar (2003), and Khamosh Pani (2003). The final chapter contextualizes more recent releases, Manto (2018) and Mantostaan (2017) within the #MeToo movement and why filmmakers are reluctant to pursue this pivotal topic. Ultimately, as a society facing issue of sexual and gender-based violence, we only selectively mourn victims.

Available for download on Tuesday, December 31, 2024