Raka Banerjee


Dominant discourse on India’s eastern Partition (1947) has constructed settlement as a masculine prerogative and man as the settler prototype. Women were eligible for rehabilitation on account of being “attached” to a male guardian, who would be assigned the head of the household in granting state benefits. In the case of these attached settler women transported by the state to Andaman Islands, a range of marginalities–region, gender, caste, and class–intersect with each other to create a veiled figure. The essay locates the settler women in the island’s post-colonial government archive to bring out the state’s construction of gendered settler subjecthood. By pushing the industrious settler women into the peripheral category of attached women, the state’s rehabilitation machinery and the island administration made invisible the range of rehabilitation services performed by them. This statist representation of the settler women, seemingly devoid of any agency, is challenged by a deep reading of the archival material focused on highlighting articulations of settler subjectivity. Even after granting the attached women full citizenship, the newly independent post-colonial Indian state continued to treat women as non-actors in this particular trajectory of rehabilitation. Scholars have observed the swift disappearance of women from the state’s archives as the focus shifts from the event of Partition to the process of rehabilitation, which this essay interrogates by using previously unexplored archival material to study the representation of attached settler women and their role in the statist schema of settling the heteronormative family, the islands, and the nation. By reading the archival material against the grain and identifying evidence against a statist representation, the essay interrogates the settler women’s position as peripheral subjects at the margins of nation. Finally, the essay uses these archival traces to argue for the central position of settler women in the rehabilitation of settler families in the Islands.