Staging Partitions and Holocausts in the Modern Nation-State



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The modern nation-state model has received ample criticism. It is no newfound observation that majoritarianism in the modern nation-state sets the stage for identitarian conflict—one group, by being in the majority, may want to claim the representation of national identity, and overpower a minority group that is then seen as the ‘other’. Under these circumstances, it may be likely for the newly identified ‘other’ to eventually be forced into the margins of the nation-state. In the pre-modern era, political power often came from direct territorial conquest. However, as the borders of sovereign states were carved out, political power could be asserted more easily by winning over public support. Such support was gathered mainly through aesthetics in the public sphere. Modern nationalism had to be ‘seen’ in public, and was meant to visibly unite large ‘like-minded’ groups of people. Performative aspects of identity (race, religion, ethnicity, etc.) were politicized and divisions were made prominent within communities, as an arena was created for the performance of competing politicized identities in the modern nation-state. In my research project, I compare two seemingly different genocides of the twentieth century—the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and the Partition of India—to find commonalities between the performance of modern nationalism and the staging of political violence against the ‘other,’ within the two contexts. These examples are not only considered to be different from each other, but are also treated as exceptions to the nation-state model. Visual en‘act’ments of nationalism and identitarian conflict within these two states, reinforce the critique of majoritarianism in the modern nation-state, showing that the two tragedies have a lot in common not only with one another, but with nation-states in general. Disciplines such as Politics, International Relations, and History have treated these two catastrophes as categorically different. However, I have chosen to momentarily set such assumptions aside, and use an unusually broad-based inter-disciplinary analysis to draw unusual, but equally substantial, parallels between the performance of nationalism and the performance of political violence in Nazi Germany and pre-Partition India.



Politics and Performance