Frantz Fanon famously argued (1967) that colonialism was marked by an unprecedented use of violence on the minds and bodies of the colonised people. Postcolonial societies have further witnessed widespread violence and trauma in the long-term ethnic conflicts and civil wars from the 1950s and 60s onward, until today. Because of the deliberate, often state- sponsored, killing of civilians/citizens, raping of women and children, and blockade of resources leading to famines and diseases, social scientists have defined these violent events as genocides (Horowitz 1976; Fein 1990; Katz 1994; Valentino 2007). Postcolonial literatures and arts have urgently represented these genocides to mobilise the immediate politico-moral sentiment for international humanitarianism and the long-term social-biological question of multigenerational trauma (Norridge 2011; Heerten and Moses 2014). Postcolonial literary studies, however, has been shy of a sustained engagement with this topic (Lazarus 2011; Barnard et al 2015). In this presentation, I will first establish the link between postcolonialism, civil war and genocide, and then show how postcolonial literature and arts have used the category of genocide to suggest an elongated political temporality of 20thC colonial/fascist violence. Here, my main entry point is the 1971 Bangladesh war of liberation. I will argue through Zahir Raihan’s short film, Stop Genocide: 1971 (1971) and Shaidul Jahir’s novella, Jibon o Rajnoitik Bastobota (Life and Political Reality, 1988) that the concept of genocide has been key to not only imagining the traumatised birth of the postcolonial nation but also thinking through the complex question of living with citizen “traitors” in a secular, people’s republic.
Sourit Bhattacharya is Lecturer in Postcolonial Studies at the University of Glasgow. His research interests include postcolonial literatures; disaster studies; food and famine studies; and materialist literary criticism. His first monograph, Postcolonial Modernity and the Indian Novel: On Catastrophic Realism was published by Palgrave in 2020. His co-edited volume on the left radical Bengali writer, Nabarun Bhattacharya (Bloomsbury) also came out in the same year. He is currently writing his second monograph tentatively titled Postcolonialism Now (Orient BlackSwan), which this presentation is a part of. Sourit is a founding co-editor of Sanglap: Journal of Literary and Cultural Inquiry.