Using Cultural Trauma: Gandhi’s assassination, partition and secular nationalism in post-independence India

Publication Date: 
September 2013
Nations and Nationalism


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Nationalism theorists have noted the link between traumatic events and national identity, and cultural trauma theory presents a framework for understanding how these events become trauma narratives. I argue for greater consideration of how these narratives are strategically linked to ideological frames of national identity. A case study of post-Independence India considering the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the Partition of India and Pakistan demonstrates how two very different events were promoted as cultural traumas by various carrier groups in order to promote a secular vision of the Indian nation. Adapting Armstrong and Crage (2006), I suggest that the success of these trauma narratives depend on several criteria: the ease of narrating the event, how it is linked to underlying cultural meanings/frames and how the event interacts with historical contingencies.