April 19, 2017

Global Communication Student Shines Spotlight on Partition of Bengal


By Alisha Pillay

Born and raised in Bangladesh, Gopa Caesar came to Simon Fraser University (SFU) last September to pursue her studies and experience a new culture. Already equipped with a master’s degree in English Literature and another in Television and Film studies, Gopa enrolled in the Global Communication MA Double Degree program to compliment her education. Upon completion, she will accept a faculty position at the University of Dhaka - following in her late father’s footsteps.

Here at SFU, Gopa’s research is inspired by her own cultural and lived experiences. She explains that the Bengali peoples’ identities have been greatly affected by the trauma of the 1947 Partition of Bengal. Triggered by sectarian ideals, the Partition resulted in the west side of Bengal becoming a province of India and the east side a province of Pakistan. With parents who were raised on either side of the Radcliffe Line, the cultural tension was well-understood and apparent.

Having grown up listening to many tales about the Partition, Gopa was particularly touched by the story of a filmmaker named Ritwik Ghatak who was estranged from his twin sister as a result of the Partition. His sister married into a family in a far-away village – a village that would later become a province of a different country. Separated for years by state lines and harsh travel laws, Ritwik’s story is just one of the many tales of heartbreak and devastation that resulted from the Partition. Ritwik would go on to make a series of films referred to as the ‘Partition Trilogy’- which would eventually become a staple of Bengali culture and the basis of inspiration for Gopa’s dissertation:

“Ritwik’s films are serious and deal with the distress caused by the Partition in a vivid way. However, I believe that things have changed drastically in terms of how the Partition is depicted in recent documentary films. When the Partition first happened, riots broke out, rapes happened, people were killed – things were incredibly bad. In today’s feature films, the Partition of Bengal is completely trivialized. What happened to our memories? Are the two nations deliberately trying to forget the trauma? Is there some political intention behind this kind of depiction in media? Or is this just a natural phenomenon? These are some of the questions my research tries to answer.”

Gopa is looking forward to the next two years of her program and is excited to discover more about herself and her culture through her research. Her thesis is supervised by Professor and Associate Dean, Zoë Druick, who specializes in histories, theories and trajectories of documentary and reality-based media.