70 years later, world’s largest collection of Partition witness accounts set for public release
by Baljit Balli
Chandigarh, August 06, 2017 :
Oral histories from people who endured the greatest mass migration in modern human history provide rare glimpses into life before, during and after the Partition of India and Pakistan. The long awaited release of The1947 Partition Archive will begin on August 10, 2017 in collaboration with a consortium of Indian, Pakistani, British and American universities
The 1947 Partition Archive’s collection of over 4300 Partition witness interviews is set for its much awaited public release in collaboration with a consortium of research universities. Content in the collection is expected to challenge our current understanding of South Asian history and identity. A portion of the complete oral history interviews will be released beginning August 10, 2017, and become available via live streaming from Stanford University Library’s Digital repository, accessible to anyone with an internet collection. The remaining collection, deemed too delicate or sensitive for open accessibility, will be available to researchers and interested parties by visiting select university libraries in the collaboration, including Ashoka University, University of Delhi, and Guru Nanak Dev University in India, along with Lahore University of Management Sciences and Habib University in Pakistan. Talks are under way with universities in the United Kingdom and Bangladesh.
The oral histories provide previously unknown glimpses into the vastly disruptive Partition of Punjab and Bengal in 1947. The Partition accompanied an unprecedented exchange of populations and mass upheaval of civil society. Hundreds of native kingdoms were merged with British India in the process of creating modern India and Pakistan, when the British forces departed in 1947. As many as 15 million individuals were displaced from their ancient homelands while 1-2 million perished in the frenzy of communal violence and accompanying lawlessness. The 1947 Partition Archive is the world’s first and currently the largest attempt at documenting the people’s history and memorializing Partition.
“We receive requests on a daily basis from artists, researchers, media persons, students and others, wanting access to the oral history videos in The Archive. The stories have already informed Bollywood films, theatrical works, music, books and much more work being done on Partition. The stories are changing the way we see ourselves and our history. We are immensely excited to be releasing this work into the public domain, so that it is accessible to all, giving each of us an opportunity to discover our rich history for ourselves,” notes Guneeta Singh Bhalla, Founder of The 1947 Partition Archive.
( Guneeta Singh Bhalla, Founder of The 1947 Partition Archive)
Stanford University Library’s Digital Repository and discovery environment includes a strong video preservation program that will ensure access to the interviews in perpetuity. “The videos being gathered by The 1947 Partition Archive are tremendously important to capture and preserve as part of the historical record, and to make readily available for deeper discovery and research,” said Michael Keller, Stanford’s university librarian. The material, according to Keller, are of particular interest to Stanford given research efforts underway on campus at the Center for South Asia and the Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice.
A pilot adoption of the collection into three Indian university libraries, including Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, Ashoka University in Sonepat and University of Delhi, is being supported by Tata Trusts. “The Arts & Culture portfolio at the Tata Trusts have worked with preserving archives, through digitization, paper conservation and dissemination. The 1947 Partition Archives of oral histories is of particular interest, in this 70th year of India’s Independence, as time erases direct testimonies, so vital in first hand authenticity. Guneeta Singh Bhalla has spearheaded an urgent archive. The dissemination of this archive in India, with scholarly access leading to new research and understanding of a defining moment in the subcontinent’s history will be beneficial to both academics and the larger public,” notes Deepika Sorabjee, Head, Arts & Culture, Tata Trusts.
Notes Dr. Sohail Naqvi, Vice Chancellor of Lahore University of Management Sciences, “For us in the subcontinent, the Partition is as much a part of our daily life as are the clouds in the monsoon season. We grew up hearing these stories whose endings we could only decipher by swimming in tear filled eyes. It is time to tell that story in full so that one day we may heal.”
“I had never heard about the Hur movement until I interviewed a gentleman who lost his brother because of it.” The Hur movement led by the fallen prince Pir Pagaro emanated from the Sindhi heartland, and remains an all but forgotten independence struggle that once swelled to as many as one lakh participants. “It is yet another hidden historical event that we don’t hear about in our history books, but it lives on in the memories of those who witnessed it,” notes Raqhav Sagar, a Citizen Historian with The 1947 partition Archive, and manager of it’s scholarship program. It’s events such as these that are captured in The 1947 Partition Archive’s (“The Archive”) collection of witness oral histories, being recorded through crowdsourcing since 2010. Today the fast growing Archive contains over 4300 oral history interviews and over 30,000 digital documents and photographs collected from 12 countries in 22 languages, making it the largest oral history archive on any topic in South Asia, and amongst one of the largest video based oral history archives in the world. The end goal is to record at least 10,000 oral history interviews from surviving witnesses.
The vast collection of oral histories rivals any such collection in South Asia, and is one of the largest video based archives in the world. “It's such a unique collection that opens a window not only on Partition itself but onto historical anthropology of culture, pre-Partition culture, and about post-Partition politics, and identity. The research it will allow on Partition itself is momentous--finally we have an opportunity to get away from high-political narrative of why and how it happened. Finally, we can get a sense of what happened on the ground, how it affected people and how those effects changed over time,” remarks noted historian Priya Satia at Stanford University.
( A scene of Muslim refugee train in 1947 .Photo : Dawn, Pakistan )
She further ads: “It’s important because for the last 70 years we have been telling the story of Partition through the lens of high-political negotiations between figures like Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru, Mountbatten. But none of these political elites foresaw the shape that Partition would take--the mass migration of 15 million people and death of untold numbers of them. So, their high-political negotiations can't actually help us understand how and why that population exchange transpired. We will now have a chance to understand the incremental way in which history happened. We can only understand the shape that Partition actually took by looking at the stories of the people who gave it that shape.”
The 1947 Partition Archive (www.1947partitionarchive.org) continues to record oral history interviews from witnesses across the world. Stories in the Archive can be accessed via Stanford’s Digital Repository, beginning August 10, 2017 at http://exhibits.stanford.edu/1947-partition