The Department of History and the Centre of Women’s Studies organized a discussion with ‘The 1947 Partition Archive’ on the memories of partition and the significance of oral traditions in enriching the ‘histories’ of partition on 16th January 2019. The talk began with Prof. Rekha Pande, Head, Centre of Women Studies welcoming the speakers and the audience and giving a back drop on partition and how it continues to affect the psyche of the people of the two countries even today. She spoke of the literature that came out related to partition and how it gives us a peep into that period which is seen as a period of madness. Parul Srivastava, a story scholar with, The 1947 Partition Archives and a Research Scholar in the Department of History, talked about how the events of 1947 in South Asia, though as gruesome and unfortunate as the Holocaust, have failed to garner adequate recognition and sensitization at the international level. In this context, initiatives like, The 1947 Partition Archive have become a primary agent in historicising the memories of partition and bringing experiences of common men and women to the centre of history writing.

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A major aim of the talk was to introduce, and familiarize young scholars with the commendable initiative called ‘The 1947 Partition Archive’: a community of concerned global citizens committed to documenting and preserving the people’s history of partition. Ms. Srivastava talked about the Story Scholar Program of the Archive that allows enthusiasts from all age groups to participate in the documenting process by working as ‘Citizen Historians’ and traveling to different parts of the subcontinent to collect stories of people who witnessed the partition. The archive conducts online Oral History workshops to train its volunteers in story-collection and interviewing techniques. Launched in 2010, the archive has conducted a total of 7500 interviews till date and plans to reach 10,000 by 2020. The eventual goal of the organization, however, is to set up centres of Partition Studies in Punjab and Delhi. After discussing the objectives and activities of the archive, Ms. Srivastava went on to talk about her journey as a Story Scholar and her experience of collecting oral narratives of partition witnesses from Punjab. This was followed by Mr. Sachin Arora, a Citizen Historian with The 1947 Partition Archive, who shared his experience as an interviewer and recalled the personal narratives of his family who had migrated from Jhung (Punjab, Pakistan) to Amritsar at the time of partition. The trauma of displacement, the horrors of communal violence and the painful memories of the lost heritage: all came alive in the stories and video interviews that Ms. Srivastava and Mr. Arora shared with the audience. A special guest at the event, Mr. Sajjad Shahid reminded the audience about the need to preserve oral traditions as they help us salvage the cultural heritage we are fast losing. In context of partition, he talked about the manner in which the experience of Hyderabadis was different from that of the people in Punjab or Bengal and the peculiar tendency of local witnesses to resort to silence than sharing their experience with the world. This “conspiracy of silence”, as Mr. Shahid pointed out, arose from the need, they felt, to protect the successive generations from undergoing the same psychological distress that the witnesses of the events of partition had experienced. Prof. Rekha Pande also shared her memories of working as an oral historian, the invaluable insight that elders and grandparents offer into the past and the need to bring people’s accounts to the forefront of mainstream history.

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The concluding remarks for the event were offered by Dr. Anandita Mukhopadhyay who, as an expert on the history of partition, talked about the importance of “micro histories” of the common man and the manner in which they often get buried under the “meta narrative” of Independence and Partition. She shared her experience of working as a researcher in the oral history project on Partition that was spearheaded by Ashish Nandy few decades ago. She talked about the need to acknowledge the fact that the memories and experiences of partition vary on the basis of class, caste, gender and region. As a historian, she asserted, it is important to differentiate the individual experience from community experience. Moreover, she reminded the audience about the need to bring forth the acts of resistance that people undertook, a search for those who stood out, defied their community and came to the rescue of the ‘other’ community from the perpetrators of violence. Prof. Mukhopadhyay ended the talk with a vote of thanks to the speakers and audience and a special tribute to The 1947 Partition Archive for the commendable initiatives they have undertaken to preserve the memories of partition.

Report prepared by Aakriti Suresh
M.Phil Scholar, Department of History

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