There was a time when the idea of India and Pakistan meant nothing to the millions of people living in the Indian subcontinent. Partition came suddenly upon them, pushing them out of their homeland to new-found countries, whose Independence they could not comprehend in the face of mass violence and displacement.
The current hostility between the two neighbours is another addition to their 70-year-long history of animosity. While history books looked at Partition as a political event, there are countless stories of common people that form a rich narrative of lived experience.
A U.S.-based project called ‘1947 Archives’ is collecting stories of former Partition refugees on both sides of the border. Three of them, based in Mumbai, spoke of their experiences at an event ‘Voices of Partition — Mumbai Chapter’ at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) on Friday.
“Life histories of people are completely missed out in history,” says Srishtee Sethi, a PhD scholar at TISS.
“Memory, nostalgia and camaraderie are absent in the political thought process. We always talk of Partition in binaries, but the event was associated with deep-seated emotions and socio-cultural realities. These are the last people from whom we can get first-hand perspectives.”
Ms. Sethi feels that the oral history method employed for this project enables the recreation of lost or suppressed narratives, which, taken together, “complicate the idea of a single historical narrative”.