Berkeley, Calif. — It is close to reaching critical mass: the 1947 Partition Archive, the world’s first crowdsourced archive of stories from Britain’s 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan, continues to draw in “citizen historians” and needed funding.
At a free public event Oct. 30 at the Skydeck, a tech incubator on the 13th floor of a bank building overlooking downtown Berkeley, 1947 Partition Archive founder Guneeta Singh Bhalla described the unique and valuable work of the nonprofit, and invited two elderly Indian Americans to share their experiences at the event described as one of the world’s largest mass displacements (I-W, Mar. 5).
More than 1.5 million people lost their lives during Partition, and many millions more were forced to move from their ancestral homes as Hindus, Sikhs and others migrated to India and Muslims migrated to Pakistan.
Nearly 1,500 survivors of Partition have been interviewed on camera for the 1947 Partition Archive, and Bhalla said the nonprofit is aiming to capture 10,000 stories by 2017.
“We realized that there are people all over the world with stories of Partition, so we decided to crowdsource it,” Bhalla told a capacity crowd at the event. “It creates this amazing bond that our generation can have with their generation … in the past, knowledge was passed on orally; we’re trying to recapture that.”
The Oct. 30 event was titled “Stories of Survival” and featured clips from the archive’s huge collection of interviews. Also there to share their stories were Ali Shan, who was just 6 years old in 1947 and witnessed the murders of his immediately family before being rescued by a relative; and Satya Prakash Goel, who was 21 years old when he experienced the fallout of Partition violence at Roorkee University.
Reena Kapoor, a 1947 Partition Archive volunteer who also spoke at the event, calls herself a “story collector.” Kapoor’s parents were born on the Pakistan side of the border and became refugees in India. “My grandmother didn’t talk about it, but everyone would cry,” whenever the topic of Partition came up, she recalled. Her grandmother had to board a train that soon became filled with dead bodies, so she had to play dead to survive, said Kapoor. Once in India, “My own family rebuilt their lives from scratch,” she explained. “Why do our text books not talk about it?”
Bhalla and her team have done an impressive job attracting a small army of young citizen historians here in the U.S. and overseas. But they are racing against time, as many people affected by Partition as children or teens are now approaching their 70s and 80s. Many have never told their stories in their entirety, said the Indian American founder, adding that the world needs to hear these stories. “Imagine if the Holocaust, and [the aftermath of the nuclear bombs dropped on] Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were not chronicled.”