Stanford archives

This undated photo taken circa 1947/1948 shows Sikh people eating free food at a relief camp at Khalsa college in Amritsar following unrest in the wake of the Partition of India and Pakistan. Stanford University will host a portion of the 1947 Partition Archive project — founded by Indian American Guneeta Singh Bhalla — bringing 4,300 interviews and 30,000 photos and documents from survivors and witnesses online. (AFP/Getty Images)

To mark the 70th anniversary of the 1947 Partition, which created modern-day India and Pakistan, Stanford University announced last month its collaboration with the 1947 Partition Archive, which will bring online 4,300 interviews and 30,000 photos and documents collected by the organization from survivors and witnesses.

As the British Raj was dismantled, borders defining the two new countries were hastily drawn along 2,800 miles. Two million people died in the ensuing chaos, as 15 million people – displaced from their homes – attempted to settle in their new countries.

The 1947 Partition Archive is believed to be the largest oral history archive on any topic in South Asia, and includes items collected from 12 countries in 22 languages. Indian American Guneeta Singh Bhalla founded the Archives project in 2010 at the University of California, Berkeley (see earlier story in India-West here).

A portion of the oral histories will be streamed from Stanford Libraries’ digital repository and made accessible to anyone with an internet account. The remaining collection, deemed too delicate or sensitive for open accessibility, will be available for viewing by visiting Stanford and select partner libraries, including Ashoka University, University of Delhi and Guru Nanak Dev University in India, along with the Lahore University of Management Sciences and Habib University in Pakistan.

“This is 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,” said Priya Satia, associate professor of history at Stanford.

“The research it will allow on Partition itself is momentous: we can now get a sense of what happened on the ground, how it affected people and how those effects changed over time,” said Satia in a press statement announcing the collaboration.

The narrative of the past 70 years has been told through the lens of high-political negotiations between figures like Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru, Mountbatten, noted Satia, adding that 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,” said the professor.

Bhalla said the videos are already serving as sources of history. “We receive requests daily 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; they are changing the way we see ourselves and our history, and now we can ensure they’ll remain available for future generations,” said Bhalla.

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