Survivors of the India-Pakistan Partition in the San Francisco Bay Area congregated at Stanford University's Humanities Center Feb. 18 to break the silence of their ordeal.
The 1947 Partition of South Asia, one of the largest mass refugee crises of the 20th century, marked the end of British rule in South Asia, as well as the birth of India and Pakistan.
The event, hosted by the Center for South Asia at Stanford and the nonprofit startup, the 1947 Partition Archive, is part of the Voices of Partition event series, which brings eyewitness stories of the Partition to live audiences around the globe.
The 1947 Partition Archive has set out to save the stories of the Partition before it is too late, using a crowdsourcing method to record and preserve witness oral histories through “Citizen Historians,” volunteer interviewers from around the globe. (See earlier story in India-West here: http://bit.ly/1RwiG1L.)
At the “Voices of Partition” conference, Baljit Dhillon Vikram Singh recalled accompanying her father to the India-Pakistan border as a young girl.
Singh said at the event that her father would point west and say, “Everything is over there on the other side. Lahore, Lahore! Nanikie, Nanikie!”
Nanikie, the family’s ancestral village, to which they were expecting to return in a few days, was where Singh’s father left everything, she said.
The story of her and her father is the first time she spoke publicly about the Partition. Many other Bay Area residents joined in speaking about the events in 1947, including one attendee saying history books do not put a face on the Partition. “Hearing these stories is a truly mind-blowing experience,” the attendee said.
Other survivors who spoke at the event included Om Kumari Baveja, Ali Shan, Jisha Menon and Partition Archive volunteer Arshad Mizra.
“Even their loved ones may not have been privy to some of those traumatic details all their lives until now,” said Mizra at the event. “I appreciate the fact that the Partition survivors are willing to share intimate experiences from a painful memory that had been tucked away for a long time.”
Shan, who was orphaned by the violence and was brought across the border by a stranger who left him with another family, said, “I was very traumatized. … It took a long time but I managed to (forgive the people who killed my family), and I began to smile again.”
The emotionally-wounded survivors, now in their ‘70s and ‘80s, have found a way to bond together to get past the events from their early lives, Mizra noted.
“So often, Partition is spoken about in terms of only the violence that occurred. Of course, the brutality cannot be ignored, but these stories tell of compassion and friendships between people of different faiths that could not be broken,” the citizen historian said. “These stories are hidden from our usual sight, and we will not know about them unless we ask.”
Partition survivors who want to share their stories can reach out to the 1947 Partition Archive at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the series can be found at http://1947partitionarchive.org.