The generation that saw Partition is fading away, and with them will be lost the important part of history—the tales of valour and weakness, bonds and betrayals, tears of loss and joys of reunion.
Volunteers from the University of California, Berkeley, the US, have come forward to give voice to unheard stories.
As part of their initiative ‘Give Voice to Untold Stories’, the organisation, The 1947 Partition Archive, will record 10,000 life stories shaped by Partition. They will then partner with universities so that academicians, historians and researchers can study them. Another US-based university has agreed to provide expertise for creating a digital and physical memorial of the collection, which will be available for the public across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Organisation’s executive director Guneeta Singh Bhalla, who has completed her tenure as a post-doctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says, “The archive has been preserving oral histories of Partition witnesses since 2010. We have videographed over 3,000 stories in 320 cities of 12 countries. If we get the funds, we plan to finish the recording by the year end.” Around `3 crore is being spent on these recordings.
It was a visit to the oral testimony archives at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in 2008 that inspired Bhalla to start this journey. She began interviewing Partition witnesses in 2009, and in 2011 was born The 1947 Partition Archive. Bhalla rallied volunteers from all walks of life and built the grassroot foundations of this people-powered organisation.
“I also realised that first-hand accounts validated the experience of Partition. They made it more human. The numbers we find on Wikipedia and in books cannot convey the true meaning of Partition and what it meant to live through that time. People needed to hear about the trauma of Partition—that affected millions—from my grandmother, and not from books, says Bhalla, who has interviewed over 100 Partition survivors.
Hailing from Faridkot in Punjab, Bhalla—who is in her 30s—went to the US as a teenager. “My family had also migrated from Lahore to Amritsar on August 14, 1947. I had grown up listening to the tales of devastation and massacre.”
Bhall has tied up with Delhi University and is in talks to partner with other varsities in India to facilitate study and research on culture, language, food habits, reasons behind the Partition and the mindset of people who went through the dramatic phase.
“If film-makers, playwrights, dance performers and authors want to see these videos for any kind of information, they can. But if they want to use the information for commercial use, they will have to pay royalty. A few have shown interest in the information we have collected,’’ she says.