History

Largest Collection of Witness Accounts of Partition to Be Made Public

The 1947 Partition Archive’s collection, comprising over 30,000 digital documents and photographs collected from 12 countries in 22 languages, will be released beginning August 10.

Partition refugee. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Partition refugees. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

New Delhi: A collection of oral histories from over 4,300 witnesses of Partition is set for a public release 70 years after the greatest mass migration in modern human history. The interviews – a portion of which will be released beginning August 10, available via live streaming from Stanford University Library’s Digital repository – are a part of the 1947 Partition Archive’s collection.

The world’s largest collection of Partition witness accounts will be released in collaboration with a consortium of research universities in India, Pakistan, Britain and the US – while the remaining collection, deemed highly sensitive for open accessibility, will be available to researchers and interested parties.

The archive – stories for which have been collected over the last seven years – comprises over 30,000 digital documents and photographs collected from 12 countries in 22 languages. The final goal of the project is to collect at least 10,000 oral history interviews from surviving witnesses.

“The stories are changing the way we see ourselves and our history,” said Guneeta Singh Bhalla, the founder of the 1947 Partition Archive, in a statement.

As many as 15 million individuals were displaced during the 1947 catastrophe, while nearly two million died owning to the communal violence and accompanying lawlessness.

Tata Trusts is supporting a pilot adoption of the collection into the libraries of Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, Ashoka University in Sonepat and the University of Delhi.

“For us in the subcontinent, Partition is as much a part of our daily life as are the clouds in the monsoon season,” said Sohail Naqvi, the vice chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences. “We grew up hearing these stories whose endings we could only decipher by swimming in tear-filled eyes. It is time to tell that story in full so that one day we may heal.”

According to historian Priya Satia of Stanford University, the project provides a glimpse not just into the Partition but also into the historical anthropology of culture, pre-Partition culture and post-Partition politics and identity. “Finally, we can get a sense of what happened on the ground, how it affected people and how those effects changed over time.”

Satia says these views of history are essential because for the last seven decades, the stories of Partition are being told “through the lens of high-political negotiations between figures like Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru, Mountbatten,” none of whom foresaw the shape that Partition would take, which she says can be understood only by looking at the stories of the people who gave it that shape.