Partition Research and the Need for a Multi-Dimensional Approach

Ties between India and Pakistan have witnessed a downward slide in recent years, yet there have been some important initiatives in terms of books, oral archive projects such as the 1947 Partition Archive, as well as the Partition Museum in Amritsar (Panjab, India), inaugurated in August 2017, which have chronicled oral history of survivors (in addition, the partition museum has even kept artefacts of those who went through the ordeal of partition). Apart from a number of important books and the Partition Museum (Amritsar), another important initiative has been a youtube Channel – ‘Punjabi Lehar’ founded in 2013 by two Pakistani individuals — Nasir Dhillon (a resident of Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan) and Bhupinder Singh Lovely (a resident of Nankana Sahib, Panjab, Pakistan) — which has carried out interviews, of partition survivors — in both Punjabs. 

The efforts to chronicle the experiences of survivors is important, because word of mouth is an important tool in South Asia. For many years after partition, survivors were unwilling to speak about their experiences because they were still to recover from the trauma arising out of the barbarism and violence of 1947. Many writers did depict the suffering of partition through novels – one prominent example being Train to Pakistan (1956) written by Khushwant Singh as did Saadat Hasan Manto through the short story Toba Tek Singh (1955)

Recording the firsthand experiences of survivors during partition, as well as their views on intercommunity relations pre-partition and a number of other important issues is important, since oral history is able to unravel a lot of aspects, which often can get relegated to sidelines in the overall narrative pertaining to partition. 

The Punjabi Lehar channel is an especially fascinating initiative, because it has been able to permeate down to the grass roots, since the founders of the channel are fluent in Panjabi and have been carrying out the interviews themselves (in many other partition related initiatives, the interviews are first conducted by individuals fluent in Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi and then translated to English by another person, many times important nuances may be lost).

The biggest achievement of ‘Punjabi Lehar’ has that it has been able to re-unite hundreds of families from both sides of the divide, by efficient use of social media. 

For instance, in one case, Punjabi Lehar interviewed an individual Sadiq Khan (resident of Faisalabad) who in a short message, via social media, to his brother Habib alias Sikka Khan who is a resident of Bathinda (Punjab, India) said that he was keen to meet him. Eventually, Sikka Khan was traced and  both brothers re-united at Kartarpur (Pakistan, Punjab), for some time in January 2022. Later on Sikka Khan was issued a Pakistan visa and he was able to stay for two months (March-May 2022), while Saddiq Khan visited India in May 2022.

There have been many other instances of individuals re-uniting with members of their families. Only recently through the efforts of two you tubers (one from India and another from Pakistan) a 92 year old man from Jalandhar (Panjab, India), Sarwan Singh re-united with his nephew, Mohan Singh now known as Abdul Khaliq. 

Oral history has thus proven to be important not just from an intellectual stand point, but also re-uniting members from separated families. The founders of Punjabi Lehar Channel have also said that from the comments received regarding the videos, it is quite evident that people from both sides are keen to reduce the acrimony and bitterness. 

This writer had co-edited a volume ‘Humanity Amidst Insanity: Hope during and after the Indo-Pak partition’ which documented instances of how Muslims had rescued Non-Muslims and vice-versa. A number of important points were highlighted, one was how many individuals from both sides of the divide believed that they would eventually return home. The other important point was that few years after partition, people to people contact between both countries was much more than we can anticipate today, and many individuals were able to meet their friends and neighbours (it was only from 1952, that citizens from both countries required a visa to travel to the other). 

Apart from documenting the tragic events of 1947, we should also seek to highlight the cordial inter community relations of pre-partition times, instances of ‘samaritanism where members of one community rescued the other during partition and the interactions in the immediate aftermath of partition, because this reiterates the point that ties between India and Pakistan needn’t be perfect, but they can be normal and needn’t be hostile and acrimonious. It is also important to look at multiple layers of the relationship between both countries, and not have a skewed approach. For long, partition has been used as a means of creating hostility rather than understanding the collective pain of those impacted by partition. Hopefully, recent developments, especially with regard to reunions of families, will reiterate the same.

[Credit: Photo Division, Government of India, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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