The audience at the Amaltas auditorium of the India Habitat Centre had a lump in their throat after seeing a recorded interview of Shane Ali, a Partition survivor who saw his mother and brother being killed by violent mobs right in front of his eyes.
While the other panel speakers, who also were Partition survivors, tried their best to lighten up the mood in a bid to keep the audience a tad more optimistic, the evening was riddled with similar emotions. Everyone in the auditorium seemed to grab onto every word of the speakers who narrated their harrowing account of survival during the communal riots that followed the Partition of British India.
The event, ‘Voices of Partition’, was organised by the ‘1947 Partition Archive’, a group of individuals, who have been gathering Partition stories from both sides of the border. Moved by the work of ‘1947 Partition Archive’, Leela Mamtani and Sat Prakash Goel, the speakers at the event, made an emotional plea for greater participation by the youth of both the countries to explore stories of individuals during the Partition.
“The world should know about one of the most tragic events in the human history and it is the responsibility of the youth of India and Pakistan that such stories surface,” Leela Mamtani said.
Mamtani, who was a 14-year-old during the Partition, visited her native place in Sindh (now in Pakistan) in 2007 when BBC chose her to travel to her ancestral home as part of an ‘exchange program’, wherein a couple from Pakistan was given the opportunity to visit their native place in India.
The witty story of her revisit came as a relief to the audience after she elaborated about her escape from Sindh. Her own brother escaped death after a violent mob attacked him with swords.
“The district collector took me to my native village but they weren’t sure where exactly my home was. However, it was like I was a child again and I led the collector and his team of government officials straight to my home.They couldn’t believe how good my memory was,” Mamtani said.
“Tears kept flowing from my eyes upon seeing my home. Later, when I was sitting in my native house with the collector, I joked that my family had buried a lot of gold and money in the backyard, so start digging,” She said on a lighter note.
“We didn’t want to come back,” she added as her eyes welled up. “My father was employed in the Indian Railways and after Partition, he decided to serve the Pakistan railways. But fate had chosen something else for us,” Sat Prakash Goel told the audience.
Towards the end of the event, Naman Kapuria, who left his engineering job to become a story collector for the 1947 archive, requested the audience to remember the victims of the violence that consumed South Asia more than six decades ago.
“A Partition survivor, during his interview told me, that while both the countries are busy celebrating their Independence days with great joy no one cares to ask us what the day means to us. I request all of you to observe a moment of silence for those who fell prey to the senseless violence,” Kapuria said.