Keeping Partition memories alive

As Fayyaz M Faza from 1933, Icchra, Pakistan remembers the Partition, “I was born in Icchra near Lahore, but moved to Ludhiana at a young age due to my father’s work. When the riots broke out, my family moved back to Lahore. My father only carried with him the books he had published, instilling in his son, the love for the written word.”

Such short and large memories of Partition will be written down and showcased, along with photographs, artwork, artefacts, music and cinema of that time to create
a memorial museum of Partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

But can Partition be accepted without regret if a ‘Partition Museum’ comes to be in real space and time, in India? The Partition Museum Project, an initiative taken by The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust (TACHT), aims to elaborate and memorialise the largest displacement of 12 million people from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, through the memories of the living witnesses of the time.

A core group of thinkers like Ashis Nandy (political psychologist), Alok Sarin (psychiatrist), Kuldip Nayar (journalist), Alka Pande (art curator), Mahesh Bhat (filmmaker) and Lady Kishwar Desai (author) met for a discussion on the same with public, at India
International Centre over the weekend.

Nayar, journalist, author and also a survivor of the traumatic event visualised the need for a physical museum 65 years ago, holding names and stories of not military men and politicians but the ordinary civilians who went through the event. “But the wounds were too fresh then,” he says.

As for his memory, what he will donate to the museum is the horrendous sight of “the kafilas on foot in long caravans, moving to their destinations, the aged were visibly preyed upon by ‘human vultures’ and mostly died on their way.” Along with this Nayar also shared his experience of meeting annually with his old pals from Pakistan, which is much less now.

Desai, one from the core group of TACHT says, “We will not try to create a good or a bad memory. We will bring across whatever we are receiving, without shying away from the truth.”Knowing that there are many narratives of the past and the emotions of victims and perpetrators are inextricably linked, Desai believes that if the museum’s collection comes across as disturbing, it may as well be so. “As something like this should be disturbing so that such events are abhorred and prevented in future.”

The sensitive subject still makes the three countries vulnerable, and as most of the tangible material in the museum seems to be made of oral confessions of witnesses, their family and friends, Nandy says, “The present generation relates so much with its past, which is like a “parallel history”. The political scientist who has studied Partition and subsequent genocides in India extensively, says, “The project should create a museum but not try to create ‘history’. Claiming to create ‘history’ is dangerous, as we have many kinds of memories and we also create memories.”

TPMP wants to follow the trajectory of museums like the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, Apartheid Museum in Cape Town, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, etc. which also hold various intangible materials in their museum like the art and crafts of the bygone era.

Art curator Alka Pande says, “Just like old black and white photographs of that time, there are paintings, musical instruments and cinema less heard of, which are specific to the time of Partition.”

According to Desai, “TPMP has received offers of funds, space and museum material already and is not to be considered a project but a museum in making.”

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