The Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI) organized a focused group discussion to reflect upon the mass dislocations during the Partition of British India in New Delhi on February 3, 2017 at the India International Centre, New Delhi. Titled ‘Looking Back ‘Looking Back, Informing the Future – The 1947 Partition of British India: Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies,’ the discussion was focused on facilitating a personalized dialogue about Partition. The event was a part of an ongoing SAI project to create an accessible archive to digitize the stories, records, and reflections of the 1947 Partition of British India in crowd proportions.
Meena Hewett, Executive Director, SAI, introduced the session and shared the background of the project and the ongoing efforts. She talked about Prof. Jennifer Leaning’s work on demographic and humanitarian consequences of conflict, which led to the birth of this project and shared Prof. Tarun Khanna’s (Director, HSAI) idea of collecting personal stories with regard to Partition through a crowdsourcing format. This project, she said, will not only provide crucial perspectives about the past but also be instrumental in giving insights about the future, especially with respect to the patterns of migration. Hewett invited the participants to share their impressions of the Partition and how they remember the event. She introduced the speaker and facilitator for the discussion, Prof. Uma Chakravarti, noted Historian and Professor of History.
Prof. Chakravarti deftly contextualized the project and highlighted the importance of documenting personal stories and recollections of Partition and sharing them with the community. Providing the historical background of the Partition of India, she established its importance as the largest exodus in human history and underlined the urgency of collecting stories of survivors, as very few of them remain. She also emphasized the relevance of the work in order to enrich historical knowledge and realities experienced. Prof. Chakravarti also highlighted how these stories connect us to our present and inform our understanding of history, nation, community and religion. She elaborated upon the importance of archiving and following the paper-trail in government records to understand how the events of Partition were documented. This also helps us in identifying the gaps in the narration of history. The other point of emphasis was on the significance of including stories of Partition from the Eastern border, which have largely been absent from the mainstream accounts of Partition, especially its consequences in the form of economic displacement.