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Museum in Amritsar Attempts to Correct Partition Amnesia

Eighteen million lives were disrupted, people died, women were raped, plundered, displaced, and in many cases, dehumanised in the massively disruptive event that was the splitting of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Jyoti Kamal | CNN-News18jyotik

Updated:August 17, 2017, 7:37 AM IST
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Museum in Amritsar Attempts to Correct Partition Amnesia
A photo of a woman holding her toddler daughter highlights in the text written next to it that the mother treasures the photo as it is her only memory of her daughter who was separated and lost forever thereafter. (Picture courtesy: Jyoti Kamal)
Amritsar: A "strange amnesia and loss and lack of memory" appear to be partly addressed by the Partition Museum, now formally open in Amritsar. Eighteen million lives were disrupted, people died, women were raped, plundered, displaced, and in many cases, dehumanised in the massively disruptive event that was the splitting of India and Pakistan in 1947.

The trauma has diminished in memory for newer generations of Indians and Pakistanis even as it continues to be a life changing, nightmare inducing thought for those who lived through it.

Five minutes from the Golden Temple, the Town Hall now houses the memories and history of the life and times that scarred two nations as they were born. August 17, 2017, is when the Museum begins its formal existence, for it is 70 years to the date that the process of partition was announced in 1947, rendering millions homeless and nationless overnight. The Town Hall building has been renovated and given a fresh lease of life as it chronicles the past and becomes its repository.

“Imagine waking up in the morning and realising that the country where you have woken up is no longer yours and then you start figuring out what to do next and scramble to leave. This is what happened and led to destruction for many,” says Kishwar Desai, Chairperson of the Partition Museum.

The terrible events following partition split families changed family dynamics and brought out the best and the worst of humanity. A banner prominently displayed at the Museum states - India estimates 33,000 abducted women need to be recovered from Pakistan while Pakistan estimates 21,000 abducted women need to be recovered from India.

A photo of a woman holding her toddler daughter highlights in the text written next to it that the mother treasures the photo as it is her only memory of her daughter who was separated and lost forever thereafter. Worried for their honour, women jumped into wells or were killed by their own families. In one incident, recorded as oral history, 82 women jumped into a well at a location to keep their honour intact, as plundering mobs roamed and ransacked the landscape.

The arbitrary manner in which the Radcliffe Award drew up the border led to confusion and chaos in determining what would be India and what would be Pakistan. “The British deliberately decided to announce the details of the partition two days after independence because Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy did not want the British to bear the odium of having done this so the blame would fall either on the Indian or the Pakistani government,’’ says Desai, referring to records available in the museum.

The curators of the museum have now received such ample documents, artefacts, memorabilia and other items associated with the partition that they plan to have a phase 3 and 4 in the Museum in addition to the two phases that are now open to the public.

No one who worked in the museum has been left untouched or unchanged by the reminders of the events they have helped collect and curate. “It has changed me completely. I think I have become a much more humble person. These people lost everything and yet they had the courage to live on in silence, with no complaints,” says Desai as she goes about meticulously collecting more memories to make sure the two countries do not forget the terrible pain and tragedy that followed their birth in the hope that this knowledge would bring positive change to the relations between the two nations.

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| Edited by: Mirza Arif Beg
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