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Guneeta Singh Bhalla, director and founder of The 1947 Partition Archive, reveals the untold stories of the bloody history of India’s most challenging phase of human migration
Jagjit Singh Lamba was in Lahore when the Partition of India took place. Her father, who was in Jhelum that time, suggested that she should take her sister to her brother’s place in Ambala before things got worse. They booked tickets on a Delhi-bound train that was to traverse Gujranwala, Lahore, Amritsar and Ambala. However, when they reached Gujranwala, they witnessed gruesome violence at the station – a mob was killing people mindlessly in front of their eyes. The two sisters hid in a corner of a coupe and were even able to help an Army officer and his wife crawl under some unseen spaces. The mob spilled over into the compartment but they managed to stay unnoticed.
Guneeta Singh Bhalla began the process of collecting such oral stories of the horrendous episode in India’s history in 2008 after she visited Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial in Japan. She felt that each survivor of the Partition was a living story that needed to be told to understand the biggest human migration in history. In 2010, she sought help from a book shop in Faridkot. “I was telling the owner of the book shop how I wanted to record the oral stories when another man walked in and invited me to hear his parents’ story who had migrated from Okara. I recorded their story and soon other people approached with their stories,” she tells us.
She has organised a month long exhibition that is divided in three parts – Memory Through the Ages (Bikaner House), Women During the Partition (India Habitat Centre) and Unheard Stories (India International Centre) along with panel discussions.
Bhalla strongly feels a need to create platforms for such stories as they lie at the heart of India’s creation and identity. “It is also essential to realise that people from the generation who have experienced Partition don’t hate or have any hard feelings unlike the our generation do towards the other,” she adds.
The platform has no borders. “Everybody is welcome to contribute their stories. We have over 500 people who have shared their experiences to the
archive.” Today, with the help of more than 50 oral scholars, 500 volunteers dedicating 50,000 hours, the archive has 4300 digital videos from 350 cities in 12 countries.
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