Primary witness accounts of the partition of the subcontinent have lent insight into an event that caused irreparable damage to millions.
Those left behind, and those who crossed borders, with their loved ones perishing on the way, all have a distinct tale to share and some of these stories were shared at the Habib University on Saturday.
Several witness speakers of the partition were present to share their perspective of the mass migration that was the result of the creation of India and Pakistan.
The witnesses at “Voices of Partition”, in collaboration with The 1947 Partition Archive, included journalist Zubeida Mustafa, translator Hamrah Khalique, writer Hasan Manzar and lecturer Prof Akram Siddiqui.
Hasan Manzar elaborated how he as a young boy, along with his classmates, held the belief prior to the partition of a confederation that envisaged India as a common motherland, with Hindustan and Pakistan as two nations. The surgical distribution of the nation into two came as a shock to them all, he remarked.
“We thought that there were five provinces, three in the West and two in the East which would be called Pakistan where the Muslims would be in majority. The rest would remain the same. And both these nations would be collectively called India.”
He also recalled several individuals who left an indelible mark on his mind, among them was his mathematics teacher Mohammad Ahmed who was silently working for the cause of Pakistan.
Manzar’s heartening recall of leaving behind a humble collection of books, which included titles by Tagore and Tolstoy, which he had thought of returning to later, was a tragic reminder of how families left behind their entire lives, with no idea of what to expect in the newly created Pakistan. Most never got a chance to go back and visit their homes and Manzar was one of them.
Zubeida Mustafa narrated she “was about six years old when the partition happened. I can remember a lot of things but some of them at the time I could not truly understand. It is only when I recalled them much later that I understood the significance of those events.
“Our childhood was very pleasant. We lived in Bombay and I had started going to school. We had struck up friendships with the children who lived in my neighbourhood, and no one knew who was Hindu, Muslim or Christian.”
Changes in such a peaceful environment were much greatly felt, she explained. “However, I consider myself very fortunate, especially when I hear about the stories of many people who suffered a lot during the partition.”
Hamrah Khalique read out from a piece of paper, her recollection of the partition, and how her family had to leave Muzaffarnagar overnight. “Seventy years have passed and I still have not forgotten that night. Did freedom mean that we had to leave our home, our city and our friends?” she questioned.
Their struggles did not end even after migration; it took the family years to find their bearings and settle down in the new nation. “But what is exemplary is that my parents never complained about the trying times and were always thankful about the new nation. And this story is not specific to me. Hundreds and thousands of families faced similar circumstances but never lost their passion and loyalty to the state of Pakistan.”
Akram Siddiqui, along with his family, migrated to Pakistan in 1950 on foot. Just seven years old at the time of the partition, he recalled how they had always led a peaceful existence. “But after the partition, we slowly started to realise that those Hindus who used to be my father’s friends, and the Hindu boys who studied with us, they all had begun to change. They had started harbouring hate towards us and asked us several times to move to Pakistan.”
Survival was the key theme behind the tales shared by all the witnesses.
A pertinent point raised by Zubeida Mustafa was the urgent need to prevent generational hatred from spreading. “It is hard but effort must be put to encourage love and prevent hate from spreading.”
During the question hour session the pressing need to document the 1971 migration was also raised as it is believed that these stories may also be lost forever.
The 1947 Partition Archive has more than 500 people from 20 countries become citizen historians. The next step is to preserve 10,000 stories by 2017 and create a source of learning for future generations before it is too late.
As these stories will be a treasure trove for generations to access, the organisation must ensure that their documentation uses a credible methodology for collection of data so that the veracity of these stories cannot be doubted.
Originally published in Dawn, April 24th, 2017