Tales from India’s 1947 Partition refugee camps

  • Furquan Ameen Siddiqui, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: May 23, 2016 14:32 IST
Tents at Kingsway Camp, Delhi, provided shelter to Partition refugees who couldn’t be accommodated in the barracks. (Courtesy The Partition Museum Project)

“[We] assure you with the utmost sincerity that distance has not made the slightest difference in our love and affection for you; that we remember you, and remember you very often, with the same brotherly feeling that for so long characterised our relations.”

The words are from a letter (above right) written to Amar Kapur, by his friend, Asif Khwaja on April 6, 1949, after the Kapurs left Lahore after Partition. The Kapurs lived at 7, Egerton Street in Lahore and had stayed on after Partition until they finally left their home on September 5, 1947. The pain of leaving his home is still etched in Amar’s memory, he even remembers the exact time when they left, 4.30 pm.

Many of us have heard such stories in our families or from others, of suffering and of longing. The memories were hardly chronicled, let alone documented in a Partition museum. Last year, journalist Kuldip Nayar had written about how he wanted to establish a museum on Partition soon after August 1947, but he found that the wounds were too raw.

Watch: A sneak peek into the past

This fear, of losing a part of our history, led to the start of the Partition Museum Project last year. The project plans to establish a museum, a ‘people’s museum’, in Amritsar, Punjab, by the year end, to commemorate the 70th year of the largest mass migration in history in 2017.

“We don’t have any documentation and we don’t know about the trauma of the people who went through Partition. It is part of our heritage,” says Kishwar Desai, chair of the trust that is helming the museum project. Desai’s parents also came from Lahore. “The stories are important. We are witnessing large scale migration even today where people go through the trauma of displacement.”

Read | Looking backwards and forwards from Partition

The museum will have oral histories, photographs, documents, objects that people brought with them, among other material. It’s a work in progress but they already have more than 2,000 recorded histories. An exhibition, ‘Rising From the Dust: Hidden Tales from India’s 1947 Refugee Camps’, at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre will be showcasing selected items over the next few days.

This letter was written to Amar Kapur by his friend Asif Khwaja, after the Kapurs had left Lahore after Partition. Amar lived with his parents and siblings at 7, Egerton Street in Lahore. They had stayed on after Partition while everyone around them left. They finally left their home on September 5, 1947, at 4.30pm.

Khwaja’s letter is also a part of the exhibition. The project’s primary objective is to document the stories of people who migrated to India. Like SP Rawal’s story, who was just seven during Partition (see box below) or the story of Leelavati Khanna’s favourite book, about a Muslim artist Abdur Rahman Chughtai, the one thing that remained with her family as a marker of their home. ‘Then how real was this division of culture into Hindu and Muslim?’, reads the placard above the box that displays the dilapidated book at the exhibition.

Oral histories will be recorded during the exhibition too. So if you have a story to share, an item that you want to share, head to the venue or email them at thepartitionmuseum@gmail.com.

Rising from the Dust: Hidden Tales from India’s 1947 Refugee Camps
Where: Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre
When: 10.30 am to 8 pm; till May 26
Call: 24682001

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