A building of colonial heritage with a large library in Amritsar has been identified as a possible location for a unique world-class museum dedicated to India’s partition that resulted in the largest mass migration in human history.
The museum is expected to open in 2017, the 70th anniversary of India’s partition and independence. Britain-based institutions and individuals have extended much support for the project, as evident during a meeting in the House of Lords on Tuesday.
Various strands of the project, called “Yaadgaar-e-Taqseem”, are being put together by a team led by author Kishwar Desai, who chaired the meeting that included participation by academics, councillors, representatives of the British Library and others.
Initiated by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, the project has received the first two donations from Indian-origin individuals based in Britain. The funding target for the project is 1 million pounds and donations can be made through its website, Desai said.
The project’s promoters have been in discussions with the Punjab government for the museum location, but Desai would not name the building identified as the possible site in Amritsar until it was finalised. Funds collected will be used to convert it into a museum.
Besides acting as a resource base for scholars working on partition-related topics, the museum is to hold oral histories, photographs, documents from archives, films, documentaries, paintings, poetry and other items. Similar museums are to be set up in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“Soon it will be 70 years since, but there is no memorial, no designated space, no commemoration of any kind that documents how that migration led to the birth of two nations. This museum will also be, importantly, about syncretic cultures in the subcontinent, and about healing and reconciliation,” Desai said.
“The museum will attempt to lift that veil of silence (over the partition).”
The UNCHR has said an estimated 14 million people were displaced by the upheaval and communal violence that accompanied the partition in 1947.
Oral histories of those affected by the partition were being collected and historians based in Pakistan too were involved in the project, Desai said. The focus would be as much on the syncretic culture before partition as on the politics and horrors that followed it.
Desai, whose family was one of millions affected by the partition, told Hindustan Times that she had received a “very good response” from institutions and individuals in Britain (where many refugees had migrated).
A series of seminars and exhibitions will be held in New Delhi and elsewhere in 2016 to support the museum project.
Desai’s team is supported by an advisory board that includes veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar (who thought of such a museum in the 1950s), Meghnad Desai, Ashis Nandy, Jugnu Mohsin and Salima Hashmi.
Desai and her husband, Meghnad Desai, previously played a key role in raising funds for installing Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in London’s Parliament Square earlier this year.