Her parents were born in India post 1947. She grew up in the US and her high school never told her anything about the largest displacement in the human history that came with Independence and Partition of the country. Yet, the painful story of migrating in the midst of death, rape and misery told to her by her grandmother living in Indian side of Punjab, haunted her long.
She is Guneeta Singh Bhalla, a physicist from Berkley, who took upon herself the task of recording the first-hand accounts of those who survived the communal frenzy during Partition in video interviews.
Speaking to HT, she says: “I still regret not having recorded my dadi’s (grandmother’s) interview. Things fell in perspective when I visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial in 2008 and also saw Holocaust memorials.” What led her to this was her resolve to change the lack of knowledge and information about the grave tragedy. The first-hand experience validated Partition and brought forward the human loss and tragedy poignantly.
What started as a humble effort by her to interview two survivors in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2011, Guneeta has come a long way with volunteers in different parts of the world joining hands to record oral histories. Now that the official launch happens in Delhi on Saturday evening, September 3, the 1947 Partition Archives already has recorded 7,000 video interviews.
“I realised that this was not something that I could do individually. It was a race against time as the people to be interviewed were already in their 80s and 90s,” she says. Thus, she founded the archives as a non-profit oral history organisation and a group of volunteers in Berkley started the task which rapidly spread to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries. When a few hundred interviews were recorded, the target was set to complete 10,000 stories by 2017 to mark seven decades of Partition.
“Today, we are not very far from the target and volunteers are growing every day. Not only did we crowd funds, we even crowdsourced the interviewers. After the India launch, we will focus on Pakistan and England,” says Guneeta.
The 1947 Archives conducts a fellowship programme to select volunteers who are further trained in interviewing and story collection techniques. Guneeta says because of the sensitive relationship of Partition stories with present day inter-communal relations, only a small portion is made available publically, but the material is accessible for research. What makes the whole exercise rewarding is that volunteers of different communities and countries are involved and it is taken as a tragedy that affected all humankind. Besides loss, it also has many stories about one community members coming to the aid of the other.
REACH THE PARTITION ARCHIVE AT: