Nearly 3,000 sketches by a commander of one of the many refugee camps during India’s Partition in 1947 that reflect the pain and trauma of the event are among rare memorabilia collected by the Amritsar-based Partition Museum.
Kishwar Desai, chair of the museum based in the Sikh holy city’s Town Hall, told a “Talking Partition” event in the House of Lords on Tuesday evening that a large number of memorabilia was pouring in, many of which had lain unknown in family trunks for decades.
Nearly 18 million people were affected by the Partition of British India into an independent India and Pakistan. A large number of people were killed as new borders cut through people’s homes and lives in Punjab in the west and Bengal in the east.
Noted film director Gurinder Chadha, whose family was part of the largest mass migration in history, announced at the event that costumes, script and material used in her latest Partition film, Viceroy’s House, will be donated to the museum.
Desai said besides recording oral histories of a fast depleting generation, the museum is receiving a large number of original refugee cards, trunks used by families during the migration, letters to family members from refugee camps, and original art.
“Nearly 3,000 sketches drawn by a camp commander on scraps of paper at the time lay in a family’s trunk, unknown, for decades. People do not want to talk about the Partition. Funded by donations, the museum seeks to remember and commemorate all those who lost their lives or had to leave their homes behind,” Desai said.
Chadha’s film, which will be released in India in August, has drawn mixed reviews. Pakistan-origin Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, said she had not seen the film but hoped “it informs, but does not reopen old wounds”.
“We are products of Partition. It is important to remember where we came from,” said Warsi, who was a cabinet minister in the David Cameron government (2010-2015) and co-chair of the Conservative Party.
Chadha noted the many films made on Partition in India and elsewhere, and said Viceroy’s House was a film “from the British Asian perspective”. The idea was to interrogate history and to look at the impact the politics of the time had on ordinary people and on the staff of Viceroy’s House, she said.
The museum is part of the heritage street that connects the Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh and Town Hall, and has received an average of 500 visitors a day since it was opened in October 2016, Desai said.
“Most of the Partition survivors are in their 80s and 90s. The museum team is working hard to collect their memories swiftly. We urge all Partition survivors, eyewitnesses and their families to come forward to join this movement of educating the world about a terrible tragedy,” Desai said.