Relics from India’s turbulent past in Capital’s first Partition museum

Published on Jan 14, 2023 12:28 AM IST

From a lock that was used to secure a trunk carrying a family’s scant possessions while fleeing from their village to pre-Partition ration cards and land deeds, the museum will house various sourced objects that people managed to bring with them when they crossed the border.

The façade of the new museum at the restored Dara Shikoh Library Building (DSLB) in the Ambedkar University campus at Kashmere Gate. (HT Photo)
The façade of the new museum at the restored Dara Shikoh Library Building (DSLB) in the Ambedkar University campus at Kashmere Gate. (HT Photo)
BySadia Akhtar

Letters, certificates, clothes, utensils, and photographs belonging to individuals who migrated across the border during the 1947 India-Pakistan partition -- these are some of the exhibits that will be on display as Delhi’s first Partition Museum is inaugurated in February at the restored Dara Shikoh Library Building (DSLB) in the Ambedkar University campus at Kashmere Gate, people aware of the matter said.

From a lock that was used to secure a trunk carrying a family’s scant possessions while fleeing from their village to pre-Partition ration cards and land deeds, the museum will house various sourced objects that people managed to bring with them when they crossed the border, the people added.

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As part of the curtain-raiser to the launch, the museum will host film screenings on the theme of Partition and migration in collaboration with Project Dastaan, a peace-building initiative centered around Partition, starting from January 17. Only a section of the museum will be open for the screenings while the permanent exhibition will come up in six galleries which will be launched in February.

Child of Empire is an interactive animated virtual reality documentary experience that puts the viewer in the shoes of a migrant in 1947, whereas Lost Migrations is a three-part animated series that tells untold stories of the Partition.

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The museum, managed by The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust (TACHT), which set up a Partition Museum in Amritsar, has adopted the heritage building inside the Ambedkar University campus as a part of the Adopt a Heritage initiative. Conservation work at DSLB was undertaken by the Delhi government’s department of art, culture and language.

Ashwini Pai Bahadur, consultant to the Partition Museum, said the museum will host an animated VR documentary, Child of Empire, at the Dara Shukoh Library from January 17 to January 29 in the lead up to the launch. “The interactive documentary will be screened in VR. After the launch of the series on January 17, we will allow the public to book slots so that they can visit the museum and watch the film in a supervised manner till January 29. After that, the documentary will move to the permanent exhibit section of the museum,” said Bahadur.

The museum was initially supposed to come up in August 2021. However, the delay in the building restoration work on account of pandemic-induced restrictions delayed the project.

Besides hosting exhibitions and galleries, the museum has been envisioned as a cultural hub that will host multiple events. “The Partition Museum in Delhi will be serving a dual role. We are adopting a heritage monument, the Dara Shikoh Library, and also developing it into an exciting cultural hub that will host various events such as Sufi Nights, baithaks, among other events. The goal is to revive the monument through the museum,” said Bahadur.

The museum has six galleries focusing on the national movement leading up to Independence -- Partition, migration, refugees, rebuilding homes and relationships, and stories of hope and courage. Alishah Ali, assistant curator of the Partition Museum, shared that each gallery contains a collection of people’s oral history, objects, and archival material.

“The museum’s narrative specifically focuses on Delhi and how Partition changed the face of the city. It outlines how migration took place post-Partition, and its impact. We have a special section called the dark room where images and interviews that dwell on the darker stories are contained. Other galleries tell us how refugee camps came up and changed the landscape of Delhi,” said Ali.

The museum will also feature stories of individuals who visited their homes in Pakistan after the Partition and outline their experiences. It will also focus on stories beyond the border. “We have collaborated with the Citizens Archive of Pakistan where we display stories of people who moved to Pakistan, and stories about the Delhi they left behind,” said Ali.

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