India’s First Partition Museum in Amritsar to Mark 70 Years of Independence From Colonial Rule

The museum is a nonprofit trust that has raised money from companies including the Hindustan Times and Airtel and individuals such as Suhel Seth

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Refugees en route to Pakistan during partition. Wikimedia
  • To mark seven decades of India and Pakistan as independent nations, a new museum has been inaugurated
  • The last of the 14 galleries of the museum is known as the Gallery of Hope, where visitors are invited to write down messages
  • Ahluwalia said she wanted to establish the museum after hearing her 83-year-old grandmother’s stories of the subcontinent for years

Amritsar, India, August 18, 2017: 70 years have passed since Pakistan and India were made from the former British colony. Until now, there had never been an avenue to know about the memorabilia and stories of those individuals who lived through the horror of partition. For marking seven decades of these two nations as independent countries, a new museum has been inaugurated.

“If you look at any other country in the world, they’ve all memorialized the experiences that have defined and shaped them. Yet this event that has so deeply shaped not only our sub-continent but millions of individuals who were impacted has had no museum or memorial 70 years later,” said the Partition Museum’s CEO, Mallika Ahluwalia.

The exhibitions that are held in red-brick building of Town Hall in Amritsar, the border city of north India, include proofs like newspaper clippings, personal items donated and photographs, which show how the area’s freedom fight from colonial rule developed into one of the most violent scenes witnessed by it, as communal clashes killed numerous people of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs communities and an additional 15 million dislodged from their ancestors’ homes.

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An ancient pocket watch belonging to a person killed in Pakistan during mob violence. A traditional cot of rope carried across the border by a refugee. Fabrics which were woven from craftsmen of the time. And various old family photos.

Screens are put that display video interviews of the now-elderly people who survived. The last of the 14 galleries of the museum is known as the Gallery of Hope, wherein visitors are summoned to write down messages of peace and love on papers in the shape of a leaf before putting them on a tree with barbed-wire. The idea, as said by Ahluwalia, was to invite visitors to contribute in the tree’s “greening” and to reflect and encourage peace between the nations.

“You end up feeling so grateful to that generation who, I think, helped rebuild the nation, despite having suffered such trauma,” said Ahluwalia.

She said she wished to establish the partition museum after hearing the stories of her grandmother who is 83-years-old about the subcontinent before the splitting took place and before she was forced to leave her home in Pakistani as a girl of 13 years.

“What must it have felt like for her, to one day come from, you know, a relatively affluent family, have a normal background, and the next day all you have left of your things is a small suitcase,” Ahluwalia said. Her personal experience made her think it was essential to build the museum, “especially as we saw that generation leaving us.”

This museum is more crucial as it is the first partition museum of India, she said. The tickets are rated low in order to motivate people to visit the museum. It is a nonprofit museum and companies like the Hindustan Times and Airtel and individuals like Suhel Seth have helped it raise money. The place was donated by the government of Punjab.

Shiv Visvanathan, a sociologist said that the subject has been painful for several people, and that reconciliation needs the work of both the sides. The museum too, should reveal realities of both sides, he said.

“If a nation-state becomes the repository of memory, it becomes a one-sided memory,” Visvanathan said. “We have to acknowledge the mutuality of violence. There is no one truth. No one victim.”

This museum is situated in Amritsar, well-known for the famous Golden Temple as this city of Punjab marks one of the first arrival points when refugees made their way to India.

-prepared by Harsimran Kaur of NewsGram. Twitter @Hkaur1025