Rising Above Past Prejudices – Remembering Partition

Posted By: Ria Mirchandani|Dated: July 18, 2011

He did not want to leave. Karachi, with its ornate arches and multihued alleyways, with his palatial bungalow in Clifton, was all he had known for the seventeen years of his life. Now his childhood friends were urging him to leave. “Go to Hindustan, Bhau. This is now Pakistan, a Muslim state.” Denied the euphoria of independence, Gulab Mirchandani and his family spent August 15th, 1947, fleeing their ancestral homeland for lands unknown.

 

Remembering Partition

My grandfather’s story is just one amongst those of the twelve million refugees who crossed the border during the partition of India. These stories, of hope and courage, fear and loss, were what I had grown up listening to. Our community, like many others on both sides of the border, had lost everything. But resilience and hard work helped my grandparents’ generation slowly regain it all.

Today, my grandmother lives happily in India; nonetheless, her experiences during Partition caused her to develop a hatred for Pakistan. As I grew older and listened to the struggles of my grandmother and grandfather, my opinions of Pakistan shared their bias. I had unknowingly developed an underlying hatred for Pakistan, too. This cycle of inadvertent hatred is common to both sides of the border, and it made me began to wonder, why should my generation, in India or in Pakistan, share the same negative emotions?

Sixty years of animosity should not be followed by sixty more. Partition was a historical event that was disappearing into oblivion, depriving a generation of survivors a chance to reach closure, and my generation the chance to learn from the mistakes made. I wanted to form my own opinion on partition, but I also wanted my grandparents’ stories to be remembered. And so I embarked on a year long exploration of my history.

The idea was ambitious, and struck me while I glanced over a newspaper article one Sunday. It was about the four parties that were fighting over the ownership of ‘Jinnah House’, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s former residence in Mumbai. If someone were to hand me Jinnah House, I thought to myself, I would turn into a museum on the partition of India. It would be similar to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. This museum had moved me; after spending five hours walking through it, a memorial located in the heart of the holocaust victim’s homeland, I realized it had not biased me in any way. I felt no hatred towards the Nazis, or sympathy for the Jews, but a deep sense of compassion for humankind – for what it had suffered through, and survived.

The idea of having an unprejudiced partition museum may have sounded like the grandiose plan of a naïve kid, and one can’t deny that it wasn’t. There was an unfathomable number of possible hurdles, including everything from the fact that India is evidently not a country fond of memorializing its tragedies, to the fact that I was barely at an age where I could sign most legal documents.  But a first step had to be taken.

 

And it was. Remembering Partition was a one-day event that my team of high school friends and I conceived, under the Mumbai based NGO, Citizens for Peace. Its goal was to create an unbiased perspective of partition, while honoring those who survived it. On 24th October, 2010, seventeen year olds and seventy year olds, Indians and Pakistanis, came together in Mumbai to discuss, debate and try to heal the scars of partition. Present at the event were foreign policy experts like Ms. Manjeet Kripalani and inspirational political speakers like Mr. MJ Akbar. Participants spoke, painted, wrote and acted while trying to understand the partition of India, and their respective neighbour, from a fresh, neutral perspective.

Organizing this event involved a risk of failure at each step—from signing up keynote speakers to raising funds, or lobbying the Government for visas for our Pakistani participants. Our youth and inexperience may have worked against us sometimes; many schools in Pakistan did not trust us enough to send their students across. But it was often the most impressive factor when raising funds, inspiring our donors to contribute generously. Getting our Pakistani friends their visas was perhaps the biggest challenge. We knew it would need a miracle for them to come to India with the prevailing political scenario, but we also knew how essential it was to have them present at the event in order for anyone to learn anything new. We persevered with a determination we did not know we possessed. It was the power of an idea, our idea, which made no goal seem out of reach and kept us going.

Perhaps the most profound impact of Remembering Partition was the opportunity it gave me to redefine Pakistan for myself, rather than to inherit my grandparent’s tainted views. The stories my Pakistani friends and I shared about our lives across the border, across coffee tables, made us realize that we were still one people, divided by politics. There were more similarities than differences; we were both excited by Linkin Park’s new album, stressed by the SATs and eager to build a better future.

If you visit Mumbai today, you will not find a museum on the Partition of India, yet. But you will find a greater appreciation amongst the seventy students who attended the event, for their country’s history and for their neighbor’s views. You will find gratitude in the eyes of partition survivors, who now know that their sacrifices will not go in vain, and their stories will not go unheard. The Remembering Partition event was a stepping-stone to my dream of a partition museum, one that drives positive change for a future in which my generation can rise above all differences and coexist as harmoniously as my grandfather and his Pakistani counterparts did before 1947.

About the author:

On October 24, 2010, Ria Mirchandani and a team of peers from India and Pakistan hosted the Remembering Partition Event in Mumbai, India. To learn more please check out the website: http://www.rememberingpartition.inRia completed her schooling at the Cathedral & John Connon School in Mumbai in March of 2011. In September of 2011 she intends to continue her studies and her passion for history, travel, and international affairs at Brown University in Providence, RI, USA.

The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.

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    I hope many things still remaining, things will we on track soon.

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