Sindh revisited with Mallika Ahluwalia

Recently, the Partition Museum in Amritsar commemorated the Sindh experience of the Partition for the first time with Journey Through Sindh: A Lost Homeland. It was a cultural weekend with Sindhi music, food, literature and memories and also had the Sindhi community from across India come together.

The process that led to the weekend was fascinating. CEO and co-founder Mallika Ahluwalia reveals, “August 17 marks the 72nd anniversary of when the Radcliffe Awards – the borders – were announced in 1947, and it also marks the second anniversary of the opening of the Partition Museum. Two years ago, the Government of Punjab had agreed to our suggestion that August 17 should be marked as Partition Remembrance Day. We felt that it was also important to host this commemoration focused on Sindh because the Sindhi experience of Partition was very unique.”

She speaks of the Sindhi experience of the Partition as compared to other partitioned states. “Unlike Punjab and Bengal which were divided between India and Pakistan, the entire province of Sindh went to Pakistan, so Sindhis lost their homeland and they had to migrate to towns and cities in provinces across India. It is a testament to the drive and entrepreneurial spirit of the Sindhi community, that within a few decades, they were able to rebuild their businesses and establish themselves once again wherever they went. However, the homeland left behind is still a strong part of their identity. The weekend is a tribute to the Partition survivors.”

The Sindh experience is not thought of as much as the Punjab one. Mallika agrees, “It is in fact quite different from the Punjab experience. While the migration in Punjab was swift and violent, and the transfer of populations was mostly complete by end 1947, the Sindh migration did not start on a big scale till the beginning of 1948. This was because Sindh saw very little violence in 1947, and most Sindhis thought they would stay on in Sindh.

However, it was the fear of violence and losing their homes that led to an exodus starting in early 1948 that continued for a few years. Still many more Sindhis stayed back so for decades, there were divided families, where some of the family was on one side of the border, and the rest on the other.”

Though marked by less violence, Mallika considers it to be important to be remembered, as the total loss of a homeland meant huge impact on a community, that always had a very strong regional (Sindhi) identity.

The Partition Museum has been attracting attention since its inception. “It has been heart-warming to see the affection and support the Partition Museum has received. Some 420,000 visitors have come to the museum. They have left wonderful messages of support and also shared their own families’ stories. We have also won four National and international awards, and were listed by the National Geographic Traveller India in the top 18 places to visit in 2018. We hope that people will continue to support and visit the museum as it is really a People’s Museum.”

She avers, “Visitors hopefully see, for the first time, their collective history being told through the experiences of people and not only the leaders. This is also reassuring to the survivors as they feel heard and represented. The museum uses their own oral histories, their personal artefacts, their letters, photographs and documents to tell history, along with art, music, film, and specially created installations. Most galleries contain objects that refugees carried with them when they travelled; each of these objects poignantly conveys the experience of the family. The museum covers both the freedom struggle and the Partition.”

She feels the museum offers the present generation an insight into their nation’s history through the stories and memories of its people which is usually not how they encounter history in educational spaces etc.

The museum plans to launch their audio guide and a souvenir shop. Ahluwalia shares, “We have started a systematic programme to engage with children and students as engaging youth is a very important focus area for us. Fostering collaborations with other national and international arts organisations and museums is also one of the museum’s priorities; our Jallianwala Bagh Centenary exhibition has already travelled to Manchester, London and Birmingham this year, and will be going to New Zealand soon, apart from almost 10 cities across India. We are also planning a series of cultural events and performances at the museum.” The museum continues to expand its collection of people’s objects and oral histories in addition to artworks and installations on the Partition.