For many people of South Asian heritage across the world, August 15th is a time of celebration. Today is the anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan from British rule in 1947. However, it also marks one of the most tragic events in human history: the land that was ruled by the British for over a century was to be partitioned along religious lines, resulting in one of the largest mass migrations of people in human history.
Despite the enormity of the event, the partition of the Indian subcontinent is not well-recorded in history. Estimates are that a half to two million people were killed in the rioting that was set off between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. The state of Punjab – home to the Sikhs and the one-time Sikh kingdom before the British established rule over India – was split down the middle, almost arbitrarily, to create the country of Pakistan. Much of the record of the displacement and violence that erupted in 1947 exists in the memories of the elder generation in many Sikh families (including my own) today.
A recent article in the Oakland Tribune encapsulates what occured 64 years ago and the impacts that still haunt Sikhs and other Indians today, and discusses the activities of the 1947 Partition Archive – a project that aims to document the history of partition from the voices of the people who lived through it.