Guneeta Singh Bhalla, founder and executive director of the non-profit organization, The 1947 Partition Archive, is curating an exhibition entitled, “Refugees of the British Empire” in California, said she wants to teach and create awareness around South Asian history as the new generation is largely unaware of how cosmopolitan the Indian sub-continent used to be.
The pop-up exhibition on July 27-28 & August 3-4 will take place in the new South Berkeley office of the Archive. This will be a digital, accessible-to-all archive project that will document the people’s history of the 1947 India-Pakistan Partition, and showcase the “largest mass refugee crisis that unfolded when the British Empire divided India and created Pakistan.”
The partition that occurred 72 years ago displaced between 10 and 12 million people along religious lines and it led to mass genocide.
The two events, along with the exhibition in Berkeley will consist of lectures, storytelling sessions, and workshops. It will be an enriching cultural journey as the organizers explore untold stories from the San Francisco Bay Area’s residents who once were refugees of the British empire.
Bhalla told indica that they has hosted the exhibition in India and Pakistan and this would be the first time in California, after receiving a small grant from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the national endowment of the Humanities.
Bhalla started the organization “The 1947 Partition Archive,” in 2011 and has covered over 8000 interviews. She said the initial target is 10,000. The archive carries a collection of life stories shaped by the Partition of South Asian states, built by the people for the people.
“There was pressure from the community to see them,” said Bhalla. She has also hosted four exhibitions in Delhi including, “Women During Partition.”
The workshop on July 28, will document hidden gems in your own family history. Onlookers will learn how to ask the right questions and learn other practical techniques as well as learn about the overall ethics, philosophy, and etiquette of oral history.
Bhalla, who has a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Florida, said she wanted to tell the untold stories that took place during the largest mass refugee crisis due to partition. “We don’t know our history and the history we know is very much dictated by what the politicians and British wanted us to know.”
“Here we actually learned what happened at the sub-continent. We have been talking to people from every community from every corner of South Asia,” said Bhalla. Sharing her 9-year-long journey covering and learning people’s story said finding people is not enough, “we need to talk to the people. Every community had a different experience and to really get a big picture we need to (be) comprehensive, and talk to everyone.”
Having conducted 8000 interviews, Bhalla shared her experience, saying that partition was the idea of the British.
“We are forgetting our real history. There were more than 560 kingdoms whether you like it or not,” she said. “And we also learned partition’s random killing was promoted by a lot of politicians.”
Bhalla said the partition led to the loss of culture, the education level went down, and the local economy transformed. The exhibition shows a few of these stories.
“I want to teach and to create awareness around our history. We don’t know our real history. We have a lot of communal feelings that are very much alive today in South Asia. And a lot of it came about in a big way in the time of partition.” said Bhalla.