A collection of horrific and emotional tales of the Partition of India with over 4,300 witness interviews is set to go public for the first time this week, it was announced on Sunday. A portion of the complete oral history interviews will be released online on August 10 from Stanford University Library’s Digital Repository, US-based Guneeta Singh Bhalla, founder of The 1947 Partition Archive, told IANS. Bhalla said the remaining collection, deemed too delicate or sensitive for open accessibility, would be available to researchers and interested parties only by visiting select university libraries in collaboration with the project, including Ashoka University, University of Delhi and Guru Nanak Dev University in India; and Lahore University of Management Sciences and Habib University in Pakistan. The archive contains more than 4,300 oral history interviews and over 30,000 digital documents and photographs, collected from 12 countries in 22 languages, making it the largest oral history archive on any topic in South Asia, said the founder of The 1947 Partition Archive. It is among one of the largest video based oral history archives in the world. The end goal is to record at least 10,000 oral history interviews from surviving witnesses.
“We are excited to be releasing this work into the public domain so that it is accessible to all, giving each of us an opportunity to discover our rich history for ourselves,” Bhalla, 37, was quoted in an official statement as saying. Stanford University librarian Michael Keller said the project is tremendously important as part of the historical record and to make readily available for deeper discovery and research. The material is of particular interest to Stanford as research efforts are underway at the Center for South Asia and the Handa Centre for Human Rights and International Justice. According to Bhalla, this archive is the world’s first and the largest attempt at documenting the people’s history and memorializing partition. A pilot adoption of the collection into the three Indian university libraries is being supported by Tata Trusts.
“The 1947 Partition Archives of oral histories is of particular interest in this 70th year of India’s Independence as time erases direct testimonies, so vital in firsthand authenticity,” Tata Trusts’ arts and culture head Deepika Sorabjee said. Historian Priya Satia of Stanford University said: “It’s important because for the last 70 years we have been telling the story of Partition through the lens of high-political negotiations among figures like Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru, Mountbatten.” “But none of these political elites foresaw the shape that the Partition would take. We can only understand it by looking at the stories of the people who gave it that shape,” Satia added.