A first-of-its-kind ‘Partition Museum’ bringing alive memories of the Independence era in the form of photos, artefacts and documents has been inaugurated Amritsar – the transit point of the massive migration on both sides of the border in 1947. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh inaugurated the museum and paid tribute to the sacrifices of thousands of people who lost their lives and homes in the partition, with a call for learning lessons from history to ensure that such an event is never repeated in any part of the world. “And without their past and knowing that past and understanding their past and learning from the past, no nation can move ahead,” he said on the occasion. Amarinder unveiled the plaque of the museum at a special commemoration ceremony which scripted the observation of August 17 as the ‘Partition Remembrance Day’.
The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust (TAACHT), an NGO, whose chairperson is author, columnist Kishwar Desai, is behind setting up of the museum. A minute’s silence was observed after the ringing of a bell at the historic Town Hall, where the museum has been built. The Chief Minister dedicated the museum, developed in collaboration with the state government, to the nation. Amarinder lauded the efforts of Lord Meghnad Desai, who is on the board of patrons of the museum, in giving shape to the museum, which “recreated a very sad chapter of our history.”
The Chief Minister said while for the younger generation, those days of the partition had been reduced to statistics, those who went through it had many grim memories of those times. The museum, he said, would help the youngsters actually see and experience one of the greatest migrations in history. He recalled his own memories of the partition, when, as a young boy of five years, he was coming home from his boarding school in Shimla in a train and had pushed the curtain aside to see bodies lying at one of the stations. “It is a memory still etched in my mind,” he added.
The Chief Minister also recalled the work done by his mother, Rajmata Mohinder Kaur, who passed away recently in Patiala, to help facilitate return of refugee girls back to their homes. He recalled how her memory of those days was that many of the girls forcibly sent back home were happily settled in their new homes across the border and did not want to leave their children and families “but were forced to do so following an agreement by the governments of India and Pakistan in 1952.”
Amarinder later walked around the museum in what he described as a memorable experience. The Punjab government, which has supported the construction of the museum, has already declared August 17 as Partition Remembrance Day. Earlier, addressing the gathering, Punjab’s Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Archives and Museums minister, Navjot Singh Sidhu described the museum as the story of human resolve and resilience, as well as the indomitable human spirit. The museum had revived history which was getting lost in the sands of time, he said.
The event was marked by a poetry recital by noted poet and lyricist Gulzar, who launched his newly translated book, Footprints on Zero Line: Writings on the Partition, on the occasion. The occasion was also marked by a series of events, including panel discussions with eminent experts such as Urvashi Butalia and poet Surjit Patar, a short play on partition by Kahaniwala, and Sufi music recital by the Hashmat Sultana sisters.
Addressing the gathering, Kishwar Desai thanked the state government led by Amarinder for its support to the development of the museum dedicated to the spirit and courage of the partition survivors. She also expressed her gratitude to those without whose donations the museum would not have become a reality.
Advertising expert Suhel Seth, who has the ‘Gallery of Migration’ named after his parents, Padmashri V S Sahney (a Trustee of TAACHT), described it as a people’s museum. A lock used to keep valuables safe during a journey and a wedding saree are among exhibits that will narrate the story of the largest human migration ever, at the museum.
The museum has a display of over 5,000 items including documents and artifacts. There is a Phulkari coat and a briefcase brought by a couple who were engaged before partition but got separated in the chaos; and then they found each other at a refugee camp in Amritsar and got married in 1948. Another item on display is a lock, used by a refugee family, on a trunk containing valuables.
The museum is part of the newly inaugurated Heritage Street at Amritsar, which starts at the Golden Temple and ends at the Town Hall. People have also contributed objects and documents to the Museum. The museum brings together memorabilia in shape of photos, files, recorded memories, artefacts and documents related to partition built through contributions and donations from private and public sources.
Built in the Town Hall building at Katra Ahluwalia near the Golden Temple complex, the museum is inspired by the stories of Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, who belonged to Amritsar and whose family home in Gali Vakilan was among the 40 per cent houses destroyed in the partition communal violence. The museum has put together mementos and material of 1947 shared by various people and is a walk down memory lane, with its pictures, paintings and videos.
A hall of the freedom struggle plays piped songs of resistance from the two regions most active in the struggle and a poem by Amrita Pritam plays in the background. A wall-hanging reads that 9,423 abducted women were recovered from India and sent to Pakistan between December 1947 and July 1948; 5,510 women abducted women recovered from Pakistan were sent to India.
Paper hangings of migratory birds leading the way and a ‘Tree of Hope’ crafted from barbed wire by designer Neeraj Sahai stand out as a symbol of hope for the people of both India and Pakistan.