A Rejoinder: How do we publicly remember Partition?

30 August 2017

On 8 August, Vantage, the web-exclusives section of The Caravan, carried an article titled“Curating the Wound: The Public Memory of Partition Remains Woefully Caste-Blind,” by the scholar Ravinder Kaur. In it, Kaur noted that most records and retellings of Partition have remained oblivious to the disparity between the experiences of those belonging to oppressed-caste communities and those from upper-caste Hindu families. Kaur added that the many recent Partition archives are depoliticised, which may threaten an accurate representation of complex history.

Published below is a rejoinder to the piece by Guneeta Singh Bhalla, the founder of the 1947 Partition Archive, which was linked to in the piece. It is followed by Kaur’s response.

Dear Editors,

In her insightful article “Curating the Wound,” Professor Ravinder Kaur rightly points to the dangers of careless collection of oral histories about Partition. In doing so, however, she badly mischaracterises the work and methods of The 1947 Partition Archive, the (oldest such?) organisation which has produced the largest number of stories. Our archive is not “openly accessible on the internet,” as Professor Kaur claims; rather, a subset of story summaries are available on our site, full stories are now being slowly released through Stanford Libraries, and a subset of highly sensitive stories will only be available to qualified scholars at particular universities. Secondly, we have gone to great lengths to capture the diversity of experience that Professor Kaur highlights as crucial. Our stories come from villages, small towns, and large cities, from lower- and upper-caste communities, from all genders (including transgenders), from tribal communities, and so on. Finally, our work does not aim to produce a “depoliticised notion of human suffering,” but to create a new source base—inclusive of all views—with which scholars might challenge the colonial and elite politics that shape existing narratives.