South Asian Heritage Month: Essex artist teaching people about overlooked period of history

  • Suman Gujral spoke to ITV News Anglia's Siri Hampapur for South Asian Heritage Month

A Sikh artist has been creating artwork on the partition of India, in a bid to educate modern audiences on a sometimes-overlooked period of history.

Suman Gujral, who works at Parndon Mill in Harlow, creates pieces to reflect on the tragedies that took place during the partition, 75 years ago.

At midnight on 14 August 1947, India gained independence from the British Empire.

The fear of losing the protected status that Muslims had under imperial rule created the desire for a religious homeland, so part of the agreement for independence was the partition of India divided by religion.

But the arrangements led to devastation as violence broke out among neighbours, leading to the largest mass migration in human history.

Muslims travelled from India to two new lands, West and East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh.

From there Sikhs and Hindus travelled to what stayed as India. It left an estimated 14 million people displaced.

Ms Gujral's parents were among those who were witnesses to the conflict.

She said: "When I first started talking to my mum I realised in retrospect I hadn’t really absorbed everything she had been telling me and how much it still affected her, because my first question to her was 'So Mum, how did you feel leaving Pakistan?'

"She said to me 'Sumi I didn’t leave Pakistan, I left India.'

Suman Gujral and her mother Credit: Family photo

Many people were killed by the opposite side on their journey. Rivers ran red with blood and trains would arrive at stations filled with dead bodies.

There is little to no record of those who died but estimations of the death toll go up to two million people.

Ms Gujral's family feared for her grandfather's life when he was travelling on a train from Lahore to Amritsar.

"My grandad, his luggage arrived but he didn’t arrive and they all thought he was dead," Ms Gujral told ITV News Anglia.

"My grandad apparently had realised that on the train they were travelling on people were being killed, and he got off and then travelled by night by foot to Amritsar.

"Even when he was telling me about it, he was still remembering what that felt like.

"I could see the tears in his eyes."

  • Suman Gujral reads a poem about how her grandfather was attacked on his way to work as the conflict broke out.

Ms Gujral's love of art started from an early age, with her mum teaching her how to sew.

Using her skills she has found a way to reflect on what happened on those perilous journeys.

The colours, materials and words used in the art each reflect parts of the story.

Suman Gujral is using artwork to encourage others to learn more about the history of the partition. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Red represents the bloodshed, the copper represents barbed wires and the words "Mother, father, brother, sister" is to remember those who died who were unaccounted for.

"For me, it’s particularly important to share these stories because, a lot of the people who were witnesses, are dying. It's important not to forget that this happened to real people" she said.

  • Ms Gujral's pieces will be on display at St Albans Museums on 15 August 2022.

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