South Asian Heritage Month: The scrapbook detailing the Partition of India for 75 years

A woman from Manchester has shared the increasing need for commemoration 75 years on from the Partition of India.

Nusrat Ahmed has taken care of her father Raja's scrapbook containing newspaper clippings from the tragic events more than seven decades ago.

Her father rarely spoke of the events of Partition but would often look at the scrapbook.

She reflected: "It must have been traumatic for him to then not be able to talk to his children about.

"To leave possessions, to leave a sense of your identity, to leave people that you lived alongside with comfortably before Partition, it must have been horrendous."

What was the Partition of India?

In August 1947, after hundreds of years of British Rule, India was to become an independent country made up largely of Hindus and Sikhs, and the Muslim- majority nation of Pakistan would be created.

In just three months, a line drawn based on a simplistic understanding of India's religious diversity and out of date official documents triggered one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century.

Pakistan and India officially became two independent nations on the 14 and 15 August and the exact Partition line was announced two days later.

Around 18 million people were displaced as they crossed the newly created border. Credit: Pathe Images

Up to 18 million people were displaced and up to 2 million men, women and children were killed.

People who had spent generations in their villages suddenly found themselves having to move across the border where violence, murder and rape became harrowing hallmarks of the Partition journey.

75 years on, Partition has left behind a complex legacy that still affects the subcontinent. For example, in 1971, Bangladesh was formed from what was then called East Pakistan.

Many South Asians in Britain have family connections to the tragic events of August 1947- one of the key reasons why Britain has had significant South Asian communities for over three generations.

Despite being fundamental to the lived experiences of South Asians, many people who were caught up in the Partition did not share their story for many decades.

Now a curator at Manchester Museum, which is building a permanent South Asia Gallery which will open in 2023, Nusrat has shared how the difficult journey people were forced on during Partition was not just physical but also mental.

Pakistan declared its creation and independence on the 14 August 1947 and India declared its independence on 15 August 1947.

Whilst this is cause for colourful celebrations in both countries, such celebrations are tinged with sadness at the horrors millions faced.

Nusrat's father, Raja, rarely spoke about the Partition, but would often look at the scrapbook. Credit: ITV News

Nusrat added: "We have to remember the atrocities and all of the hardship that people had to go through.

"I think the pictures that really strike me are how many people's pictures are captured and how very much it was... you can tell it was without choice."

Despite Partition being fundamental to South Asian journeys to Britain, there has been deafening silence on the topic being taught in British schools.

Nusrat said: "I had no idea Partition happened. I didn't read about it in school books, in history lessons and my parents were unable to tell me about it.

"Not having those conversations earlier has had impact because I didn't know the history, I didn't know the reason for why certain things happened.

"South Asian history is Britain's history. It's the reason why British rule was in South Asia for so many years.

Despite the horrors of Partition, it is rarely taught in schools and many people did not speak of their experience for decades. Credit: British Pathe

"It's the reason why we have the cotton industry here, it's the reason why we have South Asian people, it's the reason why we have the cultures and traditions and food and dress.

"It's all interlinked.

"And knowing how that started and where it stemmed from is really important."

Since August 2021, Manchester Museum has been closed to the public as it undergoes significant renovations including the creation of a permanent South Asia gallery which Nusrat is leading on. It is set to reopen in February 2023.

A significant part of the gallery will be housing items from Partition. Community members have been acting as co-curators by making contributions and setting the direction of the gallery.

The permanent South Asia Gallery, co curated by community members will open in 2023. Credit: ITV News

Nusrat explained: "We want to tell the South Asian story through a South Asian lens.

"So for me, it's been a really personal project. It's been hard at times, it's been difficult, it's been difficult for some of the co-curators to tell and re tell those stories.

"If my father was here, what he would say is that this South Asia Gallery is what should have happened many, many years ago.

"For me, the biggest thing is that we open up those conversations and those debates."