With the 70th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan happening earlier this year, Manchester Museum worked with members of Manchester’s South Asian community to explore the experiences and legacies of the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947, with a dedicated exhibition space up on our third floor to share this between August 2017 and January 2018. Memories of Partition is a collaboration between Manchester Museum, Manchester BME network, Royal Exchange Theatre and Ahmend Iqball Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre. The exhibition showcases six films featuring community members sharing their connections to Partition.
Partition is not an easy subject area to discuss, with an estimated 15 million people being displaced in possibly the largest mass migration in human history, especially not with pupils who cannot understand why this topic might be relevant for them even if they are of South Asian heritage. This is why Cat Lumb, Secondary and Post-16 Coordinator (Humanities & Arts) and Amy McDowall (Primary Coordinator) decided to invite a small number of Primary and Secondary pupils to visit the exhibition and also speak with the community participants involved; to see if it would make a difference to the way they thought about this tumultuous and difficult time in history and to help them write a response detailing their own impressions to share with those whom Partition has impacted.
Pupils had an opportunity to spend time on the Memories of Partition exhibition and make connections with the objects presented there, as well as watch some of the oral history films created to accompany the exhibition. All of these films – featuring community members either directly, or indirectly, affected by Partition – are available on the Museum’s YouTube channel and one with Dr. Gandhi (who spoke with all school groups) is highlighted below. [Please note: content is sensitive and may be upsetting.]
After seeing the exhibition, pupils were also able to view the stunning artwork of acclaimed artist Reena Saini Kallat, whose newly-commissioned sculpture Chorus can be seen alongside works that include a series of hybridised animals that represent various nations in conflict.
This thought-provoking exhibition animates the museum with new meanings and inquiries into ideas of identity, memory, history and the natural world, and links in with the topic of Partition.
It was in this creative environment pupils were asked to collate a response to share with community participants.
For the Secondary students, this was done before speaking with any of them, and demonstrates their newly developed empathetic responses to an event that many knew about but had little understanding of:
“Now that I’ve learnt about Partition I feel disgusted and really upset imagining people being murdered and witnessing so many deaths at a young age” – KS3 Pupil
“I feel that although it was a time of suffering and sadness some people used it as the start of a new life with new experiences. It was a chance to learn new things as people moved abroad, however I still feel sad that the experience was a stressful time” – KS4 Pupil
“I’ve learnt that this is bigger than I thought because they had to go elsewhere and there was a lot of conflict.” – KS3 Pupil
Their written response was detailed and we can only share small snippets here, but some are insightful and particularly astute:
“I went through pain and conflict; being separated, abandoned and lonely; scenes of fighting, killing torturing; but we never knew why at the time; because we were young.”
“I went through many challenges, emotions and struggles; such as leaving home, and leaving our possessions like jewellery, money and memories behind. I was filled with fear as many were being killed. I went through pain and suffering as well as misery and grief. There was lots of bloodshed.”
“I came to a different country. I felt upset and uncomfortable. I missed my old house along with my family. It was confusing and scary.”
“Now I feel happy that I am living in such a developed country which not only has improved me it has improved a lot of other people, but even though I am happy, I am still sad that I have lost something un-priceable [sic.] like my childhood memories.“
The Primary School pupils created a group poem following their interview with Dr. Gandhi, which can be seen here: I came from a city full of rumours.
Some teachers also shared their thoughts about the day:
“[The activities] gave the children the chance to think about the same issue from a different perspective. It was like it gave them layers of depth to the issue.”
“It gave the Indian/Pakistini children a sense of their own history and culture. It was also interesting to hear that some people thought partition was a good thing.”
“The children came away with a greater depth and understanding of partition. It was fantastic. Thank you so much.”
With thanks to University of Manchester’s Widening Participation Department who helped to fund this project.