75 years of India partition: How tech is opening window into past

Growing up, Gunita Singh Bhalla heard her grandmother describe how she entered newly independent India from Pakistan with her young children in 1947, witnessing horrific scenes of carnage and violence that haunted her for the rest of her life.

Those stories were not in Singh Bhalla’s school textbooks, so she decided to create an online history – 1947 partition storageIt contains about 10,500 oral histories, the largest collection of memories of partition in South Asia.

“I didn’t want my grandmother’s story to be forgotten or the stories of others who experienced Partition to be forgotten,” said Singh Bhalla, who moved to America from India at the age of 10.

“For all its faults, Facebook is an incredibly powerful tool: the archive was created by people finding us on Facebook and sharing our posts, which led to greater awareness,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The partition of colonial India into the two states of Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan at the end of British rule led to one of the largest mass migrations in history.

About 15 million Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs turned the country into a political upheaval, resulting in violence and bloodshed that claimed nearly 2 million lives.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since then, and relations remain strained. They rarely grant visas to each other’s citizens, making visits almost impossible – but social media has helped people on both sides of the border connect.

There are dozens of groups on Facebook and Instagram, as well as YouTube channels, that share the stories of Partition survivors and occasional visits to their ancestral homes, garnering millions of shares and views and emotional comments.

“Such initiatives that help document experiences of partition serve as an antidote to the charged political narratives of the two states,” said Ayesha Jalal, a professor of South Asian history at Tufts University in the United States.

“They help ease tensions between the two sides and open channels for much-needed people-to-people interaction.”

virtual reality

As the number of people displaced from their homes increases worldwide, technology helps remotely monitor abandoned homes and document human rights violations, while digital archives preserve cultural heritage.

Project Story – which means Katha in Urdu – uses virtual reality (VR) to document the accounts of partition survivors and enable them to revisit their birthplace.

“VR is not like film – it has a level of immersion and engagement that creates empathy and has an impact,” said founder Sparsh Ahuja, whose grandfather immigrated to India when he was seven during Partition.

“People really feel like they’re transported to that place.”

Using volunteers from India and Pakistan to explore and film locations – which have changed dramatically over the decades – Project Dastan aims to connect 75 Partition survivors with their ancestral homes by the 75th anniversary this year.

But pandemic restrictions have meant he has completed only 30 interviews since filming began in 2019, Ahuja said.

“When visa policies were more favorable, people could physically go and see places and people,” he said. “Now, these connections wouldn’t happen without technology, and VR has brought a whole new audience to the segmentation experience.”

Among the most popular YouTube channels on the divide, Punjabi Lahar – or Punjabi Lahar – has around 600,000 subscribers.

Founder Lovely Singh, 30, part of Pakistan’s minority Sikh community, estimates the channel has helped 200 to 300 people reconnect with family and friends.

Earlier this year, Punjabi Lehar’s video of an emotional reunion between two elderly brothers separated during Partition quickly went viral, garnering widespread appreciation.

“If we can help connect more people, perhaps the tension between the two countries will ease,” Singh said.

“This is how my kids are learning about division.”

Stress in the digital world

According to research firms Global Media Insight and Statista, India and Pakistan are among the largest social media markets in the world, with over 500 million YouTube and nearly 300 million Facebook users.

History professor Jalal noted that these online spaces can also host misinformation and added a note of caution about the limitations of social media projects.

“While these initiatives around Partition are very useful, they should not be seen as a replacement for historical understandings of the causes of Partition,” she said.

The political tension between India and Pakistan frequently spreads on social media.

Last year, an Indian state said people who celebrated Pakistan’s victory over India in a cricket match on social media could be charged with sedition, which carries a sentence of up to life in prison.

Indians – especially Muslims – who criticize the government online are told to “go to Pakistan”.

But for 90-year-old Reena Verma, social media has done more than make virtual connections – it has enabled her to visit her old home in Rawalpindi 75 years after she left it.

When her Pakistan visa application was rejected earlier this year, the news went viral on Facebook. Pakistani authorities intervened to grant a visa to Verma, who had immigrated to India as a teenager weeks before Partition.

When Verma visited Pakistan last month, Imran William, founder of the Facebook group India Pakistan Heritage, was present to welcome him.

Residents beat drums and showered her with flowers as she danced in the streets, then looked around her old home.

“It was very emotional, but I am very happy that I could fulfill my dream of visiting my home,” said Verma.

“People have very painful memories of Partition, but with Facebook and other social media, people are communicating with each other and eager to meet each other. It brings people from both countries together.”

Source link

Leave a Comment