The Museum of Partition

Remember in school when we would put a ruler or a long pencil to separate our sides of the table? And then every eraser and pencil shaving was either deported or captured.

Then we grow up and sometimes draw those lines on maps.

When India was partitioned in 1947 and two new countries were carved out of it, it resulted in the largest migration in human history with a death toll reaching 2 million.

In the word of Gulzar, “Sarhad par kal raat suna hai kuchh khaabon ka khoon huwa hai

(Last night we heard that some dreams were killed at the border)


I read this interesting interview which suggests that we do not have any memorial to the Partition deaths in India because everyone who was involved suffered and was also the aggressor. “But it is also that if India and Pakistan remember Partition with honesty, they would have to admit that politicians agreed for the sake of power to what became a bloodbath.”

Now, after 70 years, we do finally have a memorial– the Partition Museum in Amritsar.

museum of partition

It is still being set up and you can read more about it here.

The few rooms that are open already are a stark and incredibly moving memorial to a forced tragedy. Radcliffe was brought out of nowhere to draw the lines on the map. He had very little data to work with and the authorities either were not able to or did not care to make any arrangements for the smooth and peaceful transition involving eventually 14 million people.

The freedom we won by an unheard of non- violent struggle was finally soaked in the blood of millions at the very stroke of the midnight hour.

The stories and panels at the museum are so poignant that one is moved to tears by the time one reaches the end. This should actually be compulsory visit for all those who take the oath of office and for all civil servants here and in the UK to see what decisions taken in meeting rooms can do to people on the ground.

There are audio visual installations with interviews and short documentaries. There is also a video of Gulzar reading out his exquisite poems in memory of the partition and its aftermath.

Aankhon ko visa nahi lagta, sapnon ki sarhad hoti nahi,

Band aankhon se roz main sarhad paar chala jaata hoon,

Desh, sarkar nahin hota, aur mulk hukoomat nahin hoti.

Your eyes don’t need a visa and dreams cannot be controlled by borders. I close my eyes and cross the borders every night. There is no country, no government, no controls.”

For me the most disturbing installation at the Museum was a well. It represents the many wells into which women and girls jumped during the partition migration to commit suicide to prevent a fate worse than death at the hands of ‘enemies’.

The other such well, a real one, which can actually make your skin crawl is right next door—inside the Jallianwala Bagh.

jalianwala bagh

As we all know from our history books, on 13th April 1919 (which was also the festival of Baisakhi), people gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh to peacefully protest the arrest of two leaders. The bagh is an enclosed garden space, where many thousands of Sikh men women and children had gathered. General Dyer entered and blocked the only entrance and without any warning order firing on the unarmed crowd.


At the final count close to 1000 people died and an equal number were injured in the ensuing stampede and by bullets. About 120 bodies were pulled out of the well.

What adds to the depth of the tragedy is also that all those soldiers who fired upon the crowd were Indians themselves.

Indian soldiers have taken orders from the British not just here but also in both the world wars. In 1939 the British Indian Army took in volunteers and by 1945 was the largest all-volunteer force in history, rising to over 2.5 million men.

India contributed the 3rd largest Allied contingent in the Italian campaign after US and British forces. Indian forces played a role in liberating Italy from Nazi control.

We don’t even hear about them!

Shashi Tharoor says in this article

It was Indian jawans (junior soldiers) who stopped the German advance at Ypres in the autumn of 1914, soon after the war broke out, while the British were still recruiting and training their own forces. More than 1,000 of them died at Gallipoli, thanks to Churchill’s folly. Nearly 700,000 Indian sepoys (infantry privates) fought in Mesopotamia against the Ottoman Empire…….Rabindranath Tagore, was somewhat more sardonic about nationalism. “We, the famished, ragged ragamuffins of the East are to win freedom for all humanity!” he wrote during the war. “

The territories being fought for were as far flung as Abyssinia on the African front and so many of them died, so far from home and with no means of communication.

The India Gate was built in Delhi as a memorial and has the names of these soldiers carved on all its bricks.


But the most famous epitaph of them all is inscribed at the Kohima War Cemetery in North-East India. It reads,



We used to believe that something becomes a Museum exhibit once it is no longer a functional entity.

Sadly it does not seem like there will be a Museum of War any time soon….


2 thoughts on “The Museum of Partition

  1. Pingback: The Golden Temple | that which i am

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