Kindred spirits!


A young filmmaker has launched a project to document memories of Pakistanis, who witnessed trials and tribulations of the Partition of India in 1947.

Islamabad: A young filmmaker has launched a project to document memories of Pakistanis, who witnessed trials and tribulations of the Partition of India in 1947.

The Oral History Project by Pakistan’s non-resident filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is trying to preserve stories of ordinary Pakistanis, who lived through the pain of Partition.

Chinoy’s Citizens Archive of Pakistan has hired summer interns to meet the older generations and preserve their stories for posterity.

The interns will collect photographs, visuals and other material about the Partition.

“If you know of a friend, family member or someone in your community, who travelled from India to Pakistan in 1947, please send us their name and information,” reads a post on Citizens Archive of Pakistan’s website.

“By conducting and collecting oral histories and photographs their stories are recorded, preserved and made accessible for generations of Pakistanis to come. As with all historical records, oral histories provide important information on incidents from the past,” a note on the website reads.

Twenty-two students from Karachi’s elite schools — Indus Valley School of Art, The Lyceum and Karachi Grammar School — have been hired by the Citizens Archive of Pakistan to collect and record the memories.

The interns will interview and photograph citizens who crossed the border.

“It is very important to find people, who have lived through the Partition and record their version of history. Pakistan is more than 60 years old, so these individuals should be older; if they die a part of history will die with them,” Chinoy told the Daily Times.

This seems to be a moment in which many of us are thinking about the importance of oral history. I read this report with interest, sympathy and a certain growing sense of urgency.

Here, at PSW, as we work towards setting up the Prajnya Women in Politics and Policy Resource Centre, we know the importance of acting right away.

Women’s political mobilization in this region was jumpstarted by the anti-colonial and social movements of the mid-twentieth century. Women were foot-soldiers and leaders, but still mostly nameless, faceless and story-less. All of us know someone or the other who was in the freedom movement, and is now growing old. At PSW, the desperate desire to document their lives, their work, their stories before it is too late, motivates our decision to focus our first project on this generation of women.

Our team is growing steadily, and the fact that it is entirely a voluntary team shows a commitment that vindicates our vision. However, I read this article with anxiety because time is running out on us and while our Resource Centre can easily become a bricks-and-mortar reality next year or the year after rather than this year… with every passing day we run the risk of losing an important story forever.

We can scale back on overheads and publicity but we really need resources to get going with our oral history project, and we need them now. PSW’s volunteer team needs to be able to devote all its time to this project rather than what is leftover from full-time jobs elsewhere. We need cameras and tape-recorders. We need to be able to accelerate the process of getting background research done, to train people to do good interviews and to train people we can send out into the field.

I know exactly what Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy means when she says parts of our history will be lost if we don’t make the time to document this generation’s experiences and memories. There is a sense in which it doesn’t matter; after all, this is not a subcontinent with perfect historical records and still we thrive. In that sense, however, nothing matters. The IPL teams do not have to have designer sportswear; good cricket should be enough. There is no need to get stronger and stronger painkillers; if they work sooner or later, that’s good enough. Unilateral, arbitrary systems of justice are fine because that is how it has been through most of history. And histories that fail to notice the work of half of humanity are also acceptable, whether that half is defined by ethnicity, caste or gender.

But it isn’t acceptable. Not to us. And it shouldn’t be acceptable to you either, whether you are male or female. A strong society needs strong men AND strong women, and a strong democracy needs all its citizens to be engaged and pro-active. Our children learn to be this way by learning about those who have gone before; and our daughters need role models as much as our sons do.

Indian women poured into rallies and protests, courted arrest, sold their jewellery, fought with their families and gave up fine clothes and home comforts so that you and I could live in this India, where we can buy cars that ferry us to fancy stores to buy traditional or modern or avant-garde diamond jewellery and designer clothes. They bought our freedom to hold all kinds of political opinions with their youth and gave all their energy to setting up institutions which could help the disenfranchised and helpless. Chennai alone is home to several of these. They spoke out, whether or not they had been schooled. They gave, no matter how little they had. To those of us, who grew up in the homes of such women, India, freedom and the spirit of public service are our most precious inheritance; they made sure we grew up with that passion.

I want to stop short of making this a straight appeal for donations in cash and kind, but really that is our need now. We need to start paying salaries and ones that people can live on. We need to use some equipment to start recording and researching and we will definitely need money to pay the recording crew.

Some day, we will be like other think-tanks, no doubt, and get big money from the big grant-makers. But for now, we need to hear from others like us, who care about such matters. People who share our views and our spirit. Women professionals whose careers are possible because of the pioneers who ignored glass ceilings. Businesses whose profits come from the careful spending and the impulse purchases of women. As for anyone who has ever said that Indians respect women, in the spirit of Eliza Doolitle, I say, “Show… me… now!”

If you want to get involved, email us: Take ownership of the way your history is recorded. Support the Prajnya Women in Politics and Policy Resource Centre.

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