Looking back at Partition and beyond in Boston

Looking back at Partition and beyond in Boston
Installation image: Annu Palakunnathu Matthew
Dr Jennifer Leaning: A decade of research on Partition

Dr Jennifer Leaning: A decade of research on Partition

Two top universities in the Boston area are among the institutions worldwide commemorating India and Pakistan’s 70 years of freedom from colonial rule and the country’s partition with exhibitions, seminars and other activities.

At Harvard University, the South Asia Institute’s weekly seminar series every Wednesday, February 1 to March 29, 2017, aims to explore the various facets of this complex historic event. The series is part of the SAI research project ‘Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India – Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies’ aiming to explore issues that are often ignored in the context of the Partition.

The events are free and open to the public. Harvard SAI will also produce a series of podcasts based on these events to bring the research to a wider audience.

Meenakshi Chhabra

Meenakshi Chhabra

An ongoing exhibit and upcoming artist talk and seminar on March 22 at Lesley University, The Future of the Past: Voices of Partition and Lessons Learned, focus on personal narratives to contextualize the complex cultural histories, identity, and collective memory of Partition.

“Unlike other horrific events, such as the Holocaust, there is no memorial on either side of the border to remember the people affected by the Partition” says event organiser, Meenakshi Chhabra, a Peace and Conflict Studies scholar whose research focuses on education and youth development in conflict zones with an emphasis on South Asia.

The work of artist Annu Palakunnathu Matthew and of The 1947 Partition Archive, seeks to address that gap by giving voice to the turmoil experienced by those who were displaced by the Partition.


Installation image

Matthew’s photo-animation exhibit titled “Open Wound: Stories of Partition” is open to the public from March 6 – April 2, 2017 at Marran Gallery (34 Mellen Street, Cambridge). She will also give an Artist Talk on March 22, 6-8pm at Alumni Hall, Doble Campus to share her research interviewing survivors from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The evening will conclude with a reception to view her work.

RSVP and details of the Lesley University events are at this link.

The lens of Partition allows us “to study the formation (and regeneration, in India’s case) of the institutions that are necessary for the functioning of a country”, writes Harvard SAI Director Tarun Khanna. “Again, these are modern issues and it is as important for us to understand them today as it was 70 years ago”.

 Image from the exhibit

Image from the exhibit

A professor at Harvard Business School, Dr Khanna’s family migrated from the Punjab in what is now Pakistan.

The Harvard SAI research project on the history, context and continuing impact of Partition elsewhere is based on the work of Dr. Jennifer Leaning of the Harvard School of Public Health who has been focusing on Partition research for over a decade.

The first three lectures in the seminar series were by Harvard professors — historian Sunil Amrith on the History and Context of the Partition, Catherine Warner on Gender and the Partition and Islamic Studies scholar Ali Asani on Religion, Ethics, and Nascent Nationalism and the Partition.

Economist Prashant Bharadwaj from the University of California, San Diego spoke about the Short and Long Run Impacts of the Partition, followed by a “crowd sourcing” session conducted by Karim Lakhani of the Harvard Business School, focusing on oral accounts of Partition. This was part of a project to build a comprehensive database of oral histories through crowd-sourcing and the use of modern techniques to collect, analyze, and store information from an individual’s experience.

At the following seminar, Lucy Chester from University of Colorado Boulder spoke about he Radcliffe Boundary Commission: Cartography and Conflict in the Partition of India and Pakistan.

Exhibition image

Exhibition image

The next event coming up on Mar. 22 is about two partitions – 1947 and 1971, presented by Martha Chen, who teaches Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and is International Coordinator of the global research-policy-action network Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO).

Having grown up in India with her family, the Alters who have been there for three generations, Chen will speak from a personal perspective having witnessed both partitions, using excerpts from her grandmother’s letters as well as personal recollections.

Dr Khanna will conduct the last SAI seminar on Mar. 29 titled 70 Years Later, structured around a discussion on the current impact of Partition and the new/continuing research and work that is being done on this topic.


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