The Partition Trail

During the Partition project, Sampad examined the social, cultural and emotional consequences of one of the most harrowing events in modern history, the Partition of India in 1947, in its heritage project, The Partition Trail.

Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), The Partition Trail examined the complex legacy of the Partition and its lasting impact on communities in Birmingham and the West Midlands, particularly those of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent.

Sampad’s project captured personal memories from local people who were directly affected by the sweeping turmoil of the Partition, recording their first-hand experiences as well as uncovering stories that have been passed down through families. The 18 month initiative also incorporated talks, learning workshops, an exhibition in partnership with Birmingham Museums Trust and a public commemorative event.

On 15 August 1947, millions of people in the Indian subcontinent woke up to find that they had a new identity. They were no longer part of British India, instead they were either ‘Indian’ or ‘Pakistani’. This was a result of monumental political decisions that were taken, as the British Government scrambled to ease its retreat from India and the Empire, against a backdrop of escalating political and social tensions within the subcontinent.

The Partition triggered the largest mass migration in human history, forcing the traumatic displacement of more than 14 million people as vast numbers of people moved across the border between the two newly formed states. It provoked horrific violence and resulted in the loss of an estimated two million lives. Over the course of the decades that followed, prompted by a variety of factors, large swathes of people made the move from India and the newly created Pakistan, particularly from the divided state of Punjab, to settle in Birmingham and the West Midlands. Census records build a picture of the indirect influence of the Partition on patterns of migration and settlement in the region, which can still be recognised today.

Many of the themes within the project, such as the concept of changing national identity, invisible partitions in today’s society and the impact of migration on younger generations, remain globally topical today.

Urmala Jassal, Sampad’s Associate Director and project manager for The Partition Trail says:

“The Partition Trail will capture deeply-affecting accounts of one of the most significant moments in modern history. 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of India’s independence and local people who have first-hand memories of Partition are now in their seventies and older, so it’s increasingly vital to preserve their recollections to inform future generations. More widely, we hope that the real-life stories will also help people to develop a better understanding of the diverse, multi-ethnic communities of the West Midlands, while encouraging younger members of those communities to find out more about their cultural heritage”.

Vanessa Harbar, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, adds:

“South Asian migration to the West Midlands has played a significant role in shaping the culture and heritage of the region. We’re delighted that, thanks to National Lottery players, we can support Sampad Arts to explore and record this crucial part of the local community’s heritage, acknowledging its impact on the region and promoting better understanding in the wider community.

Oral Histories

Listen to The Partition Trail oral history clips and download transcripts.

Download the transcript for Sanyogita and listen to audio clip below.

Sanyogita Kumari transcript

Download the transcript for Bob and listen to audio clip below. 

Waheed Malik (aka Bob) oral history

Download the transcript for Ranjit and listen to audio clip below. 

Ranjit Sondhi transcript

Download the transcript for Mashood and listen to audio clip below. 

Mashood Jalil transcript

Download the transcript for Sunandan and listen to an audio clip below. 

Sunandan transcript

Download the transcript for Mohammed and listen to an audio clip below. 

Mohammed transcript

Exhibition: The People of Partition in Birmingham

Sampad’s free exhibition explored how different generations living in Birmingham understand the 1947 Partition of India today. It was curated by artist Tasawar Bashir in collaboration with 20 volunteers from the West Midlands who helped to co-curate and design the display.

Championing local stories and insights, the exhibition revealed how people cope under collective displacement, turmoil and changing identities. Through a series of workshops held at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery during the summer of 2017, the group developed artworks to reflect the complex raw emotions they felt towards this poignant topic, drawing inspiration from the personal stories of survivors and group research into the tragedy.

Many people moved from India and the newly-created Pakistan to settle in Birmingham and the West Midlands, greatly shaping the cultural landscape of the region. These changes to the local community, sometimes subtle and surprising, were explored through a variety of contemporary multimedia art pieces created by the team.

Images of the exhibition and launch event:

Please note the exibition has now closed. It was on display at Soho House Visitor Centre, open 11am-4pm, Wednesday to Thursday and the first Sunday of the month.

Peter Christian, a Sampad intern for the Partition Trail project, reviewed the People of Partition in Birmingham exhibition:

“The People of Partition in Birmingham exhibition, held at Soho House, is concerned not with the political motions or official histories that we find in textbooks but with the individual stories that reveal the human impact of partition. Upon entering, it is striking how unique the perspective of this exhibition is. Instead of describing historic events, it invites the viewer to answer questions about their own perception and experience of Partition. For someone without a familial connection to Partition, the exhibition sheds light on a period of British history which I was unfamiliar with (and not wholly proud of). I came away questioning the ethical choices of the British government at that time, and the accepted state-perceptions of history. The lack of discussion around the subject of Partition is understandable – many have not wanted to talk of their own experience, partly because of the traumatic nature of their experiences. However, the exhibition includes direct accounts of the mass migration triggered by Partition and the resulting challenges, positives and responses which occurred within Birmingham.

For me, the most impressive aspect of the exhibition is that it directs the viewer towards the various links which Partition created between Birmingham and areas of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. These links are represented through fabrics, data visualisation, audio accounts and poetry. The addition of interactive activities for children helps to address the lack of exposure which the topic receives in the mainstream school curriculum and engages a new generation in the lasting legacy of Partition”.

Partition Trail project evaluation film

The People of Partition in Birmingham exhibition leaflet:

Produced by Sampad in partnership with Birmingham Museums Trust. Supported by the National Lottery through Heritage Lottery Fund and by The Radcliffe Trust, Grimmitt Trust and Limoges Trust.

Commemorative event: Remembering Partition

Sampad hosted a public event on Thursday 9 November 2017 in Victoria Square, Birmingham City Centre, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India as an opportunity to reflect on the event.

Activities at Remembering Partition included a movement and dance performance produced by students from Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA), choreographed by international dance artist, Manuela Benini, with music composed by Archita Kumar. It included school groups who took part in the Partition Trail workshops with acclaimed Birmingham-based theatre company, Stan’s Cafe. The workshops allowed pupils to find out more about the Partition of India in 1947, to understand how and why it happened and to discuss and think about some of the themes around Partition that continue to be relevant in today’s world.

At the end of the event,  members of the public and school groups contributed to the creation of the specially commissioned rangoli designed by Swastika Chaudhuri. Originating from the Indian sub-continent, rangoli is a decorative art-form where patterns are created on the ground using materials such as coloured rice, dry flour, coloured sand or flower petals.

Learning Resources

Read and download our learning resources which can be used to introduce Partition to Key Stage 2 & 3 pupils.

Top image: Creative Commons, via pimu (Dr GN Kazi, Flickr), licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This project is supported by:

Heritage Fund logo