More about the project

Why is Partition memory important in the UK?

‘Partition’ refers to the division of the Indian subcontinent and independence from British colonial rule in 1947. This was a protracted period of communal rupture and genocidal violence. Across northern India community relations were fractured by the process of Partition, with estimates of the lives claimed in communal massacres ranging from 200,000 to 2 million and the numbers of displaced around 15 million (Talbot and Singh, 2009: 2). As a former colonial power suffering post-war labour shortages the UK was accessible to migrants fleeing violence and hardship (Herbert 2012).

Exploring cultural memories of Partition in contemporary social life is challenging. At times these memories are visibly and sometimes explosively mobilised in community conflicts and at others they are painful, elusive and intimate.

This project will explore the memories of Partition in the everyday lives of British Asians as no sustained attention has been paid to the cultural memories which shape British Asian experience. This means we have little sense of how Partition informs the everyday experience of South Asian migrants to the UK and shapes British Asian communities across the generations.

Why use memory to investigate community identities and relations?

Memory Studies research has made it commonplace for memories of shared pasts to be understood as important constituents of community identities. Memories of our experiences are shared and communicated as well as individually held. To understand how particular communities operate it is essential to understand their particular collective memories and how these are communicated. This is particularly the case for memories of communal suffering like those of Partition.

Partition provides a lens through which to address questions about senses of belonging, practices of inclusion and exclusion, and the ways boundaries between public and private life are imagined and experienced.

Why explore migrant memory?

This study is not simply a history of Partition from a British Asian perspective, it considers how Partition memory is constructed, communicated and used in the present production of collective identities and communities.

Remembering is the process by which we make stories from our experience: how we explain cause and effect; how we justify actions; how we explain what we experience in the present and expect from the future; how we identify where we belong and with whom we have things in common. We use these processes to build social relationships and form communities.

There has been some recent use of a mnemonic approach to Partition, (Kaul 2002; Sharma 2009), but these studies focus on South Asia. Exploring British Asian memories of Partition provides a gateway into how these processes are performed between cultures: between languages, religions, civic systems and national borders.  These cultural positions filter the experience of Partition, how it is remembered, and are continually reconfigured under changing social, political and economic conditions.

Memories of Partition in Tower Hamlets

  • Memories of Partition in focus:
    • Exploring women’s memories of Partition
    • Memories of Partition online

Memories of Partition in Loughborough

  • Memories of Partition in focus:
    • Remembering Partition across generations
    • Representations of Partition in the British media