• Pritika Chowdhry

Partition Memorial Art Project

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

Partition Memorial Project memorializes the partitions of 1947 and 1971.

The Partition of India, 1947

The Partition of colonial India in 1947 that dislocated close to 20 million Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, and resulted in the formation of India and Pakistan. The Partition was particularly violent and brutal. The communal riots that ensued between Hindus and Muslims in the wake of the Partition, left over 2 million dead. But that’s not all.

Over 300,000 women were abducted and raped during the partition riots, on both sides of the newly created border.

Bangladesh War of Liberation, 1971

In 1947, when India was partitioned, Pakistan was created as East and West Pakistan. The two wings of Pakistan were separated by over 2000 kilometers. To make maters worse, the two regions were culturally very distinct from each other. The governance of both regions from East Pakistan created a lot of infrastructural as well as cultural conflicts between East and West Pakistan.

Some four decades later, the people from East Pakistan started demanding sovereign status. This resulted in basically, a second Partition, this time of Pakistan, resulting in the creation of Bangladesh. This resulted in a very bloody war in 1971 called the Bangladesh War of Liberation. This military conflict was marked by extreme brutality.

As a result of the 1971 war, over 10 million refugees were forced into migrating to India, and over 20 million were displaced internally.

The Pakistani army systematically used rape as a weapon of war. About 200,000-400,000 women were raped during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.

Monuments and their Failures

For decades, there was not a monument for the Partition in India or Pakistan. Construction work on a Partition memorial was initiated in Lahore, Pakistan in the early 2000s. I visited it in 2011, and found the construction site abandoned, the half-constructed building falling into ruin.

In 2017, private citizens in Punjab, India came together to finally build a monument to the Partition of 1947. The Partition Museum Project www.partitionmuseum.org was established seventy years after the Partition. The museum has positioned itself as a “people’s museum” and focuses on objects, photographs, and oral histories of survivors of the Partition.

Surprisingly, Bangladesh has been much further ahead in memorializing the Liberation War of 1971. When I visited there in 2013, I was able to visit the Martyred Intellectual Memorial, the Liberation War Museum and another museum that was built on top of a mass grave.

However, the women are still missing from these museums and memorials. Perhaps it is because the memorials and museums are state actors invested in the nationalist project of nation-building. But once again, the women have been rendered invisible. While I understand the cultural weight of these memories of abduction and rape, I am saddened to see this elision 70 years on in India, and 50 years on in Bangladesh.

How do you memorialize unbearable memories?

I founded the Partition Memorial Project in 2007, on the 60th anniversary of the Partition. At that time I was an MFA graduate student in University of Wisconsin – Madison. It is an anti-memorial that exists online at www.partitionmemorialproject.org and physically whenever there is an opportunity to exhibit one of the projects.

The six main projects in the Partition Memorial Project are –

Read more about What the Body Remembers anti-memorial and the counter-memory of women it seeks to reveal.