This project aims at the establishment of a Partition Museum in Kolkata. The project - which ties in with the major thrust areas of IIAS, ‘Asian Heritages’ and ‘Asian Cities’ - is still at a nascent stage; and my current Fellowship at IIAS is intended primarily as a networking platform to further my goal.
I am a Partition scholar who has had a long engagement with the subject and published widely in the field. My doctoral thesis explored the evolution of the trope of Partition in literature written in English from the mid-1950s to the late-1980s; while my postdoctoral project was a comparative study of English and (West-) Bengali partition fiction, with particular attention to the politics of nation-building on the Bengal border. I am currently interested in the rich possibilities of memorializing Partition in the subcontinent; hence KPMP.
The rationale and vision behind the idea of the museum:
My original inspiration for the museum dates back to 2007, when I had first visited Berlin. I was very impressed by the way Germany had memorialized the Holocaust, and wondered why there was no such comparable public memorialisation of the partition in India. Partition has spawned an entire academic industry comparable to that of the Holocaust, but unfortunately, it has never been accorded a space in the public culture of India. It is, however, important to remember the Partition in an objective way: an objective knowledge of why it happened and its far-reaching consequences in postcolonial South Asia is imperative for a healthy and nuanced understanding of our present realties and our relationship with our neighbours. I believe that a museum would be extremely helpful in this regard.
I however do not envisage a conventional museum. While most of the countries which have experienced partition – like Ireland, Korea, Yugoslavia - have national museums, I feel inspired by the latest and most unique experiment in museology: the Palestine Museum in Birzeit, near Jerusalem (http://www.palmuseum.org/about/the-museum-). What fascinates me about the evolution of this museum is the shift in its focus from memorializing the past to providing a mobilizing cultural institution for Palestinians. I would like the Kolkata museum to do both.
It is important to point out here that there is a resonance about the idea in India. The possibility of a partition museum was first initiated in Delhi in 2015 by ‘The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust’(TAACHT), through an event at the India International Centre. The Trust gathered substantial support over the next year (including academic resource from the London School of Economics), and in October 2016, a Partition Museum was opened in Amritsar (http://www.partitionmuseum.org/about-us/).
While this is a laudable initiative, a museum in West Bengal, especially in Kolkata, will have a great significance – not the least because Bengal’s experience of Partition was significantly different from that of the Punjab. And it continues to affect life especially along the borderland to this day. ‘The recent transfers of enclaves (chitmahals) between West Bengal and Bangladesh is a case in point: it shows an empirical continuation of Partition well into 2015. The projected Kolkata Museum will not be exclusively about Bengal and will try to focus on aspects that invariably get neglected at the national level. Many scholarly works have tried to redress this imbalance for some time; the museum would continue that effort in a different dimension, while at the same time being much broader in its cultural scope.
It is useful to remember here that a museum on Partition is also the logical next step in ‘Partition Studies’. As is well known, the Partition of India has inspired two generations of outstanding historical scholarship, with interesting new turns in historiography in the last three decades: the focus of attention shifting from causes to experiences, and from national to regional histories of Partition; exploring experiences of women and Dalits; bringing in de-colonization and migration into the discussion, and the digital archiving of oral histories in the last decade (http://www.1947partitionarchive.org/; http://www.banglastories.org/). Significant research has also been done on the literature and cinema of Partition. The time is thus already ripe for another new direction - Partition museums - a space where history, literature, the visual arts and digital media could all come together.
My initial plan:
-Identify and secure a preliminary ‘Exhi-ition Space’ (for the future Partition Museum) within an existing museum or heritage building in Kolkata.
- Use the space (once it is available) to host Exhibitions - of photographs, paintings, textiles, objects relating to the lived experience of Partition (for example, everyday objects that were carried by refugees when they left their homes in the wake of partition, and remained with them as mementos), etc.
- Institute an Annual Lecture - to be given by an expert, to give weight to the museum project.
- Create an exclusive website for the Kolkata Partition Museum - to help spread more public awareness about the museum through the internet and social media, and to help facilitate a counterpart online presence for the museum.
In the long run:
If the museum becomes a reality in Kolkata, and sufficient space be available for this purpose, then some of the following ideas about the museum and its activities may be concretized later –
- house a Partition Public Library (that will not only house books and audio-visual media, but also preserve extant archival material from the state archives, newspaper offices and All India Radio);
- institute an Annual Award (to felicitate any individual/organization, contributing towards India’s dialogue with Pakistan or Bangladesh);
- organize a Monthly Storytelling Evening (where willing citizens can come and share family stories about East Bengal); and
- inaugurate a ‘Partition Walk’ in the city (like ‘tour-guide’ walks, emphasizing the city’s organic link with partition and its aftermath).
Work so far:
a) Exhibition Space:
Earlier this year, I had succeeded in identifying and securing a preliminary ‘Exhibition Space’ (for the future Partition Museum) within an existing museum in North Kolkata. But unfortunately, it fell through. There are a number of other possibilities which I am exploring now.
b) Hunt for Sponsors:
While there are some individuals who have generously offered to contribute to the project, I’m looking for a major sponsor to make my dream a reality.
c) International Conference in Kolkata - 17&18 August, 2017:
I recently co-organized and co-convened an International Conference in Kolkata in August 2017 to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of India’s Partition. The Conference focussed on the Partition experience of Bengal. It was sponsored by The New Zealand India Research Institute (NZIRI) and The Ministry of Culture, Government of India; and was hosted by the Indian Museum (IM) and Victoria Memorial Hall (VHM). My co-convenors were Prof. Sekhar Bandyopadhyay (Head of School, School of History, Philosophy, Political Science & International Relations, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ; &Director, NZIRI); and Dr. Jayanta Sengupta (then Director, IM & Chief Curator, VHM).
I formally broached the idea of the Kolkata Partition Museum in a Roundtable at the end of the Conference, and received very constructive suggestions about feasible ways of making it a reality. I had intended the Conference as a first step on the road to the museum - in terms of broaching the idea to a relevant audience and getting their feedback. In that, it has been a success. It not only generated a lot of discussion among many scholars in the field and some museum professionals, but was also given media coverage in two local vernacular newspapers and in All India Radio (AIR).
Several academics and museum professionals have evinced an interest and/or pledged their support for this museum project. I’ll be in a position to announce their names and the nature of their involvement once my plans are more concretized and the website is in place.
e) Visiting partitioned countries to study their museums:
This is a parallel project that I want to pursue to have a global perspective on the issue; to try and understand the specific memorialisation practices involved in the making of such museums; and to get inspired with new ideas about the museum that I want to build.
In this regard, it is pertinent to state that I already did a personally sponsored research trip to Berlin in early August 2016, and an article on my findings was published in The Wire.in - ‘Holocaust Memorials in Berlin: When Concrete Articulates the Unspeakable’, http://thewire.in/59184/holocaust-partition-berlin-memorials/.
I would like to continue doing similar exercises with other partitioned nations. The ones I would like to visit are: Yugoslavia (Museum of Yugoslav History, National Museum of Serbia);Ireland (National Museum of Ireland); Israel (Yad Vashem, The Palestine Museum); and Korea (National Museum of Korea). I am hoping that in the near future, I will be able to find a sponsor for these field-trips.
Rituparna Roy hails from Kolkata, where she studied (Presidency College & Calcutta University) and taught (Basanti Devi College) English Literature before moving to the Netherlands in 2007. She lived for a decade in Amsterdam, and taught at Leiden University College (LUC) The Hague& the Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS). She is the author of South Asian Partition Fiction in English: From Khushwant Singh to Amitav Ghosh (AUP: 2010) & co-editor of the ICAS volume, Writing India Anew: Indian English Fiction 2000-2010 (AUP: 2013) – both published during her time as a postdoctoral fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden. She writes an occasional column on India for the IIAS Newsletter, and blogs about Indian cinema and her life in the Netherlands at http://www.royrituparna.com. Several of her articles and interviews of writers have appeared in The Wire.in, Scroll.in, The Punch Magazine, and Our FrontCover. Her fiction has been published online by Lebowski Publishers, The Punch Magazine& Jaggery: A DesiLit Arts and Literature Journal.
(2013), Writing India Anew: Indian English Fiction 2000-2010. Ed. Krishna Sen & Rituparna Roy. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, AUP/ICAS Series. http://iias.nl/books/writing-india-anew-indian-english-fiction-2000-2010
(2010), South Asian Partition Fiction in English: From Khushwant Singh to Amitav Ghosh. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, AUP/IIAS Series. http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/W/bo16867828.html
(2013), “Postcolonial Cities across Borders: Calcutta and Dhaka in Sunil Ganguli’s Purba-Paschim”. Special issue (Postcolonial Cities, South Asia) of Moving Worlds:A Journal of Transcultural Writings 13:2 (2013): 138-150. http://movingworlds.net/volumes/13/postcolonial-cities-south-asia/
(2010/2014), “Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara: Immortalizing the refugee woman on celluloid”. http://www.royrituparna.com/ghataks-meghe-dhaka-tara-immortalizing-the-refugee-woman-on-celluloid/
(Occasional) Column on Indian Culture in the Newsletter:
(2015),“Of Spices and Botany, Sanskrit and Bollywood: Four Centuries of Indo-Dutch Connection”. The Newsletter 71, 12-13.
(2014), “Satyamev Jayate: A Quiet Indian Revolution”. The Newsletter 68, 14. http://www.iias.nl/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL68_14.pdf
(2013), “Rabindrasangit: Uncovering a Bengali Secret”. The Newsletter 65, 10-11. http://www.iias.nl/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL65_1011.pdf
(2012), “India’s Republic Day: Language and the Nation”. The Newsletter 62, 11. http://www.iias.nl/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL62_11.pdf
(2009), “Children’s Day in India”. The Newsletter 52, 40.
Other Newsletter articles:
(2009), “The Hungry Tide: Bengali-Hindu Refugees in the Subcontinent”. Feature-Article. The Newsletter 51 (IIAS, Leiden), 8-9. https://iias.asia/the-newsletter/article/hungry-tide-bengali-hindu-refugees-subcontinent
(2008),“In Conversation with Kunal Basu”. Interview. The Newsletter 49 (IIAS, Leiden), 16. https://iias.asia/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL49_16.pdf
(2008), “Enchanting Tales of Jodha-Akbar”. Review. The Newsletter 48 (IIAS, Leiden), 34-35. https://iias.asia/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL48_3435.pdf
- Partition Studies
Country of origin
Period of stay at IIAS
Kolkata Partition Museum Project (KPMP)