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0126 Partition Seminars_The Harvard South Asia Institute is pleased to announce a weekly seminar series focusing on the Partition of British India every Wednesday evening through February and March. The series, part of the SAI research project ‘Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India – Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies’ will explore issues that have often been ignored in the context of the Partition as well as discuss their relevance and impact today, both in South Asia and in other parts of the world. Through two-hour seminars spread over eight sessions, faculty, students, and community members will be brought together to explore the various facets of this complex historic event.

SAI will produce a podcast series based on the seminars, in which distinguished faculty and visiting scholars explore the history, context and continuing impact of the Partition.

All seminars will be from 5:00 – 7:00PM in CGIS S050, 1730 Cambridge street, Cambridge, MA. Add to your calendar. *Locations subject to change, please check our site for updates.*

The seminars are free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Seminar resources.

Letter by SAI Director Tarun Khanna: “We are embarking on a major research project to understand the history, context and continuing impact of Partition”

Join the conversation: #SAIPartition.


Feb. 1 | History and Context of the Partition

Sunil Amrith, Mehra Family Professor of South Asian Studies, Professor of History, Harvard University

Professor Amrith will give a broad overview of South Asian political history and a history of British colonial rule in South Asia, the place of South Asia within the empire, and specifically governance policies and systemic factors that contributed to the Partition. The seminar will cover seminal events such as the 1857 Rebellion, development of canal colonies in Punjab, and the 1905 Partition of Bengal. The seminar will contribute to understanding the independence movement and politics both internal and external (World War II, Quit India Movement, 1946 Riots) that culminated in the independence and creation of India and a bifurcated Pakistan.

Feb. 1 | Focus Group Discussion (following seminar)

Feb. 8 | Historical and Humanitarian Consequences of Migration

Jennifer Leaning, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Director, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights

The seminar will explore the story of the mass migration of Hindus/Sikhs and Muslims from Pakistan and India respectively into the other country and the resulting humanitarian crisis. Professor Leaning will analyze the Boundary Commission’s work, the patterns of migration, and unprecedented sectarian violence, including massacres, physical violence, and destruction of property; considerations of ethics and mechanics of care provided as part of immediate relief. Special attention will be focused on the role played by the main players during and after partition, including the key political parties, and individuals.

Feb. 15 | Gender and the Partition

Catherine WarnerCollege Fellow in South Asian Studies and History, Harvard University

When Partition is viewed from the lens of gender history, what happens? Is this the same history with women’s voices added and silences interpreted, or does it offer alternate scales and geographies? To what extent did Partition shape the gendering of citizenship in South Asia? This seminar will examine how narratives of gendered violence have been collected, read, and interpreted in Partition historiography. Seminar participants will have the opportunity to survey the state of the field and consider possibilities for future research on citizenship, gender, coercion and mobility in post-colonial South Asia.

Feb. 15 | Focus Group Discussion (following seminar)

Feb. 22 | Religion, Ethics, and Nascent Nationalism and the Partition

Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, Harvard University

Given that Partition is widely considered to have resulted due to religious differences, it is critical to explore the interplay between religion and nationalism in pre-Partition rhetoric, in the post-Partition riots, and in the actual migration process. It is interesting, also, to explore, the historical root of the idea of a separate Muslim homeland, as well as histories of multi-faith society in India.

Mar. 1 | The Short and Long Run Impacts of the Partition / Crowd Sourcing

5:00 – 6:00 PM: The Short and Long Run Impacts of the Partition
Prashant Bharadwaj, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of California, San Diego

This paper examines how areas affected by the partition fare in the long run. Using migrant presence as a proxy for the intensity of the impact of the partition, and district level data on agricultural output between 1911-2009, we find that areas that received more migrants have higher average yields, are more likely to take up high yielding varieties (HYV) of seeds, and are more likely to use agricultural technologies. These correlations are more pronounced after the Green Revolution in India. Using pre-partition data, we show that migrant placement is uncorrelated with soil conditions, agricultural infrastructure, and agricultural yields prior to 1947; hence, the effects are not solely explained by selective migration into districts with a higher potential for agricultural development. Migrants moving to India were more educated than both the natives who stayed and the migrants who moved out. Given the positive association of education with the adoption of high yielding varieties of seeds we highlight the presence of educated migrants during the timing of the Green Revolution as a potential pathway for the observed effects.

6:00 – 7:00 PM: Crowd Sourcing
Karim Lakhani, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
This part of the project is focusing on oral accounts of the Partition. They are attempting 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. The aim is to preserve the rightful spot of these stories in history and give a voice to the realities experienced in the data and surrounding research. The project will enrich the descriptive picture of the event and extend the implications of these stories to understand consequences today.


The Radcliffe Boundary Commission: Cartography and Conflict in the Partition of India and Pakistan

Lucy ChesterAssociate Professor, University of Colorado Boulder

Over a period of six weeks in the summer of 1947, Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who had never been to India and had no experience in boundary-making, drew a 2500-mile-long line that would divide India and Pakistan. This talk will examine the pseudo-judicial framework and deeply politicized nature of the Radcliffe Boundary Commission’s work. I aim to clarify the geographical thinking of the main political parties involved in this commission, the reasoning behind Radcliffe’s deliberations, and the boundary’s role in partition violence.

Mar. 15 | No seminar (Spring Break)

Mar. 22 | 1971 Partition

Martha Chen, Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, Affiliated Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and International Coordinator of the global research-policy-action network Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)

Chen will be speaking from a personal perspective, as a long-term resident of India and Pakistan who witnessed two partitions: 1947 and 1971. For the 1947 Partition of India, Chen plans to feature excerpts from her grandmother’s letters written that year from Rawalpindi to family in the USA, and also her own few memories of that time as a 3-year-old. For the 1971 Partition of Pakistan, Chen will recall a series of events she witnessed:  the cyclone and tidal wave of November 1970, the elections of December 1970, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s historic speech in March 1971, the military crackdown that led to civil war later that month, and Sheikh Mujib’s release from Pakistani custody and return to Dhaka in January 1972.

Mar. 29 | 70 Years Later

Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School; Director, Harvard South Asia Institute

This last seminar will be structured around a discussion on the current impact of Partition and the new/continuing research and work that is being done on this topic.