“On 28th April 2018, I Interviewed Mr. Milkha Singh (Flying Sikh), one of the finest athletes India has ever produced” beamed a very excited Akshay Veer, a Partition ambassador at the Mittal Institute, Harvard University. Akshay was part of a 55 student cohort that worked on a project titled, ‘Looking Back, Informing the Future – The 1947 Partition British India: Implications of Mass Dislocations across Geographies.’ As part of this project, student ambassadors collected and documented oral stories from survivors of the Partition.
“He was born in a district called Muzaffargarh, now in Pakistan, in the year 1927. He did not know his exact date or time of birth, as there was hardly any documentation at that time, but estimates that he was around 16 or 17 years old when the Partition happened. He studied up until the fourth standard in a mosque near his village. Although the majority of people in his village were Muslim, there was no feeling of insecurity or being threatened. Everyone lived peacefully together” Akshay recalls from his conversation with the stalwart athlete. “Mr. Singh remembered life before Partition and described it as slow compared to city life today. The people in the village focused on farming and livelihoods and were very simple. When the Partition happened, they had no information and found out from villagers who were talking about fleeing their villages. Nobody was aware that Pakistan was formed. There was also news of trains running between India and Pakistan with many people being slaughtered on their way from one place to another. Mr. Singh’s family too was killed back in Pakistan, while he managed to somehow make his way to a refugee camp in Delhi, and started life again from scratch.”
Akshay was one of the many student ambassadors who worked on the Partition project that has, over the last year, collected almost 2,000 oral stories from survivors and families affected by Partition across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The project hopes to learn about the complexities of large-scale human migration and resettlement, and use these lessons to inform current cross border displacements.