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“There is nothing as epochal as the cataclysmic event that was visited upon the people of South Asia when decolonization occurred and the British withdrew during the dismantling of the British empire. That forced event — that trauma — continues to shape the lives of two billion of the world’s seven billion people today,” says Professor Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School and Director of the Mittal Institute. Despite the abundant historical and political scholarship on the Partition of British India in 1947, there are still gaps in our understanding of the event — and the Mittal Institute’s research team set out to change that.

In a unique study, the team on the Crowdsourcing Long-Run Memories of Involuntary Migratory Displacement: the 1947 Partition of British India project (comprised of Tarun Khanna, Karim Lakhani, Shubhangi Bhadada, Michael Menietti, and Ruihan Wang) trained volunteers to interview survivors of the Partition who live in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan in what they call the “Ambassador Model.” Using a questionnaire, the Ambassadors interviewed survivors in their native language. “We were successfully able to gather and analyze 2,396 narratives from a diverse group of Partition survivors,” says Shubhangi Bhadada, Interfaculty Fellow at the Mittal Institute.

From the data collected, the team is working to quantitatively analyze the crowdsourced qualitative memories of survivors who experienced the trauma of Partition almost 75 years ago. “We now have the cataclysm of the Syrian refugee crisis, with Syrians coming out of war-torn countries across the Middle East and into southern Europe. We have the Rohingya crisis, [with] people leaving Myanmar (Burma) and going into Bangladesh, and we are likely to have tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of forced involuntary migrants due to climate change. So, it really behooves us to understand this,” says Professor Khanna. There is still much to learn from the Partition about the complexities of large-scale human migration and resettlements, and the Oral Narratives project is one step toward attaining this knowledge.

According to Bhadada, the Ambassador Model allowed the team to collect narratives from many groups that have often been underrepresented in past studies of the Partition, with portions of the sample made up of the following groups:

  • 32% women
  • 22% religious minorities (ex. Muslims in India, Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan)
  • 19% poor or lower middle class prior to Partition

Once the team began delving into the narratives of the interviewees, they found a number of fascinating statistics. Of the interviewees surveyed, it was discovered that:

  • 74% moved across the newly established borders of India and Pakistan following the Partition
  • 49% either experienced violence or faced a threat of violence during the Partition
  • Women were 8% more likely to experience violence than men
  • Those who migrated and stayed in refugee camps were 13% more likely to experience violence and threats than those who did not
  • Minority groups were 11% more likely to experience violence and threats than majority groups.

To learn more about the team’s findings, watch the video above, featuring Professor Tarun Khanna and Mittal Institute Interfaculty Fellow Shubhangi Bhadada.