Over and over again, those were the words I’ve heard to describe Partition. They say the words with pity or fear, trying to distance themselves from what happened. Some refuse to talk about the violence against women that occurred; others refuse to believe that there was serious sexual violence. One interviewee, a former volunteer at a women’s camp, did talk about what she bore witness to. Sometimes stumbling, sometimes flowing, the description of the horrific injuries on the women, anywhere from 10 to 70 years old, comes forth.
I had to keep myself from crying out loud in the quiet library space when listening to her testimony. Looking around, I found it hard to believe that no one else in the room had heard what I just had. For me, Partition was there before me: the forced migrations, the rapes, the sprawling refugee camps, the trains full of dead bodies, and, most hauntingly, the inability to speak and thereby heal.
This research has been rough, and personal. Some days it makes me more fearful of what humanity is capable of. On others, I listen to the stories of rejoined families, cross-religious ties, neighbors saving neighbors, and I am reassured. I’m not sure what I believe about human nature, nor do I feel the need to have a concrete belief. That’s part of the beauty - and fear - of waking up to a new morning, of seeing light or dark in the world day to day.
I do believe that these people’s ability to wake up to that each day, seeing what they had seen, living through what they did, is human. Telling their stories - maybe even for the first time - is remarkable. I’m honored to have the opportunity to listen, learn, and hopefully retell their stories in some small way.
“Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.” - Salman Rushdie
Thank you to the interviewees, Andrew Whitehead for working so hard to compile (and carefully preserve) all of the interviews, the wonderful SOAS librarians, my family for all their support and love, Joe for pushing me to even apply for research grants in the first place, the grant committees for having faith.
And to my professor, and my advisors, who somehow always hear what I’m trying to say (even when it involves connecting oral history, civil wars, peacebuilding, and statistics) and have given me the freedom to explore.