3. Generation respondents who had inherited memories from their grandparents on the Partition of Bengal gave vivid narratives as if they had experienced it themselves.
Memories – Continuous and Fragmented
The field recordings have given us strong material to work with. In some cases, we were surprised to hear vivid narratives from young respondents who had inherited them from their grandparents or parents. Their narration sounded as if they had lived through such experiences. In those interviews it seemed that there had been a continuum of family stories and they had been preserved well. In a few interviews, it seemed that the memories were fragmented and somewhat faded. They still create an interesting mosaic of narratives that had not been known or recorded ever.
By listening to the interviews and reading the transcripts one can clearly identify some patterns emerging and that is true for respondents in both West Bengal and Bangladesh. It is clear that the women respondents have more stories to tell and their narratives are more graphic with details. One could expect this. In South Asian societies, as girls and women spend more time at home with their grandmothers, mothers or other female members of the family, they tend to exchange more stories and become repositories of family history.
It also became apparent that the inherited memories of respondents in Bangladesh were stronger. One reason for this could be that most of the Muslims who left India for East Pakistan during the 1947 Partition of India did not leave with their entire families. Some members of the family were left behind or some family members chose not to migrate and remained in India. In such families there have been continuous meetings and visits of family members from India. These families also tend to visit the other sides of families. As a result, it is likely that they have been able to construct their own narratives along with the memories they have inherited from their previous generations.
On one issue, the third generation respondents from both sides agree, which is that Partition of Bengal is a historical event and they do not feel nostalgic about the other side as their parents and grandparents did or still do. They are ready to visit the other side and meet families in case they have not yet done so but they accept that their homes are where they live currently and express their loyalty to either India or Bangladesh.
They all agree on another issue too, that there should be easier border movements procedures from both sides. This, they think, will bring ordinary people and particularly the divided families the chance to visit each other more.
We also probed the traces of cultures either in the form of language, food habits or social and religious rituals that the migrant communities brought with them to the new countries they settled in. From the responses it was evident that even though the linguistic distinctions have somewhat faded, some rituals – either religious or social like wedding and other ceremonies – are still followed.
Other communities that were afflicted by the Partition of Bengal
A few fascinating narratives have been recorded with the non-Bengali Muslims in Bangladesh who are popularly known as Bihari Muslims. These Urdu or Hindi speaking Muslims came to East Pakistan in 1947 from Kolkata, Bihar or eastern Uttar Pradesh due to the proximity of the border. Many of them had been badly affected in the riots preceding the Partition of India before they were forced to migrate to East Pakistan. During the war of independence of Bangladesh in 1971, a section of this community sided with Pakistan and even took active part in atrocities against the Bengalis fighting for independence. When the war ended, the ‘Biharis’, as a community, faced reprisals from the locals. This made several hundred thousand of them homeless again and since then they have been living in various ‘refugee camps’ that had been set up for them by the Red Cross and other international relief organizations.
The most well-known of these camps is the so called “Geneva Camp”. While narrating their memories of 1947 Partition of Bengal, all of them invariably talked about their memories of 1971 that they have inherited from the parents. These testimonies are most fascinating as their personal testimonies talk about a community living with a refugee status since 1947 to date.
One of the successes of the project so far was the deep sense of involvement of the researchers who are all working as volunteers. Both groups, in Kolkata / West-Bengal / India and Dhaka / Bangaldesh, have developed into a small community and interacting with each other on a regular basis, discussing each other’s fieldwork and showing willingness to know more about the subject.