My Family, Partition and Me: India 1947
Anita Rani on tracing her family’s harrowing experiences during the bloody and tragic Partition of India
WED / BBC1 Countryfile’s Anita Rani travels to Pakistan to learn about the impact the Partition of India had on her grandfather and three other British families in 1947.
Appearing in Who Do You Think You Are? can be emotional, but when Anita Rani took part in 2015, it was even more profound. ‘It was moving and lifechanging,’ says the Countryfile host.
The episode examined the 1947 Partition of India after independence from Britain, which split the country along religious lines. Muslims were given homelands in newly created West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), but the rest of India was left largely for Hindus and Sikhs.
The division caused widespread religious tension and violence. And Anita learned that Pritam, her Sikh maternal grandfather Sant Singh’s first wife, perished along with two of their children and Sant’s father during conflict with Muslims when their Punjabi village became part of West Pakistan after Partition.
The story has haunted Anita ever since and now, to mark the 70th anniversary, in My Family, Partition and Me, she and her mum, Lakhbir, become the first members of the family to travel to Pakistan to learn more and investigate the devastating effects of Partition. Here, Anita tells us more…
How would you sum up the impact of Partition?
It’s one of the most catastrophic moments in history. It was the largest mass migration ever recorded because up to 15 million people were displaced and one million people died. The legacy is dark with so much bloodshed and secrecy that nobody has really talked about it – these are hidden stories for many families, including my own.
Why did you want to take part in this documentary?
After Who Do You Think You Are?
I got a great reaction, particularly from young British Asians, who had no idea that this had happened and so many people had been affected, which broke my heart and made me cross. It made me want to finish my journey and also tell the story of Partition through the eyes of British people because, while it happened over there, it has affected lots of people living in this country now.
It's rumoured your grandmother, Pritam, killed herself to avoid being kidnapped. Did you want to find out more about that?
Yes, because nobody talks about what happened to women during Partition and I want to shed light on it. I wanted to see where my grandfather lived with this other family before he married my nan. All I knew was that they died while he was thousands of miles away with the army, which is why he survived. I wanted to know how they died and I learned some horrifying things that I don’t want to give away.
What was it like to take your mum there?
It was remarkable. Nobody in my family had ever been to Pakistan or knew what my grandfather’s life was like. He didn’t talk about his past at all. It was almost like he had started from scratch again when he married my nan and had my mum and her siblings. So for her, it was overwhelming to be there and to meet people who had known him.
How do you think your grandfather would have felt about you making that journey? I think he’d have been very proud. I never met him because he died just before my mum got married but I’ve heard that he was an awesome, enlightened bloke. As well as sons, he had four daughters and he wanted them to be educated. The idea that my grandfather was a feminist was amazing and my mum has brought me up in that same very liberal, feminist way so that I would stand on my own two feet and ask questions.
You also look at the point of view of three other British families from Hindu, Muslim and British colonial backgrounds. How important was it for you to show every side of the conflict? Hugely. The Brits were there for 200 years, so you could be second or third generation British and born in India and that was your home, too, even though it ended in such a horrendous way. We found some incredible stories about what happened. They were learning about history, but also about how someone they loved had a terrible experience and seeing them in a totally different light.
It’s really emotional.
What do you hope people will take away from this? It would be amazing if people could travel to India and Pakistan to trace their own stories. I hope families watch it together and discuss what happened. Maybe a young person will ask questions of granny or grandad and find their stories, because my story just reflects thousands of others.
NEW factual My Family, Partition and Me: India 1947 Wednesday / BBC1 / 9.00Pm
Refugees in Delhi during the Partition of India in 1947 anita’s grandfather, Sant, and (right) anita with her mother lakhbir