My Fam­ily, Par­ti­tion and Me: In­dia 1947

Anita Rani on trac­ing her fam­ily’s har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing the bloody and tragic Par­ti­tion of In­dia

TV Times - - Contents - Caren Clark

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

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