Postmemories and the Digital Afterlives of Partition


This is the second research note from Kalathmika Natarajan, one of the short-term social media research fellows at The Sarai Programme.

 

My research is concerned with the digital manifestations of histories of Partition that delve into the violence and complexities of the birth of independent India and Pakistan, while simultaneously articulating nostalgia for an often-idealized peaceful undivided past. Memories and narratives of Partition are hardly a thing of the past, but actively permeate and inform perceptions in the present; be it the longing for an invincible joint India-Pakistan cricket team, or a scenario where every political development in India and Pakistan is seen as a litmus test of the Two Nation theory.

The digital space is a significant medium through which discourses on Partition, and thereby a larger South Asian identity, are enacted. This is in many ways an attempt to move from the amnesias and post-amnesias of the past by those who are both sufficiently distant from the actual event and yet strongly feel that they have a direct stake in understanding Partition and its repercussions. Online initiatives dealing with Partition seek to recover, and make available to the public at large, histories of the ‘unspoken horror of our time’ [1].

My focus is not as much on the memories of those who directly experienced Partition (about which there is a vast and fascinating literature), as it is on the postmemories of new generations who are spearheading digital archives, oral history projects and online peace initiatives. I am interested in the ways in which new media and communication technologies have shaped the postmemories of the post-Partition generations and the virtual ways in which they choose to remember, recover and engage with the past of their families and nations.

Let me take as example the popular Google ad Reunion [2] that seems to exemplify the theme of technology breaking down the ideological and geographic borders cemented by Partition. In the ad, the grandchildren of those who experienced and were directly impacted by Partition use the power of technology and the Internet to reunite old friends. The bond between the new generations, in their efforts to provide closure for their grandfathers’ memories of Partition, is as significant a theme as that of reuniting those divided by Partition.

Responses to the ad in both India and Pakistan have been overwhelmingly positive, with the ad going viral and garnering more than a million views. Even where cynics pointed out the unbelievably simplistic depiction of the process of getting a visa, it seems to reinforce the fact that governments and politicians have placed hurdles that divide the average Indian and Pakistani who can be reunited with the help of technology. Comments across social media sites about the ad spoke of those moved to tears, of those who could relate to the ad even when they had not personally lost anyone due to Partition. As one headline [3] pointed out, ‘Google can envision Pakistan-India harmony in less than 4 minutes…can we?’

It is this sense of loss, reunion, and nostalgia for a past they have never personally known, for places across borders they have never been to – articulated online by new generations of Indians, Pakistanis and the diaspora – that I am interested in. As Ananya Kabir [4] notes, ‘subsequent generations (have) grappled with the urge to long as a necessary complication to the need to belong’. The growing number of South Asian digital archives and other online initiatives that touch on the histories, memories and legacies of Partition in complex and critical ways offer a great opportunity to study this.

I am currently in the process of interviewing those working with some remarkable online initiatives such as the Indian Memory Project, the 1947 Partition Archive and the Citizens Archive of Pakistan. I have no doubt that their insights will enrich my research and welcome any other comments and suggestions for my project.

 

References


[1] Kaul, Suvir (Ed.).  2001. The Partitions of Memory: The Afterlife of the Division of India. Ranikhet: Permanent Black.

[2] Google India. 2013. Google Search: Reunion. November 13. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHGDN9-oFJE.

[3] Naqvi, Sibtain. 2013. Google can Envision Pakistan-India Harmony in Less than 4 Minutes… can We? Express Tribune. November 19. Retrieved from http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/19647/google-can-envision-pakistan-india-harmony-in-less-than-4-minutes-can-we/.

[4] Kabir, Ananya Jahanara. 2013. 1947, 1971 and Modern South Asia: Partition’s Post-Amnesias. New Delhi: Women Unlimited.


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Published on: July 31, 2014


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