Kirpan Singh and Maulvi Kasba Bhural, a part of Project Dastaan’s Child of Empire immersive VR film. Image: Project Dastaan.

This year marks 75 years of Indian independence from British rule in 1947, which is commemorated throughout the UK on 15 August.

The partition displaced over 10 million people along religious lines, creating an overwhelming refugee crisis, and an atmosphere of hostility, with the violent nature of the partition, that still exists between India and Pakistan today. 

In commemorating 75 years, Asian Sunday spoke to the children of the partition, who to this day find it a difficult part of history. 

The co-founder of South Asian Heritage Month, and the daughter of a partition survivor, Dr Binita Kane shares her deeply personal journey of learning the unspoken history behind the partition:  

“I was the first member of my family in 70 years to revisit my father’s homeland in what was then East Bengal, now Bangladesh and retrace my family’s footsteps as they fled from the religious genocide that took place at that time” she added, “The experience had a profound effect on me.

“After fleeing, my dad was forced into living in abject poverty as a refugee. My Grandfather, a once proud and successful man living a peaceful life, starved and wasted away. Broken and ill, he died on a cold stone floor, nursed by my then young and traumatised father. On his deathbed, he took my father’s hand, ‘be a good doctor’ he said” she shares.

“My father overcame huge adversity, and through sheer drive and determination made the path to becoming a doctor. He came to the UK and worked tirelessly for the NHS for nearly 50 years and earned an OBE along the way. Like thousands of immigrants, he has helped put the ‘Great’ into Great Britain”. 

Feeling like she had walked through life with her eyes shut, Dr Kane says she is finally able to share the part of history that she felt no one had ever told her.

Behind a wall of silence for over 70 years, she refers to the learning of her hidden ancestral history as a “Momentous, defining period of British history”.

She reflects “I not only learned about Partition in 1947 but also about the British Nationality Act of 1948 which gave all Commonwealth citizens the right to live and work in the UK and the significant waves of migration that followed, filling the workforce gaps needed to rebuild post-war Britain and shape institutions like the NHS”.

Talking about the wounds that were left open Dr Kane says, “I learned that communities of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who had lived side-by-side for generations were torn apart in 1947, that all South Asians have a shared heritage and the wounds of Partition still deeply affect British Society”.

Saadia Gardezi co-founder of Project Dastaan talks about how the project aims to re-connect children of the partition to ‘back home’. Image Project Dastaan.

Saadia Gardezi PhD Candidate and Editorial Cartoonist from Coventry says, “Being Pakistani, the partition is in your roots, as kind of the origins of the story of the country so it’s always there, it’s where our national history starts”.

She told Asian Sunday “I’ve grown up with the origin stories of partition and been lucky enough to be of that age, where I could hear those stories directly, as with one more generation we won’t be able to interact with those people anymore”.

Gardezi adds “The people who were alive at that time were children then, so the memories are also to some extent, constructed memories that they had heard through their relatives, that they grew up hearing, they weren’t aware of the political situation. For them, this is a shared memory through their political socialisation over adulthood”.

Offering the people who migrated during 1947 a chance to reconnect with their roots and go back home through the immersive reality of 360 and VR, is a project co-founded by Sparsh Ahuja, Sam Dalrymple and Saadia Gardezi. 

Working on the creative and writing elements of the project, Saadia, shares how the state-of-the-art VR project ‘Child of Empire’ is giving back to the generation that can’t return home:

“Sparsh the founder, who is of Indian origin, wanted to show his grandparents their former homes in Pakistan and was joking with a friend when he said this could be done through VR and then realised, he could do that because there is the technology that allows us to do so and so that’s what we did. 

“We chose this way of storytelling because you can manipulate things, as with 360 you can show a village in rural India or some monuments in Pakistan” she added.

The ‘Child of Empire’ VR experience allows the children of the partition, to explore their narratives for the first time, as Gardezi points out “There is this divide, among south Asians, where it’s very hard to visit each other’s countries even today and it’s even harder for the people in their 80s and 90s because they are never going to see home”.