Remnants Of Past: Inside World’s Second Partition Museum In Delhi

Delhi’s Dara Shukoh Library is the home to the city’s first and country’s second Partition Museum and here’s how it looks.

By Sanjana Chawla, 23 May 2023

After the inaugural of the world’s and country’s first Museum on the Partition of India in 2017 in Amritsar, Punjab, the capital city opened its door to the second such museum this May.

On Thursday, May 18, 2023, the Partition of India Museum found a new home in Delhi - 6’s Mughal-era Dara Shukoh Library Building (situated on the Ambedkar University Campus at Kashmere Gate).

Curated by The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust (TAACHT), the museum is a reservoir of memories. It offers a collection of photos, sculptures, artefacts, documents, postcards, antiquities, and memorabilia of the 1947 partition and is a semblance of the past, present, and future.

A culmination of oral, visual, and aural histories, the museum highlights the pain, separation and longingness following the partition. According to Kishwar Desai, the Chairperson of The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust (TAACHT) that set up the world’s first Partition Museum in Amritsar and now second in Delhi, “This Partition Museum is a People’s Museum”.

A defining moment for the world, the museum pays homage to the persons, families, life, and property that were affected by the process of partition-led migration and displacement of people.

The museum featured a gigantic wooden installation called the ‘Fallen House’. An epitome of alienation, homelessness and migration, the house visually projected how people were displaced and what it was like to be separated from their cultural ethos and heritage.

Ms. Desai shares that Delhi was a massive refugee camp and setting up a museum here was a ‘dream’. She continues, “The entire landscape of Delhi went through a transformation when the partition was announced and millions of refugees moved in overnight. From Purana Quila and Humayun’s Tomb to all available schools and colleges—wherever the refugees could find a roof over their heads in Delhi, they made it their place.

All the famous and highly-visited colonies of Delhi such as Khan Market, Lajpat Nagar, Karol Bagh, Jangpura and Kingsway Camp were all homes to the refugees during the late 1940s and early 1950s onwards. People from lower, middle and even upper-class families started living in these areas temporarily.

From several decades-old stamps and postcards to passed-on glasses, robes, clothes and sewing machines—the museum has an installation of all. These goods and artefacts were more than what they looked as they had a deep long history attached to them. History of families putting stamps on the postcard and writing letters to one another. And histories of women sewing clothes using the machines passed on to them by their mothers and to their mothers by their grandmothers.

Dedicated to the movement of people, the museum had a visual and aural representation of the Partition Train. With several boxes and belongings scattered around the wagons, the various drums, trunk boxes, earthen pots, clothes and bangles symbolised the remnants and memories of people.

Remembering the people who led crowded and chaotic lives, the museum also exhibited the Refugee Tents or Camps. More than 70 years down memory lane, tents of these sorts were shared by several people and multiple families at once. With the ongoing partition and no space to rest, several lives were lost to diseases and illnesses.

Spriha, who is a resident of Delhi and a museum & history enthusiast, said that this museum is very special since till now we have heard and read only stories of partition but never experienced it. “This museum makes us live through those memories and stories as all the letters, sculptures, portraits, etc. are authentic memorabilia of that time. It is heart-wrenching but also very heart-warming to see that such an initiative is there for all of us, and especially for our generation that doesn't know how and what happened”.

Ms. Desai highlights that it is important to document the partition since to date many people and younger generations don’t know about the history, happening and remains of the partition. She continues, “We are trying to bridge this gap and have brought along over 500 families who have shared with us their stories, old photographs, letters and documents. This museum is about people and is a compilation of everything that concerns people”. Though the museum boasts various documents and archives, it is still focused on telling what happened to people, what their stories are, and what the aftermaths of the partition. The museum also offers a stimulated and immersive Virtual Reality (VR) experience to the visitors. It enables visitors to feel the memories of the partition and gives them a close-to real-life experience. In collaboration with Project Dastaan, the VR installation features multiple shots and video diaries around three Partition-related themes: Social Impact, Child of Empire and Lost Migration.

The museum also featured the tragic headlines as they appeared in 1947. With massive despair, distrust, loot, brutality and killings happening across the country, especially in North India and Bengal, the world media extensively covered the partition exodus and its aftermath.

Acknowledging the trauma, death, and pain, the museum installed ‘Zuljanah’—an exhibit dedicated to the sufferers of the partition. The horse in this installation is seen carrying the weight and pain of humans who got injured or died amid the excruciating days of partition.

Ayushman Verma, a resident of Delhi, shared that though he has visited the entire country and he knew about the partition, he never really thought of what it would’ve been like. He added, “This museum helps put things into perspective for me. I never realised that people would have faced so many challenges and upheavals”. Calling the museum beautiful yet sad, Verma trembled as he was about to break down and concluded, “One has to come here to experience what it feels like”.

“While we want that an event such as Partition never happens again, we all must never forget our history”, Ms. Desai expresses. She continues, “Stories of partition have been under a veil of silence for as long as 70 years and people are not aware of it because it wasn’t spoken about or taught to them nicely. But it is important to record people's history and that’s what we are doing”. People of this country and the upcoming generations should look up to this Partition Museum as a symbol of strength, power, and resilience. Ms. Desai adds, “After the partition, refugees came with nothing and built everything from scratch and supported their families. This is what should be celebrated, encouraged, and always remembered”.

The creators and curators of the Partition Museum aim at building and continuing the country’s history and legacy so that none of us forgets the momentous and life-changing event of partition ever. A homage to the people who struggled, survived, and suffered, the museum, while reflecting on the history, echoes a life full of positivity, dreams, and hope.