In the third of our series on Power, Politics and Nationhood, Kavita Puri will summarise the build up to the partition of India, in the space of just ten weeks, in 1947.
This cataclysmic event turned neighbour against neighbour, displaced an estimated 12 million people and triggered the largest migration the world has ever seen outside of war and famine.
Kavita Puri will say: “As people found themselves a minority in a new country they faced a decision: stay or leave. Millions chose the latter.
“Fleeing an eruption of violence, they made the dangerous cross-border journey by foot, or by train or if they were lucky by plane. Muslims to Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs to India.
“An estimated one million people – on all sides – were killed. Official figures say 75,000 women were raped, abducted and forced to convert mostly by people of the “other” religion.”
Many whose lives had already been disrupted by partition, went on to migrate to Britain - their former colonial ruler.
The lecture will include some of these individual stories, collected for the first time as part of Kavita Puri’s landmark Radio 4 series Partition Voices and critically-acclaimed book Partition Voices: Untold British stories.
She said: “I interviewed colonial British and British South Asians who were eyewitnesses to the end of empire, and the bloody birth of two nations.
“These people opened up – sometimes speaking for the first time of recollections that were traumatic, wistful, and full of longing for a life and land long fled.
“These memories had been shrouded in silence for decades, sometimes even from their children or grandchildren. Towards the end of their days, they were ready to speak about that tumultuous time. They wanted their stories recorded, heard and respected.”
The lecture will note: “Historical events like partition endure in both good and bad ways and political decisions taken long ago continue to affect not only the partition generation, but also subsequent generations, as well as the politics of the Indian subcontinent.
“In Britain we are living in a moment where some British South Asian families - and as a nation - we are reckoning with our past; we are all working out what we remember, what we forget, and what we choose to keep our silence over."
Notes to Editors
You can register to watch the lecture online via the website or request a press seat or embargoed transcript from Lucia Graves.If you would like to speak to Kavita Puri before the lecture, please contact Lucia Graves, Head of Communications (PR & Media) at email@example.com or on 07799 738 439.
About Gresham College
Gresham College has been providing free educational lectures – and now videos - at university level since 1597 when Sir Thomas Gresham founded the college to bring Renaissance Learning to Londoners. Our history includes some of the luminaries of the scientific revolution like Robert Hooke and Sir Christopher Wren, and connects us to the foundation of the Royal Society.
Today we carry on Sir Thomas's vision. The College aims to stimulate intellectual curiosity and to champion academic rigour, professional expertise and freedom of expression.