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Representing partition in the UK: an archive, an exhibition and a classroom

In 2005 Rev. Michael Roden, the vicar at Church of England church of St Mary’s in Hitchin (a small town about 30 miles north of London) was invited to India to give a series of sermons to Indian Church of England congregations. He was struck during his visit by the scars in Indian society that he thought were the remnants of Partition’s aftermath. His visit set him thinking about the ways in which Partition has shaped British as well as Indian and Pakistani society, and about how little people in the UK know about the calamitous results of British policy at the time of decolonization. In particular, he wondered about why it was the case that Partition had never been taught in schools in the UK, and why children were coming out of school with no understanding of the forces which had created a multi-cultural society in the UK over the course of the twentieth century. Reverend Roden contacted the University of Cambridge’s Centre of South Asian Studies and set in train a series of events that would lead to Partition being included in the curriculum of all Church of England schools in England and Wales. This process was to engage politicians, academics, playwrights, television companies and members of the general public. It would lead to more than teaching in the classroom – a swathe of television documentaries, for example, were broadcast around he 70th anniversary of Partition in 2017, providing information about a part of the shared UK/South Asian past which has been largely neglected in Britain. Alongside this process, the Centre of South Asian Studies also prepared an exhibition of materials from its own archive collections which ran from August 2017 and drew in thousands of visitors. This paper will examine the ways in which the process of presenting Partition to the people of the UK was fashioned and followed, and the nature of the output which resulted from it, looking at the ways in which academe can interact with public opinion and public knowledge in meaningful and positive ways.

K.M. Greenbank
India Review