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Curating the Partition: dissonant heritage and Indian nation building

The article analyses recent public initiatives to memorialise the establishment of India and Pakistan as postcolonial states in terms of violent partitioning rather than as a successful act of independence from British imperialism. The twin focal points of the article are the Partition Museum in Amritsar and the online 1947 Partition Archive. Both of these subscribe to and further the view that difficult and dissonant heritage holds transformative potential – which is seen as particularly significant in a region marked by conflictual state relations, majoritarian nationalism and extensive communal violence. However, as the article demonstrates, even though the Partition Museum and the 1947 Partition Archive collect and store previously unheard accounts of suffering, migration and rehabilitation as well as disseminate and make these available to the wider public, they fail to bring about a critical re-appraisal of the event, its lasting consequences and nation building as such. Whereas the Partition Museum – through the layout and content of its core exhibition – reproduces standard conceptions and imageries of national belonging and statehood, both initiatives rely on a use of oral history that remains overly committed to accentuating individualised and localised experiences, and to the positing of these as markers of authenticity.

Ted Svensson
International Journal of Heritage Studies