The Berkeley City Council named June 3 an annual “Partition Remembrance Day” to commemorate one of the world’s largest refugee crises caused by the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.
Berkeley is the first city in the United States to officially proclaim a day recognizing the Partition, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett. According to a 1947 Partition Archive press release, the Partition has remained largely unacknowledged by global governing bodies.
“You are now saying, ‘Wait, a second, this incredible event happened, millions of people suffered and we’ll remember not to make this mistake again,’ ” said Guneeta Singh Bhalla, founder and executive director of The 1947 Partition Archive.
Singh Bhalla added that the Partition sets a precedent for how to “unpack communal violence” in the future.
The proposal was put together by community members and Partition survivors residing in South Berkeley, Bartlett said. Singh Bhalla added that Kiran Jain, a longtime Berkeley resident, and Jain’s father, a Partition survivor, approached Bartlett with the idea.
“I have empathy for all people who suffer,” Bartlett said. “These groups of people having undergone this large-scale trauma really spoke to my heart, and it’s something that I vow personally to always stand against.”
Bartlett also expressed the sentiment to see the Partition’s recognition expand across the state and the nation. Additionally, Singh Bhalla said she hopes to influence countries impacted by mass violence to follow in The 1947 Partition Archive’s footsteps and delve into its history.
The 1947 Partition Archive, founded in 2010 in the UC Berkeley SkyDeck, charged itself with documenting oral stories from the Partition. Singh Bhalla added that the organization is projected to meet its goal by the end of this year.
“We really wanted to be an involving, immersive space where you go to feel what it was like to go through the Partition,” Singh Bhalla said. “We want people to understand the diversity of experiences and to understand how this culture experienced a complete breakdown due to politics and colonialism.”
Singh Bhalla also recognized Berkeley’s unique connection to the Partition in the early 1900s. She noted that the Ghadar Party, which was formed in Oregon in 1913 and tried to initiate a mutiny in the Indian army, had campus supporters.
The 1947 Partition Archive plans to host annual events to observe June 3, including outdoor exhibitions and special performances, according to Singh Bhalla.
“Our hope is to have a series of interconnected days of observation and remembrance starting here in Berkeley and connected to South Asian diaspora around the world,” Bartlett said. “Our hope is to learn valuable lessons about how to prevent inhuman divisions from taking root in future society and to lay a foundation for a new humanistic world.”