Stories of Partition

Issue 2 - an abundance of questions inspired by the #RenameRadcliffe campaign

Hi there,

Welcome to today's issue of the Curiosity Journal. Each week, I share a preview of my research for the articles I publish monthly over on The Curiosity Concept. Subscribe here to get behind-the-scenes peeks into what I'm reading, watching and listening to delivered straight to your inbox.

In this week's Monday issue, I mentioned that I was a student at the University of Warwick.

One of the interesting lessons you learn about the university as a Warwick student is that there are a lot of buildings on campus that aren't for students.

A salient example: the Radcliffe Conference Centre.

It's named after Viscount Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who was Warwick's first Vice Chancellor when the university was established in 1965.

He was also the man in charge of drawing the border that separated India and Pakistan in 1947.

To this day, the University of Warwick has a building whose namesake points to someone who played a pivotal role in the India Pakistan Partition, one of the most devastating and traumatic events of the 20th century.

Warwick's Student Union (SU) launched the #RenameRadcliffe campaign in August this year to change this.

2020's Black Lives Matter and Anti-Racism movements have brought about a serious social and cultural reckoning; one that individuals, organisations and institutions are being called to face. In the same vein, #RenameRadcliffe has mobilised students and societies across Warwick who stand for liberation and are demanding that Radcliffe Conference Centre is renamed as a concrete action in the move to dismantle the university's colonial legacies.

Although they're not materially the same act, I see renaming a building as falling in line with the denouncing and tearing down of statues like we saw during the Black Lives Matter protests two-to-three months ago. And these acts provoke similar reflections for me, the most prominent being that, unlike the usual criticism that these are attempts to rewrite or erase the past, I think the heart of the matter is more a struggle over how we remember the past.

This prompts some follow-up questions, like:

  • Who is the "we" that is doing the remembering?

  • Who is included in or excluded from this "we"?

  • What is allowed to be amplified in this memory?

  • What isn't amplified, or what is left silent?

  • How do the rules about this amplifying/silencing change over time?

  • Human beings are incredibly complex. How do we remember them publicly in a way that doesn't simplify this? Can public memorialisations of individual people ever not be reductive?

These questions aren't quickly or easily answerable. But they capture what I’m looking into for The Curiosity Concept's October article.

I'm interested in how the story of the fight to rename the Radcliffe Conference Centre represents the broader state we're in of contending and grappling with how to remember the past and redefining who gets venerated in it, with a building or statue.

Here's some of what I've been reading/watching/listening to:

To understand the story of the campaigns against the naming of the Radcliffe Conference Centre, I need to understand the story of Partition itself.

'How this border transformed a subcontinent | India & Pakistan' - Johnny Harris, Vox Borders

For a preliminary, very general introduction to this story, I watched this short Vox Borders documentary. I learned that the massive impact of Partition cannot be fully captured in a single story—it consists of the stories of millions of individuals, their families and communities. These stories are deeply inscribed in personal and national memories in India and Pakistan.

One thing I notice about producer Johnny Harris' storytelling here is that his brief focus on Radcliffe in the video reflects how he spent such little time in British-occupied India in the border-making process. I think it's also fascinating that Britain brought in a lawyer to draw the boundary, relegating such a loaded issue to someone who approached it like a technical problem to be troubleshooted; a problem that could be resolved by looking at the data and making the "efficient" choice, which as the interviewees share throughout the video, is deeply unsatisfying and problematic.

'How have Indian novelists depicted Independence and the Partition? Here’s a sampler from their works' -

This article provides a list of excerpts from novels, which is helping me to understand the multiple stories of Partition and the different ways it's processed through fictional literature.

'The Great Divide: The violent legacy of Indian Partition' - William Dalrymple, the New Yorker

A long-form, historical read, which could be a smooth segue into a more academic piece. (Although, I'm keen not to turn my articles into academic essays...)

If you have any resources that you think are particularly useful for learning about and unpacking this story, you can let me know here:

Leave a comment

See you on Monday.


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