India Oral History Project

“As with most children listening to their grandparents’ stories, Bhatia too hadn’t placed too much importance on the memories that her grandmother shared with her. She enjoyed listening to these recollections, of course, but it wasn’t until she started working at The Citizens’ Archive of India (CAI) that she fully understood the value of the stories that her grandmother had once told her.”  For full story, click here.

Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947

When Guneeta Singh Bhalla was 19 years old, her paternal grandmother Harbhajan Kaur sat her down at her home in New Jersey to relay a harrowing migration story.  The date was August 1947. The place, Lahore, a city in the northern state of Punjab, in what was once India, but what was now the new Muslim majority country of Pakistan. Almost overnight, Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims who'd lived in Lahore for generations in peace turned on one another. Kaur, a Sikh, was forced to abandon her family estate and board a train with her three young children — ages four, three, and one — to Amritsar, a small city just inside the new border of India. For six months, she was separated from her husband. The dead bodies, the horrific violence she witnessed haunted her for the rest of her life.  Read full story with videos and links here.

Indian Freedom Fighters Tell Their Story

E.K. Narayanan Nambiar still carries the wounds of his encounter with British colonialists in his mind – and in his body. He recounts the heroism of his compatriots during the Kavumbai struggle against imperialism and feudalism and his imprisonment at Velloor Jail, with such animation and attention to detail as if it happened yesterday, rather than in the 1930s, during the height of the freedom struggle.  Listening to him in rapt attention are a team of city-based historians of the Department of History, University of Kerala, who are documenting the oral history of the freedom struggle in Kerala, straight from the mouths of of freedom fighters like the 89-year-old Narayanan and many others. “A bullet and shrapnel from those days are still lodged in his body and he was game enough to show us scars on his arm and leg,” says A.S. Vysakh, with near wonder.  For full story click here.

Voices of Partition Survivors

Like many Indians and Pakistanis his age, 75-year-old Ravi Chopra remembers the shocking violence triggered by the countries’ moves toward independence.  “Nobody imagined that such a holocaust would take place,” Mr. Chopra, a retired Indian army officer, said in an interview with a U.S.-based oral history project dedicated to recording tales of partition, as the division of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947 is known.  For full story with links to website and video interviews, click here.

Oral history in India

History was crafted out of "facts", said the British historian E H Carr. Facts, which were like "fish on a fishmonger's slab". What is "official" history, whose history it documents and whose it skips, has been a concern for historians the world over for several decades now.  A bunch of Indian documentors, who believe there are other fish in the sea than official histories acknowledge, will gather in Bangalore on Monday and formally inaugurate the country's first Oral History Association of India (OHAI). From discussing how life was for Indian freedom fighters in Cellular Jail on the Andamans to looking at memories of 1984 riots and the Bhopal gas tragedy, the conference will be a broad palette for documentors and historians. For full story click here.

Oral history in India

For 28-year-old Chanakya Vyas, his grandmother’s stories about her childhood were more than just bedtime stories. With roots in Zanzibar, East Africa, Mr. Vyas has been trying to piece together his family’s history. One step towards accomplishing this is the oral history course being offered by the Centre for Public History, Bangalore.  Mr. Vyas is one of the 15 participants at the first such course offered by the institute, and the first of its kind in India.  For full story click here.