Mersiya 1947

Partition of India 1947: Women’s Stories

By Nooh Nizami & Akanksha Joshi

Nooh came from the Sufi tradition of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Once he shared a story with me. Of a man who ran a dhaba along the Delhi-Manali route. He would get hysterical sometimes. Start shouting. Abusing India. Abusing Pakistan. “They took her away,” was what he’d say. Nooh found that the man’s wife had been ‘rescued’ by the Indian state.

Stories of Women. How did women – across religion, across the border – experience Partition Violence? These are stories that History ignores. These are stories that cannot just be gulped down in one go and burped out. They have to be tasted, chewed, digested, slowly. That process, invariably, transforms the listener. That transformation can be dark, frightening.

1947, during the formation of the independent states of India and Pakistan there were many women who were first uprooted, read, abducted. And with time when they’d found their roots, married their abductors, had children – the States uprooted them again. While every adult had a right to decide, to choose which country they wanted to live in … for these women it was decided by their religion, their families. They had no choice.

Nooh and me, we were born decades after Partition. Yet, its ghost was lingering on our lives too. In the name of religion we had witnessed hatred, in the name of religion we had witnessed violence. In the body of this subcontinent, a wound seemed to be throbbing. A wound that could be manipulated. A wound that could burst its rotting pus on the surface of this land, anytime. And how!

I was still in college. Nooh had passed out a year before me. We were young. We started our research. Filming. Talking to. Politicians. Social workers. Editors. Bureaucrats. Autowalas. Subziwalas.  People who carried the stories, essence of the wound. Flowing in the veins of the subcontinent. The past. That was deciding the present. Setting course for the future.

This was 2000-2002. Many people who remembered the stories were old, in their 70’s 80’s, but they were still alive. It was the time we felt. To document. To archive. Histories. Else, it would be too late. We’d just have a flattened vision of a past, in books.

I promise. We tried. For nearly two years. With very little money. This was when digital cameras were not available so easy. Beta was the medium. To hire per day rent was 3500/- plus lights. Mobile phones were still resisted by many of us. And they did not have cameras on them! Google. Facebook. Youtube. Nothing existed. To email, we’d have to pay Rs 60 per hour in a cyber cafe.

Nooh was a brilliant cinematographer. He started pooling in cash from camera assignments he’d do. I started doing still photography (TPs and paper), writing, making short videos. And blackmailing. Parents to lend some cash for a pilot film that was “…so important for South Asia!”

This video pilot ‘Mersiya’ was made to raise funds. It is based on the accounts of two social workers, Anees Kidwai and Kamala Ben Patel who had rescued abducted women after partition, till, if i remember right, 1950. It also includes stories from many other people we had spoken with during our research. Including Jamnadas Akhtar, editor of Hind Samachar. And Subhadra Joshi, the noted freedom activist.

We didn’t get the funds. Not even a 100 Rupees! We were young. Maybe nobody trusted us. Or maybe, the time hadn’t come. The stories, just got shelved. Our work, was lost in time. Including this little video, technically, my first film. Most people, died. Including my friend, Nooh Nizami who drowned at the young age of 28. But that was after we had co-directed a film on the Gujarat violence. We witnessed that the wound of partition, surfacing, yet again.

This video has been ripped off an old CD that Nooh had given to one of the actors in the film. She gave it to me. I watched. Was taken back in time. To stories, still throbbing. The actor,  Poonam Girdhani now does Dastangoi. Another actor, Alka Amin has shifted to Bombay. I am told she can now be seen acting in many popular TV serials. The rest, i am trying to find, again.