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This Texan didn't know her family history in Pakistan so she made a podcast to uncover it

India Partition Muslin Refugees 1947
AP
/
Associated Press
Panic-stricken Muslim refugees crowd onto a train bound for Pakistan, as it leaves the New Delhi, India area, Sept. 27, 1947. The refugees cling to wherever they can, on the roof and between the cars. The photo illustrates why casualties are so heavy when these refugee trains are attacked.

A young Austinite dives into her family history to learn more about the Partition of India.

It's been 75 years since the Partition of India.

Countless families were displaced in 1947 after the British left India. The country ultimately divided along religious lines into a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan.

The event is often described as one of the largest refugee crises in history.

Neha Aziz is a Pakistani-American-writer living in Austin. She's hosting a new podcast about the Partition and spoke with KERA's Justin Martin.

Learning about the Partition of India:

I didn't really find out, like the actual horrible truths about Partition until I was 27 and I just turned 32.

So on my first trip back to Pakistan, I saw an exhibit called Home 1947, and it was here where I was like, 'What is happening? Like, what is this?' I mean, I knew Pakistan used to be a part of India, but I didn't know about the violence, the riots that took place, the separation of families, the leaving of belongings and places thinking that people could come back when that wasn't the case.

I talk about in the first episode where I'm like, 'I don't recall learning about this in school'. And maybe a part of that is because my education was done in Texas. That is another story within itself with how they decide what we get taught.

But talking to other people, it's like, they didn't really know. It's so shocking because you would think the formation of a new country would be something you would discuss in history class.

On how this history affects her directly:

My grandparents are survivors. Unfortunately, only one grandparent on each side is alive. I talked to my grandfather about his experiences. He was 14 when it happened. But yeah, like literally the first clip from the show, I was excited, like we were celebrating in the streets.

His sister was actually born on Aug. 15, 1947, so there was a lot happening. Then he was like, but I didn't know what would happen. He literally says, "I don't know what will happen tomorrow or the next day." He moved to Pakistan in Nov. of 1947 because he had an uncle, I believe, that was already there.

But it's so crazy to think that I know everyone's like, 'Oh my life could be different if X, Y, Z happened.' But I feel that's especially the case here because it's like, what if my relatives converted? What if they decided not to move? What if they decided to move to a whole other place? So Partition really shapes my identity, and I'm sure in more ways than I could possibly know. That's going to be the case for generations that come after me.

On the vulnerability of revealing family history in a podcast:

I didn't know about this until I was 27. So you were like admitting these things. Then also I talk about atonement to a degree because even though I didn't know about partition, my grandparents, my dad's side, lived with us for a few years in Texas.

Not once did I ever ask about their lives. I didn't know about Partition, but I didn't ask about anything in general. Now it's kind of too late. My paternal grandmother has passed away. My grandpa is 90 and it's really, again, hard for them to talk about these memories because they're painful, but it's also like they don't remember.

Everyone who has survived Partition is quite old. The only real way to preserve these stories are through oral histories, mostly because we don't have memorials in either country to recognize the awfulness of what happened in 1947. A Partition museum was made in India in 2017. But the fact that it's in India, also privately made and not government sanctioned, makes it quite difficult for people who don't live in India to visit.

I don't want people to feel ashamed of where they come from and I want people to know these stories, whether it affected them or not.

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Justin Martin at Jmartin@kera.org. You can follow Justin on Twitter @MisterJMart.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.