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Muslim refugees sit on the roof of an overcrowded train near New Delhi as they try to flee India. In the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan after gaining independence from Britain in 1947, an estimated 1 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were killed in rioting, and 12 million were uprooted from their homes.The Associated Press

Samra Habib is the author of We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir.

We never talked about Partition at home. Just like we never talked about the life my mother had before she married my father. Yasmin, who was originally given the name Frida at birth. A name erased by my father without consideration or warning when they wed, for reasons that are still unclear to me. She was now to be referred to as Yasmin only. Frida, and the life she led before marrying my father, marked by stories of resilience, pain, deep friendships and perseverance, were omitted from our collective familial history.

She was born 12 years after Partition to a mother who had moved from Hindu-majority India to Muslim-majority Pakistan. We think. She could never find her birth certificate, she claimed, and so we celebrated her 30th birthday for years because who really knew how old she was? In a family where so little thought was given to preserving records and evidence of our family’s history, I believed her. None of it seemed important. These items held little meaning for my ancestors.

Who were these people before they became my parents, uncles or grandparents? I often wonder. Oftentimes, it comes down to asking the right questions instead of waiting for stories to be passed down to me, questions like “Why are there no pictures from your childhood, Mom?” It’s the only way to fill in the gaps.

She just shrugs her shoulders and smiles.

“How did it feel?” is something she never has an answer to, no matter how specific I am in my inquiry.

“How did it feel when they changed your name?”

“How did it feel to start a new life in a new country where you didn’t speak the language?”

“How did it feel to grow up with parents who were traumatized by Partition?”

I can feel the imprint left by Partition on my family. How could it not have? The division led to the deaths of countless people (estimates range from 200,000 to two million) and forced even more – approximately 14 million – to flee their homes.

Yet, with my family, it’s as if the world didn’t exist before 1947. I find it hard to believe that life began after the British dismantled southern Asia, creating two independent nations: Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. I know that is not true. There was life before the bloodshed.

“Partition stories are personal, intensely subjective, constructed through memory, gender and ideas of self, and span the continent,” writes Yasmin Khan in The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan.

As someone who never personally experienced the horrors of Partition, it’s hard to unpack its significance alone. Especially when it’s an overlooked part of history – one that saw families and friends separated from each other, that sparked unimaginable violence and bloodshed, and resulted in one of the greatest migrations in human history.

It’s easy to lose track of individual lives when thinking about events on such a massive scale. Especially when the history of Partition is so messy and so complicated and there isn’t a single straightforward narrative.

Where was my family when the news of Partition broke? Where were my nana, nani, dada and dadi?

I recently learned that in the midst of Partition, my Muslim great-grandfather, who lived in the part of united India that later became Pakistan, used to host his Hindu friends, who loved indulging in meat dishes he’d offer that they couldn’t enjoy at home for religious reasons. During the Partition-induced mayhem, his Hindu neighbours handed him their house keys as they fled to find safety, thinking the riots would be temporary.

They never came back.

Instead, new Muslim neighbours who migrated from what is now known as India took over homes my great-grandfather was looking after for his Hindu neighbours. My uncle tells me that it was very upsetting for my great-grandfather to see the homes of his friends being taken over by people he didn’t know, even though they shared the same belief system.

“Partition was a tragedy!” my uncle writes from England.

He also shared this detail: My grandfather – who was just a young child at the time of Partition – collected mantle clocks from the abandoned homes of Hindus in his neighbourhood and used to set alarms on them at the same time to amuse himself.

Behind Partition, created by a weakened British Empire, were stories like my great-grandfather’s and millions more. They must be remembered to face the cruel legacy.

Many of us born after Partition have experienced intergenerational trauma. How does so much loss, fear, grief and disconnection manifest in the bodies and lives of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who lost so much?

It’s something I often wonder about as I try to unearth the origins of some of my own fears and anxieties. Hopefully, a surge in conversations around the impact of Partition, 75 years later, will help us examine what has been passed down to us.

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