Ecole Mondiale, an international school in Mumbai, invited me to work with their eighth grade history class over two sessions as they are studying the Partition of 1947. I began our Day 1 with a video called ‘What is Historical Thinking?’ It highlighted the importance of multiple accounts and perspectives, analysis of primary sources, sourcing, understanding of historical context, and the claim-evidence connection.
After that, I asked the eighth graders to work in small groups and create a mind-map that would consolidate all that they already know about the Partition. When the whole-class sharing began, they not only spoke of the political leaders at the helm of affairs but also about migration, refugees, splitting of families, scarcity of resources, the end of British rule, discrimination based on religion, power struggle between Hindus and Muslims, formation of borders, the exit of the East India Company, disputes over Jammu and Kashmir as well as Hyderabad, wars between India and Pakistan to assert control over territory, and the impact of this history on present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Later, each group got an excerpt from the Grade 12 Indian History textbook chapter ‘Understanding Partition: Politics, Memories, Experiences’ published by India’s National Council for Educational Research and Training. There were eight groups, so I chose eight different excerpts. The students were asked to comment on the perspective adopted by the textbook writer, possible sources used in order to arrive at facts, biases present in the writing, and any gaps that indicated exclusion or erasure.
During the final round of sharing, I felt glad that the students were able to appreciate how the story of the Partition is not one monolithic narrative. They could see how the Hindu-Muslim binary takes away attention from other identities at stake: Sikh, Punjabi, Sindhi, Bengali, Kashmiri, and many others.
We concluded by acknowledging that history is not about heroes and villains but about multiple truth claims based on official documentation, oral narratives, the gendered nature of violence, the region that is being represented, the identity of the person who is writing or narrating, and modes of publication and distribution. It was fun. I look forward to Day 2.