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India Partition: After 75 years, tech opens a window into the past



  • Tensions between India and Pakistan hamper visits.
  • Facebook, YouTube help people connect across border.
  • Online projects share Partition stories.

Growing up, Guneeta Singh Bhalla heard her grandmother describe how she crossed into newly-independent India from Pakistan in 1947 with her young children, witnessing horrific scenes of carnage and violence that haunted her for the rest of her life.

Those stories were not in Singh Bhalla’s school text books, so she decided to create an online history – The 1947 Partition Archive, which contains about 10,500 oral histories, the biggest collection of Partition memories in South Asia.

“I didn’t want my grandmother’s story to be forgotten, nor the stories of others who experienced Partition,” said Singh Bhalla, who moved to the United States from India at age 10.

“With all its faults, Facebook is an incredibly powerful tool: the archive was built off of people finding us on Facebook and sharing our posts, which brought much more awareness,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The partition of colonial India into two states, mainly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan, at the end of British rule triggered one of the biggest mass migrations in history.

About 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs swapped countries in the political upheaval, marred by violence and bloodshed that cost more than a million lives.

A survivor of Indias Partition looks through a virtual reality headset at footage made by Project Dastaan, a non-profit that seeks to connect witnesses of the 1947 Partition to their ancestral homes and villages. Picture courtesy: Project Dastaan/Thomson Reuters Foundation
A survivor of India’s Partition looks through a virtual reality headset at footage made by Project Dastaan, a non-profit that seeks to connect witnesses of the 1947 Partition to their ancestral homes and villages. Picture courtesy: Project Dastaan/Thomson Reuters Foundation

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since then, and relations remain tense. They rarely grant visas to each others’ citizens, making visits nearly impossible – but social media has helped people on either side of the border connect.

There are dozens of groups on Facebook and Instagram, as well as YouTube channels that tell the stories of Partition survivors and their occasional visits to ancestral homes, that rack up millions of shares and views, and emotional comments.

“Such initiatives that help document the experiences of Partition serve as an antidote to the charged political narratives of the two states,” said Ayesha Jalal, a South Asian history professor at Tufts University in the United States.

“They help to alleviate the tensions between the two sides, and open up channels for a much needed people-to-people dialogue.”

Virtual reality takes survivors home

As the numbers of those displaced from their homes has swelled worldwide, technology helps monitor abandoned homes from afar and records human rights abuses, while digital archives preserve cultural heritage.

Project Dastaan – meaning story in Urdu – uses virtual reality (VR) to document accounts of Partition survivors and enable them to revisit their place of birth.

“VR isn’t like film – there is a level of immersion and engagement that creates empathy and has a powerful impact,” said founder Sparsh Ahuja, whose grandfather migrated to India as a seven-year-old during the Partition.

“People really feel like they are transported to the place.”

Using volunteers in India and Pakistan to locate and film places – which have often changed dramatically over the decades – Project Dastaan had aimed to connect 75 Partition survivors with their ancestral homes by the 75th anniversary this year.

But pandemic restrictions meant that they only completed 30 interviews since they began filming in 2019, said Ahuja.

“When visa policies were more friendly, people could physically go and see places and people,” he said. “Now, these connections wouldn’t happen without technology, and VR has brought a whole new audience to the Partition experience.”

Among the most popular YouTube channels on Partition is Punjabi Lehar – or Punjabi wave – with about 600,000 subscribers.

Founder Lovely Singh, 30, part of the minority Sikh community in Pakistan, estimates that the channel has helped 200 to 300 individuals reconnect with family and friends.

Earlier this year, Punjabi Lehar’s video of an emotional reunion between two elderly brothers separated during Partition quickly went viral, drawing widespread praise.

“If we can help connect more people, maybe there will be less tension between the two countries,” said Singh.

“This is how my children are learning about the Partition.”

Tension in the digital world 

India and Pakistan are among the biggest social media markets in the world, with more than 500 million YouTube and nearly 300 million Facebook users, according to research firms Global Media Insight and Statista.

History professor Jalal noted that these online spaces can also host misinformation, and added a note of caution about the limits of social media projects.

Reena Varma, 90-year-old Indian citizen born in Pakistan, stands at a neighbours house next to her ancestral home while visiting after 75 years, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan July 20, 2022. REUTERS/Waseem Khan
Reena Varma, 90-year-old Indian citizen born in Pakistan, stands at a neighbour’s house next to her ancestral home while visiting after 75 years, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan July 20, 2022. REUTERS/Waseem Khan

“While immensely useful, these initiatives surrounding the Partition should not be seen as a replacement to historical understandings of the causes of Partition,” she said.

Political tensions between India and Pakistan frequently spill over on to social media.

Last year, one Indian state said people who celebrated Pakistan’s win over India in a cricket match on social media could be charged with sedition, which carries a penalty of up to life in prison.

Indians – particularly Muslims – who criticise the government online are often told to “go to Pakistan”.

But for 90-year-old Reena Varma, social media has done more than make a virtual connection – it has enabled her to visit her old home in Rawalpindi 75 years after she left it.

When her Pakistan visa application was rejected earlier this year, the news went viral on Facebook. Pakistani authorities intervened to give a visa to Varma, who migrated to India as a teenager weeks before the Partition.

When Varma visited Pakistan last month, Imran William, founder of the Facebook group the India Pakistan Heritage, was on hand to welcome her.

Residents beat drums and showered her with flowers as she danced on the street, then looked around her old home.

“It was very emotional, but I am so happy I could fulfil my dream of visiting my home,” Varma said.

“People have very painful memories of the Partition, but thanks to Facebook and other social media, people are interacting and keen to meet each other. It brings people of both countries together.”

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Nineth round of political talks between Pakistan and the EU centers on trade and security




In their ninth round of political dialogue, which took place here on Wednesday, Pakistan and the EU discussed all aspects of their bilateral relationship, with a particular emphasis on the Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP), trade and development cooperation, security, climate action, migration, and mobility.

The team from Pakistan was led by Foreign Secretary Muhammad Syrus Sajjad Qazi, while Enrique Mora, Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service, represented the EU.

Significant local and international happenings were also covered.

The two parties expressed satisfaction with the positive direction of the relationship and decided to keep working to expand and deepen bilateral ties between Pakistan and the EU in all areas of shared interest. They will do this by routinely convening institutional mechanism meetings and carrying out follow-up tasks.

The two sides acknowledged the significance of bilateral relations between Pakistan and the EU, concurring that frequent high-level meetings have given the relationship new life and emphasized the need for close communication and collaboration in the face of a geopolitical environment that is changing quickly.

In order to bring about diversification and sustainability in trade ties between Pakistan and the European Union, the Foreign Secretary emphasized the need for deeper collaboration with key stakeholders on both sides, acknowledging GSP Plus as a successful model of trade for development and mutually beneficial cooperation.

The two parties also decided to investigate fresh prospects under the EU’s major initiatives, Horizon Europe and the Global Gateway Strategy.

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In Canada, another member of the PIA crew disappears.




Jibran Baloch, a flight attendant, is the second PIA air hostess to vanish this month; she was scheduled to take a Toronto trip from Karachi and then left the hotel.

Flight 782 failed to arrive for its planned return duty on February 29. Jibran Baloch, a flight attendant, is the second air hostess to go this month.

When staff members searched Jabran Baloch’s room, they discovered that he had fallen. Another missing person from the hotel a few days earlier was a female air hostess. In just a few months, almost 12 air hostesses who were assigned to flights to Toronto had vanished.

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight hostess is said to have vanished from her job in Canada earlier this month.

When Maryam Raza, who was supposed to be on aircraft PK 782 from Pakistan to Toronto, neglected to show up for work on the return trip, PK 784 from Toronto to Karachi, the event became public knowledge. According to those with knowledge of the situation, after PIA’s hanging uniform was found in her room, a letter with the words “Thank you, PIA” was found next to it.

This is the third instance of PIA flight attendants’slipping’ while on duty that has been documented this year; two of the cases involve women.

The efficacy of these procedures has not increased despite steps taken to prevent similar instances, such as obtaining the passports of flight attendants assigned to Toronto flights.

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China “agrees” to transfer $2 billion in debt to Pakistan.




ISLAMABAD China has “agreed” to roll over a $2 billion loan to Pakistan, according to sources cited by ARY News, which is a big milestone.

Sources inside the ministry of finance claim that the $2 billion loan will be rolled over under the current terms prior to its maturity date.

Less than 2 percent interest will be charged on the $2 billion in Chinese debt that is being deposited, according to sources.

According to reports, the $2 billion debt’s maturity period will conclude on March 23, 2024, and an additional $2 billion will be rolled over for a year.

It is important to note that as of the end of November in FY2023–24, Pakistan’s overall debt load was at an astounding Rs 63,399 trillion.

Over Rs12.430 trillion more was borrowed by the nation during the PDM and caretaker government’s mandate.

With domestic loans totaling Rs40.956 trillion and foreign loans totaling Rs22.434 trillion, Pakistan’s total debt load increased to Rs63.390 trillion.

China postponed paying Pakistan’s $2 billion debt for two years, starting in July 2023. Regarding the delay in debt recovery, Pakistan received an official letter from China Eximbank.

Pakistan will return the debt in accordance with the terms of the deal with China and was also spared from paying extra interest on the loan. According to further sources, all 31 loan agreements were extended over the original date of July 21, 2023, to June 30, 2025.

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