On the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Partition of India, this exhibition explores the legacy of the British colonialism on the modern-day countries of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Photographs by the American photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, Cornell Class of 1927, and contemporary works by South Asian artists underscore the shared history and connection between different religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and highlight the arbitrary nature of borders in the Indian subcontinent.
On August 14, 1947, Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, was granted sovereignty. India celebrates its independence a day later, on August 15, though both nations gained liberation from nearly two hundred years of the British Raj (British colonial rule) within minutes of one another. The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, said, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” The elation was short-lived. Partition triggered the Great Migration of India, a convulsive, violent, and traumatic movement of approximately fifteen million people across newly created borders, and the deaths of up to two million migrants. Partition remains one of the largest migrations in human history and its aftermath continued to impact South Asian political, social, caste, and religious dynamics, including in 1971, when the province of East Pakistan gained its independence as Bangladesh.