Hitchin’s Canon Michael’s tireless inter-faith work on Partition Project bears fruit with House of Lords approval

Father Michael.

Father Michael. - Credit: Archant

The vicar of St Mary’s Church in Hitchin has visited the House of Lords after being invited to address the traumatic legacy of the Indian partition – the largest mass movement of humanity in history, which took place 70 years ago.

During a sabbatical in 2009, Canon Michael Roden – who was then chair of North Herts Interfaith Forum – decided he wanted to know more about stories of loss in the Sikh community in Hitchin, because even though one million people were killed in 1947 after British India was divided into two separate countries, India and Pakistan, the history of the partition is not taught in British schools.

He was deeply shocked at the history of suffering on all sides from an event he knew little about.

Millions of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh families – who had previously defined themselves as Indian, living in peace for many generations – had to choose on which side of the border to live.

With the trauma of deaths and displacement, each community developed its own version of events, which continues to define discussions on the issue – still contributing to interfaith tensions.

Since then Canon Roden has worked tirelessly with historians to find a method to teach such a difficult subject to children.

He set up the Partition History Project and established partnerships with experts, members of faith communities, TV producers, a government minister and the Runnymede Trust – the UK’s leading race equality think-tank.

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With his project receiving support from all sides, a play and novel were chosen as the best platforms to further inform.

The first performance of the play Child of the Divide by Sudha Bhuchar, took place at St Mary’s before Christmas in front of Hitchin schoolchildren to widespread community acclaim with the Runnymede Trust believing it’s a blue print which could be used widely. They then pulled together a ‘Partition Panel’ to discuss the matter in the House of Lords – chaired by the BBC’s Reeta Chakrabati, including Lord Desai and Canon Roden.

Canon Roden said: “It’s been an exciting and interesting ride from starting off as a St Mary’s inter-faith initiative in 2009 to it being discussed at the House of Lords.

“Partition is relevant today as the whole world is affected by forms of partition.

“If you get the narrative right about its terrible suffering with young people in our communities it will increase understanding of mutual loss and lessen the burden of extremism. The question is how to best tell the story of such a controversial history.”

The BBC are to commission programmes on Partition – as well as pursuing a dramatisation on the novel Train to Pakistan by Kuswat Singh.

Canon Michael’s hard work in Hitchin appears to be paying off by providing a narrative for this contentious subject – encouraging informed debate, awareness and television programmes on this important subject.

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