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“Partition Tourism”, a chance to revisit history scripted by 1947 India-Pakistan Partition

Rabbi Calra

Partition Tourism: The fast-growing tourism industry of Pakistan has a new fillip in the form of ‘partition tourism’,  the term, although lesser known, coined by some young travel bloggers in Pakistan who target the emotional connection of the generations which have grown listening to the stories of India-Pakistan partition from their forefathers.

These international travellers with roots in the Indian sub-continent, born and brought up or settled abroad not only want to explore the native land of their forefathers but are also keen on revisiting the experiences of the past by reaching out to the cities, towns, villages, and houses where their parents or grandparents were born, lived and migrated during the exodus of 1947 India-Pakistan partition.

According to a documentary filmmaker from Pakistan and founder of a YouTube channel, Nasir Dhillon, who is actively involved in facilitating visits for such tourists, “Almost 200-300 such families who come in direct contact with us through social media visit Pakistan every year.” The total number of such visitors, according to Nasir, maybe “much higher”.

Dhillon, whose grandparents migrated to Pakistan from district Tarn Taran in the Indian side of Punjab, himself grew up listening to stories of partition and his native village. He said, “It was out of personal interest, I started making videos and blogs about stories of partition in Punjab. Our outreach became international soon and people started connecting with me through social media.”

Travel bloggers on both sides of Indian and Pakistan borders insist that ‘partition’ can be a big catch for the travel industry of both countries. Many even want certain villages which witnessed massive migration to have dedicated tourism spots to help tourists revisit the partition times-the most defining moment in the history Indian subcontinent.

Partition museum, established in Amritsar in 2015, and has since been visited by a hundred thousand visitors is cited by these enthusiastic travel bloggers as an example of the potential of “partition tourism”.

What is Partition Tourism?

Generations in Pakistan and India have grown up listening to the stories of partition, division and migration. In Pakistan specifically, it is attached to its identity as the partition of 1947  marks the birth of this Islamic nation. The people who witnessed the horror of leaving their ancestral homes, lands and villages, could never come to terms with it and they passed the very emotions generation after generation in the form of stories.

Children and grandchildren of the partition victims, who listened to the stories of partition and their erstwhile ancestral homes and villages, have with time developed a special liking to visit the place. Since the Punjab province was divided into two parts during the country’s partition, most people, although born in Indian Punjab, have ancestral roots in the province’s Pakistani counterpart.

A good percentage of the younger generation of India and Pakistan are eager to know and understand the traumatic past of their forefathers but the diplomatic tussle between the two nations comes as a hindrance in the easy transit of tourists through their international borders. Special allowances are given to a few Hindu and Sikh pilgrim groups by the Indian Government, to visit their respective shrines and places of worship in Pakistan, on religious festivals.

According to the official website of the High Commission of India in Islamabad, “The visit to religious shrines between India and Pakistan is governed by the Bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines signed between India and Pakistan in 1974. The protocol provides for three Hindu pilgrimages and four Sikh pilgrimages every year to visit 15 shrines in Pakistan while five Pakistan pilgrim groups visit 7 shrines in India.” Tourist visas, other than an emergency, visit families and relatives are not issued easily by the Governments of both countries.

However, since a substantial population from the Punjab region has immigrated abroad over the years, and holds citizenships of countries other than India, they travel to Pakistan without any hassle. Over the years, people of the Punjabi diaspora from countries UK, Canada, USA and Australia, who have their ancestral ties in Pakistan, have visited the country and the number is growing.

Partition Tourism, a fillip to the soaring Pakistan tourism industry!

Pakistan’s tourism industry is one of the fastest-growing travel industries in the world. With the current contribution of around Rs 793 billion, which is around 2.7 per cent of the total GDP, Pakistan tourism is predicted to contribute around rupees 1 trillion to its economy by 2025.

The estimated number of “partition tourism” which, by one person’s account is around 200-300 families in a year, makes an interesting number in terms of projected growth and the potential of a singular segment.

Travel YouTubers believe that “partition tourism” is an interesting concept which should be seriously promoted at government levels of both Pakistan and India as this would further open many avenues for the tourism industry in Pakistan.

People-to-people connections among the Pakistani and Indian diaspora abroad, these bloggers believe, can play a major role in this direction.

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