Project Dastaan: Partition survivors travel to their ancestral villages through VR


BATHINDA: As the bloodiest partition in the world completes 75 years of existence, the survivors visit their roots through technology. Documenting stories on partition, University of Oxford researchers are taking immigrants back to their ancestral homes through virtual reality (VR) and giving 360 degree experience by putting headsets.
Project Dastaan came into being in 2018 with the aim of documenting and connecting 75 survivors of partition with their ancestral places in India and Pakistan. However, the pandemic restricted their plans to only 35 stories. Apart from documenting the sorrows of survivors, Dastaan is also promoting peace building initiative.
Sparsh Ahuja, a celebrated documentary filmmaker who graduated as FitzRandolph scholar in PPE at University of Oxford, started the project after finding out about his maternal grandfather Ishar Dass Arora, who was a victim of the partition.
His grandfather, who was only seven when he had to migrate from Pakistan to India under traumatic circumstances, never forgets the trauma. It was a Muslim neighbour who came to his saviour when he was being attacked.
Ahuja wanted his grandfather to return to his village Bela in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but that was not possible. That was when he, along with companions Sam Dalrymple and Saadia Gardezi, thought of using technology to get the survivors to their roots.
A team of 30 volunteers from five countries assisted in tracking down the survivors, getting their interviews, tracking their locations in India and Pakistan, recapturing the visuals of the places associated with the survivor till partition and editing this into a six minute experience.
Though they could not travel to document the stories during the pandemic, Dastaan came out with four animated films – ‘Child of Empire’, an interactive animated virtual reality documentary experience and the ‘Lost Migrations’, a three part animated series which tell the untold stories of the partition.
Coinciding with the 75th anniversary of partition, the works of Project Dastaan and films are being screened at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery under South Asian Heritage Month till August 14. After that, the proposal is to screen films in India and Pakistan museums.
“When we could not physically get the survivors back to the place he/she belongs, the virtual reality came as the perfect solution. The survivors were able to see the places technologically that was once theirs,” Sam Dalrymple told TOI. Sam, son of historian William Dalrymple and co-founder and operations lead at Dastaan, is also working on his upcoming book, ‘Five Partitions: The Making of Modern Asia.’
Saadia Gardezi, co founder and Pakistan lead, says reaching out to the partition survivors and knowing about their miseries is painful and Dastaan had been trying to put that pain in public domain. Saadia, who after graduating from Oxford is doing doctorate at University of Warwick, says they are trying to tell miserable stories from the partition which is still haunting the survivors, through the new angles and work on three-episode animation series ‘Lost Migrations’ had begun two years ago.

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