Project Dastaan is a peace project that reconnects refugees of the 1947 Partition to their ancestral homes and communities, communicating their stories to the world through a documentary film and VR experiences. It is launching its Crowdfunder on January 17 to expand its scope and create a platform for South Asian education in the UK, USA, India and Pakistan.
Founded by a group of Oxford University students from Pakistan and India in 2018, the Project is backed by the Oxford University South Asian Studies Programme, The Catchlight Foundation, Malala Yousafzai (Nobel Peace Prize Recipient), Gabo Arora (former Creative Director at the UN), Suroosh Alvi (CoFounder of Vice Media), and celebrated authors such as William Dalrymple and Aanchal Malhotra.
“I once asked my grandfather what the most important event of his lifetime had been. He didn’t say World War 2 or the Cold War or the development of the atomic bomb. He said, ‘Partition.’ When I asked why, he replied, “Because two-thirds of my neighbors left and I never saw them again”…This is a great project…”
Mohsin Hamid, Author, Reluctant Fundamentalist
“This imaginative project underscores something policymakers on both sides often overlook: the myriad ways in which memory and shared experience continue to knit together present-day India and Pakistan. The value of the project therefore lies not only in the incredible gift it offers to the participants, but also in its gentle yet powerful critique of the conflict and dislocation between the two countries.”
Dr. Kate Sullivan de Estrada, Director of South Asian Studies, University of Oxford
It has three arms. The Social Impact Program - now the largest VR peace project ever attempted - uses an extensive volunteer network to track down the childhood homes and villages of Partition Witnesses and films them in 360 video. Child of Empire – a flagship VR experience of the Project through which these migration stories will also be used as an educational tool to teach Partition history, and a feature documentary, The Lost Migration, shares first-hand survivor narratives through documentary-style storytelling with Verite art film elements. All three of these initiatives allow viewers from every walk of life to feel connected to this time in history as it covers topics such as immigration, loss, identity, and lasting trauma -- all which are prevalent in today’s world.
By helping the remaining survivors of Partition, the Project seeks to promote a cultural dialogue between the three countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, and educate younger generations about the common ancestries of their predecessors and, most importantly, immortalise the experiences of those who suffered under colonialism and communalism.
“At its heart, the Project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back, we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist.”
Sparsh Ahuja, Founder & CEO
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: that children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again.”
Sam Dalrymple, Co-Founder & Operations Lead
“Project Dastaan is at a stage where we are looking for financial support to sustain our peace-making efforts. We are hopeful that people will come forward to help us by donating and giving public endorsement to the Project so that we can reach more people, raising funds and awareness.”
Saadia Gardezi, Co-Founder & Pakistan Lead
“If every descendant of Partition donated $1 to the cause, we’d have over $1.5B to help preserve our ancestry. That number alone should tell you the amount of people it affects and the lack of representation it holds in modern day media.”
Shahbano Farid, Director, The Lost Migration
“Project Dastaan is one of the best cases of VR use to date - allowing the immobile to travel the world is what VR should be all about. As well as reconnecting Partition survivors with their ancestral homes, after 70 years, it has given us a platform to raise awareness about one of the most tragic events of the 20th century by putting viewers at the centre of the horrific events of 1947”
Erfan Saadati, Director, Child of Empire
ABOUT PROJECT DASTAAN
Project Dastaan is a peace-building venture that seeks to reconnect individuals displaced during the 1947 Partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to their ancestral villages, using a film and VR artwork to help communicate their stories to the world. The project is affiliated with the Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme at the Oxford School of Area and Global Studies at Oxford University
The 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan was the largest forced migration in recorded history. Overnight, tens of millions of people were displaced across religious lines, creating ripples of mass sectarian violence and an overwhelming refugee crisis.
More than 70 years later, Partition continues to be a lived experience for many people across the subcontinent. The political relations between India and Pakistan remain hostile, plagued by the legacy of Partition and the four wars that followed it. The vast majority of Partition witnesses have never had the ability to go back to their ancestral villages, despite widespread longing to see these villages again. Virtual reality technology, however, can overcome these limitations. Project Dastaan seeks to reconnect these displaced individuals with their childhoods, their ancestries and their heritage.
Project Dastaan’s Social Impact program uses an extensive volunteer network to track down the childhood homes and villages of Partition refugees and film them in 360 video. These films showcase the people and places that the witness most wants to see again through VR experiences – the chaotic sounds of a long-forgotten Sindhi bazaar, the serenity of a Punjabi pind, or the Baul harmonies echoing through an ancient Bengali gaon.
These migration stories will also be used as an educational tool to teach Partition history through Dastaan’s flagship VR experience Child of Empire, as well as a feature documentary, The Lost Migration, which combines documentary-style storytelling with Verite art film elements to engage both desis and those with no knowledge of the subcontinent. The film recounts the migrations of several Partition survivors as historians recall economic, social and religious landscapes within their environment.
In addition to “taking witnesses back”, the Project has wide reaching educational and social impact as a unique visual commentary on the effects of the Partition. We aim to facilitate cultural exchange through VR exhibits of our work at museums throughout India, Pakistan and the UK. We also work directly with policy groups such as the “National South Asian Heritage Month Campaign” in the UK to integrate our work into school curriculums, where it can serve as an immersive tool in the study of history and colonialism.
Shah Umair, Head of Marketing and PR at the Project Dastaan.
Recent article on this project was published in Dawn: https://www.dawn.com/news/1499424