02/09/2017 Witness


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Welcome to Witness, here at the British Library in London.


This month we have another five people who have witnessed


extraordinary moments in history first-hand.


We will be remembering a royal wedding in Japan,


a remarkable feat of engineering under the Alps, and a new


But first, we are going back to August 1947, when India gained


independence from Britain and was split into two


countries, mainly Hindu India and mainly Muslim Pakistan.


Partition affected the lives of millions of families.


Mohammad Amir Ahmed Khan's was one of them.


I am Mohammad Amir Ahmed Khan, known as Sulaiman to family and friends,


I am from a Muslim family which once ruled a very large feudal estate,


including the beautiful a palace in Mahmudabad in


But the Indian government is laying claim to my property,


No-one is paying for it, so these days, everything is crumbling.


The partition of India into two states, a Muslim majority


state called Pakistan, and a Hindu majority


It was estimated that one million people died,


Some Muslims went to the state of Pakistan.


It was not just the country that was divided.


In the late '50s, my father took Pakistani nationality,


and that is when my family's problems began, because when India


and Pakistan went to war in 1965, the government laid


There was an act of Parliament called the Enemy Property Act,


which empowered the government to take over temporarily


It was not just our family which was affected.


The properties are worth billions of dollars.


But our issue is that only my father took Pakistani nationality.


We had to fight our case from the lowest to the highest


And the Supreme Court judge said that by no stretch of imagination


could I be considered an enemy, and considered me the heir


to my father's properties, but then the government went


and changed the laws and the battle has begun again.


I suppose, like so many people in India and Pakistan,


we are still caught up in the repercussions of partition


and the acrimonious relations between India and Pakistan.


In a way, I have been forced to live in the past.


And with apologies to Yeats, I feel as if I am drowning


in a beauty that has long since faded from this Earth.


Mohammad Amir Ahmed Khan, speaking to us from his beautiful


Next, to the summer of 1965, when a remarkable feat


The Mont Blanc tunnel runs for 11 kilometres under the Alps.


The dream of decades has come true and the Paris-Rome motor journey


To both France and Italy this was an historic occasion.


The joint opening ceremony was performed by General DeGaulle


From here, this looks a pretty big hole, but when you think


of the size of the mountain through which it is being driven,


it is rather like trying to drive a needle through the granite


Franco Cuaz is 91 now, and long retired, but he still lives


Now, in 1977 a state hospital near Paris began quietly changing


Obstetrician Dr Michel Odent believed that childbirth had


He wanted a more natural approach, so he introduced a pool


There is something special about the relationship


As soon as it is lifted into the air, its lungs


Dr Michel Odent, obstetrician, this is his maternity unit,


run according to his deeply felt beliefs about women


The right place to give birth would be the right place to make love.


When I arrived in 1962, the way women were giving birth


was the same as in any hospital, on a table, with legs in stirrups.


But gradually, gradually, we reconsidered everything.


We have introduced the concept of home-like birthing rooms,


a smaller room with no visible medical equipment,


to help women to feel more at home in the hospital.


At a time when they still have the vision as hospital


as a place where you come when you're sick, to die.


1:00am, and a young couple have driven 150 miles


to have their first baby here, in an ordinary state


By changing the environment, we have attracted more women


to our maternity unit, women coming from far away.


And that is why I became an obstetrician!


From 200 births a year, to 1,000 births a year.


A pool to help mothers ease the pain of labour.


Babies are occasionally born under water.


We have painted the walls in blue, dolphins on the walls.


They wanted to enter the birthing pool before it was full.


The main objective was to break the vicious


All medication, all drugs have side-effects.


After being in the womb in warm fluid for nine months,


the baby emerges happily into the warm water


with its life-support system from the mother still intact.


I remember the visit we had with this British obstetrician.


Well, I do not think we would have room for it in our hospital.


And I find Dr Odent's views about it a wonderful mixture


I do not think the word "mysticism" is appropriate.


It is true that I tried to consider in a scientific language


TRANSLATION: It felt like a family atmosphere, very reassuring.


It gave you confidence in yourself, and that is what I needed.


I was pleased when I heard women talking in a positive way


We have to learn from positive experiences,


Michel Odent now lives in London and birthing pools are widely


Remember, you can watch Witness every month on the BBC News Channel,


or you can catch up on over a thousand radio programmes


Next, we're going back to August 1972 when the dictator Idi Amin


ordered Uganda's Asian minority to leave the country, accusing them


80,000 people were forced to leave Uganda, including Gita Watts.


We had 90 days to sort everything out, to get out of the country and


he sort of made the impression that if we didn't get out on time, we'd


be sitting on fire. More than 12,000 towns and villages like this in


Uganda. In every one of them, the Government is pressing its campaign


against the Asian traders. The Asian community was close-knit, all the


Asian shops inrolled together and we all knew each other. Each family and


all the kids knew each other. We weren't well off but we were


comfortable. People started rushing to the embassies and my dad had to


sign everything over. That means his assets and his business, over to the


Ugandan bank. We were given ?55, that's all he was allowed to take


with him. It was just unbelievable, you know, after everything that he


earned, he was just left with ?55. When we first got to the airport,


people's luggage was opened and people were checking for gold and


money and, for some reason, my parents put a ring on my finger. We


were told to get that ring off me because the ring was so tight we


struggled to take it off. My parents tried everything to take this ring


off. In the end, it was cut off. The scariest bit was that we had


soldiers with guns and knives surrounding us. I was panicking


trying to get this ring off. It was a relief that we had to go on


display when the plane was taking off. My dad was probably thinking,


you know, he got his family out of the country at last. But he was


leaving back something that he really loved, the country that he


loved. The Asians arrived in cold wet weather at Stansted, whole


families arriving with little cash. The few belongings they brought


often seemed of nothing more than sentimental. The time of the year we


arrived it was winter time. That made it worse as well with the rain.


I had not seen the snow before. We were scared because we didn't know


where would we go. I mean, my mum was told to take us to Leicester, a


town called Leicester, we didn't know what it was like, we didn't


know any English when I grew up and went to secondary school I came


through a lot of racial abuse from kids, you know, calling names and


waiting for me outside school and wanting to like beat me up and not


liking my colour. Recently, we just went back to Uganda. I just wanted


to see the country that I was born in and why my parents loved that


country so much. It was nice to go back to the hospital where I was


born. It really was an amazing experience. In all, 60,000 Asians


were expelled from you began Da, nearly half settled in Britain,


including Gita watts. Finally back to 1959 and a ground-breaking Royal


wedding in Japan. Witness has been to Tokyo to meet a TV director whose


coverage of the TV event entranced the nation. So he marries a


commoner, breaking tradition of over 200 years.


The ceremony lasting 15 minutes took place in a wooden shrine within the


walls of the imperial palace. There was no hint of any western influence


in the wedding ritual. In robes such as the members of the imperial


family have worn for centuries, the Crown Prince and his bride were made


man and wife. Burdened by no fewer than 12 kimonos, it took the


Princess three hours to dress. The total weight was 33 pounds.


Cheers accompanied them all the way as they proceeded on their drive


through Tokyo. That is all from us this month. I


hope you will join us next month back here at the British Library.


We'll have five extraordinary accounts of hiss true through the


eyes of people who were there. For now, from me and the rest of the


team at Witness, goodbye. It's certainly looking like a


weekend of two halves. Best of the weather today, cloud and some rain


on the way tomorrow. Especially in the west.


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