The British adopted the time-tested policy of divide and rule to perpetuate and consolidate their rule over the country. Lord Elphinstone said, “Divide et impera was an old Roman maxim, and it shall be ours.”
In 1946 the British prime minister Clement Atlee was entrusted with the task of overseeing the transfer of power to India. Lord Mountbatten, who was sent to India in March 1947 to carry out the British mandate, was told by Atlee to negotiate with Indian leaders how and when Britain could leave India – not later than October 1947. Following extensive deliberations with Congress and Muslim League leaders, Mountbatten decided to partition the subcontinent into two sovereign nations, India and Pakistan. August 15 was fixed as the date for the partition of the country and for the transfer of power.
The task of drawing the boundaries of India and Pakistan was assigned to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a lawyer who had never visited India and knew nothing about the subcontinent’s history, society and culture. He drew up the map of India and Pakistan in less than five weeks and shortly thereafter left for Britain, never to return to India. The Radcliffe Line was officially announced on August 17, just two days after the end of British rule.
Indian leaders did not anticipate or foresee the likely consequences and repercussions of the Partition. Nehru in fact told a journalist in 1946, “when the British go, there will be no more communal trouble in India.”
The Partition turned out to be the most tragic and gruesome event in the history of the subcontinent. The massive and unprecedented movement of people across the border was marked by large-scale killings, rape, abduction and forced displacement. The estimate of the death toll ranges between 200,000 and two million. More than 50,000 women, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, were molested, raped or abducted. Nearly 20 million people were displaced.
The Partition led to the division of families and communities, the sowing of mistrust and hatred and the undermining of India’s centuries-old composite, hybrid civilizational legacy. This legacy of division and mistrust continues to vitiate the relations between Hindus and Muslims in India and between India and Pakistan.
Violence, Fear and Friendship: A Family’s Journey to India After Partition
BY GAURAV VIVEK BHATNAGAR
Satish Pruthi and his family nearly didn’t make it to India when a mob attacked the group they were a part of. But with help from friends on both sides of the border, they created a new life.
For 78-year-old Satish Pruthi, a retired Life Insurance Corporation of India employee staying in Gurugram, Haryana, the mere mention of the word ‘Partition’ instantly shaves off 70 years of his life. The look in his eyes and his vivid recollection of the events as they unfolded then, while his family was living in the Maghiana town of Jhang district in Punjab, reveal how much the pain and horror of violence impacted him as an eight-year-old boy.
“I remember a lot of incidents which happened then. The discussion then was usually around which would be the safe places to stay in, as Hindus would move out and Muslims would come in. We were told that we have to gather at a particular place and then a train would take us across to India,” he recalled, sitting in the drawing room of his house in Sector 56, Gurugram, where he now stays with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
Though Pruthi’s parents hailed from Shorkot in the same district, his father, who was head clerk at Government College, Maghiana, had settled in the town with his wife and six children.
Recalling how and when the family realised they would have to leave for India, Pruthi said, “My father’s junior clerk was Mohammad Ameen. He used to visit us often. He cautioned us that mobs of Muslims were going around looking for Hindus and offered us shelter at his home. But we feared that should a big mob reach his house and ask that all the “kafirs” be handed over to them, then what would happen. So we decided not to take shelter in his house.”
Just then, he said, the family learnt that there was a prominent social worker, Kashmiri Lal Sehgal, who had gathered a lot of people at his house. “We also got the message to reach his place and we did so with most of our neighbours. We must have stayed at his place for a day and a half. Then we were told that a train was coming and we should take it to leave Pakistan.”
The plan, he said, was that all Hindus would gather at Anaj Mandi near the station and then board the train. “At the designated hour we began walking towards Anaj Mandi. My family comprised my parents, my four sisters and a brother, who was very small and was being held by my father in his arms. Overall, there were around 200 people in the group.”
A near-death experience
But the journey to the station was not a smooth one. “On the way there was a bend and as we were passing it, we came under attack from a mob. Those who were in the front half and those right at the end were attacked by the mob with knives, swords and gunfire. A large number of people, nearly 60-80, were killed or injured in the attack. There were cries of pain and panic all around. Fortunately, my family was in the middle of the group and we ran for our lives, at times by running around or over the bodies of the dead and injured.”
Thereafter, Sehgal spoke to the administration and asked why the innocent group was attacked. “He was told that this attack was the handiwork of some miscreants. He was told that we should “rest” that evening and that a “safe passage” to the station would be provided the following day. We were obviously in a state of panic and fear after having had a close brush with death.”
The following day, he said, some military personnel arrived and the group at Sehgal’s house was shifted to Anaj Mandi. “A temporary camp was set up there and a large number of people took shelter.”
A long, uncertain journey
“The following day, a train came and we began our journey to India,” said Pruthi, adding that the relief of leaving Maghiana was huge, especially after the violence that the group survived. “After several hours, the train reached Lahore and there we saw a large number of bodies, who had been slaughtered, lying on both sides of the tracks,” he added.
He said everyone learnt that “the bodies were of the passengers of the train which had left before us. This again gave rise to fear and despondency about what lay ahead. But the train moved on. Then there was another station some distance ahead where the train stopped and then it did not move for the next eight to ten hours. There was no water at the station and we had all run out of drinking water. People begged the engine driver for help and he allowed them to take some of the hot water which is stored in the engine. But food was out of question.”
Finally, he said, the passengers heaved a sigh of relief when they learnt that the Indian military was coming to provide security to the train. “The army personnel then escorted us up to Attari railway station in India. There we were served water and food by Sikhs who had set up langars at the station itself. We must have halted for around 3-4 hours before the train began its onward journey to Hoshiarpur where a refugee camp had been set up.”
Mohammad Ameen’s acts cannot be forgotten
“We were very uncertain about our future because we only had the clothes we were in and nothing more with us. But it was Mohammad Ameen’s subsequent actions which helped us a great deal,” said Pruthi.
“In Hoshiarpur, we were put up in the government college hostel. There we came to know that a man was trying to get in touch with us. It was Ameen. On learning about the train we had boarded, he sent a message to Hoshiarpur in which he had written that he had gone to our house in Maghiana and found that it had been ransacked and burnt. But he managed to find some papers there and collected them. He sent them to us with the message that they may be of use to us. And indeed they were. One of the documents was our post office passbook. There were Rs 300 in my father’s account then and we received that money in our account here. It was quite a sum, considering that my father’s salary was Rs 18 per month then. There were also some service papers of my father and some letters. They helped my father get a job here,” Pruthi told The Wire.
At the Hoshiarpur camp, he said, the principal of the local government college met his father and asked him about his background. He then wrote to the Directorate of Public Institutions, which used to control the government colleges then, about his father’s case and within days, his father was offered a job in government college at Ropar – that too in continuation of his earlier employment.
A chilling experience, but fond memories
Overall, Pruthi maintained, “it was a horrible experience coming from Maghiana but in the end the services that the Indian government and the people of this country gave to us were really memorable.”
In Ropar, he said, the family was also given a house which had been vacated by a Muslim family. “We stayed there for about 8-9 months and my third brother was born there. Then our regular postings began. I did my schooling in Ropar. Later we moved to Jalandhar and then when my father requested that he be posted to Delhi as most of his relatives resided here, he was transferred to Hisar and we stayed there for 7-8 years. I did my matriculation and intermediate from there and then there was a vacancy which appeared in Life Corporation of India for which I applied. I was selected and my first posting was in Rohtak. I retired after about 39 years and my last position was of faculty member at our management institute in Gurgaon.”
Pruthi still carries some fond memories from Pakistan. “There was a lot of warmth and harmony between people in Maghiana. I do not feel any bitterness towards anyone. There were active social workers and other Muslims who gave us shelter and helped us escape to India. There is no doubt that people at large are not bad but it is the politicians who vitiate the atmosphere with such decisions,” he insists.
His experience has also pushed Pruthi towards social work. He now works as joint secretary at the Arya Samaj Mandir at Sushant Lok, where he looks after its various social activities. This apart, he is also an executive member of Maharishi Dayanand Model School in South City I. “I was offered several private jobs after I retired but I chose social work instead because I believe we cannot carry any money with us in afterlife.”
Seeing Partition Through a Different Prism to Liberate Ourselves From Its Trauma
BY TARUN K. SAINT
The self-reflexive and ethical perspectives of the second and third generation of witnesses to the catastrophe of 1947 may help in healing the wounds of Partition.
About a year ago, Ravinder Kaur raised an ironic but pertinent question in her article titled ‘We Best Remember Partition When We Connect the Dots from 1947 to 1984 and 2002′. Kaur expressed legitimate skepticism about the modes of memorialisation of Partition at work in the present (she mentioned the ‘1947 Partition Archive’ and ‘Partition Museum’ project in Amritsar in particular), which in her view seems to focus exclusively on a depoliticised, even sacralised notion of human suffering rather than a nuanced sense of political history, or the continuing history of communal violence (Kaur flags 1984, 2002 and Muzaffarnagar 2013 in this regard).
While referring to Urvashi Butalia’s pioneering efforts two decades ago, in The Other Side of Silence to come to terms with the silence around the fiendish violence during 1947-48 and also to re-examine the many partitions within, Kaur underlined the need for a return to critical history and a deeper understanding of the continuing political and social impact of the partition, rather than simply focusing on its psychological after-effects. Even as the 70th anniversary of Partition approaches, we can see that her critical question remains relevant.
Since then, in the domain of scholarship, Amritjit Singh, Nalini Iyer and Rahul Gairola’s edited volume Revisiting India’s Partition (2016) has remedied some of the blind spots in Partition historiography, including area studies of neglected regions such as the Northeast, Burma, Sindh, Jammu as well as transnational perspectives from Bangladesh and Pakistan, following Vazira Zamindar’s conception of a ‘long partition’ while investigating cascading effects of the 1947 debacle in society and the polity.
Meanwhile, the effort to garner individual stories and objects has gathered momentum; the Partition Museum opened in Amritsar, unilaterally declaring August 17 as ‘Partition Remembrance Day’. Earlier in the year, Pierre Nora’s conception of sites of memory was given an ironic twist with fridge magnets carrying the Partition Museum logo being hawked at the Jaipur Literary Festival (hinting at a grotesque banalisation and commodification of memory, which is more likely to induce oblivion rather than historical awareness). In contrast, the Partition Archive project has demonstrated a more self-critical outlook and greater sensitivity in its initiative of garnering stories from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the South Asian diaspora, training its ‘citizen historians’ to ask searching questions of respondents and holding seminars where theoretical perspectives relating to history, trauma and memory could be debated (such as the workshop at Delhi University on February 22, which I attended).
Any negotiation of the traumatic memory of unprecedented levels of collective violence and forced displacement in 1947-48 does need to reckon with the persistence of affects like humiliated fury and narcissistic rage, which as psychiatrists have discovered, remain with us, besides redemptive emotions such as contrition and remorse. Equally, the modulation of such psychological affects over time requires greater attention. For instance, there was an interregnum between 1948 (after the assassination of Gandhi) and 1961, when the first major post-independence riots took place in Jabalpur, as Asghar Ali Engineer points out.
Later, as he shows, it was the eighties that came to be known as the communal decade, with terrible massacres at Moradabad, Nellie and then Bhiwandi, Bombay, and the catastrophic anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi in 1984. It was also during this decade and the nineties that important work on Partition came to the fore by feminist and subaltern scholars of the second generation like Butalia, Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin (Borders and Boundaries), Gyanendra Pandey (Remembering Partition), Veena Das (Critical Events), Joya Chatterjee (Bengal Divided) and Shail Mayaram (Resisting Regimes), often highlighting the brutality of gendered violence predicated on narrow versions of identity politics during 1946-48.
Besides recounting the deeds/mistakes of the political leadership, whether of the Congress, the Muslim League or lesser entities such as the Unionist Party or the Krishak Praja Party in Bengal, the story of near-genocidal violence and ethnic cleansing (not only in Punjab), including attacks on women and children with fatal intent received new critical attention. The situation of abducted women and the silence surrounding them became the focus of research projects using innovative methodologies and motivated by a strong sense that that the lessons of the past had not been learned. As William Faulkner put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Space for such revelations by oral historians/social scientists with a feminist/subaltern perspective had been created by writers such as Saadat Hasan Manto and Amrita Pritam, filmmakers like Ritwik Ghatak and M.S. Sathyu, artists such as Satish Gujral and Somnath Hore and memoirists such as Anis Kidwai, among others. Even at the time of Partition, there had certainly been attempts to resist the current of blood-lust and restore a sense of insaniyat, as documented by Ishtiaq Ahmad (in The Punjab: Bloodied, Partitioned, Cleansed) and Rajmohan Gandhi (in Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten), as people risked their all to save lives across the communal boundary line, despite the prevailing ‘poisonous wind’.
A gap in the memories of 1947
Beyond retelling political history (as attempted recently by Nisid Hajari in Midnight’s Furies, without reference to feminist historiography), and the rhetoric of blame (largely abandoned by historians, except those touting hard-core ideological interpretations) lies a universe of popular narrativisation, not all of which takes a salubrious turn. The moral quicksand resulting from many victims becoming perpetrators, and the grey zone that emerged also on account of the absence of trials of killers (for the most part) may have contributed as well to the amnesiac turn in the decades following the Partition.
It was a critical consciousness of such lacunae in private and public memories of 1947 (despite many important anthologies/studies that have appeared) that prompted the assembling of perhaps hitherto insufficiently noticed short fiction, poetry, memoirs, an excerpt from a play and critical essays for our co-edited anthology Looking Back: India’s Partition, 70 years On (with Rakhshanda Jalil and Debjani Sengupta, to appear in August 2017). For unless we adequately come to terms with afterlife of the sixth river of blood that came to flow in Punjab and elsewhere (Fikr Taunsvi’s image, from his memoir Chhatta Dariya, excerpts translated afresh by Maaz Bin Bilal for this volume), history is likely to repeat itself, albeit with contemporary variations (such as internet trolling and the lynch-mob).
For me, as co-editor, it was the witness sensibility that was most notable, whether in memoirs like Taunsvi’s (pen-name for the Urdu writer Ramlal Bhatia, who migrated after Partition from Lahore to Delhi), or short stories by Syed Ahmed Ashraf, Meera Sikri and Selina Hossain, poems by Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaiser Haq and Shankha Ghosh, or Vidya Rao’s insightful piece on the partitioning of music and the third generation point of view in the essay on material memory by Aanchal Malhotra, even the opening scenes from a play like Asghar Wajahat’s ‘Those Who Haven’t Seen Lahore Haven’t Lived’ ( Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya, O Jamyai Nai), translated afresh by Alok Bhalla and Nishat Zaidi for this anthology.”
After the first generation of witnesses to the catastrophe of 1947, such as Ghatak, Manto, Faiz, Taunsvi and Kidwai, it is as if the second and third generation of witnesses have carried forward the difficult task of reckoning with the events of 1947, bringing to bear an often self-reflexive and ethical perspective that may help lift us out of the morass of unending bitterness and rage. Though an anthology can only do so much, the attempts to bear witness by the various contributors, we hope, might lead to a critical testing of historical memory, a healing of the wounds left behind by the Partition, and eventually, liberation from the cage of traumatic memory.
This article draws on the introduction to Looking Back: India’s Partition at 70, co-authored with Rakhshanda Jalil and Debjani Sengupta, New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2017.
Tarun K. Saint is an independent scholar and author of Witnessing Partition (2010).
After Partition, Trust was the Biggest Loss in Sindh
BY RAM PANJWANI AND RITA KOTHARI
Amar Jaleel, one of Pakistan’s most respected and controversial writers, writes in Sindhi – an official language in both India and Pakistan. He is technically a Muslim. However, his personal creed, spiritual outlook and politics recognise no borders of religion, nation and tradition. A follower of the 17th-century Sufi saint Sachal Sarmast, Jaleel draws radical courage from Sufism and fearlessly critiques any abuse of human dignity in the name of religion and national borders. He mocks the absurdity of containing subcontinental identities within the confines of nations and of equating nations with religions.
He wrote his most controversial story, Sard Lashun Jo Safar (The Journey of Cold Corpses), in the face of unrelenting censorship in the Pakistan of Zia ul-Haq. In the story, Jaleel takes us to Kundkot, a village in interior Sindh, where Hindu families live in a colony called Nanak Mohalla. We are then taken to the house of Gopal, technically a Hindu (his Hinduism as incidental as Jaleel’s Islam). While Gopal is busy reading a Sindhi translation of the Quran, a bunch of religious fanatics are raping his sister Savitri. Unlike most Hindus of Sindh, Gopal had chosen not to leave Pakistan to go to India. Perceiving himself to be an integral part of Sindh, he made his family stay back in the new state of Pakistan. His troubles started not in the 1940s, but three decades later, when religious fanaticism flared up with state support. The story shows how Gopal, an ordinary man from a village, had a sophisticated and unbiased understanding of religion. The rest of the story is much too gruesome and violent to be narrated here. Not surprisingly, the story was banned in Pakistan. In India it remains unknown beyond a tiny circle of Sindhi writers. To my knowledge, this is the only story in the Sindhi language that explicitly addresses Islamic violence against Hindus and, contrary to our expectations, it is not situated during Partition but after, and written not by a Hind u who suffered, but by a member of the majority community in Pakistan who empathised with the suffering.
Does that mean that the Sindhi community did not face violence? Or did not perhaps fulfil the expectations of ‘violence’ of the kind that characterised Partition stories? Both questions need to be answered. The Hindu minority of Sindh migrated to India during Partition and also the subsequent years, amidst immense fear and insecurity. When Punjab was caught in a maelstrom of hatred and hair-raising violence; the Hindus of Sindh were, at best, wary. Unlike the Partition experiences of Punjab or Bihar or, to a lesser extent, Bengal, the case of Sindh represents an exception because violence was not constitutive of the Sindhi experience of Partition. There were remarkably few episodes of physical violence in Sindh. Cases of robbery, hooliganism, and distress sales of property were far more common than bloodshed. Three months after Partition, when Acharya Kripalani (president, Indian National Congress) visited Sindh, he noted that, “There was only a slight exodus of the Hindus and Sikhs from Sindh. It did not suffer from any virulent fanaticism. To whatever faith the Sindhis belonged, they were powerfully influenced by Sufi and Vedantic thoughts. This made for tolerance.” Given today’s context and cynicism, this may seem archaic if not untrue. Frontier regions, and the two that I study – Kutch and Sindh – do diffuse some continuities and strait jacket definitions. Sindh was “a transition zone between ‘India proper’ and the vast region which was often called Khorrassan, in which were included Afghanistan, Baluchistan and southeastern Iran” – Sindh had been only intermittently included in the great Indian empires.
Until the British annexed Sindh in 1843, it remained relatively peripheral from the main centres of power in India. Sindh’s geographical location as a frontier province and its relative isolation from the pan-Indian empires shaped its unique character as a land of immigrants, typified by ebbs and flows of civilisation, one that paved the way for eclectic and non-textualised religious practices. The story below (Mohammad Gadiyavaalo) by Ram Panjwani captures the fear, the suspicions, the possibility as well as the absence of violence. The elite Hindu, called Deewan by the Muslims of Sindh, is the one visiting the Karachi club and waiting for his car to pick him up. Mohammed is miskin, a poor man. His innocuous question inspires suspicion, although the episode is one in a series of socio-economic transactions that characterised the Hindu-Muslim relationships. The largest sacrifice made at the altar of Partition was trust; and the subcontinent continues to feel the aftermath of that loss. What restores the narrator’s faith in this story is the shared stories and music; the verses of Shah Abdul Latif that has contributed to the Sindh story of Partition.
In other stories of the same collection Unbordered Memories and also my larger study The Burden of Refuge, we see that some of the most disturbing accounts from the lives of the Sindhi Hindus stem from their life in post-independence India, not Sindh at the time of partition. The alienation, lack of acceptance, a rupture of history and culture in the lives of those who had lost territory as well characterises the nature of violence among Sindhis. It is not physical, that’s all.
An extract from Muhammad, the Coach Driver, a short story written by Ram Panjwani, edited and translated by Rita Kothari
Partition was effected. Migrations had begun. I was still in Karachi. It was 6 January 1948. At 11 in the morning I was returning home from college. After crossing Burns Road, I came to Artillery Road. A coach came up to me. I looked up to see Muhammad’s face. He addressed me gravely, ‘Come on in. Why are you walking today?’
‘What’s happened?’ I asked, surprised.
‘You don’t know, deewan, death is dancing on the streets. There’s daylight robbery and stabbing right next to your house.’
I got into the coach, and on the way I saw the police trying to disperse crowds. Such drastic things were happening in Karachi and I had been so ignorant!
When I reached home, Muhammad said to me, ‘The military forces are arriving. Don’t come out of the house. If they impose martial law and curfew, I’ll come and stay with you. I will be your guard.’
Curfew was imposed. For a day or two, the demons of death walked through the streets. I did not need Muhammad at that time because a driver named Sukhi lived with us and he continued to reassure me. Meanwhile, the military took charge of the situation, terror subsided, and Hindu migration intensified. Those who had been determined to live in Sindh, under any circumstance, were also now desperate to leave.
Every morning, Muhammad would visit me. Willingly, he took me wherever I wanted to go. Once, while I was in his coach, he asked me, ‘Deewan, will you be leaving too?’
‘What do you desire?’ I asked.
‘You would have to go, deewan. Outsiders have come. Their motives are not good.’
‘Whatever He wishes me to do,’ I said.
‘Deewan, do let me know once you decide to leave.’ ‘You want to come to Hindustan with me!’ I joked.
‘If someone as loving as you is not valued here, how would a poor man like me be valued there? I will not come to India, but I will certainly come up to the border to see you off! Will you go by plane or ship?’
Thinking of my belongings, I replied, ‘By ship.’
‘Use this poor man’s coach to go up to Kiamari docks. I’ll feel reassured if I see you off myself.’
The day of departure did arrive. Muhammad brought me to Kiamari. He took down the belongings from the coach, and offering a salaam, he said, ‘May grace follow your footsteps. May Allah give you a long life.’
I was carrying a sandalwood walking stick with me. I offered it to him, ‘Keep this as my parting gift, its fragrance will keep my memory alive for you.’
Shutting his eyes, he inhaled the fragrance, and said, ‘I’ll never forget you. But, deewan, I have a request to make.’
‘Yes, Muhammad,’ I said.
‘When you reach India and recall the atrocities committed by Muslims, do please remember this poor Muhammad. Deewan, all human beings are not alike. All Muslims are not bad.’
I gathered my poor Muhammad into my arms, ‘My brother Muha mmad, you are such a good human being. May Allah keep you safe and happy.’
A full-grown male was sobbing like a child. I could not control myself either.
There were also other friends at the port. I bade farewell to all of them and boarded the ship. The docks were swarming with people, but my eyes were fixed on Muhammad, the poor coach-driver. His face, and his voice, ‘Deewan, all Muslims are not bad,’ reverberated in my ears.
The ship set off. My friends who had come to see me off had left. But Muhammad continued to stand at the port. I waved a kerchief in his direction, while he raised the stick and waved. I heard an inner voice.
Tum zapt ki duniya meri barbad naa karna Main yaad bhi aaun to mujhe yaad na karna Raton ki kabhi tum meri nindiyan na urana Aankhon se kabhi tum
mere aansu na churana Bhule se kabhi tum mere sapnon mein na aana Barbad hun barbad ko barbad naa karna
Main yaad bhi aaun to mujhe yaad na karna
Try not to disrupt my little world Try not to remember me, even when you remember me Try not to ruin my sleep at night Try not to take away tears from my eyes Try not to enter into my dreams Try not to ruin me, for I am ruined already Try not to remember me, even when you remember me.
Fifteen years have gone by. I miss Sindh, I miss my companions, but most of all I miss poor, humble Muhammad. Surprisingly, I don’t miss my Hindu friends, but the memory of this humble and selfless friend haunts me. How do distances matter in love?
Shah has rightly said:
Ke odha e dor, ke dora bhi oda sipri Ke samhaljan na kadan, ke a visran moor Jiyan meenh kandia poor, tiyan dost varako dil sen.
Some are near yet far, some far ones are near, beloved, Some are never in memory, some utterly unforgettable, Like a pot around a buffalo’s neck, friends engulf our heart.
Ram Panjwani was a towering figure in both the literary and social worlds of the Sindhis. He is remembered especially for making Jhulelal processions a regular part of Sindhi life, a cultural move to consolidate the post-partition and dispersed Sindhi ‘community.’
Rita Kothari has worked extensively on borders and communities; Partition and identity especially in the western region of India. She is the author of many books and articles on the Sindhi community.
Partition riots: 'A grave attack on all of humanity'
Muhammad Muslehuddin Malik and his family left Delhi, narrowly escaping the slaughter on trains bound for Pakistan.
By Hafsa Adil
Muhammad Muslehuddin Malik was a teenage schoolboy from a well-to-do Muslim household in Delhi when partition happened. His family was uprooted from their ancestral home and survived the partition riots as they made their way to Pakistan. In the newly built Muslim nation, Malik became his family's main breadwinner for a time. Malik, who is today a leading banker in Pakistan, recounts living through partition and its immediate aftermath.
I was 14 in September 1947 and had just finished high school when one day my maternal uncle brought a tonga ride (a horse-drawn carriage) to our house and told us we had to leave immediately as our neighbourhood was about to be attacked by Hindu mobs. I was aware that a new country called Pakistan had been created for the Muslims of India, but I never imagined we would have to leave our ancestral home and neighbourhood because of our religion.
All the Muslim villages on the outskirts of Delhi had been destroyed and the attackers had now moved on to residential estates within the capital. We lived in Sabzi Mandi, which was one of the three main Muslim majority areas in addition to Karol Bagh and Pahar Ganj to be targeted by Hindu mobs. We were not prepared or armed to deal with such attacks, so moving out was our only option.
The only safe place left for Muslims was Jama Masjid, so our uncle, who lived there, had come to take us with him. He told us we didn't have time to pack or reconsider, so we left in the state we were in. The women of our family observed the purdah and would never step out of the house without covering their faces, but such was the haste that some of them weren't even able to wear a scarf over their head before leaving. The idea of packing jewellery and other prized possessions didn't even cross our minds. It was a matter of life and death. Our only thought was safety first.
The military took over the following day and evicted all Muslim households from different parts of the city, including Jama Masjid. We were all moved to Lal Qila, from where we would leave for Pakistan.
My uncle was working with the government, so he was entitled to move his family to Pakistan by air. We spent a few days at the evacuee camp in Lal Qila before it was our turn to leave for the airport. Until that day, we had never imagined we would be uprooted from our hometown in such a manner. We loved Pakistan and fought for the idea of a Muslim state but didn't want to leave our home in Delhi. I loved St Stephen's College, my alma mater, and my friends whom I never saw again.
We spent a few days at Palam Airport (now Indira Gandhi International Airport) as there were no set flight schedules. On one of those days, another uncle took me and my two cousins to a nearby market. While we were away, our turn on the flight to Karachi was announced. My maternal uncle, on whose entitlement we were travelling, decided to leave immediately and left a message for us to take the train to Lahore instead.
Slain train passengers
We boarded an overcrowded train and set off for Lahore at sunset. We had heard reports of brutal attacks on trains carrying Muslims to Pakistan, so we began the 12-hour journey with great trepidation but also with excitement for our new homeland.
The train began to slow down as it approached Amritsar just before sunrise. As it got closer to the station, Sikh men brandishing brazen swords, spears and daggers began climbing on the train in hordes. Luckily, the doors of the cabins were locked and the glass windows shut. I was sitting by the window and could see men raging with anger banging on the door and the windows.
We were sure the train would pull up at the platform and the mob would enter the cabins. Inside the train, it was a scene of great horror. People were crying, screaming and chanting Quranic verses. We were staring death in the face and feared we would be butchered like the thousands who undertook this journey before us.
The train picked up speed again just as it reached the platform, making it difficult for the attackers to keep holding on to the doors. They either hurriedly climbed off or were thrown off by the speeding train. It was a miracle. We couldn't believe our luck. How our fate changed within minutes remained a mystery. However, some people believed that a British man was guarding the train's engine and that there were some British soldiers aboard the train, so the driver was urged to keep going.
In the dozens of trains transporting Muslim migrants before and after ours, everyone was killed. Slain. Slaughtered. Muslims were also killing non-Muslims leaving Pakistan. It was a grave attack on all of humanity.
Karachi: 'A sea of refugee camps'
We reached Lahore at sunrise. It was a moment of great relief. Locals welcomed us at the train station and fed us during our six-hour stay before we continued our journey to Karachi. We were asked to get off the train a few miles outside Karachi at a quarantine camp where we stayed for a few weeks. Here, migrants underwent medical checks for major illnesses and diseases before entering the main city.
For all this time, our family members who had arrived in Karachi a few weeks earlier had no clue where we were or if we had made it out alive amid the train riots. Two weeks later, my uncle arrived at the camp searching for us and was finally able to locate us.
Karachi was a sea of refugee camps when we arrived. Soon, we moved into a two-room unit which was allocated to my uncle. More than a dozen people were crammed into this small living space. I realised I had to take some of the burden off my uncle so I found work as a dispatch clerk in a garment import company.
Once my father arrived from India the burden of being the family's breadwinner was taken off my shoulders and I went back to my studies. I joined Pakistan's fledgling banking and finance sector. Within a few years, I was heading the Institute of Bankers Pakistan, which I helped develop into a leading bankers' development hub in the region.
Such was my devotion to my new homeland that I also joined the military as part of the reserve force in the wake of the 1965 war with India. We were all very passionate about making this new country work. India was lucky as the British left it with a running system of governance, whereas, in Pakistan, we had to start from scratch. There were no official records. Files and records were dumped into small wagons transferred from India overnight.
Even before the riots of 1947, it was obvious that Hindus had the upper hand over Muslims, but there was no sense of intense enmity. However, once partition was announced they turned into worst enemies.
What happened in 1947, especially during the train journey, is deeply etched in my memory. The bloodthirsty faces of the Sikh mobs formed the most haunting moment of my life. Migrating to Pakistan seemed like the only option for Muslims. From being second-class citizens in India we suddenly had a homeland of our own.
Memories of partition: One man's return to Pakistan
Seventy years on, a now 92-year-old man returns to the home he fled during the 'poison' of partition.
By Asad Hashim
When Krishan Kumar Khanna, a 22-year-old worker in Sheikhupura's bustling rice market, left home, he had no idea that he would be gone this long.
"When we left, we had just put a lock on the house, thinking that we'd return within 10 or 15 days," he says. "We were convinced of it."
But that return never happened.
The date was August 27, 1947, just 13 days after the partition of the Indian subcontinent into Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India, as the region gained independence from Britain.
It is described by historians as perhaps the largest political migration in human history, with an estimated 15 million people fleeing their homes.
It was also, perhaps, one of the most violent.
Conservative estimates say that at least a million people were killed in the mass communal riots and widespread slaughter between religious communities that followed.
Trains carrying migrants heading in either direction - Muslims going west to the newly formed West Pakistan or east to East Pakistan; and Hindus leaving those areas - were attacked, sometimes pulling in to their destinations with hardly a living soul left aboard.
"We wanted to stay, we wanted to remain where we were. Partition happened, even then we still remained," says Khanna, now 92 and with failing eyesight and hearing.
His family was Hindu, and their home was now in West Pakistan.
"Then the [Pakistani] military came and beat us out of our neighbourhoods. There was a 'poison' spreading then. People who had become Muslim refugees arrived [in the neighbourhood] as well, and questioned why these Hindus were still here."
The killings had started.
"Outside my uncle's house, I saw seven bodies, covered in blood," he says. "Their blood was flowing into the street, and I stepped over it to get into the house. I still remember that blood today. The blood touched my feet and, as I was walking down the street, a man said to me: 'Is this the freedom that you wanted?'"
Khanna could not comprehend the scale of the violence. For centuries, he says, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities had lived in harmony in his town. "We were a symbol of unity," he reflects, ruefully.
"But there was a strange atmosphere then, and people fell into it. Men did not have the will to kill people ... but when the 'poison' spread. It happened, and we had to flee."
Khanna's characterisation of a "poison", or "madness", overtaking people is fairly typical of narrative accounts of partition. Recent research, however, suggests that the violence was far more structured than previously understood.
"Partition violence has been accepted by many as anarchic and chaotic in nature, as madness even," says Ali Raza, a Lahore-based historian.
"[But] we need to seriously examine the role of paramilitary groups - Muslim, Hindu and Sikh - who carefully planned and orchestrated violence with varying success across North India. In the Punjab for instance, one would also need to look at the crucial role played by princely states and by the thousands of decommissioned, and in some cases, serving soldiers."
Moreover, Raza explains, there are accounts of battlefield weapons, such as machineguns and mortars, being used to target civilian populations in certain districts, forcing them to migrate.
For survivors, however, "madness" was often the only explanation left, and the sheer scale of the violence and the chaotic nature of their displacement have made notions of ever going "home" difficult.
"This anxiety [around going home] is centrally related to the trauma of forced displacement and the sense of loss, helplessness and despair that accompanied it," says Kavita Panjabi, a partition scholar whose own family fled the Sindh region for present-day India during partition.
"Parting makes that which one is estranged from even more dear, and violent partings leave one with the fear that all that one loved will have been destroyed."
The violence was traumatic, Panjabi says, not just for the generation that witnessed it, but for all those who came after, shaping their identities and, in some cases, cutting them off from their own history.
'I want to see my home'
"I have a passion to see my home. My wife told me not to go. Who knows what might happen? But it was just a passion inside me to see my own home, my own town, what it is like now," says Khanna from his hometown of Meerut in India.
When pressed on what he hopes to discover on the trip, Khanna simply repeats: "I want to see my home, I want to see my home, I want to see my home."
The need is clear, although the energy that drives it is difficult to articulate, he agrees.
His family, meanwhile, opposes his desire to visit present-day Pakistan, with whom India has fought three wars since independence in 1947 and who it accuses of fomenting violence in the disputed territory of Kashmir - a charge Pakistan denies.
"We are totally against this trip. [Pakistan] isn't a place of pilgrimage for us," says his wife Kamla Khanna, 87, just days before he is due to leave. "I told him not to go. What is he going to do there in Pakistan? It's the same place where we saw so much violence, so many fights. So why go there now?"
But Khanna is determined. He has been trying to get a visa for 20 years, he says. His previous applications were all rejected, but this time, after securing the help of an influential former army officer, he is successful.
"Maybe I'll find some of my friends. But who knows where they will be now," he reflects.
After an overnight train journey from Meerut to the city of Amritsar, Khanna is finally at the border that was created all those years ago, wrenching him from his home.
This is one of the most militarised borders in the world, with the nuclear-armed neighbours allowing people to cross on foot at only one location: Wagah/Attari.
After an interrogation by an Indian border police officer, who makes an impassioned plea for him not to go, and similar questioning by Pakistani authorities, he is finally allowed to cross.
He moves slowly, leaning on his walking stick, and peering into the distance to catch sight of the fields beyond. All those years ago he made exactly this journey, but in the opposite direction, as he and his family were evacuated in Indian military trucks.
Khanna steps off the road and into a lush, green field.
"I am thankful to God. I have now crossed the border into Pakistan," he says. "Back home in our Punjab, the landscape is the same. The soil is the same, and the people are the same."
What follows is a whirlwind trip. The first stop is the historic Mughal city of Lahore, about 23km away, where Khanna once studied. He retraces his old neighbourhood of Rang Mahal carefully, finding one of the schools where he studied, and the places he used to frequent as a teenager.
"I was sitting in this park reading," Khanna says, pointing to a bench in Lahore's Gol Bagh. "That was when the decision to create Pakistan was made. Someone came and told me that there is a curfew in the city, what are you doing sitting over here? I said I didn't even know there was a curfew."
At the time, Khanna, who was a youth worker for Mahatma Gandhi's Indian National Congress party, opposed partition.
"I thought that partition was a mistake. This was the thought at the start, and it's the same now. It's wrong, and should not have happened on religious grounds."
Soon, it is time to move towards Sheikhpura, Khanna's family's hometown.
'Everything is the same, there are no differences'
A bustling city of about a million people in Pakistan's northern Punjab province, the Sheikhupura of today bears little resemblance to the place where Khanna grew up. Nevertheless, he is able to track down his neighbourhood of Guru Nanak Pura (now known as Jinnah Park, after Pakistan's founder) with little trouble.
"We knew where it was, and the neighbourhood was the same. There is no room for it to change. There's no space," he says.
As he enters the street that he grew up in, he points to a small concrete building at the end of the alley.
"This is my old house," he says, taking a hesitant step towards it.
When partition occurred, refugee families on both sides of the border were often housed in homes vacated by those who had fled to the other side. And so it was here - a migrating Muslim family had moved into Khanna's family home.
They have made some changes to it over the years, but it is still recognisable to a visibly moved Khanna, who walks through the rooms, his eyes wide in wonder.
"This is great," he says, touching the palms of his hands to the surface of his old wooden desk, and then to his forehead, repeatedly. "Wow," he says.
The current occupants show him around, allowing him to dwell on his family's old belongings, and his own memories.
"The book belongs to the person who reads it," he says, as he leaves the house. "The pen belongs to the person who writes with it, and the house belongs to the one who lives in it. The house is theirs now."
A few days later, Khanna visits his old school, shown around by the government-run institute's headmaster. He points to a wall over which he once jumped to escape from class, to raucous laughter from the teachers, and answers questions from students excited to meet a rare visitor from the other side of the border.
And then it is time to return to India.
"My heart doesn't feel like leaving. I feel like staying here for two more days," he tells his brother, who insists it is time to go.
On his return to Meerut, Khanna is mobbed by his children and grandchildren, anxious to hear his stories. But he is quiet, responding to their flurry of questions with short, simple answers.
When asked later what it felt like to be in his old town again, Khanna sounds almost melancholic.
"I felt like I was walking around in Punjab - not in India or in Pakistan. And I was just enjoying myself doing that. I didn't feel like I was in India or Pakistan. The same people, the same faces, everything is the same, there are no differences."