Pain of partition

Col J P Singh
Historically partitions have always been painful. The partition of India in August 1947 too was full of savagery and pain. It is one of the bloodiest episodes of sub-continental history. Radcliffe divided India geographically like slicing a cucumber with a knife thus inflicted a wound which never healed. This surgical division has inflicted an everlasting negative impact on future of India and Pakistan. Various witness accounts of this division have lent insight into the events which caused unbearable pain and irreparable damages to millions, some of which have been shared by historians and film makers. Some are yet unknown. For those who crossed borders leaving their dear ones behind, alive/dead & many perishing enroute, the experiences have been horrific. These must be compiled as ‘partition memorabilia’ before Platinum Jubilee of the partition.
20th century as a whole was the bloodiest century of the recorded history in which both the World Wars were fought. Territorial divisions, partitions and ethnic cleansing also occurred in this century. 70 years past unfortunate division of India and transfer of population that accompanied the partition, are the unforgettable events of the century. Let us not carry this baggage far too long. Let us not think of any partition in the 21st century. That may be more painful than the last one.
Reports of proposed partition of the country into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan sparked communal riots. Riots first broke out in Calcutta a year before the partition and within months the death toll rose to thousands. Muslims blamed Hindus for starting the killings whereas Hindus blamed Muslims. The fact is that both sides had their pound of flesh. Both killed, tortured, raped, looted and committed crimes. Everyone felt that his neighbor’s hand was at his throat. From Calcutta, the riots spread to East, North and West. In East Bengal, Muslims killed Hindus, in Bihar Hindus killed Muslims. In Punjab & NWFPs, Muslims and Hindus who had lived peacefully for centuries became each-others victim. Hindus fled towards East in the areas dominated by Hindus whereas Muslims fled to the West where Muslims were in majority. They travelled on foot, on bullock-carts, crammed in lorries, in the trains clinging to the side and roof. At crossroads & railway stations they met panicky swarms of humanity fleeing to safety in the opposite direction. The riots became a rout. By the summer of 1947 when the formation of new nations was formally announced, ten million people were in flight. By the time partition materialised, India was up in arms, terror and flames. In Northern India the brunt of the partition was borne by Punjab. Trains & Convoys of corpses came from the areas which became part of Pakistan. Sikhs retaliated by attacking trains and convoys carrying Muslim refugees. In one case a train crossing over to Pakistan carried corpses with the writing on the engine ‘Gift to Pakistan’. In another incident Muslim mobs attacked Sheikhupura and Gujranwala. Pakistan army and police took part in the attack. Women veils were taken off, they were stripped and marched down crowded streets to be raped in the market place. Some gentlewomen eluded their would be ravishers by killing themselves. To save their honor women killed own children and jumped into the wells piling over each other. None remained alive in some villages after which Sikhs became Muslims’ blood thirsty.  Pak soldiers going to Lahore from Amritsar in trucks looted & bayoneted pedestrians enroute. Pakistani magistrates and inspectors became millionaire overnight. These are the stories from Punjab. Luckily J&K was not directly hit by communal riots but the entry of thousands of beleaguered immigrants from the West enraged the onlookers thus giving rise to sporadic incidences of violence.
Trains full of corpses of Hindus coming from Pakistan and the returning trains with corpses of Muslim are the core of Khuswant Singh’s ‘Train to Pakistan’ which suffice to understand the sufferings of millions. In one story Sikhs are alleged to have ambushed a train at Sutlej Bridge to revenge killings of migrant Sikhs. In Mano Majra, a border village in Punjab, over one thousand Hindu corpses were unloaded from the train and collectively burnt by army and police which people saw from roof tops. They saw vultures diving at half burnt corpses amongst howls of Jackals & barks of dogs. Corpses which came later in another train were buried because of shortages of firewood and K-oil. To revenge merciless killings of fellow Hindus, they planned an ambush of a train at Sutlej Bridge taking Muslims to Pakistan. They tied a rope on the steel span of the Bridge 20 ft above the ground level horizontally. It was meant to sweep those sitting on the rooftop and throw them in the river dying. Those sitting inside the compartments were to be shot. Just when the train was about to reach the bridge, an unknown man was seen climbing the bridge where the rope was tied. Initially he was taken to be one of the ambush party gone to check the rope properly tied. But just when the train was about to reach, he took out his Kirpan and started cutting the rope. Seeing him cutting the rope, he was shot at. But he carried on despite being hit. Few more shots hit him and he fell down, the rope also snapped simultaneously. The mishap was averted. The train crossed. This probably is the ‘Train to Pakistan’ referred to in the book. But nothing like that happened on the other side. Muslim soldiers killed Hindus, evacuated Muslims from Indian villages and took them to Pakistan even against their wishes. Those who didn’t want to go were forcibly taken and given to understand that Pakistan for the Muslims means a heaven where there were no Hindus. At places trains coming to India were stopped for days together at the gun point with none allowed to come out while children cried for food and water. The locals who wished to provide food and water were hounded. Unable to bear the cries and pains of their infants, fathers killed their children, husbands killed wives. In Akhnoor, Muslims, who were father’s (Nambardar) and uncle’s (Zaildar) close friends started harboring hate towards Hindus and migrated to Pakistan.
Some of them who returned after few years told that they were treated as slaves and used as domestic help in their dreamland. That brings out few lessons magnificently as two opposite poles. Compassion of, love and hate; save and kill; pardon and revenge were seen. Tremendous sense of belonging to a village community and at the same time fear of being killed by the neighbor grew distrust. There was urge not to disallow Muslims/Hindus to go and at the same time there was greed to grab their vacated properties. Amongst the killers there were saviour. Those who survived, their struggle did not end. It took years for them to find their bearings and settle down at one place. What is exemplary is that many never complained about their miseries and were thankful to their new nation for having given them shelter. While this was happening, those who were to ensure their safety and security were making eloquent speeches in the Assembly at Delhi drawing applauses from foreigners (rulers). Pt. Nehru’s speech at the Red Fort, “long ago we made a tryst with destiny and now the time has come when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure but very substantially”. Pt Nehru, redeemed his pledge, made his tryst with destiny substantially, so did some others but those who suffered and perished and those who are alive as victim of that pledge also deserves to redeem Nehru’s pledge. For them independence was doom & gloom. They continue suffering the indignities. Refugees of West Pakistan have yet not been settled in J&K honourably and are agitating. Internally displaced persons consequent to partition continue suffering and the plight of those living on the LoC needs no description.
It is necessary to collect public amnesia around greatest upheaval of sub-continental heritage to commemorate it during independence day celebrations particularly in J&K where the legacy of partition is inflicting its wounds everyday with reasons resonating each day. Partition colours Kashmir politics. Kashmir issue has a historical context. Jinnah had said, “Kashmir is in my pocket”. Even before the bloodshed by the havoc of partition had gone dry, Pakistan, driven by its ideology of two nation theory, spilled more blood by attacking Kashmir on 22 October 1947. Tell tale marks of loot, plunder, killings, rape and terror are still visible on the psyche of elderly Kashmiris. After trying out the options of war four times, Pak recognized the futility of military misadventures and resorted to an ideology other than war.  Kashmir imbroglio is the legacy of partition. Youth of Kashmir need to be apprised of it. And for those who have redeemed their pledges for ever, lest we forget, let us dedicate ’70th  Independence Day’ to them as Remembrance Day.
To commemorate legacy of the partition, the govt should create an Archive in Punjab as ‘Memoir of Partition’ to portray divergent facets of the great upheaval that accompanied the creation of Pakistan. For the innumerable sacrifices, ‘Ae mere watan ke logo, zara aankh mein bhar lo pani, Jo shahid hue hain unki,  zara yad  karo qurbani’, should be made national song.


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