Partition Horrors

Col J P Singh
Above heading is taken from the seminar organised by Cluster University Jammu on 5th August 2022. It was mainly for the students of social sciences which I too attended and met elderly survivors of the partition holocaust, heard stories of horrors they went through and saw them cry for their lost kith and kin. Many eyes turned wet in unison. Ironically time has not healed their wounds. Their personal tragedies of partition haunt them still. What I heard and saw was an eye opener; the reflections of which I intend putting across through Daily Excelsior.
History tells us that Radcliffe divided India like slicing a cucumber with a kitchen knife thus inflicting a deep wound in our heart which hasn’t yet healed. Hence none can deny that partition of India is one of the bloodiest episode of Indian history. It is central to the identity of India as the Holocaust is to the identity of Jews. India hasn’t got independence for free. It has paid a very high price in terms of lives, in millions.
This partition is engrained painfully into our national consciousness. Many books have been written and Bollywood Movies made to show case the horrors of partitions. It haunts the nation and comes back to haunt again and again as we start Independence Day celebrations. Yet as each day, week and year passes, the memories of the pain and sufferings of millions of innocent men, women and children get blurred. As 15 August approaches, broadcasts and seminars start, sufferings of millions get highlighted, disapproved and condemned but again forgotten as the time passes despite their unparallel magnitude.
Hence the declaration of Prime Minister ‘Partition Horrors Day’ as ‘Remembrance Day’ on 14th August, is a remarkable initiative, which was long overdue. I rejoiced the declaration because besides all others who suffered, Dogras and infact the entire J&K suffered a lot due to partition of India. Dogras were the sentinels of Northwestern frontiers during the partition which became the bone of contention and site of bloodshed due to partition. Hence they too faced killings and suffered similar indignities and deserve a sentiment of the nation on this solemn day. Though dedicated to the victims of the partition, the Remembrance Day is also an occasion to commemorate the devastation of the entire Indian nation. Luckily ever since Mr Modi is the prime minister, real history is getting traction and such monumental episodes in Indian History are getting attention which incidentally wasn’t the case earlier.
To the credit of displaced, whom I met, I sensed the dilemma of their love of belonging and sense of exile, gory past and dim future, shattered hopes and deep sorrow which I find difficult to express. They lost everything. They lost blood relations, properties, identities, neighbors, relatives, culture and even revered Devi-Devtas. Hearing of invaders, women would rush to hide in Sugarcane fields to escape indignities. Some would bury their newly borns in the dugouts close by to retrieve them after the dangers pass-by. Some threw their children in Jhelum to deny them to the fanatics and some jumped into the wells themselves. Yet the horrendous sufferings have not dampened their enthusiasm for return to their place of birth, as was evident from queries, “when our POJK will be back in India”.
Waves of humanity criss-crossed East-West and became refugees during the eventful human tragedy of partition. Many perished enroute. It is estimated that two millions died and fifty millions were uprooted from homes and hearth. Some refute these figures. Glimpses from acclaimed historian Nisid Hajari’s book, ‘Midnight Fury’ also support estimated figures. He writes, “foot caravans of destitute refugees, fleeing the violence, stretched over 50 miles and more and as the peasants trudged along wearily, mounted guerillas burst out of the tall crops that lined the road and culled them like chickens. Special refugees trains, filled to bursting, repeatedly ambushed along the way. All too often they crossed the border in funeral silence, blood seeping from under their carriage doors. Gangs of killers set whole villages to flames, hacking to death men and children and the aged while carrying off young women to be raped. Some British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps claimed partition brutalities were worse. Pregnant women had their breasts cut and babies hacked out of their bellies, infants were literally roasted on spits and eaten”. This explains the carnage and the figures better.
My understanding is that killing as estimated may not be realistic but the displacement may even be more firstly because it was pan India and continued for many years, secondly because the nature of human race is such that, in the face of danger, they prefer safer places and undertake unknown strides for that as we see Bangladeshis, Rohingyas, Mexicans and own countrymen migrating. Stories of Boat people one time were note worthy.
Within months the humanity and the landscape of South Asia changed irrevocably. Across the Indian sub-continent, communities that had coexisted for almost a millennium attacked each other in a terrifying outbreak of sectarian violence, with Hindus & Sikhs on one side and the Muslims on the other, a mutual genocide, as unexpected as it was unprecedented. In Punjab and Bengal, provinces abutting India’s borders with West and East Pakistan, the carnage was intense, with massacres, arson, forced conversions, mass abductions and savages sexual violence. About seventy five thousand women were raped, many disfigured or dismembered. While this was happening, those who were to ensure their safety and security were making eloquent speeches in Delhi and drawing applause from party-men and foreign rulers. Overall the humanity had not totally died. There were many acts of benevolence on both sides of the divide. Space constraints inhibit their mention.
Unfortunately millions who died or were uprooted and had to suffer unimaginable atrocities didn’t get justice. Shockingly there wasn’t any demand, leave aside a clamour, either in India or in Pakistan, to hold an inquiry to fix the responsibility for this Himalayan tragedy. In India where every town and city is dotted with innumerable monuments, there is no monument to commemorate the millions who died or went through hell in the holocaust of partition. World over such monumental human tragedies are commemorated to recall the sacrifices of those who were the victims of such tragedies and to reiterate the ever-lasting gratitude of the nation. Hiroshima Day is observed on 6th August in Japan to mark the anniversary of atomic bombing of two cities. In India no one thinks it necessary to, even as ritual, to observe a minute’s respectful silence in their memory on the Independence Day. It is against this background that announcement of the Prime Minister that 14 August will be the Remembrance Day is appreciated. Least India and Pakistan could do is to observe the Remembrance Day unitedly, with humility and gratitude for the unimaginable sacrifices of millions of Indians and Pakistanis during partition and wash off the stigma of being ungrateful nations. National Partition Holocaust Memorial will be one such step.
All this, notwithstanding benevolence, if appeals to the readers, is due to Prof Sindhu Kapoor, Dean Faculty of Social Sciences and Vice Chancellor Prof Bechen Lal who made a clarion call to the students to fan out and record tales of partition survivors for the Remembrance Days to come.
As we commemorate on Remembrance Day, let us ponder over the following and draw lessons:- (i) Could it have been avoided. (ii) Who was responsible for uprooting of millions. (iii) Was the horrendous human cost avoidable. (iv) Why was partition preponed and rushed through.