“Hindustan had become free. Pakistan had become independent soon after its inception but man was still slave in both these countries — slave of prejudice … slave of religious fanaticism … slave of barbarity and inhumanity.”- Saadat Hasan Manto
At the stroke of the midnight hour when the world slept, India awoke to life and freedom…..she also awoke to deaths and massacre, abductions, deceit, fear and displacement. The partition of Punjab remains by far the bloodiest part of Indian history, the dirtiest and scariest of all, tagging along as it did with the euphoria of freedom. A UP Muslim and two Hindu immigrants from Punjab narrated to Indianexpress.com their memories of August 15, 1947.
Kulsum Naqvi: We thought our brothers were dead
Kulsum Naqvi (82) was born in a conservative Muslim household in a small village of Moradabad district in Uttar Pradesh. Daughter of a wealthy zamindar, Naqvi had grown up with every kind of luxury at her disposal. The departure of the British, however, had stripped her family of all its wealth. She recounts her childhood days when the Hindu-Muslim riots had torn apart her family.
“I had a beautiful childhood. We had a large house, almost like a haveli. My father was a zamindar and he owned a number of villages. We had a large number of servants in our house and they would manage everything. But ours was also a conservative Muslim family. We wore the burkha whenever we went out and were forbidden from being among men.
There were a large number of Hindus in my childhood village. I had lots of Hindu friends. Back then we never thought about who was a Hindu and who a Muslim. I remember during Holi, my friends would come to our house and drag me out and we would play Holi all day long. Similarly, during Id, my Hindu friends would join in the celebrations as well.
When the country got free we had a lot of celebrations in our village. Slogans were raised and crackers were burst. However, independence had come at a huge cost for us.
After the English left, however, we felt a huge change in our lives. All of a sudden we became poor. All the land owned by my father was acquired by the Indian government and we were left with nothing. My father was very unhappy about this. Later, the government had offered him a part of land as compensation but my father refused that as well out of anger. However, despite all the loss we went through my father was determined that he won’t leave India.
Partition had not led to any riots in our village. Both Hindus and Muslims had treated each other very well. There were a few mob attacks and slogans of ‘Jai Ram’, and ‘Jai Shankar’ would be raised. But the Hindu families around our house had given us a lot of support. They had ensured that nothing happen to us and that we need not leave.
However, my two brothers were working in Bareilly back then. The riots there resulted in them fleeing to Pakistan. We did not even know that they had fled to Pakistan. My father just assumed they had died in the riots. The grief of their presumed death had resulted in my father losing his memory. It is only after eight to ten years that they contacted us from Pakistan and that is when we got to know they were still alive. By then my father had in fact married off one of my brother’s wife who was with us, under the assumption that his son had died.
They later told us about the ordeal they went through while migrating. They told us that while both of them had left together, they somehow got separated. One went off to Karachi and the other one to Dhaka in East Pakistan. My brother described to me how there was absolutely no police protection in the train and how scared they were for their lives. No food and water was available either.
One of my elder sisters was also in Bareilly at this time. She too fled to Lahore in Pakistan during the riots. But she got in touch with us sooner than my brothers. She had later told me that she was asked to remove her burkha while travelling due to fear of being attacked. This was the first time she had stepped out without a burkha.
I visited my brothers in Pakistan in 1977. But I was very uncomfortable there. First of all people would laugh at our language. Then they would often accuse us of treachery because we did not leave India during Partition. We did not like the treatment and so we left earlier than decided.”
Kulsum Naqvi was introduced to IndianExpress.com by the 1947 partition archive.
Salochana Sehgal: We would take shelter in houses of Muslim neighbours
A South Delhi resident, Salochana Sehgal was an 11-year-old girl when the country attained independence. Having grown up with a large number of Muslim friends in her neighbourhood, she was forced to move to India a few days before independence due to the riots there. She recollects about her days of living in fear and the horrific sights she saw on her way to India.
“I was born in Kohat in West Pakistan. My father was a judge there. While growing up I had a number of Muslim friends. I remember Naseem, she was a very close friend of mine. In fact her father had helped us leave Kohat. He was the one who made all the arrangements and got my elder sister and my mother a burkha to wear during our travel. I was very young so I did not have to wear a burkha. But once we left Kohat I never kept in touch with Naseem. I used to miss her a lot though. But we used to get news of so many riots and houses burning and that used to scare us a lot. There was no question of writing to her after that.
When the riots first started taking place in Kohat there was so much of violence and destruction all around. Our house was amidst the houses of Muslims. So whenever the attacks took place we would go to the houses of the Muslims. There was no fear of getting burnt down there. So during the nights then come back to our home in the morning. The Muslims used to give us a lot of support. They were our friends. They kept telling us that we should not worry.
In our village we would hear so many cases of women being abducted and raped. Parents would be so scared. Some of them would be killed with poison so as to save them from getting raped.
We came out of Kohat about a month before Independence. A bus was arranged for us and some people were also arranged for our protection. We just came in our clothes and did not get anything else with us. Later, when we travelled in train, we saw such horrific scenes of people suffering and dying. So many pregnant women would give birth to their babies on the platform itself without any facilities.
We first reached Hoshiarpur in Punjab. My father had stayed back in Kohat since he was a judge and could not leave. For a long time we knew nothing about the whereabouts of my father. My mother used to remain very anxious. She would observe fasts for days, praying for news of him. Many days later a girl in our neighbourhood came to us saying that my father had been given a job in Delhi and that is how we got to know.
Once my father joined us we all left for Delhi and have been living here since then.”
Balram Rana: I regret not being able to save my family
An Ayurveda specialist, 105-year-old Balram Rana was born in Nupursethi village in present day Pakistan. During Partition Rana was a 35-year-old, practising medicine in Rawalpindi. Completely bed-ridden now, he recounts the anguish of losing his family members in the riots and the guilt of not being able to convince them to leave the village on time. His daughter on the other hand explains how he still spends sleepless nights crying about the family he lost in the riots.
“I had a large family while growing up and Hindus and Muslims had good relations among themselves in my village. But during the riots the same Muslims turned sour. My mother had a friend who was Muslim. She used to be so close to my mother. But during the attack she just turned her back on us.
I was in Rawalpindi when Partition was announced. My grandparents, parents and their brothers were all in our village when the riots broke out. I had been asking them to join me in Rawalpindi, but they refused to do so. There was a man called Man Singh in my village. He fooled everyone. He kept telling everyone that nothing will happen and people believed him.
When the attacks took place everyone who remained were killed. Man Singh was also killed and so was his uncle and sons. His sons were axed. My grandmother was thrown into a fire alive. So many of my uncles were killed. At that moment, whoever came in front of the Muslims were killed. Only the ones who could run away were saved.
I had one Muslim friend, Nazeer. He and his family would always tell us that they would help our family in times of need. When the attacks took place he asked my parents to hide in their house. That is how my mother, father and sister were saved. The others were all killed.
In Rawalpindi also riots had taken place in Kursibazaar, but I managed to get out of there well before time. I somehow managed to get help from a friend and got up on a train with my wife and her younger sister and reached Hardwar. I still keep thinking that had I been in my village that day even I would be killed.”