He was 19 when India got Independence. But he, along with his family, was in village Samra of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) when the country was divided into India and Pakistan. Dr Sardara Singh Johl, who is 94 years old now, however, vividly remembers the Partition pain that came along with freedom.
A renowned agricultural economist of India, Padma Bhushan recipient Johl had served as the first chancellor of Central University of Punjab, Bathinda. He was also the former vice-chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala; and Punjab Agricultural University, among others. At present, he is living a content retired life in Ludhiana.
“As the country is celebrating ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, I know the price paid by our countrymen to get this hard-earned freedom. Desh da batwara ho gaya, azadi sasti nahi mili… bhot keemat ada karni payi… par raj karan walian da rang gore tau bhoora ho gaya (The country got divided into two, freedom came at a price, we paid dearly for it, but the ones who are ruling us, their colour changed from white to brown),” Johl says, indicating the need for better governance.
“Corruption is eclipsing a large part of development. I won’t say that development did not happen. It did happen. A lot of infrastructure was built. We stood on our feet, but at the same time even now we need to grow a lot. Population is increasing like anything, but the quality of population is a problem. I mean to say that the ones who can afford education and a better lifestyle for their children are having one or two or no kids at all, while many others who can’t afford the education and other expenses of their children are having big families,” he says.
Johl recalled his journey to India during the Partition days. He says, “We had been hearing about the possibility of the Partition since 1946, but never thought or believed it would become a reality. In August 1947, when it happened, we had the shock of our life. We had to leave our village Chak No: 104 GB Samra-Jandiala located on Gugera branch canal. My father and his two brothers had been living in village Samra since their birth. One of my uncles (father’s elder brother) who was in the Army had already reached the Noormahal area of Doaba. I along with my father, my chacha, chachi and their two kids started from the village in September on carts. I was 19 then. We were so uncertain about the future, felt so insecure and didn’t know what was in store for us.”
Johl’s father Buta Singh was a farmer. His mother passed away when he was very small. He was the only child of his parents.
Johl says, “When talks of the Partition were doing the rounds in 1946, we used to go to our school by taking kirpans along with us so as to protect us. Some half-a-dozen boys of hindu – Sikh families of Samra-Jandiala used to go together on bicycles with kirpans. In September 1947, Samra and nearby Jandiala village’s Sikh and Hindu families started together on carts, but not all reached Amritsar. Many got killed on the way. But my family sailed through against all odds and reached Amritsar in November.”
While on their way to India from Lyallpur near Lahore, water level breached the danger mark on a Ravi River bridge due to heavy rain, he says.
“As a result, we had to stop for 28 days near that site. Our pets and cattle were also with us. But we had no fodder for them. We also had the fear of getting attacked by Muslims at that site. A few of the boys, including me, knew how to make a device using a bicycle tube that caused huge explosion as if it were a bomb. We used it for self-defence purposes. We could see swollen bodies in the river on the way. Those were horrible times. Finally, we came to know about a bus for refugees going to Amritsar. As there was no space inside the bus, may father made me sit atop the bus. Many women of my mother’s age took care of me on the way. I reached Lahore, stayed in a gurdwara and somehow managed to reach Amritsar in October. My father, chacha-chachi, their kids came in November. My uncle was already in Noormahal where the family had got land for farming, so I too joined him. I was studying in Urdu medium in Lyallpur in Class X, but in Noormahal, I had to give exams in Punjabi. I knew that language as well. I stood first in the district. And my passion for studies continued. I got married in Class IX itself, but my wife joined me only in 1949 when I was doing BSc agriculture from Amritsar. My family shifted to Ludhiana in1949.”
Johl started working after his graduation in an agriculture college. He finished his MSc agriculture and MA economics along with his job. He then took PhD as well.
Among the several hats he wore in his distinguished career, Johl was also chairman of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices set up by the Government of India.
“In 1985 and later in 2002, I had given my report on crop diversification suggesting that we need to come out of this wheat- paddy cycle. But it seems that politicians have other priorities. Farmers too are not thinking that the future generation would face shortage of water. We should stop growing paddy in Punjab. The water balance has been disturbed. Heavy use of insecticides and pesticides is only compounding the problem. I think the present government knows this very well,” says Johl, who has a son and a daughter.
Johl says, “I am a great-grandfather now. If I sit back and think, I have no regrets about my life. But I wish that voters of our country have the wisdom and maturity to keep our democracy intact.”