Village Dalam in the Ajnala sub-division of Amritsar district is just around 25 km from the Pakistan border. 83-year-old Piyara Singh lives here with his two sons and a nephew and their families. They have three houses, and in an entirely Sikh village, they are the only Muslims
Piyara Singh was 13-year-old in 1947. Unlike most other Muslims in partitioned Punjab, his family decided not to travel the 25 km distance to settle in the newly created Pakistan.
“My grandmother was blind and too weak to move. My father’s elder brother suggested that their mother cannot move and she would die anyway, so it was better to kill her and move on. My father was the youngest child and he was very close to his mother. He told my uncle that he would like to die with his mother than leaving her behind, but as it was not possible to move her, he decided to stay back,” Piyara Singh said.
Muslims living in the border district Amritsar and Tarn Taran had to travel the least distance to cross over to the new country for Muslims. But unlike most of their co-religionists, some Muslim families in these two border districts decided to stay on for one reason or the other, and are still scattered across 26 villages. The unique histories of Malerkotla, where 60 per cent of the population is Muslim, and Gurdaspur, where the Ahmadiyaa sect has its headquarters in Qadian, are well known.
But the Muslims who stayed on in Amritsar and Taran Tarn, are not bound together in the same way. Some like Piyara Singh, call themselves Muslim, but follow Sikh practices, while others have had to make an extra effort to keep in touch with their religion and culture. Piyara Singh says neither his father Sai Rakha, nor the rest of the family ever regretted the decision to stay on at Dalam.
“The villagers were supportive and we faced no problems. None of our relatives ever came back to see us ever, and I have never felt like going to Pakistan to see them. We have no contacts there. I’ve led a good life here in our village,” said Piyara Singh. His family maintains an old tomb at the village. One of his sons, and a nephew are in the Army. There are photos of the Sikh gurus in Piyara Singh’s house.
The children consider themselves both Sikh and Muslim. Fifteen km from Dalam, is village Bhure Gill of Ajnala, 67-year-old Latif Mohammad, talks about being the only Muslim family in the village. “My father was confused about whether he should go to Pakistan or not. The villagers were kind and they left it to my father to make the decision. They offered to arrange for his safe journey to Pakistan. The also offered him the option of staying back. Eventually, he decided to stay back. We are the only Muslim family in the village.”
“My sisters are married in Muktsar and Ferozepur districts of Malwa. We have no contacts in Pakistan. I have memory of my maternal uncle visiting us from Pakistan. But my father never went to Pakistan to meet his in-laws, who had migrated to Pakistan after partition. Then our maternal uncle stopped visiting us after death of my mother. There is no link since then,” said Latif.
He added: “I never went to Pakistan. My father’s choice turned out for the best.” About 10 km from Bhure Gill is Thoba. It has only three Muslim families, and unlike in the other villages, there is also a mosque here. Yusaf, the odlest clan member, said: “I was just six months old and have no memory of Partition. But my mother told me that my father had art of curing people for snake poison. He had saved many lives. He had great respect in the village. He himself fell ill during 1947. He told my mother that they would not leave the village. Villagers also insisted they should stay back. My father told my mother that this was our place. We have respect here. My parents didn’t know how Pakistan would turn out. He died same year and we lived here.”
But because there were no other Muslims in the village, Yusaf grew up without any connect to his religion, and did not even know how to do the namaz, until the village mosque got reconstructed. “We almost lost our link with Muslim way of life. But we used to visit mosque in Hall Bazaar, Amritsar. So, once I requested them to reconstruct mosque in our village. They slowly constructed it and now we have a maulvi here. He had taught our children to read the Quran with translation in Punjabi. Now I can also do the namaz,” said Yusuf.
Maulvi at Thoba village mosque, Irfan, who hails from UP, said, “There are very few Punjabi Muslim families in Ajnala. Mostly Gujjars and migrated Muslims come to mosque.”
Maulvi Hamid, who has been looking after the Hall Bazar mosque in Amrtisar for the last 20 years, said there were a few isolated Punjabi Muslims in the two border districts. “Muslims from UP and Bihar have migrated to Punjab and they have been reinstating old mosques. It is also helping Punjabi Muslim families to reconnect with their religion,” said the Maulvi, who is from Haryana.
Iqbal in Fatehabad village of Tarn Taran says his ancestors left the village in 1947 to live with relatives in Faridkot district, and returned when the fury of Partition subsided.
“Most of the Muslim families had left for Pakistan and others, who stayed back, got converted. It was only our family that remained Muslim. My ancestors had taken shelter in the house of their relatives in Faridkot and came back after dust settled. Mosque in our village had turned into ruins and we started reconstructing it in 1994 after some Muslims from UP and Bihar migrated to here,” Iqbal said. The mosque now stands tall in the middle of village.
Young Maulavi Mukhtar Ahmed at the mosque said that around 200 to 300 Muslims gather at mosque on important days to perform namaz. Three mosques in Tarn Taran city have been renovated by Muslims migrants from UP and Bihar. In an interesting case, two rival groups of Muslims from UP and Bihar recently approached Tarn Taran police for possession of Fatehabad mosque.