Written by Hirday Paul Singh
After much rhetoric and grandstanding, the powers-that-be abruptly abrogated Article 370, along with some parts of Article 35 A, which were an integral part of the secular Constitution of India. This drastic act has created a very fluid situation. We know not what will be the shape of things in near future. But there are many rumours swirling around, there is talk that this will further deepen the divide between people of two communities. And that it will lead to more bloodshed. If this happens, the outcome may also be very similar to what occurred at the time of partition of India into two.
August 15, 1947, which is a day of independence for India from the British rulers, is also a day of ‘ruination’ for a large number of people. It was on this day that India was politically partitioned into two separate lands — India and Pakistan — on the basis of religion. Its after-effects were horrifying. Unfortunately, I was one of those witnesses to this holocaust, when I had just entered the very impressionable teens. This event left an indelible mark on my memory, and even today, when I have crossed over to the mid-eighties, the memory of those days makes me shudder.
I had an almost idyllic and peaceful childhood, while living in a tiny township named ‘Preet Nagar’ (Town of Love). Set up in 1938 by my father Gurbakhsh Singh (renowned Punjabi novelist and short-story writer), it was equidistant between Lahore and Amritsar, and surrounded by many villages, big and small. Thanks to its vibrant natives, masters in their creative fields, it was recognised as the first rural socio-cultural hub of Punjab. The ideal of this township was that here “all hearts should throb in unison, and the atmosphere should be filled with the mesmerising tunes of songs celebrating love”.
But when the Independence Day of India and Pakistan was being celebrated in all other parts, life at Preet Nagar came to a standstill. It tentatively became part of Pakistan, as it was at the fringe of villages where a majority of the population followed the Islamic faith. But fortunately there was no unwanted commotion whatsoever in this area, as the simple-hearted villagers themselves knew not their future. But on August 18, when the actual line of demarcation was drawn, after giving due consideration to natural compulsions, our township along with a number of villages having Muslim majorities were assigned to India.
Now the minority started dominating over the majority. Excited by this sudden change, incited by outsiders, and pressured by the large-scale forced migration of non-Muslim population from Pakistan with their attendant tales of violence, the people around here launched widespread killings of innocent Muslims. This forced the migration of Muslim population towards those areas which were now a part of Pakistan. Those who were without much means took shelter in our township. True to real human values, residents of this township provided them best possible protection according to their abilities. At an appropriate time, they also arranged for their migration to Pakistan.
But this humanitarian act of our township made its residents “personae non-gratae”. This gave a great advantage to anti-social elements, who started looting and marauding it. The peaceful life of this township was instantly guillotined. Thus, by the fag end of that year, the entire population of this township had to move away to safer places. This made every one of them a refugee in their own homeland. This stroke of history left many horrifying marks on this township, which was once a blissful land of dreams.
By the time India became a republic, earnest efforts had been made to wipe out the depressing atmosphere prevailing in this township. It was hoped that this township would also revive, quite like the mythical bird phoenix that rises from its own ashes. Concerted efforts were made to revive the golden period of this township where people led a wholesome coexistence regardless of the differences of religion and caste. But unfortunately, being very close to the borders, with an unfriendly, unreliable and unpredictable neighbour, most of the old residents were scared of coming back. So life in this township carried on at its own slow pace, but the magical atmosphere of the olden days never returned. This is a big tragedy.
Having witnessed these tragic happenings, I do sincerely hope the situation currently prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir will not lead to the ghastly happenings that took place in 1947. I hope and pray that the complicated Kashmir problem will be amicably resolved and settled for the good of the whole nation and of Kashmir itself.
Singh is a writer and graphic artist. Translated from Punjabi