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Tales from princely states: A Kashmiri Pandit and a Jodhpur resident recollect being stuck between India and Pakistan

What did independence mean to the ordinary folks residing in these states, far removed from the high drama of nationalist discourse and very often unaware of what course their homeland’s politics was about to take?

Written by Adrija Roychowdhury | New Delhi |
Updated: August 21, 2017 3:41:27 pm
independence day, 71st independence day, 70 years of independence, Indian independence day, independence day 2017, memories of independence, 15th august, 15th august 1947, 15th august 2017, Independence day news, Indian Express A N Pandita (left) and S K Rathi (right) (Express Photo)

The pampered Indian princes of the British Raj were perhaps the biggest liability of the politicians across the subcontinent. As the date of Independence drew near, the question over the 500-odd chiefdoms and states was the toughest one to deal with. By the late 1930s, the Congress had made clear their intention of integrating the states into the Indian union. But the process was far from being that simple. Mollycoddled by the British for decades now, and exploited by them simultaneously, for many of the princes the departure of the British was seen as the ideal moment when they could make a choice of autonomy, announcing independent statehood on the world map. Then there were others who were caught in the tussle between the newly born dominions of India and Pakistan.

However, the discretion of choice over India, Pakistan or independent statehood lay in the hands of the political elite, the affluent princes. What did that choice mean to the ordinary folks residing in these states, far removed from the high drama of nationalist discourse and very often unaware of what course their homeland’s politics was about to take?

Also read| Voices of Partition: A Dhaka Hindu and a Kolkata Muslim recount what Independence meant to them

A Kashmiri Pandit and a Jodhpur resident narrat their days of chaos as the two crucial states struggled to free itself from the tug of war between India and Pakistan.

A.N. Pandita of Kashmir: ‘We became Muslims for a few days’

independence day, 71st independence day, 70 years of independence, Indian independence day, independence day 2017, memories of independence, 15th august, 15th august 1947, 15th august 2017, Independence day news, Indian Express A N Pandita (Express Photo)

Often referred to as ‘paradise on earth’ Kashmir lay in a location strategic for both Hindustan and Pakistan. With a Hindu king ruling over a predominant Muslim population, the fate of Kashmir was one of the toughest to come to terms with. A direct result of the chaos that the fight over Kashmir led to was the first Indo-Pakistan war that took place barely weeks after independence. A.N. Pandita, who was 19 at the time of the war, recollects the days when caught between the nationalist thirst of India and Pakistan, his largely peaceful childhood home had overnight turned into a space distraught with the fear of being attacked by the either of the two sides. The 89-year-old recollects:

I was born in a village called Rahama in Kashmir. It was a huge village with only seven Kashmiri Pandit families residing in it. People in the village were either involved in farming or worked with the forest department. I was a free child. I loved playing with my friends, most of whom were Muslims. I loved eating walnuts and would climb trees in pursuit of the same.

We were a well-fed family. But in 1941 we met with a huge tragedy. One of my brothers passed away and it was a huge setback to the family. The grief over his death resulted in my father’s illness and we moved to Baramulla city where a number of our relatives lived. We lived in district headquarters there and I finished my education there.

The early 1940s were the years of the Quit India movement. I remember when we saw Englishmen coming in from Delhi to our city, we would follow them around and doodle ‘Quit India’ in chalk behind their vehicles. We were told that the English would get scared when we would sing Vande Mataram in our school and college.

When Partition was announced, the country split into two. While we were hearing about the deaths and violence in Punjab, Kashmir was suddenly attacked by Pakistani bandits. The attacks first took place in Muzaffarabad. People from there started pouring into Baramulla. As the refugees kept coming in we moved from the city to our village in Rahama.

independence day, 71st independence day, 70 years of independence, Indian independence day, independence day 2017, memories of independence, 15th august, 15th august 1947, 15th august 2017, Independence day news, Indian Express Indo-Pakistan war of 1947 (Wikimedia Commons)

The next two-three days we were given refuge by a land tiller who was Muslim. I vividly remember the hours spent hiding in his house. We could hear cries of ‘Pakistan zindabad, Hindustan Murdabad’ outside.

One day, at around 4 am, we saw from the attic the Pakistani soldiers approaching the house. We were extremely scared that we would be killed. My uncle had a two-month-old daughter who was with us then. She lay in her mother’s lap and started crying at this moment. My aunt attempted to shut her up by covering her mouth with her hand, so that we do not get discovered by the men. In the process the little girl died.

The following day a politician from the National Conference visited us. My father suggested to him that the best solution at this moment was to turn into Muslims. We came out and told everyone that we were Muslims. We visited a Maulvi and sang the phrase ‘la illah ila allah muhammad rasulullah’ which was considered to be the formula for converting to Islam. We learned the kalima and became Muslims for a good 10-12 days. I was also given a Muslim name- Muhammad Maqbool.

Two days later when we went back to Baramulla, the city was in a horrific state. All shops and houses were looted. Kashmiri Pandits there too had turned into Muslims. We were kept in a rehabilitation camp and were forced to sing slogans of ‘Pakistan zindabad’.

Few days later we got news of the Indian army coming in. We were all very happy on seeing the Indian Air Force. The Pakistani army soon started fleeing. However, now the Muslims were scared. They started running away and some came to our home for shelter.

Finally after all this chaos, Kashmir did accede into India. Par aaj ka Kashmir, woh Kashmir nahi raha, woh bhaichara nahi raha (But today’s Kashmir is no longer the Kashmir of the past, that brotherhood is no longer there).

Pandita moved to Delhi during the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 and currently resides Ashok Vihar with his wife, son and daughter-in-law.

Dr. S.K.Rathi of Jodhpur: ‘There were no celebrations in Nagaur’

independence day, 71st independence day, 70 years of independence, Indian independence day, independence day 2017, memories of independence, 15th august, 15th august 1947, 15th august 2017, Independence day news, Indian Express Dr. S K Rathi (Express Photo)

The case of Jodhpur was far more curious. A Hindu king ruling over a majority Hindu population decided to join Pakistan at one point. An affinity towards Pakistan was based on the fact that Jodhpur shared a border with the country and that also Jinnah had tried to lure him with some special facilities. Dr S K Rathi, currently a resident of Kota, was a school boy living in Nagaur, part of the Jodhpur state, when India became independent. He recounts, often with a lot of effort, the atmosphere in his village when the British decided to leave and Jodhpur became part of India.

I spent my childhood in Nagaur. My father was a businessman and was also involved in money lending. We had two houses in Nagaur and one in Basni which was situated a few kilometres away. During those days we had no electricity in our village, nor did we have pukka roads and proper water supply.

Basni had a Muslim majority, while in Nagaur Hindus were in majority. I had many Muslim friends in Basni. Muhammad Akbar was a very special friend of mine. We grew up together. We used to play gilli danda and kancha and he also taught me to ride the bicycle.

Growing up we never saw any Englishmen, but somehow knew that they ruled over India. When we were in class 8 or 9 we learnt that they were about to leave. Our teachers used to ask us to line up and raise slogans in praise of Nehru and Gandhi so we would do that. Later, we were told that the English had left and now only Indians ruled.

Only political people knew whether we would go to India or Pakistan. We were ordinary people and we did not know anything and neither did it matter to us back then. We knew that many of the Muslims from Basni had left for Pakistan. One of our neighbours also left for Pakistan and after he went we never spoke. They were not sure if they were safe so they left. Later their houses were sold off at very cheap rates.

On August 15 when the country became independent there were no celebrations in Nagaur, neither did we get to know anything.

We saw a lot of celebration only once Jodhpur joined India. There was a huge function in school and that is how we got to know. Some political leaders had come and they distributed sweets among the students.

Independence did not really have any impact on our daily lives. Na pehle koi problem tha, na baad mein koi sudhaar aayi (neither did we have any problems before, nor did we see any improvement later).

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