The Partition of India created the two independent states of India and Pakistan. In the riots that preceded the Partition, the religious fury and violence that it unleashed, in the Punjab region, killed between 200,000 to 500,000 people in the retributive genocide. 14 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were forcibly transferred between the two countries. At least 75,000 women were raped. It was the largest mass migration in human history. Overnight murder struck cities, and towns and no one was immune.
The Partition here refers not only to the division of the Punjab Province, Bangla Desh and India, it refers to the division of other assets including the Brtish Indian army, the Indian Civil Service, the railways and the central treasury. This Partition and the mass murders drowned the joys of independence.
As a child I witnessed the killings and murders. My Dad, a 33 year old police officer was killed. Every Independence Day brings those nightmares back to me. I would like to share my grief with you people.
In 1941 the British Government promised India that if India sent troops in World War 2, they would set India free.
In 1947, the British government sent Cyril Radcliff to India to carve India into two parts. Radcliff had never visited India before.
Radcliff did not know India that well. He had no knowledge of India’s social and cultural set up. He was given the most difficult job of his life. Eventually he did carve India into two. He did this carving in 5 weeks. After he gave his report to the boundary commission, he sent a telegram to his son to get him out of India as soon as possible. He believed that the people of India would kill him when they would find out about the boundary line he drew. This boundary line went through people’s home and hearth, between the homes and properties. It went through dividing half the house into India and the other half into Pakistan. People started running to save their lives to a land that they were unaware of. It broke the social system of joint families. Actually in their run to safety many families were lost.
Women were the worst hit during that crisis. They were displaced, killed, maimed, raped and abducted. A large number of honor killings also happened at that time.
We have many accounts of that period documented by historians, creative writers and officials. Recently, many personal accounts have been published in the form of memoirs, autobiographies and biographies. Women are part of these narratives but little material is available that has been written by women. As far as personal accounts of women are concerned they are even less in number.
Although, I was only a 10 year old child, but I always had a vivid memory. Most of the events were related by mother. I heard my parents heaving hearts and the sadness that reflected their faces. My mother told the whole story of escape to whoever came to our house. It bothered me tremendously. I kept all that in my mind. I started feeling everyone as our enemy. And I grew up with this fear.
I remember the day, August 14, 1947 my brother and I were playing in the street, giggling and enjoying our play with other children. Some men came with green flags in their hands and they started decorating the street and the rooftops of their houses with green flags. It looked very beautiful. I asked one guy,
“Uncle, who is getting married?
He said, “No one child. We got independence”
“What is independence, Uncle?”
“English rule is over. We are not slaves anymore.”
Before I could ask any more questions, he left. There were slogans, “Pakistan Zindabad, Pakistan Zindabad.”
Another guy came up to us and handed some flags and banners to us and told us to decorate the street. We did it.
My brother and I were so excited that on our way home, we pulled some flags out and took them home to decorate our rooftop. My mom got angry, she grabbed the flags from our hands and threw them out and closed the door. She made us sit down and explained to us,
“Listen children. These flags are not for us to decorate our rooftops. These flags indicate that we are in danger. Do not play outside with children anymore. We may have to run and leave our homes.”
We did not understand what she was saying until we started feeling the danger lurking around us as the days passed. The same people we dined with and visited on family gatherings became our enemies. The children we played with a day before were forbidden to play with us. We could hear the slogans, ‘Kill the kafirs.’
Finally the day came when we had to play a Hide and Seek game with death. Once we had to cross deep pool of water. I was afraid of stagnant waters. I believed snakes lived in such waters. I did not want to go on. I screamed,
“Please leave me alone.” It was pitching dark. My mother took my hand and dragged me with her saying,
“Are you going to walk through the water or do you want us all to get killed?”
I had no choice. While crossing that puddle in the pitch dark night, my one shoe got lost in the water. When I came out my mother threw away the other shoe. I could not walk bare feet. I got blisters on my feet. I slowed down. My mother had gone ahead without noticing me. When she turned around she scolded me,
“What are you waiting for, child? Move on.”
“My feet hurt, mother, I can’t walk anymore, go ahead and leave me here.
What could my mother have done anyway? She was helpless. She was holding my brother’s arm who was more in danger being a male.
I can go on and on with these episodes, but I would like you to read my book, Dehshit 1947 in Punjabi or Dusk to Dawn in English
My book reveals and one can peep into the psyche of those who were not convincingly on one side. On the name of religion, they could kill someone and on the name of same religion, they could risk their lives to save others. My 13 year old brother was dressed like girls. My mother was trying to protect her son. The irony of the situation was that he attracted attention in that dress and a Muslim wanted to marry him as a price to save the rest of the family. Eventually the killers became the saviors.