Partition Journeys – A Hindu Refugee’s Story We left Sialkot on 12 August 1947.
It took us 12 hours to reach Lahore and when we got there, people were being massacred left right and centre at the Lahore Railway Station. Our driver was also a Hindu but he refused to go further until we were certain we were safe.
We got to Badami Bagh in Lahore and stopped. We didn’t know what to do. Then some soldiers took us to a refugee camp. My uncle refused to leave with us actually. He said, ‘If I’m going to die, I don’t want to do it trapped in a car’. We got to the train station and the train wasn’t going anywhere. The train driver was a Muslim and he refused to leave for Amritsar without a police escort. Nobody wanted to die. In our hearts of hearts we were thinking they’ll make an announcement on 15 August and then we’ll be able to go back home. We didn’t think partition was really going to happen, and even if it was, we just thought we’ll go back and carry on living where we’ve been living all our lives. We only left Sialkot to get away from the violence. We didn’t think to bring anything with us. We just locked the doors and left.
A man and his brother show the Hindu symbols they had tattooed on their hands to prove their faith during the violence of partition. This is their account.
We got to Amritsar on the train in the end. Transport was free. You just got on whatever mode of transport you could find. Nobody charged you a fare or anything like that. The train came straight to Amritsar from Lahore. There was no question of it stopping anywhere in between. Forget it! You were told to keep the doors and windows closed. From there to Jalandhar on the train. We stayed in a camp they’d set up in the DAV College in Jalandhar, right on the GT Road. We were there just a fortnight. The government had set up a camp there for the refugees coming from Pakistan. But there were Muslims travelling up towards Amritsar as well. There we saw some slaughter. One of the Hindu officers had seen his son killed in Gujranwala and he’d now been appointed Deputy Commissioner of Jalandhar. He was inciting people, ‘Kill them first, and then loot them’.
Loads of Muslims died in Jalandhar. It stank outside the college, it really did. A body strewn here, another one there. And nobody was interested in picking up the dead either. Everybody was busy running for their own lives. Then Gandhi and Nehru came to Jalandhar to talk sense into the people here. We were only young boys, me, and my brother. I remember our elders telling us not to go near the main road because we might get shot or something. Some Hindus got killed by mistake you know. People mistaking them for Muslims because we all dressed the same. We had the ‘Om’ symbol tattooed on the backs of our hands so people would know we are definitely Hindus. Our elders insisted the whole family have it done.
There were a lot of Muslims in Jalandhar. Even the porters at Jalandhar station were Muslims and they were saying that Jalandhar was going to become part of Pakistan. So that’s when we went to Kapurthala. There’s more than 300 temples there so that’s where the refugees stayed.
From there we came to Panipat and we’ve been here ever since. We were allotted this house in Qalandar Chowk. This had been a Muslim area you know but all the Muslims had fled. This place was deserted. There was nobody here except for us. Just like we fled to save our skins, I suppose the Muslims did the same.
I am a witness to the partition riots. At the time of partition I was exactly nine years old but old enough to remember certain scenes quite well. You see, we lived on Wallis Road in Lahore which was the upper class Indian locality. The Brits lived in their own areas. I remember Mr Alan, who was the Superintendent of Police who used to live nearby. He was English. His wife was Anglo Indian. All powdered up. His daughter was a girl by the name of Shirley, and his son was Richard. And they were all leaving. They said, ‘Now we have to go back to our country. We are no longer Pakistani’. You see, we didn’t have any socialisation with the British. They were a breed apart. So there was no great emotion when they left. We only hoped that their successors, who were Pakistanis, would be as good.
Many neighbourhoods in India and Pakistan were divided forever during the 1947 Partition. In this account, a Parsi (Zoroastrian) man who was then just a young boy, recalls watching his neighbours fleeing the city of Lahore.
Opposite our house on 21 Wallis Road was a red structure, a red house, the occupant of which was a Hindu doctor. And father had ordered that all the gates should be barred at all times. And so we used to sneak up to the gate to see through the peepholes what was going on across the road. And I do remember raiders coming to the Hindu house because the Hindus had fled by then. I’m talking of June or July 1947. And they were removing the refrigerator and the furniture and all that. I asked my mother what’s going on. And she said, ‘Well, since the Hindus have fled, the raiders have come over’. What we did was - which later in retrospect seemed to be a very dangerous thing to do - we took in a lot of stuff from our Hindu neighbours and kept it at our place. Had the raiders known that a lot of stuff was at our place, then surely they would have come and raided it. So you know all our outhouses – the servant quarters and all - we’d filled them with the belongings of our friends. I remember that very clearly. The garage was full up – cobwebs and sofa sets. I can remember things coming in but I don’t remember the furniture going out. We didn’t want to cross the road so we breached the wall so the furniture came in over the wall without attracting too much attention. You see, people left their belongings with us because nobody expected to go for ever. They all thought they would come back and settle back in Lahore when this madness is over.
Another scene I remember is that some of these raiders came in a horse carriage, you know the ones without any top, almost like a roman chariot. And they came to our gate too. And our cook, Imam Baksh, said, ‘Well, you know these people are not Hindus. They are Parsis!’ So they said, ‘What are Parsis? What the hell does a Parsi do?’ So the cook said, ‘These are the ancients of Iran.’ So the raiders said, ‘Tell them to go back to Iran then! What are they doing over here?’ So the cook said, ‘Alright, I’ll tell them to go back to Iran, but can you leave them alone for the time being?’ So I think the cook saved us! We were defenceless. Well, we had no weapons anyway!
My parents were agitated. They did not share their agitation with the children but one could feel that they were agitated. They were looking out for security. You see, my father had a number of businesses so suddenly all his accountants, who were Hindus, had left. And my mother who didn’t know anything about accounting, he insisted that she become the accountant! And she became the accountant. He probably taught her how to write the books and so on. So that stressed out my mother also, suddenly doing strange duties.
Well, of course Lahore was a smaller city, maybe a tenth of today’s size. And what I know from the generation that came after me is that Lahore was a very cosmopolitan place. It was very left, socialist, communist, anti-British and all the communities, the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, they gelled very well. And they were all involved in progressive movements. It had a very powerful theatre. It had very strong leftist political movements where religious denominations didn’t have any meaning. And they were all course anti-British. They all wanted the British thrown out. So in the late 30s, early 40s, Lahore was such a vibrant place. But there was this silence after the partition. People were stunned by what had happened. And that vibrancy disappeared from Lahore. How could there be any jubilation with all these dead bodies strewn everywhere! I don’t recall seeing any jubilation. I can recall people feeling afraid about what had happened and what was to come. Are we safe? Are we not safe? People could not understand how they would physically separate India and Pakistan. I mean, how do you separate this room from the next room? Would they build a canal to separate the two countries? In the end, they put up barbed wire with no man’s land in between. But I think up until the 1960s it was still relatively easy to come and go between the two countries and border restrictions weren’t as tight as they are today. I remember we used to go to Amritsar frequently to visit friends. I don’t recall what sort of permit we had. But they used to visit us in Lahore too.
Partition Journeys – A Muslim School Girl’s Story
Our area, Jhelum, was one of the famous areas in Punjab for army recruitment because the people are tall and strong. So when my dad was posted to Ambala (in India), there were many families from other villages in Jhelum living nearby which my dad knew. My mum used to talk about living on the army or barrack lines, and she’d say that so and so used to live on the lines with us, like Palmer Lines, Roberts Lines. They provided one or two bedroom quarters according to the size of the family, and the wives would just visit one another. My mum said they used to keep their houses tidy because there were inspections, especially if there was an epidemic of some sort. Then the health people would come in the house and advise them how they should clean. They had to take their children to the hospital for immunisation and have tablets of quinine in front of the doctor. My mum was very impressed that the British were looking after them!
Pakistani woman holds photograph dated 1936, showing her father (seated, first left) with his colleagues in the British Army in India. The woman now lives in Bradford. This is her story.
Some people must have been quite happy with the British. At least everybody was settled, you know going about their lives and there was peace. What do the masses care whether the people in power are British or American! As long as you can earn a living and feed your family, who cares! Of course people were aggrieved (about partition). Some people wondered whether Jinnah and Nehru had done this for their own personal gain. You know people lost families, they lost their homes, they lost everything! So what were they to think!
I remember the people were celebrating. There were big tents and fountains. They were celebrating the first day of independence, the day we became independent. So I knew today we have got our freedom but I had no idea how we got our freedom. And I remember Quaid-e-Azam (Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Founder of Pakistan) came to our school and he gave a speech as well. I remember he brought his sister, Fatima Jinnah, and you know she wore that black dupatta. Well, she had that on and there she was sitting in a chair on the stage with Quaid-e-Azam giving a speech. It was something about the creation of Pakistan but I don’t remember much about that.
There were many Hindu and Sikh families living in my village (Nila, near Chakwal) before partition. The school I went to was a Sikh school. It was a Khalsa school, I think they called it Dharamsala School. All the staff was Hindu and the other children were Hindu or Sikh. It was just me, my cousin and one more girl – just three of us were Muslim. My school closed when partition happened because there was nobody to go there. The teachers were Hindu and the students were Hindu and Sikh. And the market I had to walk through to get to school was a big big market and it was run by Hindu businessmen. Everything that was supposed to be in a bazaar or market, we had it in Nila, like jewellers, cloth, mithai (sweetmeat) shops. All the smaller villages nearby used to come to Nila for shopping for their weddings and things. So we had a good Hindu community there in our village.
I think people started to realise what would happen at partition a couple of years before 1947. The educated Hindu people who knew that this was going to happen, they started leaving a couple of years before partition. They took all their money, sold their properties and they went. And the other people who didn’t know, thought people were just spreading rumours that this partition is going to happen. It’s never going to happen! The world wasn’t as small as today because of TV and radio, and we were living in a village which was very remote, about 35 or 40 miles from a main city. So it was only the people who had to buy things for their business that went to the big cities, and they must have known that this partition was going to happen, and so they started to think about disposing their property and everything. But other people who didn’t believe at that time, they just had to leave everything and carry whatever they could in their hands and leave everything behind.
The people that went to India from our area, they left their houses and their property behind in our village. And somebody from the government, an official, he came and sealed the houses. They would put on their own locks and seal them so that nobody can go inside. So when the Muslim refugees came from India, government needed somewhere to put them as well. So they might have a list – which houses are occupied and which are still empty. Ours was a big village and wealthy too, especially there were Hindus there and they were business people so they had all the money and everything, and their houses were big houses. So they brought lorry loads of people. I remember they were dropped off in an army truck near our house in the village on the main road, and they were just reading out everybody’s name. We were children. We were standing there looking at them sitting there with their belongings – whatever they could carry from their own houses and they were with their children. And the army officer was asking, ‘How many family members are you?’, and then they were handing them the keys of the empty houses. The people from our village helped them. If a new family arrived, they would go and check that they had everything. If they needed food or anything, they would provide it for a couple of months until they were on their feet. With the houses the army also gave them properties as well, the lands that the Hindus left behind. I think there was a system. They had to show how much land they left behind in their country, so they had to prove that and then they were given the same value of land from this country.
It is still in my memory. After the partition the schools were full because suddenly so many other people came from India – the children. You see, ours was the only girl’s school so there were new girls every day. Some girls were just in such a terrible situation – no books, no uniforms, nothing. So our teacher used to tell us that we have to help these girls, that these are new arrivals and what happened to them and their families. She wouldn’t say anything in front of the new girls. But before the new girls arrived in our class, the teacher knew that there were two or three new girls coming, then she would say to the class that this happened, and you know we are not Indian now, we are Pakistani. And she would tell us, ‘You are lucky that you are in this part already, but people in India, they have to come here without anything’. If there were four family members then only one was alive who had made it across the border. Three members were either lost or killed or something. So the teacher would say if somebody turns up in the class in tatters or very upset or very depressed, we should try to help them instead of laughing at them. And the girls who have wealthy parents, they should help the new girls to buy books and things, and whatever else you can give like clothes. We were told that don’t tell the girls that you want to help. You should leave your gift in the office and staff will decide who deserves most and they will distribute. So we would take our clothes, uniforms, shoes, whatever we could spare, to the office. And this continued from 1947 till 1948 and even later because some people didn’t leave India immediately. They thought that things will settle down after a while and then we won’t have to leave, but then they must have thought that there’s no point living in this country because half of the family has gone. Besides, things didn’t settle down. It was just getting worse and worse, so people kept coming to Pakistan after three or four years.