Partition Journeys – a muslim School Girl’s Story

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Partition Journeys – A Muslim School Girl’s Story

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. ©Tim Smith

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!

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.

Resource provided by © Irna Qureshi & Tim Smith, Bradford Libraries

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