Children as victims of Partition, 1947
By Shrila Pokhriyal
Nineteen forty-seven marked the end of British rule in South Asia; 1947 also marked the birth of India and Pakistan. Chaos unfolded during the transfer of power and the division of states along religious lines. Millions fled at a moment’s notice. In 1947 alone, an estimate of 15,000,000 people became homeless. Making it the world’s largest mass human displacement, between 1 and 2 million lives were lost. Thousands were orphaned and widowed. Till today, after so many years, the survivors of partition cannot forget the massacre they witnessed, the harsh steps they took for saving their families and themselves from the bloody chaos.
Catastrophic impacts of partition stained and ruined the innocent pure lives of children. They lost their childhood, their friends, families and even saw them getting slaughtered mercilessly. One such incident is narrated by Darain Shahidi and Ankit Chadha in a Daastan-goi on India Partition. The daastan, as narrated by Ankit and Darain, tells us about the story of a six-year-old girl named Jeet, who lived in a village near Rawalpindi, with her family of six brothers, four sisters, and parents. One day her village was attacked by assaulters, who asked them to either to convert or be killed. Jeet’s mother with a two month-old baby in her lap requests Jeet’s father to change their religion. He took the name of god and killed Jeet’s mother and her four sisters in front of her. The last thing she saw was her father coming towards her.
Jeet opened her eyes, felt like she was sleeping for years. She found herself inside a train amid many people. At first she thought she was with her family, but then a harsh reality hit her like a bullet: she was amongst many unknown corpses. She somehow dragged herself towards the bodies which still had some life left in them. Suddenly the train stopped at a station. On both sides, there were groups approaching menacingly, carrying dead bodies of villagers on their shoulders. As they threw the bodies in the train, the men shouted: “200 people are now less in my village.”
Peshwa Express was loaded with hundreds of corpses in every village it stopped. At last when train reached Amritsar, except for Jeet no one was alive to say ‘Jai Hind’.
Some men boarded the train to unload the bodies. Khushwant Singh was one of them. He was looking for some life amidst the dead when he found Jeet too afraid and traumatized. He picked her up, wiped her tears and said, “Don’t worry child, take the name of god, we too have sent a train loaded with dead on the side.” A child, who didn’t even know the meaning of religion, community, partition, saw her family and thousands being ripped away by these things. What lesson did she learn? What legacy did she carry? Did she feel that Khushwant’s response of sending a train full of dead was legitimate or did she grow up to learn the fallaciousness of violence and bigotry? We will never know.
Another true story is of Mukand Sabnani depicting the heart-breaking separation of two best friends because of partition. This story is based on fragmented memories of Mukand who could not forget his best friend Riaz. They would always help each other, have fun, eat sweets together; it did not take much time to enjoy the best things life could offer. Mukand always wore a red cap, which was very dear to him. The cap not only symbolised his love for cricket, but also his dream of becoming a cricketer. Many a times Riaz asked Mukand to give him his cap, but Mukand denied.
One day during school, Riaz informed Mukand that he and his family had to leave for the ‘other side’ as soon as possible for their safety. Riaz helped them escape and even disguised them. Mukand’s family loved Riaz and had no words to thank him enough.
While going Mukand threw his dearest ‘Red cap’ towards Riaz and waved at him. They never met again, but that image of Riaz waving at him from the shore that was once his home, was captured in his mind for eternity. It was these memories that he carried within him and shared on his deathbed with his daughter, Nina Sabnani, who then took the responsibility of sharing to the world at large the more humane aspects of this extremely embittered and divisive legacy of pain and horror.
Shrila Pokhriyal studies English Honours at the University of Delhi.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.