Agony of women during Partition

Letter October 19, 2013
There are many incidents of honour killing of women in partition stories.

RAWALPINDI: From an early age, students are taught the basic aspects of the Partition of India more like a chronicle of events, inevitably leading to the vivisection of the subcontinent, without any heed to the true power dynamics and politics behind the conflict and its outcome. The publicly available history of Partition had left some serious questions in my mind which needed to be addressed. My doubts were due to the fact that I had been told completely different versions based on personal experiences by elders who were actual witnesses to the painful drama as compared with official versions recorded in textbooks. From a sociological perspective, no aspect is as vital as the catastrophic impact in the lives of people who endured massacres and rape, witnessed the slaughter of other communities and saw forced migrations en masse.

To discover the truth, I interviewed senior citizens from various locations in Rawalpindi and its suburbs where violence was widespread during Partition. As a part of that study, I visited Thoha Khalsa, a village of Kahuta, for four consecutive days earlier this year. This village is located southeast of Rawalpindi, and was home to a very large community of Sikhs before Partition.

I have recorded four stories as narrated by the local residents of Thoha Khalsa who witnessed the tragic incidents of that time. Later, with the help of my two Delhi-based friends, Gurpreet Singh Anand and Raj Aryan, I recorded an online interview of Bir Bahadur Singh, who left the village during the disturbances from 6-13 March 1947. No Sikh or Hindu remained in the village after the March 1947 rioting, except one girl, Phagwant Kaur, who was married to a local Muslim resident of the village and had converted to Islam.

There are many incidents of honour killing of women in partition stories. Muhammad Aslam witnessed Sikh women jumping into a well to take their own lives. Here is an excerpt from his interview:

“I am originally from Thoha Khalsa; I was 16-year-old in 1947. We were living peacefully in the village. People were very friendly and co-operative. Sikhs were very rich people as they ran the shops and had thriving businesses. They often helped us on money matters. I used to visit Darshan Singh’s house quite often. On the evening of March 6, Muslim mobs from the surrounding villages entered Thoha Khalsa and gave ultimatums to the Sikhs to convert. On that evening, the impact of their presence was negligible due to the lateness of the hour but the actual clashes started the next morning, when their numbers swelled to some thousands. After resisting for three days, the Sikhs hoisted white flags from their havelis. They had only acted in self-defence. But when defeat and dishonour was imminent, Sikh men started killing their own women. I still remember when Bhansa Singh killed his wife with tears in his eyes. They all gathered in the central haveli of Sant Gulab Singh. In the span of some hours, I witnessed the deaths of almost 25 women. It was such a horrible scene. For six days, the whole village witnessed orchestrated looting and killing. While their men fought, the Sikh women started gathering near a well around the garden. It was almost after noon, and I watched from nearby with two of my friends. Some of the women held their children in their arms. They sobbed desperately as they jumped into the well. In about half an hour, the well was full of bodies. I went closer and realised that those who were on top were trying to submerge their heads. No space remained. A few came up and jumped again. It was a terrible scene. They were determined to die rather than sacrifice their honour. In one week, all the remaining Sikhs and Hindus were compelled to leave their native place.”

Haroon Janjua

Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2013.

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