Blinded by guilt

Published: October 12, 2012
The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society

The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society

On a cold and foggy morning in January 2010, my friend Talwinder Singh, the short story writer from Amritsar, drove me to Buttar Khurd, a short way off the Grand Trunk Road en route to Jalandhar. We had come to see old Charan Singh.

Even before he entered the courtyard where we sat, we could hear the tap-tap-tap of his cane in the paved alley outside. Small of stature and a little hunched over by age, the man had large milky eyes that had not seen the light of day for 20 years. He himself was, so he said, 83 that year.

As a 20-year-old constable in the district administration, he was assigned as guard to a Sikh revenue officer in Kasur. When the line was drawn with Kasur falling to Pakistan and mayhem began, Charan and his officer crossed the BRB canal and made for the new India. On the crossing, they saw the brown waters clogged with bloated bodies, the Hindu and Sikh men, women and children who had only a few days earlier lived peaceably with the Muslim neighbours.

The emotion young Charan felt was not grief but hatred. There was also the intense desire for revenge. Across the border, the man made straight for his native village of Buttar and joined the mobs running rampage across the land. They killed and looted, killed and looted; their hearts bursting with religious fervour and indignation at the needless deaths of all their co-religionists, who had died in Pakistan. Yet, they remained unmindful of the needless deaths they were responsible for.

There was no remorse, no twinge of guilt upon doing in a fellow human being. It was as if men had descended to a level below the lowliest beasts. As more and more trainloads of dead Sikhs and Hindus arrived, the call to exact greater vengeance charged up Charan Singh.

Charan Singh said it was religious fervour that made him become part of the rampaging mob. It was passion whipped up by religious leaders in the name of God that made him kill the very same people who had lived amicably in the village. He said his blood had turned white and he lost count of the number of people he killed. Many of these were neighbours to whom his family sent food on the Lori festival, and who in turn, sent them vermicelli or meat depending on which Eid it was.

One day, so he related, the mob killed so many that they had to load the corpses in three ox carts to dump in the Beas. The grisly convoy was followed by the women who had survived the killing of their men folk. As they were about to tip the carts over by the river, the women started to jump into the water as well. Charan said he and the others tried to stop them, offering them new lives as Sikhs. But it was to no avail. “They were made of very strange mettle. Not one of them survived. They went into the eddies without a sound, without a curse hurled at us, we who had wronged them so terribly,”  he said, his unseeing eyes staring at me.

That cold morning, Charan Singh said he had lost his eyes because he had sinned against his own brothers. “I killed without remorse and was punished by the Parmatama.” He spoke sadly but, he added, in the heat of the madness, he had felt no regret. Remorse set in only after many years had gone by.

Very like Charan Singh’s case was that of Jala Teli and his accomplices who had killed in Laliani near Kasur. They, too, had gone blind in their later lives and died riven by remorse. But the question is whether these men would have felt this same remorse had they not lost the use of their eyes? Was this guilt only because they were helpless and felt somehow that they were punished for their sins by whatever deity they believed in?

These are questions that I cannot answer. But the sad thing is that we in Pakistan live through another age of partition. Those who kill are once again charged with religious fervour. They, too, have no remorse.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Sinclair
    Oct 12, 2012 - 11:10PM

    In the strange human psyche, loss of possession is an emotion which is placed higher than possession itself. You would never know the value of some inane object to a person, until you take it from him forcibly and mock him with it. Thats when you see the animal in the man, in every man. Partition was about religion, because Jinnah made it about religion. Riots were about loss of possession. The base animal instinct of getting back was sanctified with religious overtones, which basically gave the sanction to the community as a whole. Now they could all be animals collectively with no remorse, no one to question, no one to mock. This is why I think that riots were not about Punjab. If the artificial lines are drawn in Tamil Nadu today, the results will not be any different.


  • RS
    Oct 12, 2012 - 11:12PM

    We need a truth and reconciliation commission


  • A. Nabi Baloch
    Oct 12, 2012 - 11:52PM

    lamhoon khaata ki sadiyon nay saaza payee (Mistakes were made in seconds, however entire centuries paid for it.


  • Mirza
    Oct 13, 2012 - 12:07AM

    What a great Op Ed, thanks a lot for that. It gave me goose bumps and reminded me of Minto’s “Khol Do”. Whenever I think of that I get goose bumps and chills down my spine. Sad to say that as you said in the end this story of fanaticism and senseless killing is being repeated in the land of the pure.


  • gp65
    Oct 13, 2012 - 3:34AM

    @Sinclair: Your comment is as thought provoking as the Op/Ed itself.


  • Rakib
    Oct 13, 2012 - 6:43AM

    Thank you, Salman Rashid and Sinclair. While I am not sure of the implied Karmic & discernible consequences here & now, the misery caused by guilt must truly be a punishment. But then there is hope too for the sensitive. Takhtasinhji Gohil “Kalapi” a Gujarati Prince as a youngster once needlessly killed a lovely bird with a stone. He never could get over the remorse. Much later, with guilt but with some hope too he wrote a famous poem in which he mentions (Ha pastavo pavitra jharnu swarg thi utaryun je) how Repentance is a sacred stream from heavens that drenches the sinner to eventually purify him. May Charan Singh find peace & come to terms with himself.


  • Raw is War
    Oct 13, 2012 - 7:30AM

    @ Salman sab,

    great article. In Hindu tradition- we are told since we are very young- never lie or do bad things, you will go blind. This seems to be the ultimate punishment in Hinduism.


  • observer
    Oct 13, 2012 - 7:36AM

    Salman Rashid,


    You leave me heavy in the heart and in pain. But this pain we must endure if we want to admit our collective guilt and more importantly, if we want to avoid repeating it again.


  • Feroz
    Oct 13, 2012 - 7:48AM

    Such senseless violence simply reflects the animal instincts that rests in every man and the need to control such base instincts. I would like to relate a simple story told to me by one of Gandhi’s followers over thirty years ago.

    It was around the time of partition with violence everywhere and Gandhi was in a meeting with some of his followers. Suddenly a disheveled man barged in with sword in hand shouting loudly “Bapuji, I just killed a 12 year old Muslim boy because they came and killed my wife and children. My life is worthless, I am a sinner with no future and I am beyond redemption. I have nothing to live for.”
    Gandhi – “Of course you got hope, nothing is hopeless and you must redeem yourself. Go out on the streets and find an orphan Muslim boy whose family has been slaughered. Adopt him, feed him, educate him and bring him up to be a true and good Muslim. The Almighty will help and forgive you”.

    Through the carnage we must also salute the many who gave protection to some of their neighbors and saved their lives. While we got to see the baseness and brutality of man, we also saw stories of courage and Godliness.


  • gp65
    Oct 13, 2012 - 8:24AM

    @Rakib: Never thought I would get to read a line by Kalapi on this board. You made my day!


  • Indian Wisdom
    Oct 13, 2012 - 9:56AM

    Lets wait to see the punishment the terrorists belonging to the TTP finally gets by almighty and if they also have same sense of remorse for killing people without any reason!!


  • Sinclair
    Oct 13, 2012 - 11:13AM

    @gp65 and @Rakib:

    Thank you.


  • Cynical
    Oct 13, 2012 - 1:24PM


    A heartfelt thanks to you all. Visiting ET is such a pleasure for people like you.


  • Rakib
    Oct 13, 2012 - 7:56PM


    Never thought I would get to read a line by Kalapi on this board. You made my day!

    Glad to read that.You, Cynical & Sinclair are kind. Salman Rashid always leaves me thinking after I have finished reading his columns. The complex thought progression that took me to Kalapi was this, (mostly trivia) :- In two columns Salman Sahab related the tale of retribution & remorse and Crime & Punishment of the two Punjabis of different religions.That makes one think of their forebears of that area since times of Epics. One thinks of the crime of Dasarath in killing Shravan and the punishment it entailed and of Pandu and his killing of the sage and the calamities he invited. Some of the Sanskrit stanzas of Epics describing the early events are either in Anushtup or in this case, Mandakranta Chhand (meter),the latter a favourite of poets from Vyas to Kalidas to Kalapi! Almost all of Kalapi’s poetic oeuvre is in that majestic meter & that is the reason even his sombre poems appear so musical..The Column also reminded me of the irony that love & not hate killed him. The young poet-prince was poisoned by a jealous one, punished for the crime of loving a commoner.


  • faheema
    Oct 13, 2012 - 8:58PM

    “Those who kill are once again charged with religious fervour. They, too, have no remorse”, This is continuation of episode went on air in 40’s but has added a new tinge i.e. killing on lingual lines without remorse. Charan Singh and many others like him might has their conscience little bit alive but those killing to achieve their self-styled regional and pro-Islamic global high aims damn care about any call of conscience.


  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Oct 15, 2012 - 1:43PM


    If the artificial lines are drawn in
    Tamil Nadu today, the results will not
    be any different.

    We in South India rather not let lines be drawn. Drawing line is sort of Islamic specialty.


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