Qissa Khwani: The hopes of a new nation, the terror of Partition

Published: June 21, 2013
Inspired by the historic Qissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, the three-day event invites citizens to share their experiences of Pakistan’s early history.

Inspired by the historic Qissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, the three-day event invites citizens to share their experiences of Pakistan’s early history.


Senior citizens shared stories of flights in terror, of hope and inspiration, and of loss and anguish at the time of Partition here at an event arranged by the Citizens Archive of Pakistan at Faiz Ghar on Thursday.

Inspired by the historic Qissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, where traders from various ethnicities used to discuss their stories over a cup of kava at the market’s tea houses, the three-day event invites citizens to share their experiences of Pakistan’s early history.

Thursday was dedicated to stories about Partition and the consequent migrations it forced, cross-border journeys often accompanied by acts of unimaginable sectarian brutality but also of kindness.

Jamila Zaidi, a former principal of the National College of Arts, remembered being warned, on the day of Partition, by a Sikh neighbour in Ambala, now in Indian Punjab, that they must leave if they wanted to live. The family spent three terrifying nights at the railway station waiting for a train to Pakistan. “The Sikhs of our area were very supportive. They provided us food every day,” she said.

Azra Haq recalled “the most dreadful experience of my life” when she saw a pregnant woman, aged just 18, being pulled from a truck and having her throat slashed open by a mob of Sikhs. “I still have a scar on my back as one of them attacked me with a steel rod,” she said.

Haq and her relatives, and other Muslim families, were fleeing Jullandhar in three trucks provided by a British brigadier on the night of August 30, 1947, after her Sikh neighbour told them to leave their large haveli and move to the new Muslim country.

Still, Haq said it was important that Pakistan try to follow the vision of its founder and avoid becoming an extremist society. She had seen Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah speak at a gathering in Jullandhar where “everyone was left spellbound”. She recalled an elderly lady who had been unable to understand English but been entirely convinced of all that the Quaid was saying.

Brigadier (retired) Salim Zia, who was a campaign volunteer for the 1946 elections, said that Jinnah had had that effect on a lot of people. He and fellow students at Islamia College once watched the Quaid speaking in Lahore and noticed an elderly man enthusiastically backing every word.

“I asked him if he understood what he was saying, to which he replied, ‘I don’t know what he’s saying, but whatever it is, he is telling the truth.’ You don’t see that kind of faith in leaders today,” he said.

Zia had campaigned for the Muslim League candidate, Muhammad Hussain Chattha, in Sheikhupura, travelling through the town on a tonga mounted with loudspeakers. Their election opponent, he said, was a “local tyrant” landlord whose tenants made up a large proportion of the electorate.

He said that Islam had increasingly come into use to attract votes for the Muslim League in these elections. “Nobody shouted that famous slogan – ‘Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya? La Ilaha Ilallah’ before 1946. It was only used to attract villagers, but unfortunately we carried the slogan too far … The Quaid wanted a separate welfare state for the Muslims, not an Islamic state or a state for mullahism,” said Zia.

Zahida Mushtaq talked about the need for a separate homeland for Muslims, saying that in comparison with Hindus, they had far fewer education and economic opportunities and hence far less social mobility. Partly, she said, this was because of a harmful mindset among Muslims who saw a Western education as haram, she said.

Madeeha Gauhar, leader of theatre group Ajoka, commented that the stories narrated on the day represented only the Muslim viewpoint on Partition. She said people were butchered on both sides of the border and it would have been good to hear stories from the other side too.

Rafay Alam, a lawyer, appreciated the effort and said it was a great opportunity to learn about the country’s history.

The event will continue for two more days, which will be about the early years of Pakistan Television and Radio Pakistan and the evolution of Pakistani cities.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Faisal
    Jun 21, 2013 - 2:19PM

    The foundation of Pakistan, the famous slogan – *‘Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya? La Ilaha Ilallah’ * was not a myth but a reality I’m glad to read that.


  • Aysha M (original version)
    Jun 21, 2013 - 2:52PM

    What nation?


  • Ahmed
    Jun 21, 2013 - 3:50PM

    He wanted an Islamic State. Quaid-i-Azam wasn’t stupid that he wouldve wanted a secular state for muslims. Please stop abusing the father of the nation by calling him a secular leader. Stop it.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Jun 21, 2013 - 4:51PM

    @ Pakistan meaning was Kalima and Quaid wanted a welfare muslim state but not Islamic ?????? most of the muslim died in Punjab and in Bengal were don’t even know why they been killed it was a great terror of modern time created by G.Britain.


  • Dilip
    Jun 21, 2013 - 6:08PM

    @Ali Tanoli.
    The tragedy of Partition was suffered by Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. The people involved in these tragic circumstances were all normal people. Under different circumstances these killings would not have happened. Imagine leaving the place of your birth. Imagine leaving your land and house. Imagine breaking up of all family ties. Imagine what is going to happen to you and your family on the other side. No family , friends and the comfort of HOME lost. Sad that it had to happen, and happen in such a tragic manner. Let us all pray that such a tragic event does not happen again.


  • sanzar khan
    Jun 21, 2013 - 9:11PM

    @Faisal: And what is there to cheer about : suicide attacks, bloodshed, death ,destruction, extremism, terrorism, corruption, injustices, ethnic and political polarization etc. Exploiting LA ILAH ILLALAH for secular objective and to butter political bread has brought forth serious consequences for the country.


  • someone
    Jun 21, 2013 - 10:19PM

    The partition was nothing but the political adventure and ambition of few politicians for which thousands of ordinary people died and got displaced from their roots. But the bottom line is, did the partition achieve what it was supposed to?
    1. Is ordinary Muslim in Pakistan/Bangladesh better off than the one in India?
    2. Did partition help Muslims of sub continent to achieve something they could not have had achieved in united India?
    3. Do Muslims in Pakistan/Bangladesh have more religious freedom than Muslims in India?
    4. Did partition empower Muslim of sub continent more or could they have been more assertive if combined in democratic united India?
    5. Does the argument of Muslim and non Muslim can’t live together still hold the water?


  • Ali Tanoli
    Jun 22, 2013 - 12:24AM

    @Dilip I agreed and reading these kind of stories make me sad….


  • solomon
    Jun 22, 2013 - 5:19AM

    Ishtiaq Ahmed, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University And Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore. His book “The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts” has just been published by Oxford University Press. has revealed clearly based upon his intensive research on the first person’s account on the both the sides of punjab and also his research based upon the secrectly leaked british reports that the violence first took palce in west punjab beginning from multan in january and in feburary in rawalpindi ..and untill july no violence took place against muslim in east punjab against muslims……. the violence started in east punjab only and only in july ….. in that too muslims of malerkotla were spared and hence today the punjabi mulsim comminuty lives happily and peacefully in east punjab ….now it states clearly that who provoked what and still who were kept safe you know where ….?!!!! it was all about looting money from unwanted rich mionorities in west punjab …. when the aggrioved minorities arrived in east punjab then only the riots started and thathat tooo three months after their arrival… and that too a muslim minority was spared in east punjab where as none were spared in west punjab …shame people just think too selfishly….


  • solomon
    Jun 22, 2013 - 3:44PM

    no the question needs to be asked WHO STARTED IT ???? now why mourn about it ???? if they started it first just coz they were least educated, jobless or poor … and wanted easy money by simply looting and scaring people away …then why cry about it NOW??? 97 sikh women jumped in the well to save their honor in feburary and mr. jinah came to maharajah of patiala and master Tara Singh to convince Sikhs to join pakistan by simply hiding such an incident…. by simply siting the examples about how Coptic Christians are treated in Egypt the same goes for sikhs in pakistan … just for the sake of garbing an upper riparian area !!!!! we dont even have such enclaves in india about narrating the past of partition …. i dont know why such enclaves are being held in pakistan ??? whats the purpose ??? we simple conduct indo pak joint punjabi mushairahs … somethingh which is more progressive and foward looking …what is the motive of such conclaves talking aboput partition… first they create the havoc becasue they were jobless and now also they are talking about such stories which makes no sense after 65 years …are they still the same jobless and hate mongers??????


  • vishal
    Jun 24, 2013 - 1:23AM

    I am a kashmiri pandit from baramula like other many kashmiri pandit family my family also live on exile since 1989 in Delhi I know the pain of leave own mother land house own people .the pain of separation from our beloveing relative. In Kashmir I saw killing of my innocent community people on the name of religion. The same happened in 1947 at the time of partition innocent people are killed and force to leave their home on the name of religion .
    On the name of Pakistan Jinnah gets Pakistan but today Pakistani what get from making of Pakistan only poverty,murder of there people on the name of religion which there they get Pakistan, inflation, unemployment,illiteracy so many bad think and uncertain future.


  • solomon
    Jun 25, 2013 - 5:39PM

    kashmir dispute dosent make any sence at all … everybody knows kashmir is an issue of grabing an upper reparian area and nothing else… kashmir is a tiny muslim majority pocket …. but there are many such pockets across india … if today they claim kashmir as its a muslim majority pocket them tommorw they will claim more such pockets… they failed in krishna ganga project case in hague against india … hence are they even worthy of anything to make out of somethingh of an upper repairan area like kashmir??? then why they cry about it … religion is a god damn thingh and pays nothing to nobody playing politics over the name of religion dose not qualify any society in the modern 21st century in an age of space rockets… they simply shamelessly gave away aksai chin to china??? is it kashmir or a birthday cake that u cut peices and distribute to neighbours???? this itself looses their claim over kashmir


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