Agony of women during Partition

Published: October 19, 2013
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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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Reader Comments (20)

  • S. Israr Ali
    Oct 20, 2013 - 8:54AM

    How horrible it was specially for Muslims to have caused that! Even if it is claimed it was in retaliation even then not permissible. They all were the honored residents of this land and treasure. Whatever would have been the circumstances, this should not have been allowed to have happened and every protection, respect should have been extended to them with show of extreme tolerance. Now what we are doing with people of our own faiths! Bombing, killing is the order of day. How amazing it all seems that even the sacred places of muslims i.e., shrines, mosques, imambargahs are the target of blasts in midst of worships even the funeral congregations or prayers by none but by those claiming themselves Islamic fundamentalists themselves massacring common folks, women, children elderly with no exception. The exodus of colonial power ironically coincided with extreme sufferings, large scale bloodshed, massacre and biggest migration of masses in history on both sides of divide instead of rejoicing independence or thanks giving and that has not ended till now though people from time immemorial historically lived in these very lands in harmony, peace, tranquility, passion, tolerance, love and compassion to each other sharing same culture, languages, heritage, customs irrespective of religious differences. We should pray that instead of madness sanity prevails in these beautiful lands of love which have remained the hall mark peace and compassion and forces of death, destruction and hatred vanish.

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  • Oct 20, 2013 - 11:34AM

    This was shown in vivid detail in Bhag Milkha Bhag, Farhan Akhtar-led movie.

    Was it released in Pakistan? I guess not. No guesses as to why not!Recommend

  • Masood Akhtar
    Oct 20, 2013 - 1:19PM

    Very moving story! I am residing in the nearby village of Thoa Khalsa.

    In fact people would say after this incident rumours spread to muslim villages that Sikh are coming. In our village Dakhali, many people hid them self in hay and one child’s leg got fractured in this process and he is still lame.Recommend

  • Gaurav
    Oct 20, 2013 - 1:29PM

    Blame it on Jinnah

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  • Gurpreet Singh Anand
    Oct 20, 2013 - 1:51PM

    There was co-ordinated effort all over Western Panjab’s villages ..first hue and cry was raised Sikhs are coming after having killed Muslims of nearby villages to create hatred against neighbours lest they come to protect them when Muslim Guards of Muslim League wlil lead attacks later and then where they were in fewer numbers they were surrounded and butchered after having picked their young women
    .This was a campaign carried out by Muslim Guards of Jinnah party and the attackers were promised women of the killed sikhs and their wealth .It is these killings from this village that carried stories to East Panjab and later after 15th August reprisals were carried in equal barbarity by Sikhs and Hindus on Muslims .In Thoa Khalsa for several days caravans of Camels and Bullocks carried looted property of Sikhs and the pictures taken of the massacre are too chilling to date !But the point is does this mayhem end ..no since 1947 the killers have picked up their co-religionists and have not even spared them .So this ethnic cleansing has not led to any prosperity except to looters and politicians on both sides .Recommend

  • Ali
    Oct 20, 2013 - 2:55PM

    This whole notion of demanding a separate piece of land based on converted faith is very very absurd and non-sustainable to say the least. Jinnah and others wanted Pakistan for selfish reasons, whatever justifications they came up with, are not standing the passage of time. Come on Pakitan, Wake up.

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  • Insaan
    Oct 20, 2013 - 5:08PM

    @Masood Akhtar: Hassan Nisar, a Pakistani columnist, has said the said the same thing in one of his videos on YouTube..

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  • genesis
    Oct 20, 2013 - 5:12PM

    The Rajput women would always do this if there was an invasion.They would jump into the fire than be dishonored which was the standard for women . If they were taken captive they would be sent to harems or sold as salves.Death was a more honourable alternative.

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  • balvinder
    Oct 20, 2013 - 5:21PM

    i don’t have any memory of those sad days being 6 months old when my parents along with my 2 elder brothers were forced to leave our home and hearth from near rawalpindi.but i am still,66 years later, haunted by the description i would overhear later, how the train that left rawalpindi for amritsar was stopped at a station called lala musa. there the driver took the engine off the station leaving train behind that was surrounded by blood thirsty mob for three nights, with no food water. thankfully a small number of armed army men, perhaps gorkhas, kept the day and night vigil and saved us from the mob’s fury.
    what was our fault, i m unable to fathom till this day?

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  • balvinder
    Oct 20, 2013 - 5:23PM

    @Gaurav:
    why not blame gandhi also who bent down and agreed to the divide under pressure from perhaps RSS.

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  • Insaan
    Oct 20, 2013 - 6:24PM

    @balvinder: why not blame gandhi also who bent down and agreed to the divide under pressure from perhaps RSS

    Riots started before actual partition when Jinnah called for a Direct Action Day protest. The protest triggered massive riots in Calcutta. In Calcutta, within 72 hours, more than 4,000 people lost their lives and 100,000 residents in the city of Calcutta were left homeless. Violence in Calcutta sparked off further religious riots in the surrounding regions of Noakhali, Bihar, United Province (modern Uttar Pradesh), Punjab, and the North Western Frontier Province. These events sowed the seeds for the eventual Partition of India..

    Some people in Pakistan has preplanned to make sure no Hindus or Sikhs were left in Pakistan at the time of partition. Many Hindu/Sikhs were killed, some converted to Islam to save their life. Most Muslims survived in India. There are more Muslims in India then Pakistan.

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  • Oct 20, 2013 - 6:30PM

    @balvinder:

    Gandhi was not the one who blackmailed India in 1946 during Ramzan and threatened Civil war.

    Please read history. Also, cut some slack. India was 80% poor, with no administration of its own, no institutions, no Democracy, no rule of law.

    Read about Direct Action day and how 4000 people, in one district alone, were butchered in the Muslim majority Bengal in just one short week and how it took ages for the Army to get there.

    Gandhi wanted peace. But, he failed to convince the Muslim League. Some people in the RSS didn’t want to part with what they considered their territory, some were in favour.

    RSS too was divided.

    Partition was the best possible solution at the time.

    http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/how-pakistan-is-good-for-india/

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  • sam
    Oct 20, 2013 - 7:12PM

    no one is wrong here.. every one is right..even i have a story to tell..but that would be of no use…blaming ur ancestors wont work and is rather absurd. blame the murderers rapists and brutals..partition was a great sacrifice made for an independent homeland…

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  • Ali
    Oct 20, 2013 - 10:43PM

    What a human catastrophe this whole partition saga was. Whether it was Muslims killing non Muslims or vice versa it gives me a deep insight into why 60+ years after partition all these idiots are still desperately trying to get to the country they got this “freedom” from … You can unite or form as many countries as you want but the animals living in those areas wouldn’t become human that easy.

    Before the bigots jump in, Indians are as desperate as Pakistanis to go to to Englaand.
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  • S. Israr Ali
    Oct 21, 2013 - 12:45AM

    How fantastic would it be if whole sub-continent becomes on block with all living together in love, compassion, peace, harmony, tolerance with no hatred to any one as they have lived in these beautiful lands of diversity all along sharing common language, customs, heritage, dressing, culture. Founder King of Mughal Dynasty, Babur, by sitting in Delhi used to govern then India which spanned from Burma from eastern side to beyond Kabul on western side, from foots of Himalaya in north to deep Kanya Kumari in south with absolute peace, tranquility and harmony among all diverse segment of populations living in that vast India and prospering. Is it not irony that though Bangladesh is secular so is West Bengal in India, same language, same people and same everything. Still while they cannot unite, two Germanys can unite, whole Europe can unite as EU and countries of gulf can unite as GCC, combination of several states unite in the form of United States of America. In Pakistan in the name of religion we see that even funeral congregations and prayers are not spared and blasted in the midst of performing rituals by none but only those of same faith claiming to be Islamic Fundamentalist massacring their own brothers in faith with no mercy. While they violently agitate on demolition of Babri Mosque in India however, feel no remorse by themselves bombing their own heritage, shrines, mosques and imambargahs massacring worshipers in the midst of prayers. Sectarian, ethnic and religious killings apart. It is all paradox, innocent lives lost, unending colossal losses of lives and properties with multitude of sufferings for human persons lagging further continuously behind in the comity of nations.

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  • Haroon Janjua
    Oct 21, 2013 - 2:05AM

    @S.Israr Ali:
    Your purity of thoughts is impressive, we need to realize that in union we will move forward to prosperity in this important era of economic war. South Asian association will be beneficial and fruit oriented for masses at large. Sure, there are certain forces and ideologies which are snatching the right to live (the worst thinking ever). The economies of these countries are fragile and at their lowest ebb on every passing day. The hegemony of foreign exchanges are affecting the standard of public life. In Pakistan there is dire need to revamp the basic ideologies, priorities, education and most vital realizing the importance of issues which needs attention. its all about attitudes and priorities we need to recognize the individual roles. I have seen many educated people at the helm of affairs only joking instead of recognizing their actual role. Issues always needs attention a serious jerks in positive directions. Accepting truth irrespective of national and religious prejudices will lead us. I thank you all the commentators who play their part and make a meaningful discussion in this thread.
    I am sharing the video of migrated man from same village in link below. I am not sure being not added with me on facebook you will get the video or not but I hope you all will appreciate the video as well.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=555373407868628 (video link)
    https://www.facebook.com/haroon.janjua.75 (My facebook account)

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  • Gurpreet Singh Anand
    Oct 21, 2013 - 6:10PM

    @balvinder: please connect with me as I am collecting these real happenings they call stories

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  • Haroon Janjua
    Oct 21, 2013 - 8:14PM

    @balvinder:
    The incident you shared about slaughtering of train is explained by many people. In Rawalpindi Mirza Ashiq Hussain told me about that incident another female witness from Thoha Khalsa share the same incident happening. I think the Gujrat i.e. (Lala Musa, Kharian) were the places where time and again trains were attacked. Balvinder Sahib it will be my pleasure if you connect with me. Thanks

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  • JihneLahoreNiVekheya..
    Oct 21, 2013 - 8:53PM

    Vry well thought & written. I’m a young Sikh frm eastern Punjab & no one frm my immediate or distant family had to migrate in 1947, but still, I’m always moved greatly by d mammoth human tragedy that was faced by ppl on both sides. Let us realize & accept that d whole bloodshed & violence faced by Punjabis on both sides was committed by Punjabis themselves, religion was not an exception on either side. Why can’t we cm together & unitedly regret what was committed by our own forefathers upon ppl who were kindredly our own..? Those who suffered were Punjabis, those who made them suffer were Punjabis… and now those who can rise above this hatred and make a new beginning are, ofcourse, Punjabis….. what r we waiting for?? I’m deeply hurt when bomb blasts take place in mosques & dargahs in Lehnda Punjab…. I’m hurt when I’m told that I can’t visit Nankana Sahib, Punja Sahib & countless other historic gurudwaras as & when I want to. I’m pained when I realize that I can’t visit Lahore or Paakpatan or Dataa Shakargarj – doesn’t that make me a lesser Punjabi?? Why can’t we make efforts to undo the wrongs done by our previous generations? If we won’t….who else will ???Recommend

  • Hilde Jacobs
    Oct 22, 2013 - 5:27PM

    Very well written article! I am a German citizen, but was married to a very kind Pakistan Muslim diplomate in the 60s. He told me horrible stories about the partition, such as women and children were given boiling water to drink in the refugee trains. And I came to know one of his nephews, who had been lying beyond huge heaps of corps for hours, just to survive. But what was the price? He had severe mental problems after partition.

    May all souls rest in peace for evermore!

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