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Partition Memories And PTSD

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My father had been a judge in 1947 and opted for Pakistan. Consequently, the High Court transferred him to Batala in the belief that Gurdaspur, being a Muslim majority district, will be awarded to Pakistan.

When we got off the train at Jullunder on the 12th of August, the place was under curfew and the platform was deserted. My father knew the Hindu ADM and phoned him to explain the situation. He promised to send transport with an escort. It never arrived. In the meantime, an increasing number of armed Sikhs started to gather across the railway lines but hesitated to come closer. The information about a Muslim officer stranded with his family at the railway station reached the president of the local Muslim League, Maulana Abdul Bari, who rescued us in his car.

What saved us from being attacked by the Sikhs was the sight of my father’s hunting rifle and shotgun that we carried by hand because these could not be packed with rest of the baggage due to their long barrels. The Sikhs did not know that the cartridges for these guns were locked in a suitcase for safety!

We lived in one of the Pathan Bastis outside Jullunder. The 14th of August came and went and we still did not know just where the line between India and Pakistan would be drawn. This was finally announced on the 18th – the day of Eid that year. The Bastis were inundated with Muslim refugees from the city and neighbouring villages that were attacked by the Sikhs every night. There were many sick and wounded but no medical facilities. Food supplies had begun to run out.

At night, one of the refugees would awaken from a nightmare screaming, “Aa gayay, aa gayay” and others would take up his cry. Only thirteen at the time, I would pick up the shotgun and rush to the roof to take up a position next to my father.

As we lay there in the stillness of the dark night, waiting for the attack to materialize, he would remind me that if he died first, I was not to use up all of the cartridges but save at least one each for my mother and sisters to make sure they would not fall into the hands of the Sikhs alive.

Try as one might, it is impossible to get rid of the image from my mind of what might have happened had we been overrun. Only Providence saved us from the tragic fate that befell a million others whose luck had run out.

On the 27th.of August the Punjab Government sent two trucks to bring Muslim civil servants and their families to Lahore. The drivers were Hindus. They simply stopped the trucks outside the Sikh Khalsa College in Amritsar and disappeared with the keys. My father and I sat with gun barrels pointing outwards at the back to make room for the ladies inside, again without any ammunition. Soon a crowd of Sikhs gathered without coming near. They left after some discussion between themselves. Unknown to us at the time, it was in all probability the sight of our guns that saved us.

Shortly afterwards the truck drivers reappeared and we entered Pakistan. Everyone piled out and spontaneously fell to the ground to kiss the earth. I can still feel its slightly gritty texture and brackish taste. There are other memories that continue to haunt – of bloated dead piled up in the River Beas, others bloodied lying by the roadside, mouths open and flies buzzing all over, mutilated women driven insane, screaming. Of men, women and children of all ages with untreated festering wounds. Of infants dying. Some of the things are still hard to unburden even after more than seventy years.

We made our way to Saadi Park in Mozang, Lahore, where my father’s cousin lived. There were too many of us for the available space. Realizing the situation, his neighbour left his house with everything in it – all for us. He went to live in his village in Kasur. People throughout Pakistan were making such sacrifices but nowhere more so than in Lahore.

The city had a deserted look. Virtually all the shops and businesses were closed as were the schools, colleges, hospitals and offices. These had been owned and operated by Hindus who had left within the first few days. Other than a couple of cars and a few Omni Buses, all one saw were lines of horse drawn “rehras” laden with baked chapattis streaming towards the refugee camp, donated by the ever so generous and compassionate citizens of Lahore.

One day, I was walking along a road when a military truck passed by. There were refugees packed in it like sardines. As it tried to take a sharp turn, it rolled over onto its side and the refugees spilled out. I watched as they gathered themselves up and righted the truck. Then they piled back in and the truck sped off on its way. There was no crying and no wailing, in fact very little sound of any kind.

As I turned to move, I saw a child lying unconscious in the dirt by the road-side. I picked it up and stood there wondering what to do next. The child was probably less than a year old. A few drops of blood came out from one of his ears. Someone in a passing car stopped and offered to take the child to the hospital. As I passed it into the car, it took two deep sighs and stopped breathing. The soft, warm, chubby little body suddenly went limp in my hands. I stood there a long time after the car had left. The truck never came back to look for the child.

I have often wondered how a mother failed to notice her missing baby and if she did, why did the truck not return? Perhaps the child’s parents were no longer alive or with him. One of the greatest tragedies of Partition was that scores of thousands of lost children and abducted women were never reunited with their families. No record was kept of where each family had gone after leaving the camp. It was virtually impossible to know what happened to them or to locate their new addresses.

A huge refugee camp had been set up near the airfield at Walton. It housed a transient population of many hundreds of thousands of destitute, sick and broken people at any one time. After some rest and recuperation, the families would gather together and move on to the outlying districts where they already had some relations or where the camp officials indicated that possibilities for resettlement existed. New refugees kept pouring in endlessly in their thousands.

My father worked in the camp at Walton before he was appointed to Sialkot and we moved into a house on Paris Road. About a month later I spied an old man in a shuttered window at the back of a deserted shop that was locked from the outside. He turned out to be a Hindu who had been left behind by the family as they fled to India. The poor fellow had run out of food and was emaciated. My mother cooked vegetarian dishes for him that I surreptitiously left on the window sill. He would retrieve the food only when no one was in sight. Eventually, arrangements were made to have him safely delivered to India. I am glad, after all that had happened, that we were still able to look at a Hindu as a human being and treat him with compassion.

Undoubtedly, the worst part of the tragedy for the survivors was the memory of the horrors and atrocities and of the loved ones who had been lost. It haunted them for the rest of their lives. The pain was dulled with time but it never left them completely. The physical wounds healed but the emotional and psychological trauma that they had endured scarred them forever. Many suffered recurring nightmares that would not go away; others went into deep depression and never recovered. They almost never laughed or smiled and had lost the ability to be happy ever again.

For months afterwards I would breakdown and cry every time someone said anything about Partition, refugees or the Bastis that were home. It was the same with many others I knew. The effect has only now been clinically recognized as “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD). Those who had experienced or witnessed this hell first hand refused to talk, even less write about it. It was not until recently that I could bring myself up to putting my recollections to the pen.

Most estimates put the number who lost their lives at close to a million. About 70,000 women were forcibly taken from their families and never returned. Yet, there is no record and no fitting monument to keep the generations that followed reminded of the horrendous sacrifice that they made so that we may live in peace and freedom. It is an ignominious national shame.

How difficult was it, for instance, to have turned Walton into a befitting national park?

The writer is author of Pakistan, Roots, Perspective and Genesis as well as East Pakistan Separation: Myth and Reality

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