The experience of Fameeda Bano, 90 is significant for more than one reason. Her family lived in Amritsar, a town which was dominated by Sikhs and also a town where most rioteers were Sikhs. Yet, during the bloodshed Muhammad Yahsin took care of the daughters of one of his Sikh friends who himself was abroad during the riots. When the riots began the family shifted to Lahore and took the girls also along with them to Lahore and returned them to the family in the month of October of that year when things had improved. Now during those days individuals were every about keeping members of any other community – in this case keeping two Sikh girls in Lahore was a big risk as the feeling of avenging was strong in many Muslims – especially those who had suffered in East Punjab. Apart from this, it also shows the ‘positive’ side of honour; that her husband kept his promise of keeping the girls safe and returned the girls once things improved. And last but not the least, her son Awais Sheikh who was born in undivided India has not only visited his house but has been one of the vocal protagonists of peace between the two countries.
Fameeda Bano’s husband Muhammad Yahsin was the vice–captain of the British Indian volleyball team. In the pre-partition days, Fameeda and her family lived in Mohala Prem Nagar, Tahseelpura of Amritsar. Muslims had cordial living relations with Hindus and Sikhs as was the case in many other towns of both the Punjabs.
Talking about the whole episode of her husband rescuing his Sikh friend’s daughters, Fameeda says, “One of my husband’s Sikh friends happened to be our neighbour and a player of the Indian volleyball team. During the period in which rioting had begun, the latter was out of the country. That is why, when the situation began to worsen in Amritsar, the Sikh friend, telephoned Muhammad Yahsin and requested him to take care of them. Yahsin assured him that he would take care of his two daughters, at any cost. He immediately went to the house of his Sikh friend, and brought the girls to our house.”
Later, when conditions worsened, Sheikh Muhammad Yasin and his parents decided to migrate to Lahore. Yahsin along with his mother, wife (Fameeda) and his one-year-old child Awais and the two daughters of his Sikh friend came to the Wagah border by a refugee train. They were saved from rioting on board as the refugee train they were travelling in was protected by the army.
Fameeda also explains why her husband took along the daughters of his Sikh friend who were young and without their father at the time. “We thought that these Sikh girls should not be left alone. We took them as a part of our family, as our own children. So we all came to Pakistan together. However, on our way to Lahore, we saw several dead bodies by the railway track too. Finally we came to Lahore and the Sikh girls stayed with our family for 2 months. In October, 1947 when the tense atmosphere of killing and violence improved, my husband went back to India with the two girls. Without much difficulty the girls were reunited with their father. He was very thankful to his sincere Muslim friend.”
Fameeda in her claims was allotted the house of a Hindu in Islampura. Her son, Awais Sheikh has been fortunate to see his old house in Amritsar. He is running an NGO called ‘Pak-India Peace Initiatives’, aiming to improve relations between the two countries. He is like a dove that is flying always in this region for peace, love and harmony.
In fact, her son has made some very positive contributions to further the peace process in the subcontinent. When asked about his contributions, Sheikh, the author of Samjhota Express a book on Indo- Pak peace, says that:
“The Pak-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy was formed in both countries and the first people to people contact was established in 1995. I am fortunate to have been the founder member of PIPFPD. The first joint convention was held at Delhi where 100 people from each side participated. It was a big success. Resolutions were passed unanimously wherein governments of both countries were asked to avoid conflicts and resolve existing disputes through dialogue while sitting across the table. It was a strong message sent to both governments.
In 1997, Pakistan was celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence on 14th Aug while India was doing the same on the 15th. I was the president of Pak- India Peace Initiatives. We invited 100 people from each side. All our arrangements went abegging and the establishment and bureaucracy of the two countries succeeded in sabotaging our programme. The visas of 100 members of the Indian delegation were withdrawn at the last moment. As a consequence,India also decided not to issue visas to us. However on August 13th, India issued visas to 12 persons of our delegation to visit Amritsar for participating in the golden jubilee celebrations. Despite pressure of all kind from internal and external forces, threat and even abuses, I left for Amritsar with the delegation. There was a seminar in Amritsar attended by industrialists, intellectuals, journalists, social and political workers, students from all over India. In addition some representatives of South Asian countries were also present.”
Sheikh goes on to say that: “Between 2001 and 2003 there was no interaction between the two countries. However after 2003 I have visited India many times and my book Samjhota Express was released in Delhi in 2003. Since then I have visited India many times and organised seminars and peace events in Lahore.”
The Hindi edition of his book was released in April 2006 by former Prime Minister, IK Gujral.
This particular story stands as a beacon of hope for re-indorcing relations of friendship between both the countries. We have been fed with countries tales of atrocities on momen and their honour but experiences like Fameeda Bano’s can put a soothing below in these old sores.