1947 Partition Stories I Khursheed Bibi: Daughter of a Brave Man

The partition of undivided India into two states, India and Pakistan, in the year 1947 remains one of the greatest tragedies, not just for the two countries but the entire world. While the partition showed some of the worst sides of humanity but even in those dark days the human spirit of compassion remained resilient. Individuals reached out across cultural and religious boundaries to help those in need. Tridivesh Singh from India, and Tahir Malik and Ali Farooq Malik from Pakistan, came together to tell stories from both side of the divide which show us humanity’s triumph over our angry, violent inner nature. The Dispatch brings to you the select stories from the book ‘Humanity amidst Insanity’.

Khursheed Bibi, 74, a resident of Ghari Shahu Railways quarters is daughter of Polo Khan who was working as a train driver in the British Indian Railways. Polo Khan was posted in Lahore during partition and is no longer alive. Khurshid Bibi however, narrates the story of her father which fits into the theme of discussion. First, her father saw travellers of two trains being butchered, even though he tried hard to rescue both the trains. The first train was from Ludhiana to Lahore and the second from Nankana Sahib to Amritsar. In the first episode, Muslims were butchered close to Amritsar while Sikhs and Hindus were butchered close to Lahore. The second interesting part of the story is that while one of his colleagues, Ganga Ram (a Hindu) though was on duty outside Lahore, Polo Khan gave his family shelter. Ganga Ram’s family stuck on in Pakistan for some time and converted to Islam but later on left for India.

Talking about her father, Khursheed Bibi says, “In Lahore, a railway quarter close to the Gari-Shao railway station was allotted to my father Polo Khan. In 1947, he used to drive passenger trains within the United Punjab.  On 14th August he had taken a passenger train from Lahore to Ludhiana”. This passenger train was running between the above-mentioned cities on alternate days. He had to bring back the train to Lahore on the next day (15th August 1947). On the midnight between the 14th and 15th August the announcement of Partition was made. However, riots between Muslims and non-Muslims had already spread in the Punjab even before this announcement. But Polo Khan was not affected by the barbaric killings in the name of religion; he remained a brave person and was committed to bringing back the train full of Muslim passengers, who wanted to migrate from East to West Punjab.

Narrating the first ghastly episode, which her father witnessed, she continued that, On the 15th of August, the passenger train departed from Ludhiana railway station. The train was full of Muslim passengers. During the journey to Lahore, Polo Khan saw hundreds of dead bodies on both sides of the track, and he knew that the lives of the passengers were in danger. Therefore, he was running the train as fast as possible. The ‘black clouds’ were becoming blacker because of the speed. The whistle of the steam engine was indicating that it was not a normal travel to Lahore. He was successful in crossing Amritsar railway station safely, but some criminal elements removed the track just after Amritsar. Therefore Polo Khan had to stop the train to avoid a deadly accident. He saved a train accident, but another problem struck them. The train was stopped and it helped criminal elements to jump into the coaches. They were carrying swords, knives and guns in their hands; some elements opened fire from outside and some started killing the passengers with knives and swords as well. They didn’t care who they were killing — innocent children and helpless women were the victims of their insanity. Polo Khan watched this scene helplessly. They killed all the passengers and then only he was allowed to take the train with no passenger alive back to Lahore. He drove a train filled with dead bodies.

After witnessing the cruel killing of Muslims, he was ordered by the Lahore division railways to take another passenger train of Sikh and Hindu passengers from Nankana Sahib to Amritsar.

This time the passengers were non-Muslims. The train left the station on time in the morning of 16 August 1947. The journey was smooth and safe up to Lahore railway station. But after Lahore, inside Pakistan, on the way to Amritsar, unlawful elements managed to stop the train and killed all the passengers of the train and they also threw the dead bodies in the river Ravi. One may say that it was a reaction of the killings of Muslims in East Punjab.

Khursheed Bibi also talks about how her father Polo Khan rescued the family of a Hindu train driver Ganga Ram.

“Ganga Ram, a Hindu train driver, who was our neighbour lived in quarter number 14 of our locality. On   the 15th of August 1947, he drove the passenger train to Ferozepur from Lahore. But when he came back to Lahore,  he learned that riots had worsened in Lahore. Ganga Ram was worried about his family, but being a Hindu, he had great fear and apprehension in his mind, and did not come  to meet his family in Lahore. During this period, my family took care of Ganga Ram’s family. But at midnight, he came back to the railway colony. He knocked at our door. My father opened the door and saw Ganga Ram standing outside and had an expression of trepidation on his face. My father took his colleague inside the house. Immediately, Ganga Ram asked my father about his family. My father told Ganga Ram that the latter’s family is safe and sound and they were inside the house. He then brought Ganga Ram’s wife and three children in front of him. There was no doubt that their lives were in danger. But my father gave them full protection. My mother served dinner to Ganga Ram”.

As a result of the bad law and order situation in Lahore, Ganga Ram and his family decided not to leave Lahore. At that time Ganga Ram and his family converted into Islam. For this they were taken to Badshahi Mosque where they accepted Islam as their new religion. His family consisted of his wife, two sons and one daughter. Their new Islamic names were Abdullah (Ganga Ram), Fatima (wife), Ramzana (daughter), Sardar Ali (son),and Ramzan (son)”.

Talking about their conversion to Islam she says, “I don’t know whether they converted to Islam to save their lives or as a result of their personal choice. But they became devout Muslims. During the month of Ramzan in August 1947, Abdullah and his family kept the stipulated fast. They used to recite the Holy Quran and would say their prayers regularly. They lived in the colony for six months after the Partition. Abdullah continued his job as a train driver in Lahore. However, after 6 months when the circumstances improved, they went to India”.

About the departure of Ganga Ram, alias Abdullah’s family, to India, Khursheeda Bibi reminisces, “It was very painful for them to leave. Before going to India, Fatima came to our house. She didn’t want to go to India. She wept a lot. Interestingly, she also told the ladies in the colony that she and her family would not change their religion. They were now Muslims; and they are going to their new country India not as Hindus but Muslims”.


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