1947 Partition Stories I Professor Rafique: The Trials and Tribulations of an Eight-year-old

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 sanity’.

Professor Rafique is a History professor at the Government College University in Lahore and his family which was migrating from Bhatinda was rescued by non-Muslims, including the family’s milkman.

He was eight-years-old and a student of the primary class, in the third grade. He remembers each and every thing that happened to him during Partition. He was at Bhatinda. They lived in the Railway colony there. Everything was alright before the disturbances started.

“My father was a Railway employee at Bhatinda. We used to travel and from to Bhatinda while visiting our village in Jind state near Delhi. After a week, or so, of the declaration of the Partition,  we boarded a train carrying Muslims to Pakistan. My mother and I were seated at quite a distance from my sister who found a seat among the other women of the Railway colony in the compartment. The train was jam packed. The route of the train was after Delhi to Lahore. But at the very next station from Bhatinda, there was a massacre in the train. The passengers were slaughtered only because they were Muslims. The killers were young Sikhs of the area. I was taken away from the train, along with my mother. Passing through different hands, my mother and I were taken to a village of Sikhs who protected us from the attack by the Sikhs of neighbouring villages. It was, as if, in the scheme of God we were in the possession, finally, of some God-fearing Sikhs.

We lived for almost two weeks in that village. Families  of Sikhs of that village were sympathetic to us and protected us. My mother was pregnant and could hardly move around, and the shelter given by the Sikh families did give her some degree of security. But as members of a broken family we could hardly enjoy anything. We never knew the fate of my father and my sister who boarded the train with us. Living  in the house of the protector Sikhs, I found that a familiar person entered the house. I told my mother about him and she was happy to find that it was the milk-man who supplied milk in the Railway colony of Bhatinda. He also recognized us and offered his services if we needed them.

As the riots went on, the rumours disturbed the villagers. There was a time when the youth of the village had to run around with swords in their hands and fear in their hearts about the attack from some ill-wishers. Viewing the perilous situation, the women of the house, we stayed in turned us out for the sake of their own safety. My mother and I beseeched the people around us to take us to the house of the milkman. They took us there and we found a new shelter under the care of the good wife of our new host. This family had four members; the parents, a grown-up son and the younger brother of the milkman. All four were sympathetic, the mother in particular.

A time came when our protectors had to hide us in the crop fields where both my mother and I had a narrow escape. One cannot forget that hour of defenselessness. Conversion to Sikhism was proposed by the elders of that village, which was something very interesting for me. I do not know the feelings of my mother on that issue through.

The nexus between this village and the railway colony   of Bhatinda was intact because of the milkman’s function. The whole family was a blessing for us and it eventually resulted in our safe return to the Railway colony. Our hosts arranged our stay in the colony with one of the Hindu friends of my father there. We stayed there with this friend of my father for a few days.

The familiar residents of the colony were very sympathetic towards us. Fortunately, a refugee camp for Muslims was held at Bhatinda, in the meantime. My mother decided to join the camp because this was the only hope for our safe journey to unknown Pakistan for us. There was a very dim hope that my father and sister could be alive. But the Railway colony could not be our permanent shelter, either. Our joining the camp was the only way out. And so, we shifted to the camp.

This camp was to collect as many refugees as possible to shift them to Pakistan under the security of the military. We were in the camp when my mother spotted a gentleman and told me that he was known to my father. She asked me to   tell him what had happened to us. I did so and, as expected, got the sympathies of the gentleman. He introduced us to  his family and shared the worries.

We started our journey in one of the evenings of September, 1947 by a military special train for Pakistan via Bahawalnagar, Samasatta, Khanpur, Rohri to Karachi. After passing the night in the train, we crossed Bahawalnagar in the morning. The train stopped at Tamewali railway station at noon. The gentleman with whom we were to live for some time before we could find my father and sister in Pakistan, met the Assistan Station Master of Tamewali and exchanged a few words with him. The Station Master and the familiar gentleman asked us to get down the train and  we received a welcome from the Station Master who took us to his residence adjacent to the Railway station. He was recently married and lived with his wife. We spent the rest  of the day in his house. A miracle occurred late that evening. My father knocked at the door and was welcomed by the Station Master. This quite unexpected meeting was something like a boon from heaven.

What actually happened turned out to be a series of links that concluded in the reunion of the broken family.

The part of God’s scheme that remained elusive to us was that after the train had been massacred, it stopped at a canal, which crossed the railway line. The intention was to throw the corpses into the canal. My father had escaped the attackers by hiding himself in a latrine. The door of the latrine could not be marked while the corpses were being thrown in the canal because the latrine was adjacent to the door of the compartment. When the door of the compartment was opened, it covered the door of the latrine. So the door of the latrine was not be located and remained closed throughout the process of ridding the train of the corpses. Again a seated boon from God!

My sister had remained seated with other women of railway staff as they also were in the train with the intention of reaching Pakistan. All of them pretended that they were Hindus. They were spared the fatal consequences by the attackers. All of them saw the male members of their families being murdered but could not do anything except look at   the gory scene with stunned eyes. My sister also kept to herself when she saw me and my mother being taken away from the train. What she felt, I cannot imagine.

At Ferozepur the train halted to take stock of what had actually been done to it. Those who could manage to somehow escape the attackers stepped out on the platform. This was the moment of great grief and lamentation for all of them because they could not be themselves while in the train. Now was the time for wailing and crying. My father met my sister and found out that my mother and I had been dislodged from the train where the massacre had been perpetrated.

My father must have mustered the courage to go ahead in the jungle of life because no other options were open. The train took them from Ferozepur to Qasur and then to Lahore. There he reported in the office of Divisional Superintendent Railways and was directed to report at Multan for further posting. He was sent to Samasatta on his pay and scale and he reported for his duty as directed. This whole process of reaching Lahore, being directed to report at Multan and being, finally, posted at Samasatta was completed before my mother and I were retained at Tamewali in the house of the Assistant Station Master.

Luckily my father heard from someone that a special military train carrying refugees from India had arrived at the railway station Samasatta. He rushed to the railway station with the hope that his wife and son might be among the refugees. He tried his best to find us among the crowd but was disappointed. He started asking people whether someone has seen a woman and an child of eight years with clothes of such a color. He was told by someone that a woman and a child of that age had been dislodged from the train at Tamewali. My father tried his luck and reached Tamewali  by the next train. He was right in guessing and luck was on his side. I asked my father about my sister and he told me that she was safe at home. All four of us met thus at Samasatta after a long separation that cost us a lot of mental agony. My mother had undergone the agony of separation   of her husband and her ten year old daughter. She had lost her eyesight to the effect that she could not see in the night. The long hours of weeping in isolation, even without letting me know of her predicament, cost us the fatal grief that resulted in her death within three weeks of reaching Pakistan”.

Do miracles happen even now? The answer to this question begs a lot of misery before turning into blessing. Sorrow and relief are twins that must be brought up together. To obliterate the distinction between the two is perhaps in the design of nature. What evil conceals of virtue is not known to anyone. What grief begets of happiness is a secret. What God conceals in bad luck is not bad luck ultimately. Positive and negatives help each other in making the scheme of God a success. As long as we are human beings, we cannot cross the distinction. But that is not our ultimate fate. We are to cross the distinction because we are not mere human beings; there is also a strong touch of divinity in us. We only have to realise it.


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