The Partition Of India Was A Bloody One, A Most Inhumane Of Times When Those Who Once Lived Like Brothers Had Turned Into Cold Blooded Killers

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THE BLOODY AFTERMATH OF SEPARATION

Almost every day, I would hear about stabbings and murders. I would hear dad and our neighbour Uncle Prem talking about bodies being found on streets, in ditches and on the deserted banks of Ramganga. One of those shocking stories was about a Muslim old man, who was found fatally stabbed right in front of the city police station.  I kept wondering for a long time how that could happen, right under the nose of the police.  Now, with a salt and pepper head of hair, I know that things do happen, not only right under the watchful eyes of the authorities, but sometimes they happen with their tacit blessings. Who could forget the Jalianwala Bagh massacre (1919), the Tiananmen Square massacre (1989) and the Bosnian ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica (1995)?

By Dr. Suresh Kurl)

[This is the second of a three part series on the partition of India and Pakistan. The LINK and our readers are grateful to Dr. Suresh Kurl for his insightful analysis. We are running this again as due to an error the entire article did not make it in the paper.]

The 1947 division of the Indian subcontinent might have been a golden gift for the Muslim League, but for the ordinary apolitical people it was a curse. It triggered the biggest exodus in the history of the world. Approximately 12.5 million people were displaced and about one million lost their lives.  Soon the battle cries of “Allah-ho-akbar” from the neighbouring Shahi Mosques and “har-har-mahadev” from the rooftops of Shiva temples began to replace my memories of sweets, flags and freedom with fear, anxiety and alarm. The mayhem that followed killed my ecstasies as well.

I heard stories about fathers handing their young daughters poison phials to protect their honour than be molested and raped and young girls committing suicide by jumping into wells than being captured.  I heard the trains arriving from Pakistan were not only transporting the victims of separation, but also severed breasts and penises. I heard stories about mothers giving their babies urine to quench their thirst.

Once in the dead of the night, my mom had the urge to go empty her bladder. As she stepped out of the bedroom she noticed flames engulfed in plumes of dark smoke advancing towards our building. She screamed “Fire! Fire!” Dad woke up, and started waking every resident of the building by name. People started emerging from their rooms half-asleep rubbing their eyes. When aunties saw the rising flames they grabbed their young ones, and screamed, “Those flames will burn alive us.”

Mom used to warn me, “Don’t play with matches or you will pee in bed while you sleep”. To date I have not been able to figure out the relationship between playing with matches and I wetting my bed, but that night I peed down my legs wide awake.

Later, when the elders had time to reassess the situation, they discovered that the flames that seemed right behind our building were actually several blocks away. Rumour had it that Alim Salim, the owner of a shoe store, had set his store full of empty boxes ablaze with a scheme to collect insurance money and split to the holy (pak) land. Whatever happened to him or his scheme it was just one story.

Almost every day, I would hear about stabbings and murders. I would hear dad and our neighbour Uncle Prem talking about bodies being found on streets, in ditches and on the deserted banks of Ramganga. One of those shocking stories was about a Muslim old man, who was found fatally stabbed right in front of the city police station.  I kept wondering for a long time how that could happen, right under the nose of the police.  Now, with a salt and pepper head of hair, I know that things do happen, not only right under the watchful eyes of the authorities, but sometimes they happen with their tacit blessings. Who could forget the Jalianwala Bagh massacre (1919), the Tiananmen Square massacre (1989) and the Bosnian ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica (1995)?

Rumours floated, “they were bagging Hindu boys, converting them to Islam by shaving off their shikhas (pony tails), slicing off their foreskin, breaking their arms and legs, or blinding them by pouring acid in their eyes and shipping them out of towns to beg on the streets. Or they were simply killing them to reduce the Hindu population.” Those were the days, when wind rattled our doors and we vibrated with fear.

Once, on my way back home from dad’s store, I witnessed a person attempting to pull and hide a five-year-old boy in burqa. I knew that boy. He was Naval, the kid who used to fashion “coiled snakes” with his ‘number two’ by moving his behind round and round in circles. He was only a year younger than I. When I saw him being pulled inside the burqa I screamed, “Where are you taking him? He lives in our building,” then, grabbed his shirt and dragged him home, where I received kudos for my courage but the incident fanned my own fears. It could have been me and what if there was no one to grab my shirt and drag me home?  I began to cry.

Every morning, the building elders would gather and discuss strategies to protect lives and “honour”. Once Uncle Prem assembled everyone and instructed that if women and children were attacked, men had his permission to demolish his brick balcony wall and use those bricks as weapon against their attackers. He also advised women to keep water mixed with chilli powder boiling to throw at the intruders.

One of my uncles told us a story how he escaped his executioners. The irony was that they were Hindus. He was a student at the Benaras Hindu University. As the university and student dormitory had been closed indefinitely he was returning home. At night, some Hindus and Sikhs who had managed to escape from Punjab were hunting for Muslims on the Dehradun bound train. My uncle was on that train. When they asked him to disclose his identity he had to show his sacred threads, recite gaayatri mantra and show his uncircumcised penis to prove that he was a Hindu. They spared his life, but what if he were a Muslim? He would have been butchered that night and his body tossed off the running train for vultures. I have no memory of any story glorifying a Hindu who died protecting a Muslim or a Muslim protecting a Hindu. We were living in a period when self-preservation was the only dharma.  I believe fear does not favour compassion.

Muslims, in a rush to move out of India, began disposing off their prized possessions, dirt-cheap. Every now and then we would hear that so-and-so bought a brass tray, which was actually solid silver. Or so-and-so sold his house but forgot to clean up the piggy bank built in the house walls. I remember my eldest brother going to the flea market with the hope of finding something beautiful and inexpensive. But all he could find was a blue glass bowl that mom never allowed into her kitchen.

Despite all the anger and intense dislike Hindus and Muslims had been nursing for each other, there was an old man. We called him Mullahji and loved him dearly. He loved us too. We used to see him every day minding his shoe store in the Goal-Ghar shopping mall on our way to school. He wore a white round cut work cap, and had a henna red long beard. We routinely greeted him with a respectful salutation, “Mullahiji salaam”. And in return Mullahji always responded with a grandfatherly, “Salaam bete! jeete raho.” Greetings to you, my son! May you live long!

We had also heard that Mullahji hated bitter melons (karele). So, after our mutual exchange of greetings and blessings we used to tease him by saying, “Mullahji, karele,” and in response, Mullaahji would shower us with a barrage of names, something similar to “bastards and SOBs.”  But we never stopped greeting him and he never stopped blessing us until one day the government locked up and sealed his store. After that we never saw him again. We heard he moved to Karachi. It was sad to see that happen.

Dr. Suresh Kurl is a South Asian Community activist, a retired Registrar of the BC Benefits Appeal Board and an Ex-Member of the National Parole Board