Kids Corner

All images of Partition: details from the 'Partition Series' of paintings by Satish Gujral.


The Partition & I: Oh! The Things We Do To Each Other




During the Partition of India in 1947, my family was living in Sheikhupura District next to Lahore on the western side of the new border,  now in Pakistan. My father was a government contractor who owned furniture shops in Sheikhupura and Lahore. We were four brothers living with our parents at the time. My older brother aged 19 had come to visit us from Lahore where he was  a resident student at the local Dayal Singh College.

Sheikhupura District includes Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, and a huge estate was attached with this Gurdwara. This district was also known for fine agricultural land, industrial enterprises, business houses and factories mostly owned by the Sikhs and Hindus at the time of Partition.

Our town (Sheikhupura) remained peaceful when the communal killings, and the riots that followed,  began to occur in various cities of West Punjab such as Rawalpindi, Multan, Amritsar, Lahore and Gujranwala, from March, 1947 onwards. This continued up till August 17,1947 when the Boundary Commission awarded the Sheikhupura district to Pakistan.

The situation in this district then began to worsen rapidly. All patrol duties to non-Muslims were stopped. Without valid ground, curfew was imposed on  August 20, and the Baluch military units were brought in to parade the town after August 24.

On August 25, Sikh and Hindu houses were burned down in Gurdwara Bazar. A false alarm was raised of an attack on a Muslim mohalla by Sikhs. All this was done to incite Muslims to fall upon the Sikhs.

On the same day about noon or so, a vigorous attack was made on Ramgarha, which had a Sikh population of about 1200. Sikhs were being hounded down. The Muslim mob was followed by the military. When Sikhs put up a fight, the Muslim mob retreated. Then the military took the lead and took up positions against Sikh and Hindu areas. Within few hours, the Sikh-Hindu­  population of this area had been killed, and the houses were in flames. Muslim mobs then swelled and spread out to attack on the different parts of this town. Street after street was surrounded by Muslim mobs, military and police. The looting, burning and murdering continued unabated.

As we heard these horrible news, we were frightened. My father then took us to a Christian Church for shelter which was located near our home. A few other Sikh and Hindu families in our neighbourhood also joined us there. By the afternoon, the Muslim mobs, backed by police and military, attacked our mohalla. We were then hiding in the priest's residence of this church, and I heard the shouts "maro, maro, maro"  - "Kill, kill, kill!" - and the bullets were being fired with machine-guns. Somehow, we escaped that horrible night of August 25.

But on the following day, some Muslim goondas (thugs) came over and they knocked at the door of the priest's residence. After a brief talk with the priest, the Muslim goondas escorted us out into the open. They promised our safety, and demanded that we hand over the valuables, money and weapons to them before they'd take us to a refugee camp. Our people believed them and complied with their demands. At that moment, my father was holding my youngest brother aged 6; my other two brothers, my mother and I were all standing close by with the rest of our neighbours. Soon thereafter, I saw that the goondas had started hitting our people.

I became very frightened and ran to a nearby street for my safety. My younger brother also followed me. I was then about 12 years old and my younger brother was 9. We became separated from our family. We had no knowledge what happened to our family members after that.

We first tried to hide ourselves in a ransacked house, and saw a dead body of a Sikh young man in front of this house. As soon as we entered that house we saw three little kids hiding behind the kitchen wall. We joined them. Soon after that, two men entered the house, and they were holding long sticks in their hands. One of them saw us and said to his companion: Look, only  "nikiaan nikiaan jindaan"- little souls - and left the house. I thought those men might come back and would kill us.

My brother and I ran to the Ramlila Ground, and sought shelter in the huts of the poor people. But they did not prove very safe. Thereafter, we ran to a factory near the railway lines, and saw some frightened men there looking for a safe place to hide. Some of them were carrying swords in their hands to protect their loved ones. A few young women - fearful of being raped and brutalized - were nervously running around to find a well to commit suicide. I felt for a moment that this place was not safe either.

My brother and I jumped over the outer wall of this factory, and rushed to a nearby crematorium which was surrounded by dense trees and high grass. We both lay down in the grass beneath the trees. We were shocked to see some Muslim men were chasing innocent people there also, and were shooting them  point blank. I remember mutterimg a couplet to myself:  "Musa daryaa maut taun, aggey maut kharrhi" - "Fleeing death, he found himself face-to-face with Death!"

At that moment I realized that death appeared certain. My brother and I mentally prepared ourselves for it. However, I felt deep inside my heart that some invisible power was guiding us to escape death.

We found a hut in this crematorium ground which was locked from outside. An older Sikh gentleman appeared and told us to kick the door open of this hut. We luckily managed to open the left door, so that the lock remained intact on the right door. We went inside this hut, and closed the left door with the support of a piece of wood.

We passed a few days hiding in this hut, and survived eating leaves and drinking water.

Probably, on the 4th day (August 30), some Christian peace volunteers came over there and took us first to their house. They gave us bread to eat and begged us to cut our long hair for safety, but we refused. They walked us safely to a refugee camp which was set up in Gurdwara Bazar of our town. On the way, I saw that most houses and shops of Sikhs and Hindus were badly burned. I could smell the stink of dead bodies everywhere.

In the refugee camp, we were re-united with our mother, for the fist time after we were separated four days earlier. She was wounded in the head. We arranged first aid for her injuries. We couldn't find any trace of our father and our other two missing brothers in this camp. My mother told me that my father gave his wallet to a Muslim goonda, somebody hit him and he was beaten to death. My mother had began to cry, another goonda hit her in the head and she fell unconscious on the ground. After she regained her consciousness, my mother saw some other women in the neighbourhood running toward their houses. She followed them. Eventually she was rescued alongwith other women and brought to the refugee camp.

My mother had no further information about our two missing brothers.

An eye witness in the refugee camp told me that she saw my youngest brother crying for help, running towards our home, and coming in and out all that afternoon on August 26. She (the eye witness) told me that she helplessly watched my brother crying loudly "Hai, Bhabo ji, Hai, Bhappa ji", but could not help him, fearing for her own safety. She was hiding in a nearby house.

While in the camp, my brother and I managed to visit our home with the help of a military guard. We saw our home partially burned, and saw a dead body probably of a child in the front room, but were unable to recognize the dead body of this child because it was badly decomposed. We then came back to our base camp with a terrible feeling of a deep personal loss.

We stayed in this camp for few days, and were transported later to another refugee camp in Lahore. From there, we crossed the Wagha border in a bus and arrived in Amritsar which was located in East Punjab, on the other side of the border, in the 'new' India.

Later on, I learned through some published reports that Sikhs and Hindus of our town (Sheikhupura) were perhaps, after Rawalpindi and Multan, the worst sufferers at the hands of the Muslim fanaticism and cold-blooded murderous frenzy. The blow fell on us suddenly and swiftly, leaving between 10,000 and 20,000 dead in two days. The conspiracy that was hatched in Sheikhupura between the Muslim leaguers, the civil officers, Police and Military, for the extermination of Sikhs and Hindus of this town, and the district governed by it, is perhaps the worst on human record showing devilery on such a large scale.

Karamat Ali, a Minister in the West Punjab Government, and a resident of Seikhupura, played an active roll in this conspiracy. All secret meetings were held with him to execute this plan. Nehru at the time, toured the West Punjab with Liaqat Ali Khan, estimated the number of those killed in Sheikhupura - the birthplace of Nanak - alone at 22,000.

On both the Pakistani and Indian sides, horrible atrocities were committed. Foot-weary convoys of refugees were attacked till the roads were clogged with corpses; trains were attacked and sent across the borders with bogies jammed with slaughtered passengers. No consideration was given to the sick or the aged or even to infants. Young women were abducted and raped.

Never in the history of the world was there a bigger exchange of population attended with so much bloodshed. It is estimated that over ten million people changed homes between East and West Punjab, and approximately 400,000 to 500,00 people were killed on both sides of the border. Nearly 150,000 to 250,000, mostly Sikhs, were killed in West Punjab alone. Those innocent people were murdered by Muslim goondas only because they were Sikh or Hindu.

I believe that we Sikhs suffered the most in terms of cost in human lives, property and wealth, and our rich Sikh heritage that was left behind in West Punjab during the Partition of Punjab and India in 1947, which we as a Sikh Nation should never forget, and must try to regain our glorious past with strong commitments and actions in order to build a strong future for our coming generations.

We must also continue our fight for peace and justice so that all peoples can live with dignity and without fear.

When we were being transported in a bus from Sheikhupura refugee camp to Lahore, and then to Amritsar in India, I noticed the monsoon burst in its full fury; rivers rose; roads were submerged; bridges collapsed; train tracks were washed away. In refugee camps, cholera broke out. Corpses of dead animals and human beings were scattered on the road sides. The floods wiped the bloodstains off the land.

These are the awful scenes that are still fresh in my memory.

Though a long time has elapsed since the Partition holocaust occurred, I nevertheless feel the same pain of loosing our loved ones as then. I sincerely pray that no one should ever go through this situation again. In any human tragedy of such a scale, the survivors, particularly the children, suffer the most when their parents, brothers and sisters are killed before their eyes by members of mad gangs for no reasons. I don't know how long such human tragedies will be going on before the world will wake up, and put a stop to this madness which is fanned by hatred and communal frenzy.


January 8, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Surinder Kaur (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 08, 2010, 9:00 PM.

And this is why there MUST be a Sikh homeland where our people can live free, safe and in prosperity!

2: Harkinder Singh (London, Ontario, Canada), January 10, 2010, 9:37 AM.

"Eiti maar paee kurlanei tai kii dard na ayiaa" ... Such events, although they still happen on earth all the time, are very hard to bear. It is very sorrowful. It is pertinent that we keep prayers and naam in our heart at all times. When death will strike us in what form, we do not know. Despite our prayers for all the sufferers of this tragedy, it is hard to recover from deep sadness. Only Guru Gobind Singh's path can help us. Naam and shashtar. Full faith in His Marg-Khandedhaar. Without any doubt in mind ... "Kaaadh khdag gur shabd kraara bikh chhed chhed ras peejjai" ... With prayers on the lips and hands ready to fight the oppressor. "Kirpaan paan dhariyum, anik paap tariyum ... Saday angg sanggay". Thanks to S Kuldip Singh for this memoir. Chardi Kalaa to him and the all lost ones.

3: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), January 13, 2010, 5:24 AM.

Kuldip Singh ji, it is quite clear from reading your very moving account that the memories of this trauma are not far from the surface. Sheikhupura became a by-word for all the ugliness and brutality that befell the Sikhs. Alas! The things we do to each other!

4: Abhishek (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.), February 10, 2010, 6:45 PM.

Oh man! The stories are horrible :( ... my family shifted too from Sialkot and Lyallpur to New Delhi. Rab hi jaaney, the atrocities they must've seen/gone through.

5: Jasneet kaur (Bangalore, India), September 28, 2010, 7:09 AM.

After '84, Sikhs have realized the importance of our home land - Khalistan.

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