“Grandpa, I need to talk to you regarding the partition.” she said. Her last word had sent a shiver through my body. “I am planning a documentary on that topic so I thought who better than an eye-witness for that. So do you remember anything? Can you tell me what happened?” asked my 23-year-old granddaughter.
“Sure dear, I will tell you a story – a true story – from that time. Okay?” I asked.
And then she took a seat next to me in the veranda and listened to me as I started my story.
The summer had never stayed as long as it did in 1947. The black clouds did visit every now and then but never did they pour a drop of rain. The villagers, who were dependent on their farms for livelihood, prayed for some rainfall but if only they knew about the storm awaiting them.
The partition had been announced and the village of Mannat was to be in Pakistan. Looking at the tense situation in Bengal and Punjab, the Sikhs of Mannat had been advised to leave on the train to India the very next day. This gave them just one night to collect all their belongings and say good-bye to their beloved Muslim brothers and sisters who they grew up with. Some promised to meet soon while the others did not lie. It was past noon and Mujeed was helping his Aunt Rashmi with her packing. She was a school teacher for 10 years to the village kids, including Mujeed, before she retired at the age of 55. She was leaving him responsible with all her belongings and cattle while she stayed along with her daughter Riya in a refugee camp in India. Riya and Mujeed had been in love for the past three years but she was a Sikh and Mujeed a Muslim. They kept their love to their furtive visits to the common terrace or sometimes to Mujeed’s farm.
After a while Rashmi, dressed in an old red and orange gown, left for feeding the cows and Mujeed grabbed Riya in his arms and said “Don’t leave. Please stay. I love you and I will always love you. Please stay.” She looked back at him with her teary eyes and said “I wish I could but I can’t. We can never be together. They will never let us be together.” She was right. Even if people could forget about her being a Sikh they will never let a widow remarry, not even if she has a 2-year-old to take care of. Riya was married off at 16 and three years later her husband died in an accident, leaving her alone in this patriarchal world. Mujeed was her only friend in the village and the only one who looked at her with love and respect. A few minutes later Rashmi came back in and Riya went inside to cook some food for their journey the next day. As Mujeed was about to leave Riya came up to him and tied an amulet around his arm saying “This has protected me for the past 20 years. Now it will protect you while I am away from you.” Mujeed ran his hands through her cheek and left.
UNHCR estimates 14 million people – Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims – had been displaced and left homeless during the partition. It was the largest mass migration in human history.
Later that day, around midnight, the villagers were gathered in the Mosque for an urgent meeting. As Mujeed walked in he saw a man informing people about a flood in the river Satluj a few miles away. The man was dressed in a brown Kurta. He was thin and wore deep black kohl on his eyes, which gave him quite a devilish look. He said in a monotonous tone “It is raining on the other side and the River is flooded. The bridge might soon break down and your farms will be destroyed.” Everyone started murmuring and shouting. The man further added “But do you know what is worse? The bodies of the dead floating in the river” There was sudden silence and everyone looked at him. “Those were Muslims like you and me but they were not killed by the flood. No” said the tall man shaking his head angrily. “They were killed by the Sikhs on the other side. The women were raped and babies were smothered in their sleep and thrown into the river. The eyes of the dead demand revenge; they demand blood. The blood of all Sikhs must be poured on to this very ground.” A villager interrupted him saying “No! The Sikhs here did nothing, why should we hurt them!” The tall man grabbed the villager by the collar and said “Are they more of a brother to you then the Muslims who are lying in the river.” He took his sword out and holding it high said, “Remember even Allah has said “There is only one true god, only one.” So if you are a true Muslim and a believer of Allah stand up with me and say “Death to the Sikhs”.” Soon a few people stood up in his support and once they started chanting “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” almost everyone stood by them. The people did not want justice they just wanted to prove their allegiance to their ‘God’. Mujeed ran away from there to the only person he could think of.
Fifteen minutes later, Mujeed was standing in front of Riya holding her hands and explaining everything. Riya was wearing a light green salwaar. Her huge pearl earrings complemented her fair skin and the confident face only belied the naïve girl inside her. Riya could hear the slogans “Allahu Akbar” and the fear made her hug her kid almost unconsciously. Mujeed decided to take them to his place as no one would attack a Muslim’s house. Mujeed, along with Riya and her daughter, took the back door from where his house was barely 50 meters away but what he saw on his route was devastating. Naseer Khan, the mosque Malawi, had a sword in his hand and was running towards the house of the Sikhs. The Sikh fraternity, who were busy packing their stuff, were taken by surprise and could only scream and beg for mercy. They wondered what had made their brothers turn on to them. This is when Mujeed saw the first killing of his life. A Muslim man pierced his knife through a Sikh man’s stomach and said “This one is for raping our sisters and daughters in your Hindustan”. Mujeed knew things were now out of hand and he rushed Riya and her kid to his house. He locked them inside and went back to look for Rashmi.
When he reached Rashmi’s house he saw from the window four Muslims looting the place. Rashmi’s clothes were torn and she lay on the feet of a man begging for mercy. He was the same man who was responsible for inducing hatred among the Muslims in the mosque earlier that night. Another guy held her by the hair and asked her about her daughter to which she said nothing and just kept crying. The fat bearded man dragged his feet out of her hands and kicked her to the wall saying “I will make an example out of you”. Mujeed was about to go inside when Rashmi looked towards him with a prayer in her eyes saying “Please go and save my daughter. Please save my granddaughter.” Other people saw Mujeed too and asked him if he had seen Riya to which he said no. One of them came forward and handed over a knife to him saying “Go avenge your sisters and daughters. Eye for an eye! Rape for rape! Blood for blood! Allahu Akbar.” With the knife in his trembling hands, Mujeed nodded his head and knew what he had to do. Before leaving he tried to argue with the fat leader saying “But leave the poor women alone, she …” and BANG! The fat leader had just shot Rashmi in the head and asked Mujeed “You were saying something?” He knew there and then that these people will show no mercy.
As he walked back he could see Rashmi’s house being set on fire. Rashmi was disrobed and her naked body was hung on the Peepal tree with “Pakistan Zindabad” branded on her chests with a sword. Under the same Peepal tree Rashmi had taught the children, both Hindu and Muslim, the ethics of life and the value of being a good human being.
Patterns of tooth-marks disfiguring the skin of many rape victims were visible. Women’s bodies were tattooed with symbols of their attackers’ religions. Several attacks included men carving political slogans, such as “Pakistan Zindabad” (Pakistan forever) or “Jai Hind” (Long live India) into a woman’s skin—demonstrating the ways that women’s bodies formed living trophies of war – Borders and Boundaries
As he walked ponderously to his house, all he saw around him was blood and fire; Infants crying, friends fighting and widows wailing. Women were being raped by men who were brothers till yesterday. Men were beheaded and their body branded “Pakistan Zindabad”. He wanted someone’s help because he knew he won’t be able to fight hundred crazy people alone. He stood there looking for help but all he saw was bloodshed. He could see Kabir Singh shooting his own daughter and then using the same gun to kill himself. Many women had jumped inside the common well to escape the swords and bullets but they couldn’t escape death.
Mujeed went back to his house where he found Riya sitting in a corner with her daughter tightly held in her arms. She came up to him and asked “Maati? Where is she?” He held her face in his hands, looked in her eyes and just shook his head. She fell on her knees and started wailing “Maati! My beloved Maati!” Mujeed’s mind was only stuck at one thing, “How do I save Riya and her 2-year-old, how do I do that?” The next train was still 8 hours away and he dreaded the thoughts coming in his head. Many people came and banged his doors shouting “Mujeed are you inside?”, “Mujeed did you kill that bitch?” but he made sure no one entered. He could easily run away through the backdoor, but with Riya and her kid they would identify him in minutes. Riya could sense what was coming and she held Mujeed’s hand and said “Promise me you will save my daughter, promise me that.” He looked at her kissed her head and said “I will save both of you. I promise you that.” He knew someone would soon breakthrough that door so he brought Riya up close and said “Listen, I have a plan.”
Mujeed’s prediction was right and soon 3 Muslims entered his house. He got up and shouted “What happened! Can’t you see I am busy finishing a job?” They looked behind him and there lay Riya with her clothes partially torn. They looked back at Mujeed, who was standing shirtless, and said with a grin “Oh! So the kid has grown up. Good! You finish this job we have many more girls for you to finish your job with.” Another man, the same one who was giving the speech in the mosque, made a move towards Riya’s daughter whom Mujeed stopped saying “No! I will kill both of them. You can leave.” The other two held Mujeed back while their leader looked at Riya with anger. He took out his gun and aimed at her. Mujeed shouted “Leave her. I will kill her after I am done with her.” The leader looked back at Mujeed with a tilted face and without another look he shot Riya on her legs. He came close to Mujeed and said “You don’t need her legs for your ‘job’ do you?” and added “We will be back in ten minutes. You finish her then or we will.” They left Mujeed with her.
A consensus figure of 500,000 is often used, but the sources closer to the truth give figures that range between 200,000 and 360,000 dead. By other estimates, Partition resulted in as many as 1.5 million deaths.
As soon as the bandits left the house, Mujeed ran to Riya saying “Sorry, I am so sorry. I never thought that he would do this. I thought we will fool them with this.” Mujeed desperately tried stopping the blood with some clothes but to no avail. She was hurt badly and could not move at all. After some time she took his face in her hands and wiped off his tears saying “I love you.” He shook his heads saying “No. Don’t say it that way. You cannot leave me. We were supposed to grow old together.” She withered in pain so Mujeed took her head into his laps and said “Don’t leave, please.” Wiping his tears he said “You remember that night in the farm we discussed a life together? You remember? I would be a doctor and you my wife. I would spoil our kids and you will tidy them up. You promised to be with me my whole life. Don’t break it now. Don’t leave please.” He fought her but she kept looking at him saying “Do you love me?” He said “yes”. She asked “Do you love me enough to kill me?” He shouted “No! No, I won’t give up on you. No.” The three Muslims were back now and were banging the door angrily. He bent on his knees and hugged Riya in her arms tightly. She said “Please kill me. I would die in your hands rather than live with those monsters. Please save my daughter. Please.” The banging became more furious. He looked at her crying and he knew what he had to do. He took her in his arms and looking into her eyes he said “I will always love you” and pierced the knife through her stomach. She gave out a light sigh and said “I will see you in the next lifetime my love.” She died in his arms and he let out a silent wail looking up to the sky begging for some miracle. The door was about to break and he knew that he had to rush to save Riya’s daughter. He kissed Riya goodbye, took Riya’s daughter in his arms and escaped through the backdoor.
As he ran towards the railway station he could feel the first rain drops of the year lash his body. He looked around him and he noticed the water washing away the bloods from dead bodies on the ground. The amount of blood collected in a puddle made it seem like it had rained blood on the country that day. The truth wasn’t far from that.
A day later they were on a train to India. He decided to name the 2-year-old girl with him Riya and promised himself that he will take care of her just like his own daughter.
“This, my dear is the story of the Partition.” I concluded.
“But grandpa, I never heard such things. You did not speak of the political lines and the ongoing war in Kashmir at that time” asked my granddaughter.
“The guy in this story lost his village, his house and most importantly the love of his life. The story is an example of how a Muslim man fought Muslims away to protect a Hindu family. Not only that but he also became a Hindu just to protect his new daughter in a new land. Especially it tells you that no particular religion or country was responsible for the bloodshed. Hindus and Muslims were both equally responsible and were both equally bereaved of their loved ones.” I further added, “What did any of the countries gain? Was it strength to kill innocent children and women? Someone has lost her husband, some a father and some an infant. A line was drawn on the country that day but the scars of partition remain in everyone’s heart.” I said looking towards the clouds from my chair.
She looked at my sad face and asked “Grandpa, are you alright?”
“Yes” I said “Yes, I am. Don’t worry. Now go on I need to take my medicines. I will see you at dinner.” She kissed me goodbye and went off.
I called out for my daughter. She put my medicine on the table and asked me “The same Partition story of your friend again?” I said with a smile “Well that’s my favorite one.” She was about to leave when I said “Riya dear, please close the door behind you I need to rest.”
As she left I closed my eyes and started rubbing the amulet in my arm which took me back to my house in Mannat where Riya and I were still together.
“The fact is both sides killed. Both shot and stabbed and speared and clubbed. Both tortured. Both raped. The two sides had lost a million people in this mayhem” – Khushwant Singh