This is the tale of a simple youngster coming from a modest traditional home whose early teen years saw him through the tragedy of the holocaust during the 1947 partition of India, that violently took away the lives of his uncle, cousin, friends and many class-mates, and the families having to flee from and lose everything including their settled homes at Lahore, and become refugees. His disturbed education had to be completed in three different cities and he was compelled to give up his post-graduate engineering study plans at BHU, and to get employed.

by Ashit K. Sarkar

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We were a 'probashi ' (a Bengali word implies being settled outside Bengal) family happily living in Lahore - in then undivided Punjab. My grandfather had settled there around 1860-1870 after leaving Bengal for good, and most of his children were born and raised there, followed with later generations. My memories related here are from the early forties at Lahore.

As all are well aware, 1947 brought about tremendous pre-partition communal turmoil in most of North India preceding India's independence. Lahore was specially affected where we lived, just as I was completing my academic year in Class IX at the DAV High School there. While Bengal too was affected greatly due to the partition, I can only share our personal story of what we experienced during the independence struggle in Lahore, and later Delhi.  For us, it started in March 1947 as my annual examinations commenced, when the predominantly Muslim police fired indiscriminately on a mostly Hindu student gathering agitating for India's independence at the nearby sports ground of my school - killing many by even chasing them into their hostels.  The agitation spread rapidly throughout the city thereafter, and curfew was imposed immediately, and our examinations were postponed. The communal overtones strengthened mainly due to the uncertainty about Lahore being a part of India or the newly proposed Pakistan. Both groups were hoping that the lovely city of Lahore would be theirs, and sought supremacy through unruly mob violence.  This severe communal riots spread throughout Punjab and most of North India. Innocent bystanders and even train passengers were not spared just because of their religion, and there were wide spread arson and violence cases all-round those days. Often in school or in our class room we would learn about the loss of some of our classmates through such actions. There were even many tales of partisan police firing on residents on grounds of curfew breakage, whilst running out of burning houses! 

Like many others, I did volunteer sentry duty often during night time in our Hindu locality - to raise alarm in case of any attack or arson (there was one such incident during my duty). Those were very difficult and uncertain days for us all. Both Hindus (including Sikhs) and Muslims extensively carried out attacks on each other during the partition and independence without any discrimination or cause.  There were extensive curfews and inconveniences, and finally in late July we decided to temporarily get away from Lahore till the border issue was decided (the Radcliffe Award was announced on Aug 17, 1947, and positioned Lahore in Pakistan).  We all had hoped and intended to continue to live in Lahore as before - whether it became part of Pakistan or India, not realizing what was to happen actually in the future. Instead of goodwill, and living in future harmony, we could not imagine that such strong hatred will develop between the two neighbouring countries - who were one nation earlier.

We had stayed back at Lahore during the summer vacation hoping and waiting for the end of the turbulence. This became futile, and finally we decided to get away to Delhi for a while. My father was then working in Jammu, and he gave up his job at end July 1947 and came to Lahore for taking us to Delhi. Those days, most trains were attacked and many passengers were butchered just because of their religion by senseless mobs, and it was very dangerous to undertake any travel. However, we had little choice, and my father escorted us all. Our trip, luckily for us, was uneventful, other than a packed compartment with barely any place to even sit, leave aside carry luggage!  Before going, during an hour's break in the curfew, we all went to my Boro Jethamoshay's (my father's eldest brother's) home near Nicholson Road to try to persuade all of them to accompany us the next day to Delhi till peace returned. But it was to no avail. He insisted that since he had built the house with all his life's savings, they would continue to stay on at Lahore whatever may happen. He and his eldest son, Phoringda, regrettably lost their lives eventually - both being stabbed to death along with quite a few others.  This happened soon afterwards in early August after many neighbourhood young men including my cousin had been arrested on trumped up charges of creating or planning disturbance, but were released by the judge.  This did not suit the mob present there, and who indiscriminately attacked them inside the courtroom with impunity. This resulted in the saddest tragedy and major loss to our family during the 1947 partition of India, besides the loss of our homes and all our belongings, most of which having been so carefully packed and labeled by me before leaving home!

We had come to Delhi with minimum possessions, expecting to return to Lahore in due course, but soon realized that going back to our well organized home left behind was out of question, and consequently we lost everything we possessed, including even my late mothers jewels kept in the bank locker at Lahore, as also my father's bank account there, which could not be transferred.  I was particularly sad that even the pocket money given to me by various relatives or visitors over the years and the wristwatch that my father had presented as a prize for being first in the class, were also lost forever! It was due to the generosity of my father's sister Sejo-pishima & her husband Pishomoshay (the Lal's), who gave us a large part of their 70 Daryaganj bungalow in Delhi to stay for the next few years, and various household things, that enabled us to live with dignity at that time - with some degree of normality. Another part of the house was given to Pishomoshay's other relatives who too came as refugees from Punjab. Such generosity from relatives and friends were common during the catastrophe and many refugee families like us were saved from utter disaster as a result. At that time, we were too young to understand the benevolence and that from many others in the family that saved relatives and friends to survive from the crisis. To support the family needs, my father had to take up jobs in small broken down flour mills around the country having no security of service and with little money and no facilities, as most of the major or large flour mills were in western Punjab - which fell within the newly created Pakistan as a consequence to the partitioning of India with the grant of independence - a costly price to millions - and especially to us.

On looking back about the terrible tragedies and the senseless loss of so many friends and my cousin and jethamoshay during the partition, I feel that I still personally remained somewhat detached in accepting the happenings more calmly despite the deep anguish, and could not direct my anger towards any community in general, instead of the actual unknown culprits. This may have been due to my primary enthusiasm and focus on the freedom of the country - for which we all were so eagerly looking for from my early school days and being prepared to suffer. I had been earlier involved with minor student protest movements for the British to 'Quit India' in anticipation, and had mentally been conditioned to bear consequences for this attitude. Further, my Brahmo upbringing had emphasized respecting all religions and to remain 'good' in all actions - that had been ingrained in my behaviour. Moreover, since I had a number of Muslim friends & neighbours whose homes I had always been welcome to, I was never able to understand the frenzy that many got caught up with the religious aspect and the mob revenge syndrome against strangers belonging to any other religion or community, despite our personal losses of life, property and possessions. I clearly recollect that I learnt rumours of a likely attack to annihilate our neighbouring Muslim family in Delhi during post partition days, but was averted on my informing and helping them get away to safety before any such incident. The terrible tragic images of the pile of dead bodies of Sikhs and Hindus killed during the riots that were being dumped from a truck at the Hospital mortuary that I had earlier witnessed in Lahore whilst going to School haunted me for years and deterred me from any such thoughtless communal mob reaction.

A very significant joyful memory that still remains vivid with me includes the historic Independence Day of India on August l5th, 1947 - when we all celebrated the long awaited great moment of change of the country's status, and listened to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's famous "Tryst with Destiny" speech on All India Radio during the midnight broadcast. The celebration & euphoria of India's independence also remains equally strong in my memory!

Independence of India from British rule was the cherished goal of all citizens for years and dreams of all of us that we had been struggling for.  Most unfortunately at a late stage the deliberate British policy of "Divide and Rule" enabled them to engineer the partitioning of India to satisfy Mr. Mohamed Ali Jinnah's demands for a separate country based on religion for the Muslims in then undivided India, so that he could become their supreme leader, despite his personal belief in secularism. "Pakistan was created to enable Britain to retain its paramountcy in West Asia -- which was part of a continuum of military control that took in Ceylon, Malaya, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand" - as noted by Prasenjit K Basu, a Singapore-based economist, formerly chief economist for Southeast Asia & India at Credit Suisse First Boston, chief Asia economist at Daiwa Securities and global head of research at Maybank group. Further, he had stared: "The creation of Pakistan was integral to Britain's grand strategy. If they were to ever leave India, Britain's military planners had made it clear that they needed to retain a foothold in the NWFP (North West Frontier Province) and Baluchistan, because that would provide the means to retain control of Iran (where BP's predecessor, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, owned oil reserves), Iraq (where a British puppet monarchy enabled tight British control of the Iraqi Petroleum Co.) and the potentially oil-rich British protectorates of Kuwait, the Trucial States (now the UAE), Bahrain and Qatar. The problem for Britain was that the NWFP had elected Congress governments in both 1937 and 1946, and the NWFP delegation had entered the Constituent Assembly of India in December 1946 (defying the Muslim League's call to boycott it)".

Even as Britain was giving up their largest colony from where they had enriched themselves so tremendously in the past century and more, they insisted on the partition - to create the divide from the secularism that they themselves had followed during their own rule, or otherwise to delay granting freedom that was demanded. The then Indian political leaders gave in - that satisfied only some for them to see the British leave immediately, but which created the unfriendly neighbour on both eastern & western side of India, as well as increased the internal strife between so many citizens of India.  The two halves created of West and East
Pakistan were a failure from administration point of view, which had to be forcefully resolved later so painfully - with East Pakistan becoming independent Bangladesh eventually. The British succeeded in ensuring that these two new neighbouring under developed countries would waste their resources in struggling with each other, rather than jointly progress from their inherent wealth. Instead of a bloodless revolution, the partition in fact resulted in such vast number of innocent lives being lost or having to relocate causing dislocation of millions of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim families. This frenzy of violence marred and diluted the joys of independence, and sowed the seeds of enmity between the two countries, and consequently, encouraged the rise of fundamentalists - which plagues the world of today, in particular both Pakistan and India.




A 11 minute PRESENTATION in 50 Slides