It’s August 14, 2016. Sixty-nine years since the British rule in India came to an end after 300 years and a separate nation was created for Indian Muslims.
Pakistan came into being in 1947. And it came at a cost, Partition being one.
For this oral history project, we set out to determine the cost of Pakistan. There’s the human cost. Between one to two million lives were lost, as the subcontinent descended into chaos. Then there’s the cost of livelihood, relationships, ideas and humanity. Around 15 million people were uprooted and Pakistanis and Indians, divided along religious lines, became sworn enemies; their political narratives were decided.
To record their memories of the great divide, we spoke to a small group of people, most of whom were no older than 13 years of age when they witnessed Partition.
We present only eight stories from millions. But our small group is diverse. We have an ex-Air Force officer who crossed the border with his ailing aunt on his shoulders; a man from Lahore who witnessed his city descent into chaos as a teenager; a woman who grew up on the stories of her parents’ terrifying journey to Pakistan disguised as Hindus; a literature aficionado who was uprooted from Delhi but goes back often to collect rare works in Urdu literature.
'Everyone on the first and second trains to Pakistan was massacred. We were on the third'
Name: Nasim Hazratji
Date of birth: 1936
Place of residence: Karachi
Transcript in English:
I was born in 1936 in Gwalior. My father used to work in Delhi, where we lived for five to six years, and that is where we migrated to Pakistan from. We used to live 20 kilometres from our school and close to the school was my father’s clinic.
One day, my father asked us to join him on a visit to his maternal uncle Bekhud Dehlvi’s home. Bekhud (himself a popular poet at the time) was a disciple of Daagh Dehlvi (a famous Urdu poet). Bekhud Delhavi possessed an amazing personality. He had a large haweli that probably had at least 50 rooms. The drawing room was furnished with luxurious carpets and cushions. Back then people did not sit on furniture; they sat on the floor.
So we went to his home in the morning, but when we were about to leave after dinner, Bekhud asked us to stay another day, and we obliged. The next morning I went to school.
Around 11, 11:30 in the morning, my father came looking for me in a state of panic. When I turned around, I saw that many other parents had come to collect their children from the school. He told me that there had been a clash (between Hindus and Muslims), and Muslims had been massacred.
Although I had heard some commotion in the morning, I had still gone to school unaware of what had transpired. We would later learn that the Hindus had attacked and killed a lot of Muslims. This was only after a day or two of our independence.
My father said, “Let’s go, let’s go. The Hindus have attacked during the night.”
The attack had taken place where we lived -- we lost everything. My father would never be able go back, no one would let him. Although he tried, Bekhud sahib forbid him from doing so.
Anyway, my father grabbed my hand and led me (out of the school). Bekhud Dehlavi’s house was an hour away from the school. On the way, we passed Hauz Qazi, where someone threw a large stone slab from atop a building. When we turned around we realised that the slab had just missed us as we were running fast. My father didn’t let me think. “Keep moving, let’s go from here,” he yelled.
For two or three months, we lived at Bekhud sahib’s residence. His family provided us with clothing and food. His daughter-in-law let us stay in the upper storey of a house she owned nearby.
But then my father considered if it would be better to move to Pakistan. He eventually decided to send his children and his wife first. In those days, people had to stay at Haji camp and wait for their turn to get a place on the trains that were leaving for Pakistan. They were transported in freight trains.
One of my father’s uncles used to live in Karachi 20 to 25 years earlier. He owned two shops there inside Khatri Masjid -- Mir Muhammad Delhiwalay. He was a distant uncle. That’s where [our father] sent us.
Bekhud sahib had us board the train directly, instead of having to wait at Haji camp, which was in a very bad state. Those 10,000 people who are arrived were all sitting on Jama Masjid’s stairs. There was no proper sanitation. Residents of the area would go and offer food to the people. Because this was a Muslim area, they were being fed. But for half a kilometre people would walk with a cloth on their noses. It was an unimaginable situation.
We boarded the train. Our father said Allahafiz, and told us to ask for Juna market when we reach Karachi. There was a Khatri Masjid there, in which there were two shops owned by Mir Muhammad Delhiwalay. People will guide you, he said.
This next phase is very dangerous.
They stuffed train carriages with as many people as they could, like cattle. The first and second trains were massacred when they passed through Jalandhar and Amritsar. When the trains got here (Pakistan), bodies were picked up, stuffed in gunny sacks and then buried. The first train and second train were finished, and we were in the third one.
Our fortune -- somewhere after Jalandhar, [Indian Army] soldiers were divided -- Muslim soldiers were told to go to Pakistan. They had not left their weapons and the whole battalion would eventually board our train. They would tell us that we are almost in Pakistan, and not to worry -- they were there to protect us.
People were trembling with fear. Many even died of heart failure, because they were expecting to be killed. When the train reached Jalandhar, it had been two days since we had left Delhi, even though it was a two- to three-hour ride. At the station, we saw water gushing out of pipes that are used by fire brigades to put out fires.
We had not had food in two days; people were famished and thirsty. Everyone wanted to quench their thirst. The soldiers (mentioned above) had not joined us until this point. I could see the water gushing right in front of me. “Let me get off the train,” I said, but three or four men took hold of me and did not let me disembark. “If you get off the train, you’ll die,” they said. “A bullet or a kirpan will find you.”
The gushing water was a sight to behold, and we were just sitting there, thirsty and watching the water flow. And it wasn’t just me, people much older than me were just as mesmerised by the sight, but no one would dare disembark the train to get a sip of water and run back, because the enemies were waiting to ambush us.
People were stuffed in the train carriages -- only God knows how many women, young girls, old people, children and others were there. But all of them had the same spirit -- to go to Pakistan. When we saw the soldiers, who were still in the Indian Army uniforms, they told us not to worry and that we’d reach Pakistan. After they boarded, the train sped up and eventually reached Lahore.
At Lahore, it seemed like we had stepped into a wedding -- there were people waiting for us with big daigs of food, bread, and so much more. They said, “All of you can get off the train; no one is going to touch your belongings.”
In Karachi, we disembarked on City Station. My mother asked where Juna market was. They gave us directions, which we followed, and we ended up in Juna market. We asked for Mir Muhammad Delhiwalay, and discovered that we were standing right in front of it. Mir Muhammad sahib was quite old at the time, he came out of his shop and asked a helper take us to his home, which was right opposite the shops. Do you know how many people were there? At least 50 families. How many rooms were there in the house? Four! But they (Mir Muhammad’s family) were very generous. They had given everyone a square yard of the floor.
I received my secondary education from Bahadur Yar Jung school (which is right next to Central Jail Karachi). In those days, the jail did not have 10-, 15-foot high walls. It had two-foot walls! And school students used to play football in the jail’s ground.
We obviously did not bring any property documents with us. Someone told our father to go to the custodian department that had been formed to transfer (to Muslims) the properties that had been left behind by Hindus (who had migrated to India). My father told them he did not have any papers, upon which the person suggested that my father go anyhow (and try to claim property). Our father said, “What’s the point? They won’t give anything to us.” Our father never went to claim any property. This is how virtuous people were back then.
Name: Muhammad Tufail
Date of birth: 1935
Place of residence: Lahore
Transcript in English:
I was born in 1935 in Noor Mahal, Jalandhar, India. When Pakistan was created, I was studying in Grade 6. My father’s side of the family lived in Kot Badal Khan, while my mother’s family lived in Noor Mahal.
During the time of Partition, my friends and I would go to the markets and streets and raise slogans of “Pakistan Zindabad”, “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad”, and “Ley kar rehien gey Pakistan”. I remember young boys from the Sikh and Hindu communities would run after us, but would never be able to catch us.
We never realised that our area would not be included in Pakistan. Suddenly, we realised our area would be in India. This is when riots and fights broke out.
My aunt’s entire family was slaughtered; not one member of her family survived. They were killed with swords, guns, poison. That was the extent of the hatred.
Before they could arrive at our doorstep, we escaped. We tried to take as many things with us as we could but had to leave a lot behind. We were stopped three times on our journey and they vowed to kill us, but all three times somehow we were let go. Twice someone recognized by grandfather’s brother and let us go because of him. They third time they stopped us, my grandparents and father told them to do as they pleased with them but to let me (a child at the time) go. Out of sympathy, they let us go for a third time.
We finally arrived at the camp, where conditions were deplorable. There was no food even for humans, so the animals were freed. Even the wheat we got was sometimes poisoned. Many people died because of this reason.
My grandfather’s brother passed away at the camp. We didn’t know where to hold funeral rites and procession and where to bury him.
After three months, we left the camp. We were told to go somewhere close to Jalandhar where we would find a train. We set off by foot. One of my sisters would carry my baby sister and give her water from time to time. The journey was very difficult for her, and she passed away. My parents had to leave her there on our way; they had no choice. We had to move forward.
When we arrived at our destination, I remember waiting for a train. Some came and left but we didn’t find any place in them. We heard everyone in those trains was slaughtered. We finally found a place. I remember feeling claustrophobic. My father, who feared that we would be slaughtered in the train, thought of hiding me outside the train, where they wouldn’t find me and where I would be able to breathe. He hid me under the train carriage, tying me against the metal rods with the cloth from his turban, in case our train was ambushed. I remember fainting; I don’t remember when we left and when we arrived. After we crossed into safer areas, he cut me loose.
We arrived in Lahore, but we weren’t allowed to leave the train because of overcrowding. We left in the same train and arrived in Chak Chumrey. We were told to leave the train, find shelter and stay there. I saw people crying. They left their havelis and big houses, how were they expected to sit in someone else’s house. They refused to leave the train. From there, we arrived at a camp, where we were fed roti and daal. From there, we arrived at a camp in Faisalabad. My father’s aunt, who lived in Pakistan, sold her jewelry and sent off her husband to look for us. God knows where all he went to look for us; Lahore, Sargodha and other places. He finally recognized my father in the camp in Faisalabad and I can’t describe how hammy he was.
Before Partition, we were comfortable; our tribe lived happily together, our crops were fruitful, it used to rain on time. We didn’t need anything. After Partition, however, we struggled a lot.
Name: Saba Khan
Place of residence: Karachi
Narrating the story of her late parents’ move to Pakistan from India disguised as Hindus
Name: Chaudhry Muhammad Tufail Riaz
Date of birth: 1931
Place of residence: Karachi
Transcript in English:
At the time of Partition I was in grade 10. Our village was largely occupied by Muslim families but some Sikhs and Hindus also lived there. Back then, Sikhs and Hindus got married in our haveli.
We never thought we would have to move one day. We knew very well that Pakistan would come to existence but we never thought we would move.
Another village, at a distance of about two to three miles from our village, was attacked. A group of Sikhs attacked the village and I can’t even express in words what they did with them.
The Sikhs of our village approached the elders and told them they would not be able to protect us because the Sikhs who would attack would be greater in number. They apologised and said, “We have eaten from your plate. We don’t want to harm you.” It was around 2:30 am when they asked us to leave and we left everything behind.
We reached another village the next morning. We had no belongings, no shelter and no transportation. Residents from 42 villages from nearby gathered in the new village. It was a huge village but there were no arrangements for food and water. We didn’t have any protection either. A few days later, the Indian army took all of us to Pakistan. The people of the village secretly helped us, especially the elderly, for the 15-20 days we were there.
Our district of Hoshiarpur was the last district to be evacuated. There was an outbreak of Cholera due to which there were a lot of deaths. Nine people from my family also died, but those were natural deaths; we were not attacked. I saw a mother next to her son’s dead body, but she wasn’t even crying. The scenes were disorderly and chaotic; it was as if we were witnessing the Day of Judgment.
Two days later, we moved out and kept walking. It was August and it rained for almost five days near Jalandhar. We had no shelter or food. The people who were carrying tents were lucky, but since we left at night, we were out of supplies and didn’t have any arrangement. An aunt with whom I lived with was very sick at the time. I used to carry her on my shoulders during our long walks.
We finally reached Lahore after so many obstacles. We heard about trains arriving with dead bodies. Everyone in those carriages were killed and slaughtered.
One of my beloved uncles was a deputy commissioner in Lahore. He came to Lahore and took us to Faisalabad. He had made all the arrangements for our stay at his house but one thing was still missing: We were not enrolled in school. The Pakistani government took charge and made arrangements in the best possible manner.
Later, I joined the air force. There is an office at Shaheen building in Karachi where I gave the test for the Air Force. The next day they sent me to Kohat where I was trained for six months.
God has fulfilled all my wishes, but there’s only one that has remained: I wanted to see my childhood house in India but never got a chance to.
Name: Muhammad Yousaf Baloch
Date of birth: 1936
Place of residence: Yakki Gate, Lahore
Transcript in English:
I was born around 1936. I was around 13-14 years of age during Partition. I remember college students would hold rallies here and we used to take part in them and shout chants: “Ban key rahey ga Pakistan” and “Ley kar rehein gey Pakistan”. There was no slogan like “Pakistan ka matlab kya…”
“Pakistan ka matlab kya” was first introduced in 1949 when Maududi Sahab (Abul A’la Maududi) came to Pakistan and uttered it. Before that, we used to say “Ban key rahey ga Pakistan”, “Ley kar rehein gey Pakistan”, “Marien gey, mitjayien gey, Pakistan banayien gey” and “Muslim ho toh Muslim League mey ao”. But religious-based slogans were introduced by Jamaat-e-Islami. No one used them before that, because everyone believed and even Quaid-e-Azam said Pakistan would be a country where people of all religions would have the right to live freely together. But with these slogans, I believe, Pakistan was created based on religion.
In Lahore, on one of side you had a Muslim-majority area and on the other a Hindu-majority area, such as Bharat Nagar.
People in Bharat Nagar would take out processions of ‘Wand-e-Matram’. In return, we would also take out our processions and students of Islamia High School and Islamia College, Railway Road, would join us. Islamia College was the largest Muslim college among other Hindus institutes such as Diyar Singh College, Dio Samaj College, which is now known as Islamia College Civil Lines.
Adjacent to this institute was Dio Samaj High College which was established by Lala Raj Patroy. Gulab Devi Hospital was named after his mother.
He was an ardent nationalist, which meant that he was a representative of all Hindustani people, including Muslims and Hindus. He was martyred in Lahore after being baton-charged by a British army man. Lala Jee, who was a Congress leader, was very fragile and therefore couldn’t bear the beating.
To avenge his death, Bhagat Singh killed another army man Saunders (John Saunders) in front of Lahori Darwaza.
Lala wanted the sub-continent to be independent but he did not want Muslims and Hindus to separate. There was no concept of dividing Muslims and Hindus in the 30s. That was introduced much later.
Bhagat Singh was hanged after that. These people were the true champions of independence.
At the time, Hindus had complete control of the city in terms on commerce. I remember going to Akbari Mandi with my grandfather, which existed before Partition. All the shops there were owned by Hindus, one and two by Sikhs.
Even today, you can see Hindu symbols such as Om inscribed on walls of the area. Muslims, on the other hand, would only be employed as workers there and would weigh goods bought by consumers. I even asked my grandfather about it and he said not a single shop owner was Muslim.
In Anarkali Bazar, there was a grand Balla Halwai (sweet maker) shop, where Habib Bank stands now.
Every wedding in Lahore would order ladoos from Balla Halwai. So, even sweet makers were Hindus. Even in Anarkali, all shops were owned by Hindus apart from one or two stores, which were owned by Muslims.
Sheikh Inayat Ali had this small shop before Pakistan and it was only after partition that his shop grew in size. Similarly, there are shops of Fazal Din and Sons, Dua Medical on Mall Road. It is said that their ancestors would sell chickpeas but after their children received an education, they managed to expand their business.
All these buildings, such as Dang Singh Building, Dial Singh Mansions and others, were all Hindu properties. Only Shah Din building was owned by a Muslim, the grandfather of a famous actor, Aslam Pervez.
Anarkali Bazar, Soha Bazar were all Hindu-dominated areas and one could only see a house or two of Muslims in downtown Lahore.
Rang Mehal, which was also in a Hindu-majority area, was burnt to ashes. I witnessed houses burning there myself.
All landlords in Lahore were either Hindus or Sikhs. Qilla Gujjar Singh, Qilla Lanchman Singh, Qilla Harbajat Singh in Lahore were Sikh-owned properties that they must have taken over from Mughals.
There were only a handful of Muslims landlords here, such as Mian Ikhtikhar Uddin and so on. Ikftikhar was the caretaker of Shalimar Bagh.
Apart from this single instance, Muslims were by and large peasants among a large number of Hindus landlords.
So, Pakistan was created. And now we’re wondering why. Given the way things are now, it would have been better if Pakistan did not exist.
Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians should have stayed together and there were slogans about how all of us are brothers. But then, closer to and right after Partition, we became each other’s enemies. But there were quite a few people who wanted peace and unity.
When Pakistan was made, we would go to train stations as young boys to see the arrivals (from India). We used to get into cars and observe from a bridge. Some people were fine, others we saw were injured, some had been killed and there were ambulances for them. The migrants were settled into camps, which were then turned into rehabilitation centers.
A few supporters of the Muslim League were provided good shelter but there were some who weren’t provided anything and are still suffering. Many were treated unfairly.
We saw many of the same boys from our neighbourhood who would chant slogans grow up and become successful.
I remember going to school with Sikh students. Once I went to pharmacy and bumped into a class fellow who told her mother: “Look ma, it’s Yousuf, my class fellow”. We used to all study together.
From that, we became each other’s sworn enemies, thanks to politics. They say Gandhi and Quadi-e-Azam agreed on partition but not migration. It was decided that Hindus, Sikhs, Christians living in the newly-created Pakistan should accept the country and make it their identity. Same goes for India. However, Nehru and Liaquat didn’t let that happen. Following this, Sikh leader Tara Singh stood in front the Punjab assembly, took out his sword and swore to kill all opponents. This caused Sikhs to riot and kill Muslims across Punjab. This was because of extremism.
If they followed Gandhi and Quaid’s vision, this massacre would not have occurred. Today, there are still millions on Muslims in India and thousands of Hindus in Pakistan.
“Ley kar rahien gey Pakistan” we used to say. What for? So that the Taliban could be bred here? So that extremists could exist here? So that there is unending unrest? So that a Muslim could snatch another Muslim’s phone? Is this Pakistan?
We didn’t want such a Pakistan. We wanted a country where people enjoyed political, economic and human rights; where every person would be treated as a human being and not according to his religion.
Name: Ihteshamuddin Siddiqui
Age: 75 Years
Date of birth: 24 December, 1940
Place of residence: Karachi
Transcript in English:
Q: Where did you migrate from?
A: Bareli. From Bareli, we travelled to Amritsar in a special train. A week later, we prepared to depart again. The train was meant to leave at 10 am but it left at 6pm instead. The delay occurred because apparently the driver, who was Hindu, hid a part of the train. We resumed the journey once a Muslim driver was called in.
Opposite the Amritsar train, was a jungle. I remember seeing articles of clothes hanging from trees: dupattas, shalwars and so on. So obviously we got the impression that (Muslim women were raped there).
The carriage had a capacity of 25 people, but there were 60 to 65 people in it. We had also stacked metal trunks against the windows of our carriage so that we don’t get hit by bullets. On the way we did get fired upon.
Around 10pm, we reached Shahdara (Lahore).
Q. Do you remember any other incident?
A. We used to live in a mohala near a mosque in Bareli. I remember my parents telling us to collect stones from nearby in case we were attacked, God forbid. In the evening, we used to get lesson on baton-charging.
Q. Were such lessons mandatory?
A. Yes; children and adults alike learnt how to use it.
Q. Did you ever end up using the newly-acquired skill?
A. Not at all. We left the batons where picked them up. We didn’t need them in Pakistan.
Q. Where did you first arrive in Pakistan?
A. Lahore, where we stayed for three months. Then Kohat for two months, and then Sukkur.
Q. Did you face any problems after moving to Pakistan?
A. Nothing out of the ordinary. When we were in Lahore, we used to eat yogurt and mash ki daal and then salan and night. Every day. That was the routine, but that was life.
This generation has been handed a country for free. Those people who struggled and worked hard and lived under oppression in India are not appreciated. Look at the state of the country, it’s in ruins.
Q. Even though you were 7 years old, how did you feel about coming to Pakistan?
A. We didn’t really know what was going on in Pakistan and even India for that matter.
Q. Did you lose any property in India?
A. Yes we did. I was the head of family; if I stayed in India, I would have been the head of our tribe.
Q. Do you have any relatives who stayed behind?
A. Aside from one or two of us, everyone chose to stay back. My father and uncle were government employee so he chose to come to Pakistan.
Name: Nasim Ahmed
Date of birth: 1946
Place of residence: Karachi
Name: Fatima Shamim
Date of birth: 1932
Place of residence: Karachi
Transcript in English:
We are from Sialkot. Muslims did not migrate from the area where we lived. That’s because we were the locals of that area. Back then this area was Hindu majority. There were Hindus throughout the village whereas Muslims were just a minority. A lot of Hindus migrated from that village, and we had good relations with them. We didn’t want them to leave. They were like one of us. They didn’t want to leave either.
When they were boarding the trucks [that would take them across the border], we (Muslims) were almost in tears, because they had been very good to us. They had to put up with a lot of difficulties after they moved.
Hindus and Sikhs who lived near Lahore crossed the Wagah border, before the others. But those who lived in the villages surrounding Sialkot couldn’t decide if they should migrate to Jammu and Kashmir or to Delhi and surrounding areas. So they took whichever route they could to run away.
On the other hand, Muslims were coming to this side but they did not stay in our village because the homes of Sikhs and Hindus had not been vacated by then. So they mostly passed through and settled elsewhere. That’s why it got so chaotic – people were confused, some were going from here and some were coming from there. Hindus from our village were a little late to leave.
Around this time a [Sikh] family of 22 people arrived in our village from Narowal. Some of their women had been kidnapped along the way. The village was 16 or 17 miles from our village and they had had to walk the distance. They were en route to Jammu, but on the way Muslim mobs would snatch their girls.
After they crossed our village, and arrived at a nearby lake, the Sikh head of the family shot dead everyone in his family, including the children. The man was in his 40s at the time. He had a rifle. He killed them because he was sure that the remaining girls and children would be kidnapped. He was killed by the police after being shot five to six times. One of the children aged three or four years old escaped by hiding behind the bushes. The police then loaded the dead bodies in a truck and brought the child to our home, we asked a Sikh family if they would take care of the child. They happily agreed. But 15 to 20 days after this incident, the family left for India.
They (Sikhs) were interned in a Gurdwara close to the police headquarters. They were led to believe that they would receive food and water, but they didn’t. Whatever money and gold they had was snatched by the Pakistani police and they were left penniless. They were left to starve and die.
Two Hindu women, who once lived with us in our village, wore chadors and came to our home and said to our mother, “We are dying of hunger. Give us something to eat.”
My mother gave them some food to eat, and also packed some flour, pulses and spices, for them to take back with them. My mother then went with them to help them cross the village. She helped them like this twice or thrice. After a few months, Indian trucks arrived and took them away.
Even today, recalling that event makes us tearful. We cannot forget [those incidents]. They say that Hindus and Sikhs persecuted Muslims, but nobody tells us how Muslims persecuted Sikhs and Hindus.
There was this one train that had arrived from Delhi, filled with dead bodies.
Then there was another train that was heading towards Jammu from Sialkot. When Sikhs and Hindus started to cram inside the train and the train started to leave, the Muslims ambushed – they had already severed the rail tracks – and killed each and every person in the train. The Muslims didn’t leave a single person on the train alive.
I agree that freedom is a blessing. But if we knew we would get this freedom at such a great cost, I don’t think Pakistan should have been created. And there are many families who will agree with me.
This project has been produced by Shayan Naveed and Khurram Siddiqui
Interviews were conducted by Khurram Siddiqui, Sarah Eleazer, Hina Javed, Shayan Naveed and Azeem Siddiqui
Photographs are taken by Ayesha Mir, Hina Javed and Harris Javaid
Audio has been edited by Narendar Khatri and Harris Javaid
The design has been made by Aamir Khan
With thanks to: Sarah Fariddudin and Fawad Hassan