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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 36, August 29, 2015

A True Story from Partition Days

Monday 31 August 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

This is a story of a Sikh girl who, like the hundreds of women on both sides of the border, bore the brunt of partition. Woman suffered most and underwent all type of atrocities. Rawalpindi, even before the partition, was a Muslim town. But it had then a smattering of Sikh population. Both communities had lived amicably for decades until the demand for Pakistan, a separate homeland for Muslims, soured relations between the two. Overnight, they developed an unbridgeable gulf as if their centuries’ old relationship had never existed.

The Sikhs, easily identifiable, were the main target. Their women in particular felt insecure and many jumped into the village well near the city, to escape any harm. One Sikh girl, in early teens, refused to follow suit when her mother and sister drowned themselves in the well. She ran and ran until a pious Muslim family rescued her. They had no child. For them, she was a god-sent daughter. They adopted her and brought her up as a Muslim girl and sent her to a woman’s madrasa where she learnt the Quran by heart.

Her command over the Muslim’s holy book became so authoritative that she was appointed as a teacher in her own school to teach the Quran. None suspected that she was a Sikh. All that they knew about her was that she was one of the best instructors in the Quran. She too had immersed herself in learning Arabic so as to adapt herself in the Quran and the tenets of Islam. At times, she would reach for the box she had brought along and take a look at the photo of Guru Nanak Dev, her prized possession. This also reminded her of her roots.

Even after she got married to a Muslim teacher she never stopped seeing the photo of Guru Nanak. It was more than nostalgia. It was the only contact with her roots. She felt proud that she had sustained her relations with Sikhism, the religion which had given her identity.

People never suspected her origin—and they included even her husband or her only son, Bashir—of being a Sikh. All took her to be a Muslim by birth and looked up to her for guidance since she was considered an authority on the Quran. Ironically, better relations between India and Pakistan brought her the worst days. Movement across the border was made trouble-free. People and friends went from one side to the other to meet their relatives.

One Sikh, who rehabilitated himself at Amritsar, sought to trace her sister who had not jumped into the well. He located her at Rawalpindi. It took him some time but he found her at her house. However, they could not spend much time together. He had to get back to the border on time to cross it. The news, however, spread all over the locality and they came to know that she was a Sikh.

Her husband took the real identity in his stride. He knew she was a non-Muslim but he had her converted to Islam by a Moulvi. However, her only son took great umbrage that his mother had turned out to be a Sikh, not a Muslim. He would hide his face from his friends, who made fun of him in his absence. Worse was his feeling of having been let down in life. He would begin to distance himself from the mother, who saw him suffering. She tried to explain to him but with no success. He was simply not willing to hear her or understand that she could not run away from the fact of being a Sikh by birth, long before Pakistan was created.

One day he had a bit of revenge by stealing the box, his mother’s prized possession, and emptied it in a nearby canal. He saw Guru Nanak’s photo floating for a while and then immersing in the torrent of running water. Still he did not forgive her mother and did not go near her.

The attitude of her son deeply hurt her but she could not run away from the fact of her origin. It was her brother who sought her, not she who did it. As far as she was concerned, she had cut off all relations with her past. She rationalised that her brother had came on his own.

The son hated the very presence of her and she could feel that. Her husband saw her pain but thought that it would go away with time. But he never admonished his son. Nor did he ever explain to his son the contradictions of partition which had to be understood without rancour.

What could she do with her son who hated her because she was a Sikh by birth? She tried her best to explain but he would not relent. At every step, he humiliated her and made her feel that as far as he was concerned, he had snapped the relationship. She gulped his ill-feelings down her throat for a while but could not take it any longer. She recalled what her mother and sister had done to rub off their past. They had drowned themselves in a well.

And one day, when she was alone in the house she decided to end her sufferings and went to the same village well where her mother and sister had drowned themselves during the partition. This time she did not want to run away. Her son was the first to see the body floating in the village well. Sure, it was that of his mother. Maybe, this assuaged his anger a bit. Yet, he did not shed any tear over losing her.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com