In August 1947, he was a student at Government College, Ludhiana, who took a train to Amritsar a few days before freedom. The sight that met his eyes as the train slowed down was of two men stabbing an unarmed person to death.
This is how Surjit Hans (84), historian and scholar now living in SAS Nagar, remembers the blood-stained monsoon of ’47, saying: “Freedom came at so heavy a price, accompanied by mass killings, that there was no will to rejoice. That is why as a historian later, I was critical of the national struggle that brought such a bloodbath with it.”
Political activist Oshima Raikhy (94), former Punjab Istri Sabha president, grows pensive remembering the day of freedom 68 years ago. “I was in Manali with my family when the news of Independence and Partition came together. We were stumped by the events and the bloodshed that followed. The wounds of that time have not healed, and India and Pakistan have since lived side by side in unhappy antagonism.”
Lawyer and former IAS officer VK Sibal (78) has no memory of any celebration. “I was with my mother and siblings in Jalandhar, camping in a relative’s house,” he said. “Our father, Hira Lal Sibal, was still in Lahore. My mother was expecting Kapil (later Congress minister at the Centre) and she had just heard of the death of her aged parents in a refugee camp.”
Tarlochan Kaur (79), a homemaker, says: “All that comes to my mind are the curfews. No one was allowed to move out. After Partition, Khalsa College in Amritsar was filled with refugees.” ML Sharma (79), a retired army officer living in Panchkula, recalls those days in Punjab. “I saw buses packed with bodies cross the border; and people from my area – old, young, women, and kids – travelling to the Attari station with food and drinks for the refugees from Pakistan.”
Ishar Singh Vimal (83), lawyer in the Punjab and Haryana high court, belonged to Arifwala in Pakpattan district. “We owned the largest shop in the Arifwala mandi and considerable farmland,” he said, “When the time came to migrate to India, the elders in my family told me: ‘Mela dekhan challe haan (We are going to a fair).’ The long caravan had lakhs of people, on foot or riding bullock carts. It took us four days and three nights to reach Fazilka. For those like me who faced violence and had to flee Pakistan, freedom was not an immediate joy.”
The sounds of freedom also frightened Taran Gujral (84), a well-known Punjabi writer, who was then a girl of 16. She recalls: “After locking up our house in Gujjar Khan near Rawalpindi when communal riots started, we moved to Ranchi for some time, as my brother had a photo studio there. The bursting of crackers awakened me at midnight and I clung to my mother in fear, saying the killing mobs had come. The mother replied: ‘No my dear, it’s ‘azadi’ (freedom).”