Memories of Partition, and that woman ‘as pure as Sita’

  • Amarjit Singh Hayer, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Aug 16, 2016 23:20 IST
A train crammed with refugees leaves for Pakistan from the border city of Amritsar in 1947. Although these trains traveled on confidential routes with armed guards, they were still attacked. After one such attack, photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White arrived at the Amritsar station to find men from the “militant Akhali sect..sitting cross-legged” on the platform, sword in hand, “patiently waiting for the next train.” (Getty Images)

On August 15, 1947, I was in Ferozepur, visiting my cousin, a clerk in the irrigation department. The canal colony was peaceful and we were discussing with our Muslim neighbours whether the city will remain in India or go to Pakistan. The Boundary Commission report was awaited.

As soon as the Radcliffe Award was announced, neighbours turned enemies and a wave of rape, killing, looting, and abduction started. Within days, caravans of refugees were crossing the head works to and from Pakistan. As an immature 13-year-old oblivious of danger, I wandered watching these ghastly scenes. Worried for me, my cousin sent a message through the canal communication system to my village, 100 kilometres away.

In mid-September, when my brother arrived to fetch me, he was armed with a country-made pistol. We travelled from Ferozepur to Moga on the roof of a goods train, and from there, came on foot to Malla, where I had studied from April 1943 to March 1947. Of my local friends, the best was Gulaam Ghumaar, a potter lad who didn’t go to school but played with me. His was a poor family of Muslim menials. I often shared mykowdis, reethas, bantas, akhrots, and kites with him. They owned many donkeys but one of those was special – bred for racing. Gulaam’s father never allowed anyone to mount it but when he was away, my friend and I used it take it out for joyride.

My aunt told me that Gulaam and his father, when migrating to Pakistan, had left me their favourite race donkey as a parting gift. Seeing it in the manger of my aunt’s cattle yard, tears trickled down my eyes. I used to share only valueless marbles and cowries with him but he gifted me his family’s costliest possession in return. It was an invaluable token of child’s love.

A few days after I came back to my village, Kartara and Thaman, dressed in khaki and rifles hanging across their shoulders, came to our home with a young woman, who appeared to be newly married. Kartara, a neighbour of my aunt at Malla, was awarded life imprisonment for murder but during World War-2, the British rulers had remitted the jail terms of those who volunteered to join the army. After the war, these soldiers were demobilised.

Curious to know who the woman was, I accompanied them to Malla, and got to know she was an abducted Mulism bride. They bought mutton on the way and we reached Malla at dusk. Kartara lived with his mother, a widow, ‘Amma’ Daya Kaur, an Amritdhari Sikh. He left the captive woman in the outer room and put the meat to cook on a make-shift chulha, instructing me to stir the kettle and tend the fire while they looked for some home-brewed liquor. Taking advantage of their absence, I told Kartara’s mother about the unfortunate woman.

She took the woman inside her room and promised to protect her honour. When Kartara and Thaman returned, Amma unsheathed her kirpan, threw the kettle of boiling meat at the feet of her son, and thundered: “Rascals! Get out of my sight or I’ll make mincemeat of you.” Stunned, the men took to their heels. A few days later, Pakistani soldiers came over to recover abducted women.

Amma Daya Kaur handed her over to them, saying, “She is as pure as Sita. Kindly, send her to her husband.” The girl embraced Amma and wept like a bride leaving her parents’ home.

[The writer ( is a Ludhiana-based retired professor of English]

Also read | Partition: An interactive project exploring stories from 1947

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