I was born at Dipalpur an ancient town prior to the days of King Anangpal, an ancestor of Prithvi Raj Chauhan. It was close to Harappa, the site of earliest civilization known to the world today. It was a Tahsil of District Sahiwal that had been named Montgomery by the British to honor Field Marshal Montgomery.
Dipalpur as seen by me in early childhood consisted of flat brick houses. It had straight and wide lanes. The main market with its road paved by bricks had three gates, one each on Northern, Eastern and Southern side. It had a Red brick temple assigned to Baba Laloo Jasrai of Hinglaj (Gujarat). One Gurudwara was also situated on the out skirts of the town along a canal on its South – Western side. It was on called ‘Nankana Saheb’ because the site had been visited once by Guru Nanak himself. Tongas were the primary means of communication although few Lorries also plied at much lesser frequency.
My maternal grandparents lived at Chiplipur, a small village situated about two miles away from Dipalpur. Two Sikhs families dominated the village with farming as their family business. Some of the Sikh landlords in the village possessed 12 bore guns.
There were three or four Hindu families and many Muslims families who performed menial jobs or worked on the fields. Muslims and Hindus had separate wells for respective communities and there were two mosques in the village.
I was a student of fourth standard at Primary School in Dipalpur. We were taught Urdu and Arithmetic only. Our class consisted of about 30 – 35 children belonging to Hindu and Muslim families.
I chanced to see Circus, and Ram Lila for the first time at Dipalpur. Rama holding bow, Krishna ‘Sudarshan Chakra’, and Guru Gobind Singh a Baaz on his arm always fascinated me. I had also read the tragic story of Veer Haqeeqat Rai, a teenager, beheaded for blasphemous utterances alleged against him. A picture showing his beheaded corpse with parents crying over it often attracted my thoughtful attention. Those days, to my astonishment some Muslim classmates used to pass indecent remarks against Rama and other Hindu Gods, that of course I did not understand.
The early Signs of Disturbance
In April 1947 I had traveled on horseback with my maternal uncle from Dipalpur to Chiplipur to spend summer vacations.
Suddenly, one day my Nani ji (Maternal Grandmother) took me to a secluded room where a cobra also lived. She opened the big boxes kept there, sorted out clothes, coins and other valuables and returned. Then suddenly one day after evening meals Mama Ji (Maternal Uncle) took Nani Ji and me to the one room hutment of one Miyan Ahmed Din, the local Maulvi. We were told to sleep inside and not to make any conversation. Mama ji and Miyan Ahmed Din were good friends. They went away after locking the door from outside. Nani ji had kept awake whole night to comfort me with a hand-held fan, as it was warm inside.
In the morning we returned to our house. I saw a big hole in the peripheral wall. Later I learnt that on previous night Muslims had broke open many shops belonging to Hindus. Mama ji and others had kept vigil throughout the night by walking through deserted lanes. As he passed through his own house he suspected some intruders inside. He was single handed but was carrying his Chhavi (an Axe with long blade)on his shoulders. He challenged intruders and some persons ran out of the house. However, they took away a box from our house that contained valuables by jumping across the boundary wall. Thereafter the gap in the wall was plugged, and as precausion boundary wall was raised further with mud bricks and thorny branches.
A few days later we moved within the brick mansion located in the centre of the village. It was feared that armed Muslim mobs from nearby villages would come to rob Chiplipur as they had been causing bloodshed in neighboring villages.
On hearing drumbeats a strange routine was repeated on three or four occasions. All children and ladies used to be closeted in a big hall on first floor. Granth Sahib was recited. One or two young ladies used to stand guard holding naked swords. In between the recitation they would chant ‘Sat Shri Akal’ ask the gathering to be prepared to sacrifice head in preference to religion. The male folks would gather on the rooftops holding swords, spears, Laathis and guns in hands.
On such occasions, Mama ji had been taking the village representatives to some Khokhar, whom he personally knew. Khokhar had considerable influence on Muslim population and he lived in a nearby village. Every time Khokhar intervened and the mobs primarily gathered to loot retreated without causing any harm to the village. At night we used to sleep on the rooftops. One night I got my forearm burnt by accidentally coming in contact with hot chilam of my Nana ji’s (Maternal Grandfather) Hookah.
First Experience with Commotion
One day, I chanced to see through the window, that a mob of about hundred Muslims was entering our village from the Northern side. They were beating drums, perhaps to attract more persons to join, and were carrying axes, spears, swords and sticks. A commotion followed and all male persons in our complex stood guard on the rooftops carrying whatever weapons of self-defense they had. My Nana Ji, who was around 60 years or so, also carried a gupti (a straight sword hidden in umbrella stick).
Further from the roof-top I saw a Maulvi (priest) addressing the mob in the mosque behind our mansion. There was commotion and tension of possible bloodshed all around and nobody knew what could happen. However perhaps Khokhar was contacted again and the mob dispersed. So far the village folks had been requesting Khokhar to safely escort them to Sulemanke Head works on river Sutlej near Fazilka – the border of India and Pakistan. At that time we knew only by names of ‘Hindu part’ and ‘Muslim part’.
Agony of Elderly Persons
Though the attackers had returned, but on the next evening, suddenly I noticed that all the Sikhs had cut their hair and most of them were bitterly crying in the mansion. I came to know that all the Sikh males had been converted to Islam under threat of life from Muslims the previous night. Their hair was shaved in the mosque; they were made to recite Kalma to initiate them to Islam by the Maulvi. They had been given Muslim names and made to eat beef for which a cow had been slaughtered in the premises of the mosque. My Nana ji, Mama ji, and myself were the only three male persons from the village who had been spared from this humiliation as we were Brahmins and still held in esteem even by Muslims of the village.
Insult to Injury
Perhaps a day after that incident, one morning the Muslim women accompanied by some males flocked to draw water from the well that was adjacent to our house, and was exclusive for Hindus. It was primarily aimed to add insult to the injury. Mama Ji became furious and asserted that only those Muslim women would be allowed to draw water from the well who could recite the Kalma to him. He asserted that Hindu village folk had converted to Islam but they had not turned sweepers or urchins to live an unhygienic life. Thus for hygienic reasons the well still remained closed to those who were not pious and clean Muslims. The Muslims thereafter withdrew. The persistence of associations had still continued to play positive role as for as mutual respect between the known’s.
We left our Homes
We had been sorting household items at our home in quite. I learnt later that Mama ji had got some gold converted into sheets and got them nailed in-betweens the sole of his shoes to avoid theft, robbery or other such eventualities.
All of a sudden, on one afternoon nearby Muslim women entered our house for lifting household articles. I realized it when one of them lifted my colorful pihri (a stool having knitted seat supported on short legs) that was for my exclusive use. I protested but was persuaded by Nana – Nani to let the same be taken away. Soon after, our household was packed up and we again assembled in the mansion; where men and women were crying, sobbing, and packing their household. Some of the Muslim females, who worked on menial jobs in fields also came there and cried in sympathy. Most of them were apologetic for what had happened and sought pardon.
At this juncture I came to know that Military had arrived, and Muslim males had hid in the fields out of fear. By evening all of us were out in the village. I saw all the families moving towards the canal that flowed on the northern side of the village about half a kilometer away. There household was either on bullock carts or was being carried on their person. Everyone talked to him-self, seemed to be in hurry, astonished, aghast, and broken. I too, walked with Nana, Nani while Mama ji was going up and down, probably meeting Muslim friends to coordinate exodus. Walking towards unknown destination, for the last time, I passed through the deohri (main village gate) and Dera, where the village headmen had relaxed all their life. All I knew, that we were moving to Dipalpur to go to Hindustan.
Scenes of Cruelity
When we reached canal and were moving along its embankment, I saw two headless naked bodies floating in the canal a little distance apart from each other. One was floating in the mid-stream, while the other of a woman had got tucked to the weeds near the bank. The bodies had decomposed. After that sight darkness had set in. One military person considering the age and perhaps fatigue on the face of Nani ji requested her to board the military truck, which she politely declined. She walked the entire distance of six miles to Dipalpur while I was put on the over-loaded bullock cart after darkness. We had travelled along the road and I overheard from elders that several beheaded corpses were floating in the canal.
We reached Dipalpur at midnight and slept on ground in the open compound of Middle School. Mama ji had found that my parents and other Hindu families had already moved out of Dipalpur ahead of us, but their whereabouts were not known. Military persons, perhaps an infantry section consisted of eight to ten persons under a Naik had been escorting us. They were in a truck. To instill a feeling of security they occupied position on top of the school building and had sited one light machine gun on top of the building.
Next day, I saw many of the household items being off-loaded in the compound. Since we had brought the luggage on bullock cart belonging to Muslims it was to return to Chiplipur. Hurriedly, Mama Ji and some others pooled some money, and the cart along with oxen was purchased from the Muslims owners. Thus; only few select items of the three families were reloaded and most of the load was discarded. We had fed on the food that had been prepared in advance at Chiplipur and it mainly consisted of Missi roties and Kasaar, a sweatend fried wheat grind.
Sight of Migration
By afternoon we joined a Kaafila (flock of migrants) moving from nearby surrounding town Okara. By evening we crossed through the streets Haveli, where some of our relatives had been residing, but had moved to Fazilka well in time. It looked deserted, and some armed Muslims from their rooftops were staring at us with mixed feelings of astonishment and greed for loot and kill. Our Kaafila halted on the road after moving some distance form Haveli. The Military persons and some armed migrants kept vigil during night against possible attack from Muslims. I slept on the stacked luggage of bullock cart, along with some other children. Rest everyone was on ground.
Next day, by chance, we came in contact with my elder brother, who had taken premature release form the army after seeing action during World War II in South East Asian Theater. Only during the previous year, we had celebrated his marriage at Dipalpur, and he had taken up a job at Okara. Thus, from Okara to Fazilka my brother was transporting his wife in advanced stage of pregnancy on the carrier of his Releigh bicycle, which he pulled single handedly on foot. His widowed mother in law also accompanied and the trio did not have any substantial baggage other than the clothes on their bodies.
Crossing over to India
By next day noon, we crossed the Sutlej River. The river was in spate and the current was very fast. Later I learnt that an aged mother of some acquaintances was swept by the current in the presence of her grown up sons without any effort on the part of the sons to rescue her. I could not understand why human relationships had taken a nosedive when individual survival was at stake.
We halted in a grove for food and rest. The bullock carts were unloaded. Some of our relatives who had moved with earlier caravans and were sheltered in refugee camps set up around Fazilka spotted us. Many other migrants were also searching for their scattered ones. We too were able to locate more relatives near the resting place. They also narrated their version of distress and misery. As some of them did not possess even utensils, Nani ji distributed some of the utensils to each of them from whatever we had carried for us. There, for the first time we learnt that my parental family had traveled with distress to India along an earlier Kaafila from Dipalpur and they could be located in or around Ferozepur. All of us received a handful of roasted gram for food distributed by volunteers performing reception and rehabilitation duties. It was here that for the first time I heard that one Jawaharlal was the ‘king’ of Hindus and Jinnah was the ‘king’ of Muslims.
Loss of Identities
By evening we managed to board some overcrowded motor transport and headed for Ferozepur with hope to unite with my parental family. My elder brother had to stay with some relatives at Fazilka since a son was born to his wife soon after reaching free India. From the date of birth of his son I can now calculate that perhaps we had crossed to India on 20 August 1947 and had left our home at Chiplipur forever on 17 August 1947.
We reached Ferozepur at night and stayed in a deserted house. A brother of my Nani ji met us by chance and we shifted to another house for few days trying to locate our separated ones; till one day; my father arrived from Jalandhar as a pleasant surprise searching us. We narrated the account of migration of the family and we had a sigh of relief that everyone was safe at Jalandhar. He had no information about the whereabouts of my other elder brother, who was then serving in the Air Force.
Re-union with family
My father insisted that we should move and settle at Jalandhar. There was heavy rush on trains, buses, or any other means of communications. Finally, one day we found space in open wagon of a goods train to take us to Jalandhar. At Firozepur station, I saw a train over-packed with Muslim refugees being dispatched to Pakistan. One separated Muslim woman who was trying to escape assault upon her was overrun by the engine of our goods train. A glass of water was being sold for 20 rupees by some persons at Firozepur station. Finally we reached Jalandhar and were united with the family.
Nostalgia of the past
After three decades I happened to visit Abhohar as an Air Defense Artillery Officer for some Military duty. After finishing my task, I drove to Fazilka and went to Sulemanke head works situated on the home bank of River Sutlej to get a peep of Pakistan. I could see nothing on the far bank. But the places where I had spent my early childhood lay at a distance of few hours where I stood. I was unable to step there again. It had faded into history. The nostalgic memories shall also fade away with the passing of our generation and perhaps the future generation would not be able to gauge the experience of turmoil we underwent and what we had lost to gain freedom. It is not the account of sufferings of one particular family; many others had suffered much worse.
Chand K Sharma