Stories of Partition from those who witnessed it

Stories of Partition from those who witnessed it

Survival was the key theme behind the tales shared by all the witnesses
24 Apr, 2017

Primary witness accounts of the partition of the subcontinent have lent insight into an event that caused irreparable damage to millions.

Those left behind, and those who crossed borders, with their loved ones perishing on the way, all have a distinct tale to share and some of these stories were shared at the Habib University on Saturday.

Several witness speakers of the partition were present to share their perspective of the mass migration that was the result of the creation of India and Pakistan.

The witnesses at “Voices of Partition”, in collaboration with The 1947 Partition Archive, included journalist Zubeida Mustafa, translator Hamrah Khalique, writer Hasan Manzar and lecturer Prof Akram Siddiqui.

Hasan Manzar elaborated how he as a young boy, along with his classmates, held the belief prior to the partition of a confederation that envisaged India as a common motherland, with Hindustan and Pakistan as two nations. The surgical distribution of the nation into two came as a shock to them all, he remarked.

“We thought that there were five provinces, three in the West and two in the East which would be called Pakistan where the Muslims would be in majority. The rest would remain the same. And both these nations would be collectively called India.”

He also recalled several individuals who left an indelible mark on his mind, among them was his mathematics teacher Mohammad Ahmed who was silently working for the cause of Pakistan.

Manzar’s heartening recall of leaving behind a humble collection of books, which included titles by Tagore and Tolstoy, which he had thought of returning to later, was a tragic reminder of how families left behind their entire lives, with no idea of what to expect in the newly created Pakistan. Most never got a chance to go back and visit their homes and Manzar was one of them.

Zubeida Mustafa narrated she “was about six years old when the partition happened. I can remember a lot of things but some of them at the time I could not truly understand. It is only when I recalled them much later that I understood the significance of those events.

“Our childhood was very pleasant. We lived in Bombay and I had started going to school. We had struck up friendships with the children who lived in my neighbourhood, and no one knew who was Hindu, Muslim or Christian.”

Changes in such a peaceful environment were much greatly felt, she explained. “However, I consider myself very fortunate, especially when I hear about the stories of many people who suffered a lot during the partition.”

Hamrah Khalique read out from a piece of paper, her recollection of the partition, and how her family had to leave Muzaffarnagar overnight. “Seventy years have passed and I still have not forgotten that night. Did freedom mean that we had to leave our home, our city and our friends?” she questioned.

Their struggles did not end even after migration; it took the family years to find their bearings and settle down in the new nation. “But what is exemplary is that my parents never complained about the trying times and were always thankful about the new nation. And this story is not specific to me. Hundreds and thousands of families faced similar circumstances but never lost their passion and loyalty to the state of Pakistan.”

Akram Siddiqui, along with his family, migrated to Pakistan in 1950 on foot. Just seven years old at the time of the partition, he recalled how they had always led a peaceful existence. “But after the partition, we slowly started to realise that those Hindus who used to be my father’s friends, and the Hindu boys who studied with us, they all had begun to change. They had started harbouring hate towards us and asked us several times to move to Pakistan.”

Survival was the key theme behind the tales shared by all the witnesses.

A pertinent point raised by Zubeida Mustafa was the urgent need to prevent generational hatred from spreading. “It is hard but effort must be put to encourage love and prevent hate from spreading.”

During the question hour session the pressing need to document the 1971 migration was also raised as it is believed that these stories may also be lost forever.

The 1947 Partition Archive has more than 500 people from 20 countries become citizen historians. The next step is to preserve 10,000 stories by 2017 and create a source of learning for future generations before it is too late.

As these stories will be a treasure trove for generations to access, the organisation must ensure that their documentation uses a credible methodology for collection of data so that the veracity of these stories cannot be doubted.

Originally published in Dawn, April 24th, 2017


1000 Characters
KT Apr 24, 2017 10:43am
Forceful blessings British gave to sub-continent via Officer Radcliffe and Officer Durand before granting independence.
Ramd Apr 24, 2017 10:50am
A child's separation from the womb is always difficult especially if along religious lines...
P. S. Natarajan Apr 24, 2017 11:07am
Ishtiaq Ahmed's "The Punjab: Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed" is the most authentic document on this topic. This "independence" of India and Pakistan cost nearly a million lives of innocent Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims as well as uprooting of nearly fifteen million people from their native lands. Margaret Bourke-White's photographs graphically tell the pain and agony of those horrible days. But what is surprising is that neither in Nehru's address of the 15th August nor in that of Jinnah's addressed to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on the 11th is there a single reference to this partition Holocaust !
Anusri Tripathi Apr 24, 2017 11:24am
Stories of migrants are always the same in this sub-continent - be it hindus or muslims.
Hafeejul Alam Apr 24, 2017 11:33am
Of course the individual experiences are supposed to be different. There is no gainsaying the fact that the partition brought about tremendous misery to the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. There were merciless killings on the both sides of the borders in the name of respective faiths which took more than a million lives and caused displacement of more than twenty million people. But the alternative or the undivided India could be even more menacing, and could have brought forth endless civil wars causing many times more casualties. Therefore, the partition of India was inevitable, necessary and timely for India’s Muslims .
anon Apr 24, 2017 11:42am
Wonderful piece. Heartwarming and thought provoking. Why don't we (on both sides of the border) try to capture these voices just as the Jewish organizations have done with the Holocaust survivors? A repository can and should be created, where the voices and memories can be captured and retained for posterity in rich media formats -- this will allow for cross referencing and cross-border links to be created via social media, thereby enabling erstwhile friends and neighbors to find each other and meet again with each other, either virtually or physically (remember that great ad created by Google which enabled two childhood friends from Lahore to meet each other because of the efforts of their respective grand-kids?). It is time to put the bitterness aside and ensure that the hatred does not carry forward, across generations, as Zubeida Mustafa has so wisely said.
r sultan Apr 24, 2017 12:01pm
Biggest tragedy in human history. We are still living with the wounds it caused. unimaginative leadership and poisoned minds that ignored humanity.
Saif ZulfIqar Apr 24, 2017 12:11pm
The history of partition of sub-continent is not very pleasant. Forget the past and do not look behind, if you can.
Mohd Apr 24, 2017 12:12pm
The great divide created in humanity through color creed , religion and race are for political reason , we the common people are merely the pawns in the game who are blind to see the truth
satt Apr 24, 2017 12:15pm
What British used to call the country when they first arrived in India.
Muhamad Khursheed Apr 24, 2017 12:18pm
Great service!Please also think about preserving the witnesses for events related to separation of East Pakistan ( emergence of Bangladesh).
Pray for pakistan Apr 24, 2017 12:18pm
And where do we stand as nation after lapse of 70 years. Divided distinctively in Ethnic, religious, cast, creed and secterian units , merely 20 crore within. Time to reunite by social justice, equal sharing of power and of course with concrete binding in brotherhood among or keep recalling nightmares for years to come.
Dr BN Anand Apr 24, 2017 12:31pm
Sir, my story is quite horrible. We had migrated from Logan when the city was burning and arson all around. My parents holding two of my small brothers and holding me by finger were walking barefooted and mocking of pagans all around in city. We could safely without any incident simply walk to the cantonment where we took shelter in a Gurdwara. After staying in there for some days, ultimately we boarded a train to Lahore and from there further in Frontier mail to a safe surroundings in Muzaffarnagar in the middle of night. The train was carrying murdered people but we were lucky and survived. The rest is a long story of survival and growth.
M. Emad Apr 24, 2017 01:06pm
Any 'Stories of 1971 Partition from those who witnessed it' ?
Thoroughthinker Apr 24, 2017 01:15pm
On one of the 14th August celebrations in a foreign country, I found an old acquaintance missing. Next day when asked his reason for being absent, he very emotionally replied that, 14th of August was his biggest mourning day of of life because he had lost his entire family on that day in migration from India.
aRIF Apr 24, 2017 01:25pm
After 70 years when we see present India where miniorties are not safe in the hand of Hindus then we feel in 1947 our leaders were very much understand the situation of future india and they work for separate land for muslim. At present Goa Mata is more precious than miniorities blood in india. Dellite, muslim, cristian, sikh nobody feel safe in India. No govt job is available for muslim of India and Hindus corner the miniorities from getting job. If anybody know the history when Congress made the govt in british india at that time they started to corner the muslim from govt jobs.
Rp Apr 24, 2017 01:28pm
My wish is one day both will be together ..wish love will prevail hate with those small number carry in there mind. Before hurt eachother may arrogants get admit, we are the same having different costume of religion.. love this motherland..
JKhan Apr 24, 2017 01:40pm
The narrators seem to have chosen to negate two nation theory; a trend promoted by such persons. I was also six years old and can vividly recall a Kashmir Pundit woman shreiking when I touched her plate or glass while my father was in a Hospital in Srinagar. I can never be more grateful to Mr Jinnah for giving us separate Homeland.
Pakhtun Apr 24, 2017 02:12pm
@Dr BN Anand : As some writer said, "it was a surgery without anesthesia". Hundreds of thousands like you suffered. I am not sure if any lesson was learnt or if there was a lesson to be learnt. I am glad that yours is a happy ending. But mind you, even today, frightened parents are clutching their the hands of their young kids and hurrying towards safety. May the creator take care of his creation, because we as humans have failed.
Useless Apr 24, 2017 08:08pm
@anon very true. This hatred must end.
schabboo Khan Apr 25, 2017 12:02am
@aRIF It is easy the speculate on negative outcomes but those should not be the only ones to consider. Without partition the Muslims would have constituted anywhere between 35 to 40 percent of the population. Along with other minorities such as the Sikhs, Christian and Dalits they would have had made a huge constituency in democratic elections. Further, without the incredibly large proportion of the budget being spent on Military on both sides of the border much more would have been available for education and other social program that would have raised the quality of life a less strife among the different groups who basically compete for limited resources when they fight. So, it could have gone either way.
Jamil Soomro, NEW YORK CITY Apr 25, 2017 07:00am
@M. Emad Correct your History. The British made the Majority Muslim areas of British India namely East Bengal,Sindh,Balochistan,Punjab,NWFP to be called Pakistan in 1947 and not 1971? This article is about the Partition read one more time.
hasnain Apr 25, 2017 09:44am
Great idea someone realized and collecting the otherwise lost stories, can be a reminder for future generations of what their grand parents have lost for their country. I want to suggest please go to the old areas of Karachi where you will find many suffered families. They will tell you how they have worked for what they have gave-up and they have given for newly created country.
Reader Apr 25, 2017 10:17am
@Useless . Totally agree, we ( all humans) are a link in this chain, and the chain is as strong as its weakest link, remove hatred, and this chain called humanity becomes strong, needless to say the opposite is also true.
aslam shaikh1 Apr 25, 2017 02:19pm
These are all stories of people who had it easy. Stories should also be shared of people who lost all their families migrating at the time of partition.
Sameer Apr 25, 2017 02:58pm
@M. Emad thats you job.