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Separate Lives

Amritsar, India - an elderly Sikh woman boards a train. Photo credit: AP
Amritsar, India - an elderly Sikh woman boards a train for a tour of Sikh shrines in Pakistan. Since Partition in 1947, devotees have been separated from shrines and sacred sites - including the birthplace of the religion's founder, Guru Nanak - by the border

Separate lives


Riots, division, gold smuggling and mass relocation. Mohammad Zahid tells some of the personal stories of Partition

Independence for India, and the Partition that accompanied it in August 1947, was marred by some of the bloodiest mass violence in history. Some 10m Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were uprooted from homes and villages where they had lived together for centuries. Neither Pakistan nor India was able to cope with the mad exodus and vast population exchanges, as people rushed to relocate according to religion.

Chaos and mutual animosity spilled over into violence, and up to one million people were killed in the ensuing riots. This tragedy was compounded by the separation of tens of thousands of families by the newly created border. Sixty years on, the bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan remains a hurdle to their reunion.

The first shot

In a small village of the Mardan district in North-West Frontier Province, a 93-year-old man, Mr Sher, still remembers with nostalgia the religious and community harmony between Muslim, Hindu and Sikh. "Then all of a sudden, one summer noon, when the women were preparing lunch, the first shot was fired, a young Sikh was killed near the daramsal (a Hindu temple). Oh my God how his father was crying, 'meray bachay' (my son)," recalls Sher. "Then came looting and arson attacks."

The harmony was broken. Women, children and old men were separated from their neighbours and taken to the daramsal. After two days the police escorted them to the station to take the first train to the Indian border town of Amritsar. Among them was Sher's Sikh friend, Hari Singh.

Sher didn't hear from Singh again until the early 1970s, when he received a letter from the town of Rampur, Uttar Pradesh in India. It was from his old friend seeking help to trace his brother-in-law. After years of searching they did trace the brother but, like thousands of others, Sheikh Fazlur Rahman (now a converted Muslim) never made it to see his sister. Sher doesn't know whether they are dead or alive now.

"As soon as Partition was declared the violence erupted. First in Bihar - then engulfing the whole region" Sardar Khaled Mahmood Durrani
Sardar Khaled Mahmood Durrani, now in his eighties, is still haunted by the horrors he witnessed on the Indian side of the border. Durrani was chief security officer for India's last viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and witnessed much of the upheaval. "As soon as Partition was declared, the violence erupted - first in Bihar and then engulfing the whole region. But the worst I saw was in East Punjab [now India] and West Punjab [West Pakistan]. So many Muslims were murdered. I still have nightmares when I remember the carnage on the train by which I was bringing refugees to Pakistan.
"As soon as the train reached Lahore and we opened the wagons, everywhere there were dead bodies - children, pregnant women, young and old." They had fallen victim to attacks by Sikh and Hindu mobs along the journey - an all-too-common occurrence for refugee trains.

"The people sacrificed so much for the creation of Pakistan," says Durrani, "but when we came, the treasury was empty. The new government hired a gold smuggler to bring money from Hyderabad Deccan. I was part of the adventure and brought 40m rupees to Karachi, in ten boxes."
Durrani also recalls how he took snaps of Lord Mountbatten's letters, passing the documents on to the Muslim League leadership. His regret is evident as he talks of the social and economic inequalities in Pakistan and the prevalence of sectarian killings. "We struggled so much. If we had anticipated the injustices in this society we would have not supported the creation of a new country for Muslims."

Community spirit

Among the fighting, there were incidences where community feeling endured. Abdul Wahid Durrani was a young sportsman in 1947. He remembers how, during the violence in the southern Pakistan city of Quetta, where he lived, he provided burqas to Hindu men and women who had sought refuge in his home, and escorted them to the station, effectively saving their lives.

In the North-West Frontier Province, local people protected whole villages of Hindu and Sikh communities, where some still live today. In the remote town of Chaman, near the Afghan border, Haji Mohammad Ali, a businessman, recalls the multicultural colours of the town. "The Sikhs went to the gurdwara, the Hindu to the daramsal and Muslims to the mosque."

Chaman's was once a busy rail station; fruit from Afghanistan was transported in cargo trains and in just four days made its welcome arrival in Bombay, Calcutta and elsewhere. Now that rail network, once an engineering wonder, is a shambles.

A coincidence of birth - the Indian Prime Minsiter, Manmohan Singh, was born in a village near Islamabad while Pakistan's President Musharraf hails from New Delhi - adds a certain poignancy.

While New Delhi and Islamabad are stocking their arsenals, people from both countries are still searching for missing relatives. Others indulge in nostalgic
fantasies of the past - the train from Chaman to Calcutta, or the revival of trade caravans on the Silk route... Perhaps hoping to restore the stolen beauty to this region.

Mohammad Zahid
Mohammad Zahid is a producer for BBC World Service's Pashto service. He was formerly a reporter in Pakistan

BBC World will broadcast a season of programming to tie in with the anniversary

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