Kids Corner

Images: Above, photo bu Matgaret Bourke-White. Below - painting by Satish Gujral.


The Brighter Side of Midnight




There were instances of Muslims rescuing Hindus and vice versa at great risk to themselves. Sociologist Ashish Nandy says these account for at least 25% to 30% of all those who were saved from death at the hands of a mob. This is no exaggeration. The positive stories have largely remained untold. They were obscured by the larger tension and hatred.

Professor Mushirul Hasan, historian and former vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University, was one of the first to highlight such stories, especially the one about Khushdeva Singh, a Sikh doctor, who rescued many Muslims. So has Urvashi Butalia in "The Other Side of Silence"and Yasmin Khan in "The Great Divide".

A recent Ford Foundation project by Nandy and Rajmohan Gandhi stands out as something that specifically deals with the humane side of Partition and is helping the process of reconciliation begin. Its aim is to document the experiences of survivors. Some of their findings are revealing.

First, the religious preacher would often save individuals belonging to the other community. This might come as something of a surprise because faith has long been presented as the main cause of Partition and the bloodshed that followed. But, religious shrines were used to hide people and generally, it was women and children who were saved.

Some survivors had remarkable stories to tell, not least the one about a senior Muslim politician who sent his Muslim servants to escort his non-Muslim friends to a camp. The servants killed some of their master's friends. The politician murdered his servants when he learnt of their betrayal. This episode underlines the way values such as friendship and honour shone through the violence of Partition. Till now, Partition literature spoke reams about revenge and attacks by one community on the other, but it seldom mentioned the other human emotions on display.

For instance, a Muslim family migrating from Amritsar to Lahore, took with them two Sikh girls whose father was abroad at the time. Taking the girls along was a perilous thing to do in the circumstances. But the upshot was that they were saved and later returned to Amritsar.

Fahmeeda Bano, widow of Muhammad Yahsin, who rescued the girls, reminisces, "We thought that these young girls should not be left alone. We took them as a part of our family - as our own children. So we all came to Pakistan. However, on our way to Lahore, we saw several dead bodies by the railway track. Finally, when we reached Lahore, they stayed with our family for two months. In October 1947, when the tense atmosphere of killing and violence abated, my husband went back to India with them. Without much difficulty, the girls were reunited with their father."

Bano's son, Awais Sheikh, heads an NGO, Pak-India Peace Initiatives, and represents Sarabjit Singh, the Indian who has been in prison in Pakistan for two decades.

Parkash Tandon, businessman and writer, says that until August 14, 1947, many non-Muslims were not sure they would have to migrate to India. In fact, they unfurled the flag of Pakistan. Research reveals that some Sikhs too unfurled the Pakistani flag.

Oral history has been critical in piecing together individual experiences of the other side of a cataclysmic and traumatic event.


[Courtesy: Times of India]

August 15, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Plate (Massachusetts, U.S.A.), August 15, 2010, 12:22 PM.

I am glad that this article was published and it shows the humanity in the midst of horror and hatred. However, the fact remains that 60 years later, the Sikh community is still reeling from its losses (land, people and shrines). How many non-muslims live in Pakistan today? Compare that to how many Muslims are there in India today.

Comment on "The Brighter Side of Midnight"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.