Kids Corner


Who Was That Man ...?







My Muslim family had lived in Amritsar for generations. We, the Pals, were carpet-sellers and weavers who became lawyers and joined British India’s educated class in the early 1900s.

Our family owned property and were active in the community life of the Sikh holy city. Both my uncles had clients from all faiths in their legal practice.

My grandfather wanted to stay on in Amritsar after the Partition of Punjab and the creation of Pakistan and India. But this was not to be.

In June 1947, rioting erupted in Amritsar as well, involving Sikhs and Muslims.

In the Muslim neighbourhood where my family lived, gangs of Muslim vigilantes demanded protection money. As violence escalated, my grandfather decided that the family had to be ready to weather the storm in Lahore, 20 miles away, soon to be part of Pakistan.

A house was rented in a Muslim neighbourhood in Lahore.

On August 8, a Sikh friend of the family came to warn them that it was no longer safe. It was time to leave Amritsar.

A few hours later, the Sikh friend was back, driving a hearse. At great risk to himself, he drove the hearse to the Amritsar railway station. Inside were eight veiled female members of my family, including my grandmother. My father and his two brothers went to the station separately, meeting the women there. My grandfather and great-uncles planned to join them in Lahore in a couple of days.

Taking only what they could carry, my family boarded the train to Lahore. They carried no food, just some water. My grandfather’s library, clothes, furniture, the detritus of family life, were all left behind. They sat silently on hard third class benches in the crawling train as it made its hot and dusty way to Lahore, a trip that usually took 35 minutes.

My grandmother, weeping silently, clutched a flour sack containing a samovar and some pots. One of these pots is now in my house in Canada.

After two nerve-wracking hours my family reached Lahore. Later my family learned that theirs had been the only train from Amritsar to Lahore that was not attacked that day. My father went to the Lahore railway station countless times trying to find his father and uncles. Most trains arrived laden with bloody corpses, rotting in the monsoon heat.

Several days later my grandfather and his brothers showed up at the rented house. The Sikh friend had again driven them to the border at Wagha, from where they continued their journey to Lahore.

The Pals were lucky -- and safe.

My family never returned to Amritsar.

They learned their home had been ransacked by thugs and burnt to the ground. Eventually, my family moved into a house in Lahore that had been abandoned by a Hindu lawyer. They rebuilt their lives; my grandfather re-established his law practice and my father, having escaped the terror of Partition, nearly died of cholera in 1948.

Eight years after the Partition of Punjab, my father left Pakistan for Canada, where he lived for 58 years until his death in 2013.

Writings about Partition invariably tend to focus on the victims. Little mention is made of the many unknown heroes who helped save lives.

Who was that Sikh man, a friend of one of my father’s uncles, who came to forewarn our family, and without whose help I might not be alive today? I asked my father, but he shook his head sadly and told me he couldn’t remember the name.

I often wonder about him. What did he look like? Is he still alive?

Is there a Sikh family in Amritsar that had been told the story of their relative who helped save a Muslim family during Partition? Did he save others as well?

Maybe the hero who saved the Pals is out there. If he is, I would like to simply say ‘Thank you’ on behalf of my family.

[Courtesy: The Hindu Newspaper. Edited for]
August 4, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: R Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), August 04, 2015, 1:32 PM.

I was at a lecture given by Tarek Ali from England. He said that there has never been a memorial to the approximately three million victims of the Partition of Punjab and the subcontinent.

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), August 04, 2015, 5:28 PM.

The Sikhs are a peaceful people despite their 'warrior' fame. The 'Warrior' title is preceded by 'Saint'. The Sikh Saint-Warrior always defends the downtrodden and fights tyranny. So this Sikh who saved this Muslim family was acting out Guru Gobind Singh's words and should be remembered with all other extraordinary Sikh heroes. The Partition of Punjab was an evil on a scale unmatched in human history and the fallout still haunts the region and its inhabitants!

3: Amarjit Singh Chandan (London, United Kingdom), August 05, 2015, 1:50 AM.

Thanks to a true gurmukh the Pals were lucky to have escaped the wrath of "the warrior" Akãl Sena led by Sohan Singh Jalãlusma, Darshan Singh Pheruman, Udham Singh Nagoke, Ishar Singh Majhail and Sardul Singh ‘Advocate’. The Akãl Sena lynched many innocent Muslims in Amritsar district in 1947. They also tortured and killed Gehal Singh of village Chhjjalvaddi who was trying to save Muslims.

4: Harsaran Singh (Indonesia), August 06, 2015, 8:19 AM.

Dear Amarjit Singh ji: I fail to understand what historic record you are quoting from to accuse Darshan Singh Pheruman and Udham Singh Nagoke as being among the rioters. While there is no doubt that the events unfolding during the partition led to large scale atrocities on both sides, it is unfair to level allegations against any individual without any historic proof. During the Jaito Morcha, Mahatma Gandhi described the success of the Gurdwara Agitation as the first victory in the battle for India's independence. This morcha was led by Pheruman. During the Calcutta congress convention of 1944 it was Pheruman who urged Jinnah to drop the ill conceived two-nation theory and work for Sikh-Muslim unity which could lead to betterment for both communities. S. Udham Singh Nagoke was among the "Trio of Majha", the other two being Giani Kartar Singh and Mohan Singh who played a pivotal role in setting up a number of relief camps for refugees from the Lahore side and also send volunteers to help Muslim families from Delhi to reach Lahore safely. Irrespective of the political affiliations of the above individuals it is not proper to term them as "rioters" which in fact is a myth floated by the RSS and the Jan Sangh in their distortion of facts of the partition history which tries to give no credit to the sacrifices of Sikh leaders for Independent India.

5: Kaala Singh (Punjab), August 06, 2015, 12:08 PM.

It is no secret that the leader-less and rudder-less Sikhs played in to the hands of the Hindus and fought a war with their own Punjabi brethren whilst they should have been thinking and acting to protect their own interests. It is no secret that the so-called Sikh leaders of those times prominent among them being Tara Singh, Baldev Singh and Swaran Singh, were being manipulated by the Congress. Talking about the maturity of the Sikh leaders of those times -- in that emotionally charged atmosphere in the Muslim majority Punjab, Tara Singh being remotely controlled by Nehru, drew his kirpan in front of the Punjab assembly, vowing to keep India united. Right after this, the riots started in Rawalpindi and many other areas in which hundreds of Sikhs were killed. Considering the prevailing atmosphere he should have lay low and should have worked to safeguard Sikh interests. While Muslims were led by able British educated lawyers like MA Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan and Hindus again were led by British educated lawyers -- Nehru, Gandhi and Patel, the Sikhs were led by illiterate buffoons -- not unlike today's Punjab politicians! -- and the result was a total disaster for the Sikhs.

6: Kaala Singh (Punjab), August 06, 2015, 2:09 PM.

For those who are not aware, the British had offered a homeland to the Sikhs starting from Karnal (now in Haryana) to Nanakana Sahib (now in Pakistan) with access to the sea and had also offered to station troops to secure this state. Why was this offer not accepted? Why the hurry to join India? Even if the Sikh leaders wanted to join India they should have negotiated and secured a proper agreement. Had the Sikhs accepted this offer, British troops would have stayed on in Punjab and this bloodshed could have been controlled. The geographical location of Punjab is such that India would have agreed to any conditions put forth by the Sikhs. Punjab is the only link India has to J&K and Himachal where all the water resources originate and flow into India via Punjab. India could not afford to lose Punjab. It was not for nothing that both Pakistan and India wanted Sikhs to join them. What happened to Sikhs in India would have happened even in Pakistan so the only viable option was to have our own homeland. We could have become a trans-shipment hub between India and Central Asia. While Muslim and Hindu leaders knew this, the Sikh leaders did not, the rest is history. The Sikhs lost a historic opportunity to become a great nation and nobody could have dared touch us. Sadly, that was not to be. The Sikhs should know that when Indians say that the Sikhs are their own, they are not interested in us, they are interested in the strategically located land of Punjab.

7: Kaala Singh (Punjab), August 06, 2015, 11:24 PM.

Sikhs could have easily secured limited autonomy with control over everything except defence and foreign affairs, which is a Quebec-like status if not anything else. Like Canada literally pays Quebec to make them stay, India would have paid us to keep Punjab within India if only there were proper negotiations and a documented agreement. Autonomy would have ensured no interference from mainstream Indian politicians and hence no problems in Punjab. We could have charged them for providing transit facilities instead of begging for grants. All this requires visionary thinking but wait, can the likes of our current 'leadership' possess a vision? It is therefore a necessity to create an institution of highly educated people who can provide a vision and a direction.

8: Kaala Singh (Punjab), August 08, 2015, 5:01 AM.

In my view the British wanted to retain a foothold in this strategically important land and that is why they offered the Sikhs a homeland and to station troops. This could have been something like the Falklands and would have been a win-win situation for both of us. What were our leaders thinking, what did they hope to get from a country like India where even after 67 years of "independence" 80% of the population starves and kills for a small amount of money? We would have been much better becoming a British protectorate, if not anything else.

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