Partition: An Oral History

AP Photo

By Harnoor Kashmir Khungar 

My forefathers began their journey from Pakistan to India on August 14, 1947, shortly after the announcement of the partition; it was the most difficult and uncertain journey they had ever undertaken. Regardless of their religious identity, they had lived a very normal life without any fear in Pakistan before the partition. So the announcement of the partition came as a shock to those who were expected to move to India.

The attempts to form a Congress-Muslim League coalition came to an unsuccessful end in the 1930s. Congress was unable to accept the Muslim League as the sole representative organization of Indian Muslims as it would undermine the Congress’ claim to be a national party representing all Indians irrespective of class and creed. Paradoxically, however, the Congress’ rejection of the League followed by a series of faux pas such as the imposition of Hindustani as the national language strengthened the perception of Congress as a Hindu party and a threat to the culture and identity of Muslims. In short, the struggle for independence became a three-way struggle between the British, the Congress, and the Muslim League and led to the demand for a separate homeland for Muslims and eventually the Partition that displaced about 15 million people.

The journey began from Vasuasthana village (Jhang zilla) in West Punjab (part of Pakistan). My grandparents tell me that no arrangements had been made by the governing bodies in Pakistan, so they were on their own. Some of the local people of Pakistan brutally killed, raped, and invaded the houses of the people who wanted to come to India. They could not pack their valuable belongings or even some basic necessities. When they started their journey, the clothes they were wearing were their only belongings. After they got out of their houses they managed to make it to the local mandi and stayed there for a day expecting the circumstances to get slightly more favorable for them to walk to the railway station. The next morning, they started walking towards Shorkot Tehsil (a city in Pakistan) as they had to catch the train to India from the Shorkot railway station. After almost two days of walking and trying not to get killed by the mob, they got something to eat in Shorkot which was arranged by the Indian government. Then they took a goods train to come to India. The train was jam-packed and people were also sitting on the roof of the train because their ultimate aim was to reach their destination alive.

While they were traveling there were several attempts by the extremists to rape or forcefully marry their women. In fact, there were several young women who were killed by their family itself in order to preserve the “family honor”. All of them were safe when they boarded the train but the biggest hurdle was yet to come. It happened when the train was about to reach the Attari station (Amritsar, India), a place located near the Wagha border shared by India and Pakistan. The train was stopped before the station, and the extremists got into the train and started killing innocent people. However, as per my grandparents when Vallabh Bhai Patel (The first Deputy Prime Minister of India) found out about this incident he issued a warning that if Indians don’t reach here safely he won’t allow the trains going to Pakistan to go through Indian borders. As per them, it was only because of this act that they were able to reach the Attari station, as everyone on the trains that left before this train was killed, and when those other trains arrived in India, they were filled with blood. When they reached Atari there were necessary arrangements for food and clothes made by the Indian government. Then they traveled to Kurukshetra where my grandparents stayed in the refugee camps for some days before they were shifted to another refugee camp in Katni.

The challenge they faced when they arrived in India was settling into a new place. In fact, according to my grandparents, this challenge was made somewhat easy by the interim government of India which was extremely helpful in assigning jobs to them based on their skills, allocating housing, and allowing them to live and practice agriculture. The locals were also extremely helpful and welcoming. On the other hand, I’ve heard stories about refugees being discriminated against and deprived of care and protection; however, this was not the case with my ancestors when they arrived in India.

The Partition Cannot Sever Affective Ties

The partition eventually might have divided people by borders or across lands, but nevertheless, one thing which has always been significant is the bond between people transcending the border differences. In fact, there has always been an urge amongst people across both nations to go and visit the countries which were once part of the same state. One of the best examples of this case could be Khushwant Singh. He was born in the village of Hadali, Punjab (part of Pakistan). He spent his childhood years there, but when the partition became unavoidable, he was forced to relocate to India, the newly formed country. He spent the rest of his days in New Delhi, dreaming of a day when he would be able to return to his homeland at least once, if not multiple times. However, his desire to return to his roots never came true, at least not during his lifetime. Like many other Indians who had friends, homes, and relatives in Pakistan couldn’t believe they were no longer a part of the same country, couldn’t visit the same places without restrictions or border checks, and, most importantly, couldn’t live with the same neighbors with whom they had spent decades of their lives.

Khushwant was furious that the place he once called home had become a foreign country. However, he was not alone. Rather, there were many others who shared the same pain as many Indians and their brethren shared across the other part of the border. This pain of not being able to visit his homeland finally came to rest when his death came near. He died and eventually found a way to go back to his birthplace; it was his ashes and soul which got the opportunity to go back where he belonged, an occasion he strived for throughout his living days. It was his friend from Pakistan, Fakir Syed Aijazudiin, a columnist and journalist, who took his ashes and mixed them with cement to construct a marble plaque in memory of someone who represented the emotions of millions of people on both sides of borders. The plaque still remains intact and the person on whose memory it was erected depicts the pain, emotions, and sorrows of innumerable people of both divided countries.

While the partition was in progress, women who were trying to cross the borders became a very easy target for the mob. Women were killed and raped on both sides of the border. Many women committed suicide in order to preserve their ‘honor’. So, here’s a story about a pregnant woman told by one of my uncles who traveled to India following the partition. The story mentioned below is just an experience of one woman but it also gives us a general idea about the condition of women woman during the partition:

A pregnant woman was traveling with a group. Because her condition was not good, the group decided to leave her in a small Pakistani village and continue on their journey, as everyone was trying to save their own lives at the time. When we arrived at that location, we noticed her and decided to take her with us. We also promised her that if we were able to protect ourselves from the mob, we would do the same for her. When we were in that village hiding from the frenzied mob we went trying not to get killed, we met some cooperative locals as well, they were ready to help us to escape the place. As they say, all the five fingers of our hand are not alike, similarly not all local people in new Pakistan were discriminative towards minorities. Some of them were cooperative in nature. But the problem was that the good ones were also afraid of the mob. Still, we managed to escape the place.

In today’s world, an event like India’s partition is extremely unlikely to occur, but I believe that the history of the partition is still relevant because India and Pakistan still have a tense relationship even after 75 years of the partition. Several governments attempted to stabilize this relationship after partition by opening bus routes and through trade, but their relationship remains unstable due to several other factors such as their disagreement on the Kashmir issue and strategic issues such as the acquisition of nuclear weapons. In addition, there are many people who were displaced but are still attached to their birthplace. So the history of the partition is still alive in those families who were displaced during the partition. Whenever my grandparents or others tell me stories about the partition, I always wonder how different my life would have been if the Congress and the Muslim League had agreed to a coalition. The partition is also a lesson for the global community because we learned how a conflict between two communities can result in mass destruction, migration, and death, and it may teach us how to prevent such conflicts on a global scale.


Adnan Farooqui & E. Sridharan (2016) Can umbrella parties survive? The decline of the Indian National Congress, Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 54:3, 331-361.

Pandey, D. (1978). Congress-Muslim League Relations 1937–39: ‘The Parting of the Ways’. Modern Asian Studies12(4), 629-654.

Press Trust of India (April 23, 2014). Khushwant Singh’s desire to be buried in Pakistan comes true.

Singh, K. (1988). Train to Pakistan. Orient Blackswan.

Harnoor Kashmir Khungar
is a first-year B.A. Honours student at Ahmedabad University, majoring in economics and minoring in political science. He completed his high school at Center Point School, Nagpur. His areas of interest are sustainable development, politics and climate change.


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2 thoughts

  1. How horrible. I had no idea of this blot on history in the year I was born! Thanks for sharing, as hard as it was to read. If only such behavior was sealed safely in the past, but I fear it is still present in the world.


    1. हे बच्चे….आपने अपने आप में छुपे हुए अपने बुजुर्गो के दर्द को बया किया। मेरी बेटी ने यह लिंक मुझे भेजी …में कभी एक ही बारी में नहीं पढ़ पता… पर बच्चे आपकी लिखाई में जो दर्द बया हो रहा था वो मुझे पूरा पढ़ने से रोक नहीं पाया।

      Liked by 1 person

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