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1947 & 1984 – Anecdotes from India’s Darkest Moments in History

Talkpoint captures real-life narratives, haunting anecdotes from survivors of the Partition of 1947, and the 1984 Sikh pogrom. These tales act as lessons from history that form a basis for further introspection for the present.

  1. Mr. Surinder Nath Malhotra narrates his experience of the Partition.

At the time when we had to move across the border and flee Rawalpindi, I was only 6 years old. So I don’t remember much but there are still a couple of things etched in my memory. I distinctly remember my parents panicking because we were on the verge of missing what turned out to be the last train that crossed the border without being hit by people who had started killing those commuting to the other side. Another thing that stands out to me was that even though there was so much chaos and so many people were trying to get their families safely to the other side of the border. There was pin drop silence in the Lahore station because no one wanted to spook the Nawabs and Mohammedans who had taken up the responsibility of killing the remaining Hindus in Rawalpindi. During the days leading up to us having to move, things had gotten really out of hand. Everyone knew what was coming and it came to a point where even looking out from our window which faced the road at night could potentially put our family in danger.

The violence erupted was actually sown by the British. During India’s partition, it wasn’t just about the territorial boundaries. It was more about the displacement of people from one side of the border to the other, which led to the violence. Had the people on either side be allowed to live there after the territorial lines were drawn, then maybe the amount of violence could have been mitigated.

Overall, the partition was a bad experience for me and my family. After we moved to India, we lived in a room without any basic amenities for almost 11-12 years. My father was unable to set-up and establish a bookstore in India, similar to the one we had in Rawalpindi. There was another book store right next to ours, which somehow got all the business and it was difficult for us to even earn Rs. 2-3 per day as well. The only reason we were able to sustain ourselves was that my Mother’s family was in India prior to the Partition and agreed to help us out. Education, friends, going to play and other things that were easily available to us in Rawalpindi soon became distant dreams after we moved across the border. My father passed away soon after we came to India and the burden to earn for the house came down to me and my brother at the ages of 15 and 19 respectively. It’s been a very hard road from that time to now, but even when I look back at it now it brings back bad memories and experiences that I try to block out.

  1. Mr. Kamaljit Singh narrates his experience of the Sikh Massacre.

It was a very painful experience for me. I remember that back then I was working with Western Electronics limited in the Okhla Industrial Enclave in New Delhi. I came to know about the incident around noon that day that Indira Gandhi had been assassinated. What followed immediately after that will be etched in my memory forever. After my factory closed, like every other day, I took the local transport to go back to my home. When we neared Safdarjung, a group of people who had organised themselves from the nearby village, stopped the bus. They wanted to hurt all the Sikh people in the bus. They proceeded to take off my turban and started pelting stones at us. I somehow managed to run off to the basement of the nearby Hyatt Regency hotel and made sure that I hid there for one whole night. I still remember the noise of the chaos that erupted in the nearby roads; the burning of the cars and tyres by this angry mob. Violence had erupted on the street.

The next day, the hotel people asked us to vacate the premises as some people had to come to know that some of us were hiding in the basement. On November 1st, we shifted to Hotel Ashoka, near the Embassy Road. During the transit, people who were dressed as police came near us and started hitting us with their rifle butts. I got hit and fell unconscious. Luckily a lady police officer from the Delhi Police came off to give shelter to us. The mob was running wild. They wanted to put all the unconscious people into one van and blow off the van! But thanks to that lady officer, who I later came to know was Kiran Bedi, she took all the injured/ unconscious people to the Ram Lohia Hospital. I regained consciousness 10 hours later and woke up with 48 stitches to my head.

My family on the other hand was worried sick as I hadn’t returned home for a few days. On 31st October, my brother left in search of me and travelled to my aunt’s house near Jangpura extension and he came safe. My sister and mother, who stayed at home, were luckily rescued by the army and transported to an army shelter. Later we came to know that the mob had burnt our houses in Palam Colony and nothing was left. After 16 days, I was reunited with my family. Punishing the entire community for the crimes committed by one or two members of the community is totally unlawful! I pray that it should never happen in the future.

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