With the ecstasy of Independence came the horror of Partition, trauma that the subcontinent is yet to get closure to. With the #WomenOfPartition series, we seek to document first hand oral narratives from women who have lived through those dark days so the next generation knows and understands that freedom came at a horrific price.
Shakuntala Gupta recounts her story as five siblings who left for India with their maternal grandfather. Even though they hoped to return to Ranjit Singh Pura, her grandmother’s murder turned the idea of Independence into something completely different.
We used to live in a corner of RS Pura, or Ranjit Singh Pura, also known as Nawashehr since it was the first planned city of Jammu & Kashmir. It was a part of Jammu that shared the border with Pakistan. When partition happened, people started killing each other. We were five siblings, three brothers, and two sisters. I was a child of 8-9 years at the time. Every day, our relatives would come to take the children of the house out at night and drop us back in the morning. It was not safe for us to stay home at night.
Also read: Kishwar Desai’s ‘The Partition Museum Project’ is one of a kind in the world
“If the Kabali come to you, then don’t let them catch you. If they come after you, make a run for it and jump into the Basantar, but come what may don’t let them catch you.”
My maternal grandparents used to live in Mulla, which is now in Pakistan. All the children were with them that day. The villagers told my grandparents to leave with the children because the outsiders were coming. My Grandfather (Nana) agreed, but My Grandmother (Nani) refused to leave. They used to call the Muslims, Kabalis. We were told, “If the Kabali come to you, then don’t let them catch you. If they come after you, make a run for it and jump into the Basantar, but come what may don’t let them catch you.” I can still remember those words, and how scared I was! My cousin who was older at the time can recount gory details that I was luckily too young to remember.
We left with my Nana. People were serving boiled chanas with chapatis on the way. We went to another place in Jammu. We started living in Jammu for a while, and then the relatives came to pick us up to go to Amritsar. I still recall that it took us three days to reach Amritsar. Once we reached, we stayed in the abandoned Muslim homes in Amritsar. We never went back to RS Pura, even though my Nana always expected to return to his home. In fact, he didn’t even bother to carry any of his belongings with him when he left. He took all the jewellery and money, put it inside a pot and buried it in the farm-land. He could never go back for it.
We didn’t know that we would never be able to go back! My Nani was murdered after 15-20 days. I don’t remember the celebrations of independence.
As shared by Leher Sethi, to whom Shakuntala Gupta narrated the story. These are emotional stories shared by those who experienced the partition between India and Pakistan and were personally affected by it. The view’s are the author’s own, not that of SheThePeople.
Also read: Aanchal Malhotra’s Book Looks at Partition Through Material Memory