Common People and Partition of India
Recollections of M. Tufail Uppal.
Penned down by Nasim Hassan,
My name is Mohammed Tufail Uppal. I was born in Raja Sansi, a town in India on December 20 th 1921. The town is located about eleven kilometers north-west of the city of Amritsar on Ajnala Road. While I approach the 90th year of my life I would like to recall my firsthand experience of the Partition of India.
Our family lived for over a century in Raja Sansi. My ancestors Kishan Lal and Bishan Lal moved from Rajisthan to Raja Sansi, Punjab, in 1798. They converted to Islam from Hinduism at the hands of a local Sufi Saint. They continued to live in Rajisthan but faced opposition from other Hindu relatives. Then they decided to move to Punjab and settled in Raja Sansi.
Raja Sansi in pre-Partition days was a town of about 10,000 people. Muslims were in the majority and formed about 60% of the population while Hindus and Sikhs constituted the remaining 40%. Raja Sansi had a post office, telegraph office, hospital and animal husbandry hospital. The town had five mosques, two Hindu temples and one Sikh Gurudwara.
Looking back I can see Kachehry Road originating from the Raja Sansi train station. On the Kachehry Road span from Amritsar to Ajnala, a road lead to Raja Sansi. It had trees lined up on both sides. You could see the bungalow of Sardar Raghubir Singh on the left and at little distance from there was the Animal Hospital. Sardar Raghubir Singh was the biggest landlord of the area and also an honorary magistrate. He had a Muslim Nnumberdar named Mehar Din. After a crossing there was a Middle School. A few hundred yards ahead was the main bazaar of Raja Sansi.
There were grocery stores, clothing shops, a Hindu temple and a post office at the end. From the main bazaar there were side streets going to Muslim, Hindu and Sikh neighborhoods. Although there were some Muslim families in Hindu areas and some Sikh families in Muslim areas there was segregation between the communities. The streets were named Sheikhan Di Gali, Sajjan Di Gali, Loharan Di Gali and Arainyan Di Gali.
During those days people went to Amritsar for higher education and business on tongas or bicycles. Raja Sansi had a middle school called the District Board Middle Anglo Vernacular School. After 8 th grade the students had to go to Ajnala or Amritsar. From the surrounding villages a number of students walked for miles to come to this school. The primary school was up to 4 th grade. There were several Muslim teachers in the school. The head master was Mohan Singh Puri and second head master was Nazar Hussain Quereshi.
After primary education the students could select English or Persian as a language. While majority of Hindus chose English, most of the Muslims opted for the Persian language. I can recall the names of a few of Sikh classmates: Kalyan Singh, Makhan Singh and Amar Das, Deevan Chand, Manoher Lal and Gurdayal Mal. All of us had very good friendly relations.
There was a primary girls school where majority of students were from Hindu families. Muslims and Sikh girls were in a small minority.
People of all religions lead a harmonious life and there was no religious or ethnic violence. Muslims had friendly relations with Sikhs and Hindus. People participated in all local community festivals. Sikhs and Hindus participated in the Urs of local Dargah.
I selected Persian first and then switched over to English after one year of middle school. I faced competition with classmates Amar Das, Devan Chand and Manohar Lal. After middle school, I continued my studies in Muslim High School in Amritsar. At that time, my father bought me a new Phillips bike for Rs. 35 to go to school. In 1938, I completed my matriculation and enrolled in the MAO College in Amritsar.
Dr. MD Taseer was our college principal. General Akhtar Abdul Rehman was my classmate. His son Humyun Akhtar is now a well-known politician in Pakistan. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was our English language lecturer. Faiz sahib was a well dressed gentleman. When the weather was pleasant he would stop and start reciting poetry. I completed my FA in 1940 and joined the Indian Railways. I was posted as assistant station master in the Delhi Division. In 1942, I was posted in Sibbi, Baluchistan. One day we learned that Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was coming from Ziarat and would be passing Sibbi on his way to Lahore. I gathered about five local railway Muslim employees and knocked on the door of Mr. Jinnah’s coach. He and Ms. Fatima Jinnah came out, shook hands with all of us. I recall his words to us. He said, “Young men keep unity among you.”
There was complete calm in Raja Sansi while events were fast moving towards partition. In March 1947, there was a fire in a shoe store and a clothing store at Farid Chowk in Amritsar. The property was Hindu-owned but businesses were run by Muslims. This marked the beginning of riots in Amritsar.
In Chowk Prag Das there was a Hindu business area with a small masjid. In March, 1947 the riots started first in this area of Amritsar in which 25 Muslims died. Hindu organization like RSS made good advanced planning. From that time onwards Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs started drifting apart. They were looking with suspicion at each other. Muslims made preparation to take defensive measures in their home.
At that time, I was working in Lahore and went on Baboo train everyday from Raja Sansi to Lahore and back. Lahore was completely calm. The riots in Amritsar had little effect on the people of Raja Sansi. Common people thought that the riots would be a passing phase and conditions would return to normal and revert back to the stage that they had been for centuries.
Sardar Raghubir Singh and his son Harinder Singh assured the Muslims of Raja Sansi of their safety and asked them not to worry about their wellbeing. They were kind hearted and benevolent men. Raghubir Singh advised Muslims from the surrounding areas to send their women and children to a safe house in Raja Sansi in Muslim area. The month of Ramzan had already started in mid-July, 1947. Eid was celebrated on August 17, 2010. At that time, the Muslims in Raja Sansi were in a state of siege in their homes. They performed Eid prayers on roof tops at home.
On August 17, five of my friends gathered and planned to go to Lahore. Three of them worked in the Indian Railways, one was in the post office and fifth one was working in the Lahore Secretariat. We wanted to go to Lahore. We boarded a truck and reached the Amritsar Railway Station. The station was under the control of the army. We took the train to Pakistan on August 17, 1947 and it took us five hours to cover the distance of thirty-five miles. All along, we closed the windows and bolted the doors.
On August 19, 1947, the first attack on Raja Sansi took place. It was spearheaded by Makhan Singh, a Sikh, with the help of a group of Sikhs. This outside group came on horses, armed with rifles, swords and kirpans. Makhan Singh did not live in Raja Sansi. He was a notorious rogue from a nearby village. The Maharaja of Patiala had armed Sikhs gangs. In Raja Sansi people did not have any arms. There were two retired army people named Ismail and Taj Din. They fought valiantly from the high level of the houses with this gang of Makhan Singh. At the end about thirty-five people were killed and two Muslim girls were abducted from a Sikh neighborhood where a few Muslim families were living.
After the attack of the Makhan Singh gang, Raghubir Singh called numberdar Mehar Sultan and sent a message that Muslims should start moving to Pakistan because there was a possibility of further attacks from outside. The Muslims from Raja Sansi started moving to a camp on the outskirts of Amritsar about four miles away from Raja Sansi. Hindus and Sikh neighbors kept silent as people were moving out from Raja Sansi. Some women would open the doors, cry, weep and then close the doors.
In the camp, Muslim refugees stayed for three to ten days. Some people on their own went by train to Lahore while the others took buses for Lahore. The camp arrangements were made by Raghubir Singh and his son Harinder Singh.
I had already arrived and settled in a house in Ram Garh close to the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. Riots in the city were in full swing with the Hindu and Sikh population moving to India on train. A refugee camp was set up in Walton by the Pakistan government. Every day I walked to the Walton Camp to find out the whereabouts of my family. After one week, I heard someone calling out my name. There were two girls from Raja Sansi who came running and told me that my parents, brothers and sisters had arrived safely from Amritsar Camp.
Years passed in getting settled in Pakistan. I completed my service in Pakistan Railways. Starting my career in 1941, I worked at Sibbi, Qila Saifullah, Fort Sandeman, Meerath, Dalbandin (Iran Border) and Lahore. I retired in 1982.
In 1983, I received an Indian visa to watch a cricket match in Jalandhar in Indian Punjab. I went straight to Raja Sansi. My Indian friends Amar Das and Mehr Karam Singh recognized me quickly after thirty-seven years. My class mates Amar Das was now a cloth merchant. Devi Das had retired and his son Shyam Sunder was a school teacher. Kalyan Singh was running the Standard Hotel with his son Jogindar Singh.
All of these friends proved very kind and hospitable. Later on, Kalyan Singh and his family came to Lahore and stayed with us.
Des Raj was one of my colleagues in the Indian Railways. After Partition he became Station Master of Bahadar Garh in Uttar Pradesh. In 2000, I went back to India and tried to contact Raj. In the Delhi railway office I asked for his address. He had retired in 1982; however the railway officials showed me his file where he had listed his home address. Raj had retired in Bahadar Garh and built a house. I went to his address in Bahadar Garh. I recognized him due to his photograph but he could not figure out who I was after sixty-three years of Partition. Then I told him a personal story that he had shared with me during our service in the railways. After listening to the story he jumped and embraced me. Then he immediately remembered me and we reminisced about our past during the whole night.
I still keep in touch with several of my Hindu and Sikh friends in India. Human relations are above the political and religious divide. In fact, all Hindus and Sikhs in Raja Sansi tried their best to save Muslims during the great Partition. However they were unable to control marauding gangs who came from other places.
Currently I live in Delaware, USA, and Lahore. My five sons and two daughters also live in this state with their children. I have a large number of grandchildren. My hope is that over time the common people of India and Pakistan would rise above sectarian, political and religious divides and establish relationships based on our common humanity. I also hope and pray that the future would bring peace and prosperity to South Asia.