K.B. Singh

In Conversation with Maya Dodd




What do you remember about the Partition?

Partition was a historical mistake of the Congress party. There were an unusual haste to see independence in their own lifetimes. The elections at those times were not based on adult franchise. A select electorate was in charge of electing people. The common mass had no role in electing people, only the leadership. The biggest folly on the part of leaders like Gandhi and Nehru and others were too much on a hurry to attain independence.

I was living in Lahore city and Punjab did not have Muslim League government. It was a government led by Unionist Party consisting of Hindus and Muslims and Akalis. It was coalition government. In front of my school, about ten people used to take a donkey with a turban on it. The donkey would have the turban and behind the donkey would be a flywhisk…the style of turban was worn by khizr hayat khal tiwana (the Premier of the state) because he was against Partition of the country. There were no riots in the city in 1946. Of course there were a few refugees who had come from West Punjab who were living outside Lahore railway station. On March 3, 1947, when I had come out of my school, where I had appeared for my 9th class examination, I found that the usual hustle and bustle of traffic was altogether missing. One elderly person came over to me and asked me to go home immediately because things were not peaceful. Later on, I learned that on that day, Master Tara Singh, the leader of the Akalis had torn the flag of the Muslim League outside the Legislative Assembly and from that day the riots started.

Did you anticipate Partition?

Islamia College Lahore was on my way to school, and I used to observe people taking wooden mock rifles. The schools used to get closed off and on in April and May

When I was in my 8th class there was a lone Muslim boy in my school. He stood first in school. The orthodox Brahmin teachers organized and got him beaten up and he never returned to the school…

We had a Muslim maid servant by the name Jaina whom everyone used to call Jainna bebe (like granny). She had served our households for more than 40 years. An aged lady, she was 65 or 70 at this time and had also been a midwife to all of us who were born. When the partition took place, one of our uncles, Mr. Amir Chand Pathania was posted in Lahore after partition for rescuing the abducted Hindu women and bringing them back to India. He was posted in Lahore, after Partition for evacuation of Hindu abducted women. Janna bebe used to cry that please take me to India, as they call me kaafir over here and say go join your infidels in India.

Mr. Pathania pretended that he would take her to India but he never meant it. To do so would have created a fracas on both sides. There was orthodoxy and fanatacism on both sides.

By May 1947, the schools were usually closed on account of riots. The women and children of the family shifted to Ludhiana to our uncle’s house, Mr. Pathania. Ludhiana was entirely peaceful until August 15, 1947. Eastern Punjab was peaceful, except Amritsar and Lahore.

When trains would come in from Pakistan, dead bodies were to be seen carriage after carriage. Such sights caused riots to begin in Eastern Punjab also, after the creation of Partition.

Any major difficulties you’d like to recount

Basically we didn’t have any adversity because there were some riots and we all moved to Ludhiana to a comfortable zone. So Ludhiana was almost like spending vacations and our father had a job as Bank Manager, so it was not adversity in the classic sense, except that there was a certain need to adapt and adjust. Ludhiana sociologically was a similar setting, Hindu family culture so it was not much of a problem because we were thinking of going back to Lahore after the situation improved. At the time of Partition only, it became clear that we could not go back. So all of our clothing, bedding etc. was left back in Lahore.

On 20th August we had our own house which was vacated by Muslims. Those difficulties of travelling by  kafila were not faced by us.

What did you miss most that you had to leave behind?

We had given our clothes in Ludhiana to a laundry and the laundry was being run by a Muslim. It just so happened that the laundry shop was looted and so all our clothes were lost. So we had a fresh beginning.

I was 14 when Partition took place so my experience was limited. Because this calamity had happened on such a large scale and we always treated ourselves as refugees that had escaped the calamity, we never expected that we won’t go back to our house in Lahore. The muhalla we were in Lahore consisted of all relatives, and when we relocated to Ludhiana and we were again surrounded by the same relatives when we moved. So as such, nobody was left behind and there was no individual tragedy.

What are your memories of the camps?

It mobilized individual families to help out those who had been uprooted. Everyone was there to help out. I was helping out in refugee camps. As kids we were distributing rations. We would go walking early in the morning, 3 kms away and we were given a job of 2 to 3 hours. Because we were all school boys we would play gullidanda and all when our job was done.

What was the strangest thing about Partition?

There was no culture shock. There was no sociological adjustment. The school was the same. The cultural milieu was absolutely the same. There was an element of enmity, like a love and hate relationship. But they were leading their own separate lives and we were leading our own separate lives.

The RSS was more of nation building and recreational activities for children like organizing games etc. Gandhi had not been assassinated. Schools were run on religious lines more or less. Sanatan Dharma school was created for religious reasons. Arya schools were run by Arya Samaj, Sikhs were running their Khalsa schools and the Mulsims were running Islamia schools and the tendency was that children would go to their family type schools.

The segregation that happened because of Partition,

Hindus and Muslims were segregated communities even before Partition. In villages at weddings etc. it was an accepted fact that Hindus would not eat at a Muslim wedding. So before the wedding ration would be sent, khud banao aur khaiyo. Like my dad said when he went to Jhelum, the newly converted Mulsims would call the pandit for weddings and then the maulvis. There was only a gradual conversion where they would take on the customs and become part of the segregated community. Masjids had been made into gurudwaras after Partition.

Before then, we were all fighting for Independence. I was a member of Punjab Student Congress and we had collected money for INA. In those days our group had collected Rs 500. Sahgal, Dhillon and Shah Nawaz were being prosecuted in Red Fort Delhi for mutiny and there were slogans that said, “Sahgal, Dhillon, Shah Nawaaz, Lal Qille se hue azaad.” Netaji Subhash Chandra’s birthday was on Jan 23rd and I used to fly the Congress flag on top of my house in ’45, ’46 and ’47.

We attended the ceremony of August 15th where Narottam Sahgal who was the deputy commissioner of Ludhiana (and husband of Nayantara Sahgal) flew the flag. Our uncle, Amirchand Pathania led the parade. There was no hulla gulla at that time in Eastern Punjab–no riots and all. It is only when the trains arrived carrying bodies of murdered Hindus that the riots erupted in Eastern Punjab.

K.B Singh was born in Lahore city, Pakistan in 1933. Subsequently he had to leave Lahore and migrated to Ludhiana. In 1960 he joined the Punjab Public Service Commission as a research officer where he served for the governments of Punjab and Haryana from 1961 to 1991. He is currently retired and lives in Pune.

Maya Dodd is K.B. Singh’s niece and currently teaches Literary and Cultural Studies in Pune. Most recently she was the Chair of the department of Humanities at FLAME University.

One comment on “Partition

  1. Gauri Gandhi

    Coming from Punjab, I too have heard gruesome stories from my mother from Jammu and father from Amritsar. We shifted to Faridabad, which was recreated to settle Banuwal(small town in Pakistan) refugees. My maid, elderly lady, lost her entire family except her baby nephew, as she had him in her arms. She raised him, till one day she came to tell, that she was leaving. Her nephew”s got a job and has asked her to be at home.


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