The Division of a Nation: The Story of the Partition between Pakistan and India


Photo Courtesy of danielo

“InshaAllah, it’s going to be okay. Everything will work out.” These are the 10 words that I’ve tried to focus on all night, as I’ve laid awake in bed. But really, the only thing that I can think about are the 6 that I heard last week from Muhammad Bhai, “Abu is dead, they killed him.” I kept replaying them until I heard, “Jaan, time to wake up.” My Ami came to get me, not knowing that I’ve been lying awake all night. How could I sleep when tonight I’m leaving the only home that I’ve ever known?

We’re escaping to Pakistan, where Muslims don’t have to worry about being killed for their beliefs. I’ve lived in Amritsar, India my whole life but because of our religion, my family and I are now at risk. India has officially gained independence back from Britain but is still being steered in the background.  The remaining British powers are sowing seeds of discord in the ears of everyone. People who have lived side by side for generations are now seeing one another as the enemy. There have been calls to violence and the mobs are rising to answer. Nobody is safe and my father is the proof.

Things have been really bad lately, there are riots, murders, and women are being raped out in the open on the streets. Abu and a few of the other Muslim families nearby had adjoining shops in a nearby bazaar. Some Hindu men went to the area late one night, destroyed everything and then set the shops on fire to ensure nothing could be salvaged. Abu and Muhammad Bhai were in Abu’s store but Bhai hid in a closet in the back so they didn’t see him. He tried to hold back his muffled gasps and sobs as he listened to them beat Abu to death. When the heat from the flames became unbearable he emerged and ran for his life, shivering in fright, looking over his shoulder hoping he wouldn’t be spotted by the angry mob. 

Now it’s just him, me and Ami. For weeks as tensions rose, Muhammad Bhai was being targeted at school by the rest of the boys. They shoved him around every chance they got, tripping him in the halls and cornering him in the bathrooms making threats. One day he got so angry that he fought back and they all swarmed him. His eyes were so swollen he could hardly open them. He said it hurt to breathe but tried to be brave for Ami’s sake. He tried to explain to the headmaster that they’d been harassing and threatening him for weeks but things were different now. We had no protection. Upon seeing the evidence of the conflict on Bhai’s body, and Abu being gone, Ami decided we would try to run. Ami’s brother, my Mamu, already made the journey. He sent a letter to let us know that he was in Lahore, at the Walton camp and it was safe just as they’d heard. So she began to plan our journey. She planned to flee and hide in the darkness of the night. 

Abu’s childhood friend, Uncle Mandeep is a colonel in the Indian army, he’s Sikh but hasn’t gotten caught up in the rising tensions or been brainwashed by the new Prime Minister Nehru.  His daughter and I have been best friends and sisters since birth.  Ami coordinated our escape with him. Day by day, people who we saw as friends and neighbors have begun to hang the nationalist flag from their homes. They no longer look upon us with warmth. Stories of trains being stopped and people being slaughtered are being whispered amongst the streets. Those who don’t want to suffer the same fate are risking everything to make the pilgrimage to Pakistan. 

It’s now the dead of night and the moon is shining above us. It’s time to go. We grab the few bags of food, water and clothing that we can carry with us on our journey and we leave our home, with no idea when or if we will ever be able to return. I’m shaking in anticipation and fear. My back is sticky with sweat, I look over at Ami and see sweat pouring down her face as well. Uncle Mandeep is waiting for us in the next alleyway. He sees us and nods in acknowledgment and motions for us to follow him. It finally hits me that we’re leaving behind everything, moving to a whole new country all by ourselves and without Abu. Ami must see the fear in my eyes because she tries comfort me. “Once we get to Lahore, it’ll all be different. We’ll be able to see your Mamu and we’ll be able to live without fear inshallah.” Her words do little to ease the fear racking my body. All of a sudden I trip over something. “Ayesha, are you okay?” Ami asks. I look down and I see a head. A head. Not attached to a body. I freeze in shock and scramble to get up. Muhammad Bhai says,” Look there’s another one over there, and one more over there.” I look again and I see the street is filled with heads. All I see is blood everywhere.

As we arrive at the train station, out of breath, we see people boarding. We hide in the shadows until Uncle Mandeep motions for us to enter a car from the back. It’s full of cargo and we can hide amongst it. We scramble in, all the while waiting for someone to catch us. Every time I close my eyes, all I can see are the heads lying in the street. I can’t stop the shaking and I keep praying somehow we make it safe without getting caught. Uncle Mandeep sits on top of a crate on the side, gun drawn, waiting. 

I must have dozed off. I startle awake when I hear a loud “Bang!” I hear the gun go off. Uncle Mandeep tells us to hide behind the crates and not make a sound. He exits the car to blend in with the others who are on a killing spree. I try to stay still and cover my mouth with both hands trying to stifle my erratic breathing.  I hear the wails of babies and their mothers pleading for their lives. Suddenly the door to our car is swung open and a soldier tries to enter. My heart stops. What if he sees us? Is this it? It can’t be. We can’t die in here. Not after everything. I grip my mother’s and my brother’s hands tightly. We start praying. We hear Uncle Mandeep tell them this car has been cleared. A man pushes past him to see for himself, looks around and then leaves. As soon as he’s gone, quiet sobs break through as my Ami holds my brother and me. 

We wait until there’s nothing but silence. Uncle Mandeep tells us to wait in the car while he checks to make sure they’re gone. After a few minutes, he motions for us to come outside. Bodies are falling out of the cars and blood is smeared everywhere. He has a disgusted expression on his face. He says, “There aren’t any survivors. They killed them all.” I ask, “What about the babies, the ones I heard crying.” He can’t look at me, he just shakes his head no. When we finally pull ourselves together, we start walking. It’s just after sunrise now and we’re in the middle of nowhere.

It feels as though we’ve been walking for days when we finally reach what looks like a village. As we approach, we see evidence of bloodshed. There’s rapid-fire in the background and dead bodies scattered everywhere. Uncle Mandeep points to an abandoned hut and motions for us to go inside. We run as fast as we possibly can. I don’t think anyone spotted us.

After what feels like hours, I notice the absence of screams. There is no sign of life left other than the cruel laughter of the angry mob. I peer through the cracks in the hut and see them begin to kick around the decapitated heads like footballs. Once they’ve had enough they move on, looking for more Muslims to slaughter. We slowly exit the hut trying to avoid the bodies but they’re everywhere. We walk past a well, it’s filled with the bodies of women. Uncle Mandeep tells us they jumped to their death to avoid being caught. Because they knew what would have happened. They would have been brutalized and raped and then murdered. I hunch over and vomit. It’s too much. We keep walking. 

Uncle Mandeep tells us we’re nearing a camp. It’s safe here he tells us. We’re in Lahore. I can’t believe it. We made it. I hug my Ami and Bhai and Uncle Mandeep.  The thought of never seeing him or his daughter again tears at my soul. We say our goodbyes and part ways. A worker welcomes us into the camp and wraps blankets around our shoulders. We look around and see the evidence of what everyone has been through clear on their faces. We’re given a basin of water to wash up and shown to a few empty charpai’s to rest our heads. I know that everything is far from over but for the first time in a long time, I feel safe. We made it. We’re going to be okay.