I Am India
by Amara Nelson
PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA. Ministry of Information, New Delhi, November 2, 1947. The Military Evacuation Organisation, India’s advanced headquarters at Lahore, under the command of Brigadier Mohite, have finalised plans to speed up the movement of non-Muslim refugees from West Punjab to India. More refugee trains will be run shortly and more Army and civilian transport is being made available to complete evacuation within the shortest possible time. Special arrangements are being made for the removal of the aged, women and children. Non-Muslim From Lahore to India: 520 From Gujranwala to India: 400 Muslim From Ambala to Pakistan: 900
25 August 1947
My brothers, sisters, and I were sent out on a train today. Ammi packed us up in the middle of the night and rushed us to where we would board the train with passage out of India. It was so packed with other women and children that I could hardly breathe. There are even people on the roof of the train! Ammi told me to keep track of my siblings; it’s easy to get lost in such a crowd and the last thing we want is to be separated. I am among hundreds of other Muslims. People have packed their belongings into cases and wear miserable expressions like the world has come crashing down. And it has. I miss my home in India already, I don’t understand why we had to leave so suddenly. Yes, I am Muslim and you are Hindu, but am I not an Indian like you? India is my home, I know it just as well as any Hindu. I have grown up beside you in the same country, doesn’t that mean anything? Hindus are being removed from West Punjab, as well. There is word that there are riots once a day…people being killed in the streets. Can you even imagine a hatred so powerful?
Did you know that in Urdu, Pakistan means “land of the pure”? Why do I feel like the place we are going is far from that? The fact that the army has been called upon terrifies me. I feel reassured that they will provide some protection, but how bad is it that we need armed men to help us? I already don’t know what our new home will look like…will it be ruins by the time we arrive?
Abu was not allowed to board the train with us. Ammi said he will find a way to travel north, and he will find us again. What if he doesn’t, Sanj? What if I never see my father again? I keep thinking about home. I keep remembering how we would play together and create rangoli designs in the streets. My family doesn’t celebrate Holi but it was always my favorite thing watching you and your brothers throw painted colors at each other. I remember you came up to me, covered in purples and blues, and you tossed powder into my hair. It took weeks to get out, and my parents were furious! But I wish I could go back to that moment and laugh with you until our sides were sore. I wish I could continue smiling with you, but when I am surrounded by sorrow it’s very hard to remember what that feels like. My heart aches with a heaviness I don’t know if I will ever be able to lift.
I will write to you as soon as I can.
1 November 1947
I pray that you have made it safely to Lahore. Everyday I hear accounts of Muslims being killed or refugees being lost. The other day I heard of a train attacked by a mob that managed to kill passengers trying to get across the border. They are calling the trains ‘blood trains’. People say you can see the blood spilling from the carts and bodies being thrown onto the tracks. Maa says that there are so many people trying to migrate…both Hindus and Muslims are being lost. I once loved New Delhi but now it has become a city of horror. People are being killed by rioters, houses are being burned down. Amritsar is a battlefield of corpses and ruin.
I am enraged at what’s happening. Horrible doesn’t begin to describe it. My own neighbors have turned on each other and old friends no longer speak to one another. The British, now that we are free, have refused to offer a lending hand. They get up and walk out after years of being here and wash their hands clean of the situation. Gandhi weeps for us all, he knew what would happen if this took place!
We have family that used to live in Lahore coming to stay with us. Luckily, we have just enough room to house them. My siblings and I are sleeping on the floor while they take our beds. It’s the same with our neighbors; they also have friends and family that have nowhere else to go. The country is in a state of turmoil with homeless people that have nowhere to go. Both Hindus and Muslims.
I remember when we used to play on the street as girls. I remember celebrating your new year with you, feasting on your mother’s cooking until our stomachs burst! Do you remember the old Muslim man who always yelled at us for throwing pebbles at his windows? Maa won’t tell me what happened to him but he is gone. I no longer see him in the window or outside. He feels like a smokey memory. Something we made up when we were little and now has disappeared from us forever. What fun and laughter we used to have and now I feel it means nothing.
My only hope is that you and your family have made it safely to your destination. I hold you in my heart as our country is torn apart from the inside out.
8 January 1948
I find myself constantly scared for my life. Pakistan is supposed to be the safe haven for Muslims but it does not feel like that at all. We have arrived at my cousin’s house near the city. They are also housing some of my other relatives here, too. Ammi tells my siblings and I to stay indoors; say our prayers quietly and keep ours heads down. I’ve never been so scared to walk the streets. People die every day just to get to this new country; the body count climbs. People are trying to ride the trains north but they couldn’t have anticipated so many.
Oh, Sanj, it’s so horrible. We are amongst our own civil war. Muslims are being murdered in their own communities in East Punjab. I don’t understand how people can turn like this. I never knew they were capable of such a thing. Maybe it was better that we have two separate countries except there are refugees pooling in from all sides. It’s a horrible thing when mosques and temples aren’t even safe!
Every day we hear of a new kidnapping: women being abducted and raped. Vultures are feasting on the dead, bodies are thrown into the streets and burned. No one remembers to say their last rights in a time such as this. The water has turned crimson with blood. I would have been happy with one nation…we all would have been.
OUTWARD TELEGRAM From the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom To Commonwealth Relations Officer 15th September 1.30 p.m. Priority Immediate Secret My telegram No. 749 dated 13th September. COMMUNAL DISTURBANCES 1. PUNJAB Following is main information received during last two days regarding situation. A) There was continued tension in rural areas of East Punjab but movement of refugees has continued satisfactorily. B) In Ambala District situation was reported to have deteriorated greatly and in Rohtak district heavy killing was reported at one place (please treat this para. as confidential) C) Mob of 25,000 people attacked village about 30 miles North of Delhi but was beaten off by military force. D) Disturbed conditions continue in Jullundur, Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala. E) Sikhs attacked Muslim refugee column near Amritsar and inflicted about 60 casualties on raiders (please treat name of communities concerned and number of casualties as confidential). F) Sikhs attacked a refugee train between Jullundur and Kapurthala and inflicted about 70 casualties. Raiders also suffered heavy casualties
15 April 1948
Maa says I must cease communication with you. I have taken to writing letters in secret. I will not cut you off, dearest friend, you will always be my sister.
We had more relatives arrive today. Maa tells me that their homes were destroyed and they are lucky to be here. They have walked for miles and come with very little belongings, so I am left to share everything I have. I don’t mind. I feel it’s the only way I can truly help. In a time such as this, I feel nothing short of helpless. I wish the government would do something; I wish people would stop killing for the sake of religion.
When we were little, Maa took my eldest sister and I to Calcutta. It was always my favorite city when we were small. I begged her to take us back; I wanted to see it again.
It’s been reduced to ruins now. They are saying over 4,000 dead. Four thousand, Inaya, just in Calcutta. I can’t wrap my head around that. I’m sitting here writing to you and my heart is aching so painfully, I’m afraid it has broken into pieces and I don’t know how to sew it back together. My beautiful Calcutta now reeks with the stench of death and destruction. It was like everyone there was consumed by insanity and began murdering each other in the streets. How can we ever recover from such a thing as a human race? How can I look at my fellow Hindus the same? We are all being thrown into some dark hole of hell that each and every one of us has played a part in. Where is either of our gods now?
20 September 1948
I haven’t heard from you in a while. I must say that after months of this war, it almost feels like it has slowed down. One can only hope.
My family is doing well. We keep to ourselves amongst the town. I still have relatives with us and our house swells with people. My mother writes letters once a day to our family, wanting confirmations of life. We hope to hear back from them; I hope they are safe.
Have you heard from your father? I pray that he has returned safely to you and that Lahore may wind down soon. I feel in my heart that one day this will all become a distant nightmare and that our country will begin to rebuild again.
Write to me soon; I think of you daily.
14 December 1952
It has been a few years now since everything has happened. My family has stayed close to us as the aftermaths of the partition wind down. Even years later now and it still affects us. They say that over a million people have been killed in the migration. There are still so many people missing or lost, families who haven’t found each other yet, bodies that were never identified. I still hope that I will never need to identify yours. I know it’s been a long time and I’m sure I do not even have the right address anymore, but I still think of you often. I still remember your smile and our laughter together.
I got married last week. Soon after I turned 19. He is a kind man and he takes care of me. Maa is very proud…I think one triumph amongst the chaos brings a little control back to our lives. To be completely honest, the celebration felt so out of place after all that has happened. There are families that have lost so much and mine was determined to have a colorful, boisterous wedding in the streets. It seemed almost ironic to me. It felt like we were laughing at others’ pain, but I know that my family who were killed by rebels would have wanted to see my laugh in such a time. I know it would have brought them some kind of joy just to see a smile amongst the tears. I wish that you could meet my husband, you would like him.
I hope one day that I will hear from you. I still check for a letter every day. In my mind, I picture you and your family together and happy in the new country. I hope that amongst the bloodshed you have found safety and somewhere to call a home. I pray that something worse has not happened…Our country continues the veil of silence for all that has taken place. I hope that it is never forgotten. You are still India to me.
With all the love in my heart,
From UK High Commissioner Terence Shone To the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, 14 October 1947 Painful as it is to say it, I believe it to be true that the two new Dominions were born of antipathy – to use no stronger word – and pressure of circumstances, rather than of desire to forgot the past and face the future in a spirit of mutual co-operation. In the circumstances, as “The Round Table’s” leader writer suggests, it would have been a miracle if they had settled down in peace and amity.
National Archives. “The Road to Partition 1939-1947.” The National Archives, The National Archives, 20 June 2014, www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/the-road-to-partition/.
Doshi, Vidhi, and Nisar Mehdi. “70 Years Later, Survivors Recall the Horrors of India-Pakistan Partition.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 14 Aug. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/70-years-later-survivors-recall-the-horrors-of-india-pakistan-partition/2017/08/14/3b8c58e4-7de9-11e7-9026-4a0a64977c92_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c822876ddb94.
Cosgrove, Ben. “Muslim-Hindu Riots of 1946: Photos of the Gruesome Aftermath.” Time, 26 May 2014, time.com/3879963/vultures-of-calcutta-the-gruesome-aftermath-of-indias-1946-hindu-muslim-riots/.
Ansari, Sarah. “How the Partition of India Happened – and Why Its Effects Are Still Felt Today.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 19 Sept. 2018, theconversation.com/how-the-partition-of-india-happened-and-why-its-effects-are-still-felt-today-81766.
AMARA NELSON is from Houston, Texas, and just graduated with a Bachelors in English and Creative Writing from the University of Iowa! Amara is an avid animal lover and writer. In her free time, she loves napping with her kitten Nala.