Jindan Kaur of Cheechon-ke-Malian
By Majid Sheikh
Sunday, 18 Apr, 2010
“Baoo, mera akhri saa barra mitha hoyay gaa”
(Son... My last breath will be extremely comforting)
On Friday, I went to attend the book launching ceremony of Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah and the Partition of 1947 at a local private golf club. As I had read the book when it was first launched, a question lurked in my mind about what the future held for the ‘sub-continent of hate’ that we live in.
As the book launch was consigned to ‘partial chaos’ as participants launched, on invitation, into tea and cakes before the ceremony began, it was best to quietly leave and ponder over the suffering the partition of 1947 had brought to the poor of our land. As the posh of Lahore tucked into sweet delights, outside the heat beat down harsh and fast. My thoughts swayed from my usual Sunday article to focus on the outcome of a remarkable person we are researching with regard to the events of 1947, a ‘holocaust’ the sort the world has seldom seen, definitely the largest exodus in human history and one that our elders are still ashamed to discuss openly. For this I condemn my elders, for they have not been truthful about our past.
That is why what Jaswant Singh has to say in his book needs much deeper and honest appreciation by all, especially Indians. Sadly, both have their eyes shut tightly to the reality of partition. Let me dwell on my research subject, and as she lives on the edge of Lahore, her story needs to be described. We must not make the mistake our elders have made. We must confront the truth, and face it for a better future.
Last month while on a research visit to a village near Cheechon-ke-Malian, just 18 miles outside Lahore to the west, I set off in search of an old woman a worker in my place of work described as ‘Sikhnee’. The description had an allure to it, and as we are researching the subject, it made sense to meet this ‘Sikhnee’. At first her son, the bearded village ‘mullah’, refused to let us talk to the old woman. After a considerable persuasion, we managed with the promise not to direct others to their house, and that we would not name him or his mother. To this promise we stick.
We met this old woman, aged approximately 78 if our calculations are correct, whose sun-tanned skin had freshness to it. The wrinkles on her face depicted her silent suffering. Maybe it was a thought in my mind. She was not bent as old women tend to be, but was a strong, well-set healthy woman used to working hard in the fields and in the house. Her name now is Fatima Bibi. Her husband was also the village ‘mullah’ and she married him in 1947. He died almost six years ago. “Jeth de pheli nu moya se,” said Fatima Bibi. She served me with a cold drink, and her great grandson also got one in the bargain.
Her story goes like this. Her real name was Jindan Kaur and her father’s name was Heera Singh Bhatti. They belonged to a village outside Sheikhupura just before Jandiala a hundred yards from the main ‘moogha’(water channel) as she put it.
In August 1947, their village was attacked by a Muslim mob. A few Sikh elders decapitated their daughters before the mob could reach the young girls. Ultimately, they were saved by the army, who came in two trucks full of soldiers. The entire village of Sikhs was taken to the Sheikhupura railway station and they were put into a railway bogey stuffed like animals and bound for Lahore, from where they were to go onwards to Amritsar in the new India, their new home.
Jindan then described the blood-curdling event of how their train was attacked near Cheechon-ke-Malian railway station. Every male member, including children, as well as old women, was hacked to pieces. “Tootay kar ditay sadday.” The young Jindan was taken away by the local toughs and they did what frenzied men do. “Javani lut lai. Kakh na chaddaya. Rool dita. Jeenday gee marya ve nahi.”
There were no tears in her eyes, for mine had welted on listening to her description of events. She looked at me and said: “Baoo, athroo da koi faida nai jaddon mera bapoo tootay ho gay.” The fate of her dear father had sealed time for her. She was the 15-year old Jindan when she talked lovingly of him. Her son was getting uneasy as she started to open up. I changed the topic to calm him. The ruse worked well. After a while I started off again to listen to what happened to Jindan Kaur alias Fatima Bibi.
The train had about 105 women, most of them young. Jindan was then a mere 15-year old. She was raped by a number of men, she does not recall the number. The young village mullah took her to his house after the ‘animals’ had satiated their lust. He nursed her to health. He then advised that she convert to Islam and he would marry her. It was a noble deed by any reckoning. He took her glazed eyes and her silence as acceptance for his offer. A year later, soldiers came to the village and offered all kidnapped Hindu and Sikh women to get on an army lorry to be taken to India. They, however, warned, that Sikhs were killing all their own women who had been dishonoured. Life continued to offer no choices.
Jindan was pregnant. She had no family to go to. Life did not offer a choice. For her life began and ended that fateful day. The rest has been mere existence and she waits for the day when she will be released from her mortal remains. The old Punjabi woman described her fate as only she could: “Baoo, mera akhri saa barra mitha hoyay ga.” (Son... My last breath will be extremely comforting) Her son null her for the remark.
The victims of 1947 abound in the villages of Punjab. In 2010 they are forgotten. The description ‘Sikhnee’ is a slur that she bears without malice. Her four sons and five daughters do not like the way people call her. Hate has an unforgiving element. Inconspicuous references hide a story, often one of pain and suffering. If only she could again call herself Jindan Kaur with pride and without feeling guilty. That day will surely come, of this I have no doubt.
There are thousands like her in Pakistan and India. They are the forgotten people our elders shut their eyes to. That is why preserving the truth of 1947 is critical if we are to claw our way back to normalcy. That is why what Jaswant Singh has to say matters too. That is why I left the ‘tea and cakes’ mob to think about Jindan Kaur. Life still does not offer her any choice.