UC Berkeley Student Shreya Dingra interviewed Mr. and Mrs. Bhatia.
On Saturday, April 2nd, 2011, I interviewed Mr. and Mrs. Bhatia with my mentor Ganesh Ananthanarayanan at the Bhatia residence. I felt rather apprehensive but not as much as I had been for my first interview considering I had a mentor with me who had conducted quite a few interviews and I could count on him to help me out if I got stuck and needed help with asking any questions. The thing that I was most worried about was translating some words into Hindi since neither of the couple could speak or understand English. I was hoping for some unique stories of the migration that occurred during partition and for interviewees who had been more affected by partition than the interviewees from my first interview. I was not disappointed and left the Bhatia residence in shock and wonder.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Bhatia had detailed and interesting stories to tell of how each of their families were forced to move from Multan, Pakistan to India. Mr. Bhatia’s family consisting of him, his parents, four sisters, and three brothers, was put onto a goods train in the freezing weather of January, taking only a few belongings and leaving all their valuable gold and silver underground near their house, believing they would return for it. The family had to suffer through two days of hunger and thirst while many Muslims standing on bridges where the train would go by underneath threw garbage and rocks and urinated upon them as their strain passed by. One of Mr. Bhatia’s sisters who was pregnant at the time, delivered a baby boy who died on the journey shortly after his birth. Later, their family was forced to stay in a camp at the Fazilka border of Punjab between India and Pakistan for four days after which they were transported to Haryana. In Haryana, his family lived in a small hut and the men earned money for food through any labor work they could lay their hands on for a few rupees. After two months they moved to Delhi where they continued to look for labor work that they could get by on for a few years until the Municipal Committee provided them with a very small double story flat. At this time, Mr. Bhatia did bookbinding until his marriage after which he bought a shop of his own.
Mrs. Bhatia’s family was more violently awakened and forced to run out of fear of being killed. One day, Mrs. Bhatia came home from school when she was in first grade and a horrible scene was in front of her. Everything was in chaos. People were shouting “they have been cut” and running everywhere while amputated bodies were lying all around as the Muslims attacked the Hindus and Sikhs of her town. Members of the BJP were picking them up and laying them in the school to treat them. That night, Mrs. Bhatia’s father overheard some Muslims speaking of not letting him go because he sold good medicine and forcibly converting him. This was the moment when her family decided that they would pack up and sneak away to Punjab by train and they acted immediately. Her uncle was not spared and was butchered and thrown into a sewer while another one of her uncles and his son were injured and thrown into a car that the Hindus could only hope was headed to India. Upon their arrival in Punjab, her ten year old brother and father refused to eat food that was offered to them for free so both of them did labor work to earn a few cents every day to collect enough money for food. Eventually they were reunited with her Uncle’s son only to find out that her Uncle had died as well but finally their family was together and they began to settle down near Bhatinda, Punjab. Her ten year old brother continued to earn for them through his labor work while their father lay sick in bed. He was able to put himself through school and eventually became a doctor. Mrs. Bhatia prides her family in that they did not gain anything from the government but worked laboriously and tediously to build their life one more.
Mrs. Bhatia also told us the story of twenty five women in her extended family who all jumped into a well to save their pride and avoid being raped by Muslim assailants, all except for one died. This one newlywed young girl escaped from Pakistan to India, walking the entire way by night and sleeping in fields by day, dressed in a burka, the attire for Muslim women. It took her 6 months but she painstakingly made it and would get off at every station to see if her family was to be found. At last she found Mrs. Bhatia’s family who reunited her with her family within a few days.
Upon hearing these unthinkable and priceless stories of partition I was awestruck by the damage that partition had inflicted upon the people of both India and Pakistan. The stories that the Bhatia’s had to relay to us were both personal and painful to bring up but they are true stories of people and families who lived through the gruesome atrocities of this event. I realized that caught up in all the political turmoil and the physical separation of India and Pakistan, the real victims, the people, are often forgotten. But through these interviews, their stories can be heard and collected for the world to know.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Bhatia agreed that partition was unnecessary. They both advocated for the decision that Jinnah should have been made President of India and none of this violence would have occurred. In their eyes the damage inflicted upon the people, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, alike, was not worth the separation of the state. Through both interviews that I have conducted I have heard the same response that the people need not have been brought into this political schism. I feel that this is often the popular belief that most sufferers of Partition share. However, I have come to question this belief. No doubt, millions of lives were ended and many families were torn apart but I doubt whether it would have been possible for Muslims and Hindus to have coexisted in peace after this intense hatred had been stirred. Would a united India truly have saved more lives or would the two populations have continued to massacre one another, eventually leading to a total destruction of Indian civilization? In the beginning of this class we learned of how these two religious groups had lived in essential harmony for thousands of years and these facts were reinforced by my interviewees. After the interview I came to wonder then how or why these two religious groups were suddenly so full of hatred and animosity. Was it a cause of political persuasion to an uninformed public and if so, would the violence truly have not occurred had partition not occurred? Though this answer cannot be answered matter-of-factly, after conducting these interviews, it is a question that I would like to further explore through research and more stories.