Dr. Vishin Jotwani was born in 1922 in Rohri, Sindh. The highlights of his childhood were school vacations to Delhi and Lahore, where his sisters lived. There was a direct train from his hometown to Lahore. Jotwani’s years in college were marked by anti-colonial activism, so when partition happened, it hurt his personal and political beliefs.
Precious things were left behind
Dr. Jotwani had been an active participant in India’s nationalist movement. In 1942, he had even been expelled from medical school for his participation. At the time, Gandhi would observe complete silence once a week. Dr. Jotwani started doing the same with his friends, which angered one of his professors, because he would not respond to the roll call. Suspecting Jotwani’s role in the movement, the professor threw him and his friends out of the hostel. Jotwani and his friends also refused to buy English goods.
On August 14th 1947, the day before India celebrated independence, 25-year-old Vishin Jotwani visited Delhi to watch the ceremony. On the 15th, riots broke out in the city. Jotwani said he could not return to Sindh immediately.
In Jotwani’s hometown in Sindh, he said, the relationship between different religious communities was not tense. “We believed in Sikhism, Hinduism, and all the Gods,” he said. “We had a temple where we used to keep the Bhagavad Gita and the Guru Granth Sahib. We celebrated Holi, Diwali, and Guru Nanak’s birthday.”
At the time of Partition, Dr. Jotwani brought his family to Gondia, near Nagpur in Maharashtra, and then began working at the Mana refugee camp in Raipur in central India (which is now Chhattisgarh).
Dr. Jotwani was the only doctor in the camp. He worked for eight to 10 hours a day. He enlisted help from those in the camps who had medical training, and gave them assignments. To his relief, everyone was willing to help.
His time at the refugee camps was a contrast to his time in college.
After working in the refugee camps, Dr. Jotwani was placed as a medical officer at various jails where he treated prisoners.
69 years later
Before the partition, Dr. Jotwani was accepted as a student at the John Hopkins University in America. He had been sure of attending. But after leaving the refugee camps, he worked in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and became disillusioned with the amount of corruption in the profession. He then applied to be a doctor in the army, railway, and the government, he was accepted by all of them. As a government doctor, he treated government officials, supreme court justices, and even one of India’s prime ministers.
“When you lose your land, you lose everything.”
The partition, however, had impacted him deeply. The Sindhi population was already small, and now, because of a border, they were spread all over the world. “When you lose your land, you lose everything,” said Dr. Jotwani.
This interview was conducted by Katherine Brito and Dr. Guneeta Singh Bhalla.