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Lajwanti and Lanny


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For whom the bell tolls

The 16th day of April 1853 is special in the Indian history. The day was a public holiday. At 3:30 pm, as the 21 guns roared together, the first train carrying Lady Falkland, wife of Governor of Bombay, along with 400 special invitees, steamed off from Bombay to Thane.

Ever since the engine rolled off the tracks, there have been new dimensions to the distances, relations and emotions. Abaseen Express, Khyber Mail and Calcutta Mail were not just the names of the trains but the experiences of hearts and souls. Now that we live in the days of burnt and non functional trains, I still have few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing at the door as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-fi communications, I hope you will like them.


Kamoke, Sadhuke and Muridke were the grain markets, famous for their retail business. The Jaats, who in their previous reincarnations had tilled the land and are now detached from the soil, sit in the concrete jungle of Lahore and Amritsar. After spending a lifetime in a city, which is no more a city, they tell the stories, fabulous and mythical, of virgins and welcoming fields to the cosmetic and superficial residents of metropolitan.

When train whistles out of Aimenabad, the smell of Basmati is maddening. The sights and sounds are mythical but nobody has the time to enjoy its novelty. Before the partition, the villages on both sides of the grand road were classified on land holding rather than religion. Muslims and Sikhs were farmers and land owners and Hindus thrived in trade, brokerage and money lending. When the Sikhs visited the Muslims, Hooqahs were silenced and when the Muslims visited the Sikhs, halal meat replaced Jhatka. Madrassahs, Paath Shalas and Gurudwaras served the educational needs of the villagers with their wisdom but the Muslims were found in pupillage to Pandits and Brahmins studied under the Mullahs.

The sweetness of Kamke's barfi has no match but it still does not mellow down the bitterness of September, 1947.

Lajwanti, widow of Manak Chand, aged 23, caste Khatri, resident of Nurpur Sethi, District Jhelum narrated her story while a recording statement to the Chief Liaison Officer, Lahore.

Her husband Manak Chand worked at the Alkali Chemical Corporation of India, Limited at, Khewra and they lived in the company quarters. As Bhadon, that year approached (August 1947), the Muslims attacked Khewra. Lajwanti and the family survived because the quarters were inside a guarded compound. The manager of the corporation, being a European, asked all non-Muslim employees to move to some safe place.


On the 6th of Asuj, the next month, a convoy of 6 loaded trucks picked all the non-Muslims from Khewra and reached Pind Dadan Khan. Lajwanti was accompanied by her husband, her one and a half-year old son, her uncle Ganda Mal, his wife Karma Wali and their little daughter, all in one truck. At the railway station, a large number of refugees awaited the train to India. This was the last refugee train to leave Pakistan. They left for Ferozepur via Lahore on the next day under the guard of 15 soldiers of the Pakistan Army and reached Kamoke by night. They travelled without water and even when the train stopped, nobody dared to get down.

Refugees carry their belongings alongside a train track. -Photo by CAP
Refugees carry their belongings alongside a train track. -Photo by CAP

That night was spent at the railway station. The next morning, the police ordered everybody to get down and started searching the train, the search continued for two hours. All men were disarmed including those with the license. They were told that the weapons will be returned before the move. After the search, passengers were asked to settle in the train so that the journey can be resumed. As the engine whistled, a huge Muslim crowd appeared from one side. Armed with daggers, rifles, knives and sticks, they shouted “Ya Ali” and charged the train.

On entering the compartments, they killed the men and shifted the women aside. The police, present at the platform, sided with the assailants and shot any passengers who tried to get out of the train. The military fired in the air, initially but after a while they also joined the mob in killings. Minutes later, all the men were dead.

The women were taken out and all jewelry and valuables were removed. After the loot, they were distributed amongst the raiders. Lajwanti was taken by Abdul Ghani, a tonga driver, to his house and she spent the next one month in great misery. During the assault, her son, tied to her bosom was also snatched away despite her protests. When Abdul Ghani left the house for work, she would go house to house to look for her son. Besides Lajwanti, the entire earth had lost her motherhood. During her search, she found multitudes of Hindu women in the locality, living under similar conditions.

After about a month, it was announced that all the abducted women would be returned. Meanwhile, rumors of famine in East Punjab and disowning of the returned girls did the rounds on the streets of Kamoki.

Uncertainty was written large over their faces of the 150 women at the police station in Kamoke, where they were to be taken to Gujranwala in tongas. Only 20 could gather the courage to return, including Lajwanti. The others turned down the option of going back and decided to live a renewed life, with a renewed faith. The returnees were then taken to a refugee camp in Lahore, and subsequently to Amritsar. During her statement, Lajwanti declared that her uncle, aunt and husband were all killed at the Kamoki Railway Station and that she was going to India without her son.

While looking for train massacres in 1947, a news clipping of The Advertiser, an Australian newspaper, drew my attention. On 26th September, the largest train killing was reported in Amritsar, where around 3000 Muslims were murdered, women distributed and children abducted. The British officer responsible for the protection of train did his best to save the passengers but was killed by his own men.

On one end were the stories of life-long associations of Sikh and Muslim land Jaats and at the other end, were the tales of vengeance and enmity. My writing table was stacked with the statements of immigrants who had left Pakistan for India and my memories were stuffed with the horrific stories of atrocities of immigrants who had come to Pakistan from India. I was confronting the one and had grown up with the other.

The dark stories, however, did have few bright narratives. One was Fateh Muhammad, a constable, who adopted 16-year-old Balwant Kaur, after her parents were murdered. When he took Balwant Kaur to his home, he gathered his family and called Balwant, his daughter. Fateh stood by his words, despite the opposition of the entire village. He eventually found her relatives and handed over Balwant to her brother, who had travelled to Lahore.

Another statement, which now rests in the archives of the East Punjab Liaison Agency Records is by Narain Singh of Bathinda. Narain sheltered a Muslim girl, whom he found abandoned. He sent her to school along with the other girls of the family and on growing up located her relatives through the Pakistan High Commission. Along with his own daughters, Narain Singh has also prepared dowry for her. While handing her over at Wagah, he gifted her with the dowry items.

The question arises for who stood on the right side of history, the slogan-raising mob that charged the convoys or the neighbors who stood for the people of other faith? Those who settled the score for immigrants or those who healed the wounds through forgiveness? History remains a one-way mirror. It does reflect one’s own self but cannot show the other side.

The sun was setting on the blazing Shah Almi. In this evening of August, Lanny asked, with Zoroastrian innocence, “Ice Candy Man, why are they killing and burning each other’s houses?”

The Ice Candy Man had heard the sufferings of a looted convoy from India in the morning and had returned after killing two Hindus. While looking at Shah Alami with blood-stained eyes, he replied, “In our quest for independence, we have set the inner wild animal free.”


Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (41) Closed

krishnan,India Jan 02, 2013 12:31am
Both Hindus and Muslims killed each other.You should accept the truth - especially as your name is derived from Buddha. This is a beautiful article.
Naresh sharma Jan 02, 2013 05:41am
While looking for train massacres in 1947, a news clipping of The Advertiser, an Australian newspaper, drew my attention. On 26th September, the largest train killing was reported in Amritsar, where around 3000 Muslims were murdered, women distributed and children abducted. The British officer responsible for the protection of train did his best to save the passengers but was killed by his own men. " when you start trouble you get trouble back.... thats called karma""" same happened in 2002 gujrat...
Ajaya K Dutt Jan 02, 2013 12:14am
Why there were riots? Look for the root cause; not an excuse. Facing the demons within needs courage. Writer has shown humanity; we still need the courage.
N Parvana Jan 01, 2013 10:33pm
It was a heart moving article Mr Miraj. But have the sufferings on both sides of Redcliff line have made us any wiser?
Mahmood Jan 04, 2013 08:06am
Why are you not giving room to the opponents?
Santosh Jan 02, 2013 09:11am
Jinnah did this for a few months of glory - he knew he was going to die.
Deb; India Jan 01, 2013 11:03pm
You are just one out of 1.2 billion Indians. What makes you think that your very personal negativity is worth a shout in a public forum. You can keep it to yourself.
Missy Jan 02, 2013 04:50am
I remember growing up listening to the stories of partition, how my great uncle and his entire family including a three year old son were killed. It was all very sad and frightening. But the generation that suffered through partition has passed on. The new generations have not directly been affected by it. Let's move on and give peace a chance.
Imran Jan 02, 2013 02:18pm
And how does karma explain Mumbai 2008?
Ram Krishan Sharma Jan 02, 2013 04:04am
Some times you wonder whether God really created man in his own image , so the saying goes , when he is able to commit such atrocities on other innocent human beings. Partition of India ,was a plan of God where millions of Hindus , Muslims and Sikhs had to suffer to create a new country called Pakistan. Similarly 6 million Jews had to die to create the country of Israel. It is All God's will and we have to accept it if you believe in Any religion.
kamaljit Singh Jan 02, 2013 04:49am
Miraj Sahib: Another piece that made my eyes moist. I want to hang them who were responsible for this human tragedy. I hope some day our future generations will have to pronounce the judgement , may be it was Gandhi, Jinnah or British OR who else .
Khan Jan 02, 2013 06:44am
The feeling is mutual.
Imran Jan 02, 2013 02:23pm
Sharma jee, when we firmly believe in God despite all ifs and buts, thats what we call the state of eeman.
harishgoswami Jan 02, 2013 06:37am
For a while please change the heading of this Blog as it is not reflecting true sense after reading this.
akhtat Jan 02, 2013 04:53am
we in india and pakistan must accept our failings and resolve not to repeat it. while discussing these painful events we blame each other seldom we discuss what the govt of that time ,a super power, was doing with its most powerful army which couldnot shift 10 millions people to safety.why the govt of the time allowed hypering of centiment to the level most hated by sane minds. guess who is responsible?
Koi-Kon Jan 02, 2013 11:00am
Wajeeh Jan 02, 2013 03:43am
Not easy to read about the miseries especially mothers and children had suffered through in that tough times. Hurting:(
Saeed Akhtar Jan 02, 2013 06:06am
My grand father and his family migrated from Sahowal village, district Gurdaspur, India and settled at Kot Radha Kishan district Kasur, Pakistan. Like above story my grand uncle wife left at Sahowal during troubled time. After normalization my grand father and some other family members went back to Sahowal to trace her. After search they found that missing lady but she did not come back with them as she was forced to marry with an Indian soldier and accordingly she changed her religion. We have been informed by our father that there were two Sahowal at Gurdaspur and both had muslims majority. During partition all people at small Sahowal was killed by Indian mob. Partition left terrible stories at both sides. Anyhow, we are hopeful for better future for both nations.
Deb; India Jan 01, 2013 11:11pm
I believe I am of a secular disposition. But I wouldn't care if the author is secular or not. I find him as a great human being. For me that's more than anything that one can hope to be. Respect all the way.
Rafiq Ahmed Jan 02, 2013 01:32am
Good article. Now how about one about Muslims running away from India and making it to Pakistan. There are still lots of people alive who had to run for their lives from what is now India to what is now Pakistan, and many of them lost relatives along the way. I am sure they have some interesting and heart rendering stories. Why doesn't a Dawn writer write about them? or is it just to easy to copy stuff from Indian writers and print it in Dawn.
dr makraja Jan 02, 2013 01:59am
wah sirjee once again and i have to say that you have brought the whole of that area to life places which i passed when travelling to and fro from islamabad to lahore I never though in those days even once as to who lived here or used to and now lajwanti and the others are there to tell us their stories even after 65 years to remind us of the purposeless lives we live and what we have become Indeed intolerance begets nothing but more intolerance
Vikas Sharma Jan 01, 2013 02:27pm
You are a good man,a secular man.God bless you.
Ravi Nayar Jan 01, 2013 03:35pm
Yes a truly sad time.. sadder still that the lessons of history are not learnt... Kashmir is still considered the " unfinished buisness " of partition... while actually " partitition " itself is the unfinished buisness of our colonial it continues to torture us in the subcontinent.... hope all those who read the article will stop and ponder.... kudos to the writer.....
Deb; India Jan 02, 2013 10:12am
No need to guess who is (are) responsible. In my heart I know the answer. But keeping with the spirit of this author and his article, I will not indulge in name calling. For everything there is a time and a place. Lets empathise with the souls of those who perished and suffered during those turbulent days.
dattatray Jan 01, 2013 08:29pm
THNX FOR BEAUTIFUL ARTICLE"""""" we indians loss our heritage centres or the many important religious place after partition but i bet u pakistanis lost everything ur history,ur ethincity ,ur pride, humanity everything. think from deep of heart . & just tell me do you people feel comfortable (there language, food) when u go to any arab country? if you come to my country i m sure the first thought in ur mind will be"ARE YE TO APNE JAISE HI LOG HAI".
Masood Hussain Jan 01, 2013 08:27pm
Obviously,those who stood for neighbours of other faith and who tried to heal wounds through forgiveness. The. story told is so depressing,i can't hold back my tears.I have lived through this holoucast and witness to such dreadfull happenings i shudder to recall People had thrown away the mantle of being humans..
dev Jan 01, 2013 08:06pm
Really moving. India and Pakistan often have talks, which never go anywhere. Perhaps we should have a frank chat about these things and address our shared misery from those time. Perhaps it will help with our collective PTSD, and then, rid of that mental illness, we can start the process of being normal.
Cynical Jan 02, 2013 10:23am
Very true.
Universe Jan 01, 2013 02:00pm
TRULY A VERY SAD TIME IN OUR HISTORY where two people living in peace and harmony are instantly uprooted with violence . Memories too strong and personal will probably take centuries for forgiveness. The appearance of this article on new year day 2013 may it start a genuine reconciliation of these twins....
rich Jan 02, 2013 08:40am
just one person created pakistn think about it remmember its not just partition, latest was mumbai, do u have an answer to what happned to my beloved mumbai Richie
gautam Jan 01, 2013 03:55pm
Let another hundred years go by and leave the India pakistan relationship as it is. Future generation will face the reality and they will decide their destiny. Till then, We Indians do not want to see any Pakistanis on our soil.
Hemant Naik Jan 01, 2013 03:56pm
Hats off to you sir, for writing so impartially about both communities.
Cynical Jan 01, 2013 04:01pm
@Miraz Great piece like before. The background work must be quite daunting. I wonder how you inspire yourself to come up with such gems week after week. Quite clearly, there were Fateh Muhammads and Narain Singhs, who probably didn't believe that Hindus and Muslims are two different nations and can't live together. But alas they didn't find support from those who could. The shenanigans were busy doing their own mischief, spreading hate and insecurity among the naive and the gullible. One of them roared, 'We will either divide India, or we will destroy it'. India or not, but a million peoples
Adeel Jan 01, 2013 03:49pm
Another great piece of writing ! Bht Khoob sir. I personally know the persons whose forefathers have been involved in Kamokey Train Massacre. Now, few of them are politicians.
Rashid Sultan Jan 01, 2013 11:48am
The divided country is still suffering from extreme post traumatic stress. The extremist leaders and their followers haven't yet come to accept humanity instead of personal faith as the supreme.
Gulbaz Mushtaq Jan 01, 2013 01:24pm
I have heard this sad story from my friend who heard it from his uncle, a retired policeman who was eyewitness of the whole incident. And who (my friend's uncle) searched through the train to disarm the men board on it. According to this policeman, they received orders "from high ups". When my friend asked the policeman that did he ever feel repentance on the cruelty, his uncle said "no, because this act stopped cutting of refugee trains coming from other side of the border". This is how they deceive their concious. Sir G, in that time of Fitna, "those who healed the wounds through forgiveness" and those who stood for their neighbours of other faith to protect the were on right side of the history. Jeetay Raho!!!
Omer Usmer Jan 02, 2013 04:42pm
jinnah made pakistan and saved muslims and made them a homeland. hindus and sikh never excepted a Pakistan so they attacked the muslim minortie and those Muslims that were leaving for Pakistan. millions of muslims were killed in east Punjab, hyderbad, kashmire, in up, delhi and more places.
Nina Jan 01, 2013 05:47pm
Yes, but at least we can ponder over it in a more reflective manner now. Would be a real pity if we refuse to learn from it though.
raika45 Jan 01, 2013 11:02am
Though factual, it is still very depressing reading.To read humans going down to such low levels of humanity.
Krishna Jan 01, 2013 03:52pm
The human tragedy during sub-continent partition is the most under-reported event. Woman had to face the brunt of the human beasts which were unleashed during partition. That was the time when humanity lost the battle. I think the British, Indian leaders and pakistani leaders all are to be blamed for failing to foresee such events during partition. I feel sorry and empathize with the pain and suffering that the innocent ladies on both sides of the border like Lajwanti had to go through.
naveen Jan 01, 2013 01:30pm
unfortunately the truth was very bitter for immigrants on both sideand ,those who suffered but history cant be rewritten. Only elites and politicians enjoyed the benifits and common men suffered.