Tribune News Service
Amritsar, August 14
The bloody 1947 Partition of the country witnessed the largest migration of people in the history of mankind and shaped lakhs of lives. Many of the mass of humanity could not make it to their destined places.
Partition left a traumatic impression on the minds of children at that time and they could not forget their or their families’ ordeal during those terrible times when people who lived in harmony for decades started killing each other.
Surjit Singh Kukreja (78) was eight-year-old at that time. While telling the harrowing tale, he becomes nostalgic and pauses now and then.
Besides his parents, they were four brothers and three sisters who migrated from Ugoke village in Sialkot, now in Paksitan.
“I still remember I was playing with my elder brother, Raghubir Singh, outside our home when my father told me to go to the main road and sit in the truck, adding that other members of the family would be following him. We didn’t know what was happening and why my father was all of a sudden asking us to sit in a truck on the main road, around half a kilometer from the house,” he recalls.
When we reached the truck, it started and we became panicky. However, the truck met with an accident when it was climbing a bridge. A couple of persons died while I and my brother escaped with minor injuries. “That was a freezing cold night near the Ravi,” he said.
Next morning, an Army truck took us back to the village and reunited us with our family. That night was horrible. Though the majority of the population comprised Hindus and Sikhs, fear was writ large on every face. A group of Muslims also tried to attack our village. However, stiff resistance from villagers forced them to retreat.
“Hindus and Sikhs had pucca houses while Muslims had kutcha houses,” remembers Kukreja.
Later, they gathered at a gurdwara and people from neighbouring villages also reached the shrine.
The families were then shifted to the Sialkot camp, from where they were sent to Dera Baba Nanak in a train amid tight security provided by Army men.
“It was late in the evening when we reached Dera Baba Nanak. It was darkness everywhere. Next morning, when we woke up, it was a horrible scene across the railway station. A huge number of people were lying dead,” he recalled.
“The memory still sends shivers down my spine. I have not been able to forget the day throughout my life,” Kukreja said. One of my brothers, Balbir Singh, who was eldest of all siblings, was bed-ridden due to some back problem and he was carried on a bed all through the painful journey. It was raining heavily when we reached Dera Baba Nanak. From there, my family shifted to Amritsar in a truck belonging to General Mohan Singh, who was a Commander in the Indian National Army.
“Ugoke is the ancestral village of Subhash Chander Bose, the founder of the Indian National Army. He was given a rousing welcome when he had come to the village during World War II,” he said. Our family had reached India safely but disturbing reports of male members of several families killing their daughters and women were pouring in. Such reports aggravated the pain that still simmers in my heart every year.
Asked whether he wanted to visit his native place in Pakistan, he said although he remembered every street of the village where he played during his childhood, he had been told that everything had changed in that village.
“Yes, I want to visit my ancestral village,” he says.
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