HARI CHAND ANEJA CAME TO INDIA AS AREFUGEE IN 1947. HERE HE RECOUNTS IN FIRST PERSON, HIS EXPERIENCE, THE YEARS LEADING TO INDEPENDENCE AND THE SCENARIO POST INDEPENDENCE.
Kharra Rupaiya Chandi da, Raj Mahatma Gandhi da! K
harri athani Chandi di, hukumat Mahatma Gandhi di!” ( Just as the Silver Rupee and the Silver eight- anna coins are genuine, so will prevail the rule of Mahatma Gandhi!), we roared, wearing the white Gandhi cap, as we marched down the road to Ramlilla grounds in Lyallpur ( now Faisalabad), to hear Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose speak.
In 1938, the waves of the epic Satyagraha freedom struggle, led by Mahatma Gandhi, had reached our school, situated on the outskirts of Lyallpur. We students, aged between 16 and 17 were inspired.
India was in the grip of the fervent desire to be free. Netaji Subhas Bose, President of the Congress Party was to visit Lyallpur to address a public meeting. Our school prohibited us from participating in the rally. However, we were determined to do so. This was our way of expressing solidarity with the freedom movement. We plotted that we would depart in small groups of two or three, so that our schoolmasters would think, we were out for casual walks. We were ecstatic to make it to Ramlilla Grounds and hear Netaji Boses speech. He spoke in Hindi, but used many Bengali words.
Back at the hostel, our school had detected our absence. When we returned we were dismayed to see the hostel doors bolted! Sometime later, Master Salamat Rai the hostel Superintendent came to us. He held a cane in his hand. He questioned us where had we been. We admitted the truth.
He instructed us to extend our palms.
He caned us. Then, we entered the hostel. We felt fulfilled, even though we had been caned! The year was 1938.
Beginning life afresh
Prakash Kumari, my wife shivered in the cold night. We lay on a sheet, spread on a street in Amritsar.
We had no pillows. I picked some bricks and put them under our heads. We lay there in the dark, wide- awake, wondering what would become of us. We had reached Amritsar at 7 pm. We did not know anyone in India. We did not know where to go. We were penniless. Therefore, we decided to sleep in the street. This was our first night in free India, on September 12, 1947.
An army convoy had brought us here from the newly formed Pakistan.
The journey was punctuated with the sound of bullets. This was the first time my wife had travelled outside our hometown.
Next morning I needed money for accommodation, clothes and food. However, there was mingy money. We had left our home abruptly. We were reduced to the plight of beggars. Beggars could at least beg and fill their bellies. We could not even extend our hands for alms nor could we talk about our pathetic plight. Whom could we approach for support? Everyone around us was a refugee.
Fortunately, my wife was wearing her gold bangles. I suggested to her that we sell them to get some money. She was horrified. ” These are my wedding bangles,” she protested. I promised to buy her new bangles later. The good lady agreed.
Much before the actual divide, conditions had started deteriorating.
Fear and tension reigned. Bullets were fired in residential neighbourhoods.
Knives and swords were used. Women were abused.
Parents lost their support as their young children were killed. Children were orphaned. Houses were looted, set on fire.
My parents insisted on staying at home. My father Lala Thakar Das believed that the storm would blow over. My mother Jwalabai, would never leave him. My father insisted that we move the women, children to a safe place. Meanwhile, our home was ransacked. I never saw my parents after that. I did not even have their photograph.
My heart was heavy. I was just 26 years of age. In this fierce storm our family which was a beautiful garland of flowers was dismembered.
In Amritsar, community kitchens (” langars”) served us a basic meal.