An­cient sites be­came refugee camps as masses fled par­ti­tion

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

The Par­ti­tion of In­dia sparked one of the great­est mass mi­gra­tions in modern his­tory, with mil­lions seek­ing sanc­tu­ary from the vi­o­lence in­side an­cient tombs and forts — trans­form­ing them into sprawl­ing refugee camps. More than 15 mil­lion peo­ple were dis­placed fol­low­ing In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in 1947, with Mus­lims em­bark­ing for the newly formed Pak­istan as Hin­dus and Sikhs moved in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

At least a mil­lion died along the jour­ney, the rest pour­ing into fetid camps erected in cities al­ready pushed to the brink by vi­o­lence, loot­ing and food short­ages. In New Delhi, where law and or­der had al­most com­pletely bro­ken down, tens of thou­sands of Mus­lims shel­tered be­hind the 16th-cen­tury walls of Hu­mayan’s Tomb wait­ing for safe pas­sage to Pak­istan.

Tents were erected in the fine gar­dens sur­round­ing the spec­tac­u­lar mau­soleum — the in­spi­ra­tion for the Taj Ma­hal — and spilled over to en­cir­cle the smaller tombs dot­ting the Mughal-era com­plex. As space be­came scarce whole fam­i­lies hud­dled to­gether with their life’s pos­ses­sions on the ex­posed up­per lev­els of the grand court­yard of the enor­mous domed mon­u­ment it­self.

The re­gal foun­tains at Hu­mayan’s Tomb “be­came so fouled with hu­man dirt that they had to be filled in with sand”, wrote his­to­rian Yas­min Khan in her book ‘The Great Par­ti­tion’. The in­flux con­tin­ued un­abated until refugees made up al­most one-third of the pop­u­la­tion of Delhi. Those ar­riv­ing by foot, train and tonga — horse-drawn carts — slept in mar­ket­places, un­der lean-tos or searched for space in vast tent cities that sprung over all over the cap­i­tal.

All walks of life

One of the largest was at the an­cient fort of Pu­rana Qila where refugees from all walks of life camped “with their camels and ton­gas and ponies, bat­tered old taxis and lux­ury lim­ou­sines”, wrote eye­wit­ness Richard Sy­monds as quoted in Khan’s book. “The Delhi forts are land­marks for the Par­ti­tion,” said Guneeta Singh Balla, founder and ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the 1947 Par­ti­tion Archive. “The im­ages of the refugee camps there are still very dra­matic.”

In parts of Pun­jab, the desert re­gion split be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan, ra­tioning was re­duced to a sin­gle cha­p­atti a day as food short­ages bit and beg­ging and star­va­tion were wide­spread. Am­rit­sar — less than 30 kilo­me­tres from the new bor­der — en­dured hor­rific ri­ot­ing, with ar­eas like Ka­tra Jaimal Singh and Chowk Bi­jli Wala all but de­stroyed amid loot­ing and ar­son. Sikhs flee­ing per­se­cu­tion sought refuge at Khalsa Col­lege, a pres­ti­gious and pic­turesque Vic­to­rian-era univer­sity built in the late 19th-cen­tury, that staged as a re­lief camp. A new mu­seum in Am­rit­sar is help­ing record and digi­tise Par­ti­tion his­tory. But in Delhi there is no me­mo­rial at the land­marks that housed count­less refugees to mark this dark chap­ter in their cen­turies-old ex­is­tence. — AFP

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