A retired teacher in Punjab, while retracing his village’s past, located the families that had migrated to that country in 1947 and expressed his repentance to them for the atrocities committed during the partition riots. Known as Master Desraj in his village Chhajli in Sangrur district, he met the descendants of the families from his village and a few of the survivors in Pakistan.
58-year-old Desraj, who retired as principal from a government school last year, grew up listening to tales of those bloody days. But it was while he was compiling the history of his village a few years ago that he came to know about the horrific details of the atrocities committed on Muslim families by the people of his own village. “The gory details were disturbing enough, but what moved me in particular was the story of a girl child who survived the massacre,” Desraj recalled.
His village elders told him how 50 members of one extended family were killed. The bodies were loaded in a bullock cart and dumped in a pond outside the village. The next morning, a passer-by heard a child crying and took her to a transition camp in Sangrur. From there the girl was taken to Pakistan by one Roshan Ghumar.
In November 2009, Desraj got the chance to visit Pakistan as part of a pilgrims’ group to Nankana Sahib. He decided to look for the girl. He only knew that Roshan Ghumar had gone to Dera Gazi Khan area. That information was not enough to locate her and it kept bothering him.
After his retirement from government service, he decided to make another trip to Pakistan. The opportunity came his way once again on the occasion of Guru Nanak Dev’s birthday celebrations in November last year. This time he went straight to Chakk Ugoke village in Gujranwala district, where he knew that the surviving Muslim families of his village had settled.
The high point of his visit, he recalled, was when he met an old woman called Nooran Bibi. “She came running and hugged me in a tight clasp,” said Desraj. She asked about the bylanes and ponds in the village, much of which is still the same, Desraj told her. Desraj also met the families of Khudabaksh and Jeona Noordin. He met Nizamdeen, the son of a famous wrestler from the village. Nizamdeen was only two years old when the family fled. Abdul Azeez and Nek Mohammed, whose father Wazir Mohammed was born and raised in Chhajli, hosted Desraj as he stayed overnight. “The old and young were so full of warmth. They huddled around me and had so many questions to ask about their elders and their friends who had remained here,” said Desraj.
Finally, he broached the subject of how cruelly the men, women and children were maimed and killed and how it fills him with remorse and shame. The burden was lifted somewhat when one of the elders interjected, “It was all the same here, Desraj-ji. Our people too did not do any less.” Talking about this history of violence and bloodshed, they also shared the heroic tales of people who risked their lives to save each others’ lives, ending Desraj’s sojourn on a positive note.