Satish Pruthi and his family nearly didn’t make it to India when a mob attacked the group they were a part of. But with help from friends on both sides of the border, they created a new life.
For 78-year-old Satish Pruthi, a retired Life Insurance Corporation of India employee staying in Gurugram, Haryana, the mere mention of the word ‘Partition’ instantly shaves off 70 years of his life. The look in his eyes and his vivid recollection of the events as they unfolded then, while his family was living in the Maghiana town of Jhang district in Punjab, reveal how much the pain and horror of violence impacted him as an eight-year-old boy.
“I remember a lot of incidents which happened then. The discussion then was usually around which would be the safe places to stay in, as Hindus would move out and Muslims would come in. We were told that we have to gather at a particular place and then a train would take us across to India,” he recalled, sitting in the drawing room of his house in Sector 56, Gurugram, where he now stays with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
Though Pruthi’s parents hailed from Shorkot in the same district, his father, who was head clerk at Government College, Maghiana, had settled in the town with his wife and six children.
Recalling how and when the family realised they would have to leave for India, Pruthi said, “My father’s junior clerk was Mohammad Ameen. He used to visit us often. He cautioned us that mobs of Muslims were going around looking for Hindus and offered us shelter at his home. But we feared that should a big mob reach his house and ask that all the “kafirs” be handed over to them, then what would happen. So we decided not to take shelter in his house.”
Just then, he said, the family learnt that there was a prominent social worker, Kashmiri Lal Sehgal, who had gathered a lot of people at his house. “We also got the message to reach his place and we did so with most of our neighbours. We must have stayed at his place for a day and a half. Then we were told that a train was coming and we should take it to leave Pakistan.”
The plan, he said, was that all Hindus would gather at Anaj Mandi near the station and then board the train. “At the designated hour we began walking towards Anaj Mandi. My family comprised my parents, my four sisters and a brother, who was very small and was being held by my father in his arms. Overall, there were around 200 people in the group.”
A near-death experience
But the journey to the station was not a smooth one. “On the way there was a bend and as we were passing it, we came under attack from a mob. Those who were in the front half and those right at the end were attacked by the mob with knives, swords and gunfire. A large number of people, nearly 60-80, were killed or injured in the attack. There were cries of pain and panic all around. Fortunately, my family was in the middle of the group and we ran for our lives, at times by running around or over the bodies of the dead and injured.”
Thereafter, Sehgal spoke to the administration and asked why the innocent group was attacked. “He was told that this attack was the handiwork of some miscreants. He was told that we should “rest” that evening and that a “safe passage” to the station would be provided the following day. We were obviously in a state of panic and fear after having had a close brush with death.”
The following day, he said, some military personnel arrived and the group at Sehgal’s house was shifted to Anaj Mandi. “A temporary camp was set up there and a large number of people took shelter.”
A long, uncertain journey
“The following day, a train came and we began our journey to India,” said Pruthi, adding that the relief of leaving Maghiana was huge, especially after the violence that the group survived. “After several hours, the train reached Lahore and there we saw a large number of bodies, who had been slaughtered, lying on both sides of the tracks,” he added.
He said everyone learnt that “the bodies were of the passengers of the train which had left before us. This again gave rise to fear and despondency about what lay ahead. But the train moved on. Then there was another station some distance ahead where the train stopped and then it did not move for the next eight to ten hours. There was no water at the station and we had all run out of drinking water. People begged the engine driver for help and he allowed them to take some of the hot water which is stored in the engine. But food was out of question.”
Finally, he said, the passengers heaved a sigh of relief when they learnt that the Indian military was coming to provide security to the train. “The army personnel then escorted us up to Attari railway station in India. There we were served water and food by Sikhs who had set up langars at the station itself. We must have halted for around 3-4 hours before the train began its onward journey to Hoshiarpur where a refugee camp had been set up.”
Mohammad Ameen’s acts cannot be forgotten
“We were very uncertain about our future because we only had the clothes we were in and nothing more with us. But it was Mohammad Ameen’s subsequent actions which helped us a great deal,” said Pruthi.
“In Hoshiarpur, we were put up in the government college hostel. There we came to know that a man was trying to get in touch with us. It was Ameen. On learning about the train we had boarded, he sent a message to Hoshiarpur in which he had written that he had gone to our house in Maghiana and found that it had been ransacked and burnt. But he managed to find some papers there and collected them. He sent them to us with the message that they may be of use to us. And indeed they were. One of the documents was our post office passbook. There were Rs 300 in my father’s account then and we received that money in our account here. It was quite a sum, considering that my father’s salary was Rs 18 per month then. There were also some service papers of my father and some letters. They helped my father get a job here,” Pruthi told The Wire.
At the Hoshiarpur camp, he said, the principal of the local government college met his father and asked him about his background. He then wrote to the Directorate of Public Institutions, which used to control the government colleges then, about his father’s case and within days, his father was offered a job in government college at Ropar – that too in continuation of his earlier employment.
A chilling experience, but fond memories
Overall, Pruthi maintained, “it was a horrible experience coming from Maghiana but in the end the services that the Indian government and the people of this country gave to us were really memorable.”
In Ropar, he said, the family was also given a house which had been vacated by a Muslim family. “We stayed there for about 8-9 months and my third brother was born there. Then our regular postings began. I did my schooling in Ropar. Later we moved to Jalandhar and then when my father requested that he be posted to Delhi as most of his relatives resided here, he was transferred to Hisar and we stayed there for 7-8 years. I did my matriculation and intermediate from there and then there was a vacancy which appeared in Life Corporation of India for which I applied. I was selected and my first posting was in Rohtak. I retired after about 39 years and my last position was of faculty member at our management institute in Gurgaon.”
Pruthi still carries some fond memories from Pakistan. “There was a lot of warmth and harmony between people in Maghiana. I do not feel any bitterness towards anyone. There were active social workers and other Muslims who gave us shelter and helped us escape to India. There is no doubt that people at large are not bad but it is the politicians who vitiate the atmosphere with such decisions,” he insists.
His experience has also pushed Pruthi towards social work. He now works as joint secretary at the Arya Samaj Mandir at Sushant Lok, where he looks after its various social activities. This apart, he is also an executive member of Maharishi Dayanand Model School in South City I. “I was offered several private jobs after I retired but I chose social work instead because I believe we cannot carry any money with us in afterlife.”