No memorial honours the victims of India’s partition: Mariam S. Pal

Published: August 8, 2013
Mariam S. Pal

Mariam S. Pal is an economist and former member of the federal Immigration and Refugee Board. She lives in Notre Dame de Grace.


MONTREAL — It was during this second week in August in 1947, now a full 66 years ago, that my father and his family became refugees.

On Aug. 9, they ran for their lives, abandoning their home in Amritsar, soon to be in India, for Lahore, which became part of the new country of Pakistan just a few days after they arrived.

In the middle of a blistering monsoon, during the month of Ramadan, more than 12 million people moved between India and Pakistan in an atmosphere of chaos, violence and brutality.

Growing up in Canada, I learned about partition from my father. Yet I felt there was a lot I did not know. So I wrote an essay about my family’s partition experience and showed it to my father. He told me there were gaps because he had never told me what really happened.

Sitting at the kitchen table one day, he finally filled in those gaps.

Muslims, my family had lived in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar for generations. The Pals were carpet sellers and weavers who had joined British India’s educated class in the early 1900s. My grandfather was a lawyer and an Arabic scholar. The family owned property and were active in Amritsar’s community life. My grandfather wanted to stay in Amritsar after partition. But this was not to be.

By June 1947, rioting had erupted in Amritsar between Sikhs and Muslims. In the Muslim neighbourhood where my family lived, gangs of Muslim vigilantes demanded protection money. Roving gangs attacked trains between Amritsar and Lahore, murdering or maiming Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. Trainloads of bloody corpses arrived daily in Lahore and Amritsar.

“A Present from India” or “A Present from Pakistan” would be written in chalk on the carriages.

As the violence escalated, my grandfather decided the family had to be ready to flee to Lahore, just 20 miles away, soon to be part of Pakistan. My father, already studying in Lahore, rented a house. One of my uncles travelled to Lahore with cooking pots and bags of rice and lentils inside of which my grandmother’s jewelry was buried, thus ensuring a supply of food and money for the family if forced to relocate.

On Aug. 8, a Sikh family friend advised my family to leave within 24 hours. The next day, this same Sikh man drove eight veiled female members of my family to Amritsar station in a hearse. My father and his brothers met the women at the station. My grandfather and great-uncles were to join them in Lahore in a day or two. Taking only what they could carry, my family boarded the train to Lahore. They brought no food, just some water. My grandfather’s library, clothes, furniture, the detritus of family life was left behind. As the train made its hot and dusty way to Lahore, usually a 35-minute trip, my family sat silently on Third Class benches. My grandmother clutched a sack containing a samovar and some pots. Today, they are in my father’s living room.

Two hours later, my family reached Lahore. That evening they learned that theirs had been the only train from Amritsar to Lahore not attacked that day. My father went to the Lahore railway station, looking for his father and uncles. Trains arrived laden with bloody corpses, rotting in the monsoon heat. Several days later my grandfather and his brothers finally showed up at the rented house. The Pals were lucky — and safe.

My family never returned to Amritsar. Their home was ransacked and burned by Muslim goondas (thugs). Many friends were dead. My family rebuilt their lives in Lahore; they were given a house and my grandfather re-established his law practice. Having survived partition, my father nearly died from cholera in 1948. In 1955, my father left Pakistan for Canada, where he has lived for 58 years.

More than 500,000 people died due to partition: there were forced religious conversions, rapes, kidnappings and mutilations. Today we would call it ethnic cleansing. The retreating British failed to predict the massive migration unleashed by partition. The new governments of India and Pakistan were woefully unprepared to deal with the situation. Those who killed, maimed, kidnapped and stole never faced justice. No memorial honours partition’s victims.

Though born and raised in Canada, partition is my history, as it is for millions in the South Asian diaspora. The Pals survived; yet they lost their house, their land, their ancestors’ graves and part of their heritage in what we now know was one of the largest migrations of the modern era.

Although 66 years have passed, partition must not be forgotten.

Mariam S. Pal is an economist and former member of the federal Immigration and Refugee Board. She lives in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Tags: , , , , ,


gay marriage-fake-scam

Undercover agent ‘Ruby’ from Mumbai exposes fake gay marriage scam in UK

HINDUSTAN TIMES A new crime sub-category has emerged in Britain after same-sex marriages were made legal in March: fake marriages between same-sex couples for a…
Continue Reading »


Abbotsford police don’t think missing girl was abducted or hurt

VIVIAN LUK THE CANADIAN PRESS ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — Police in Abbotsford were cautiously optimistic Wednesday morning that a report of a missing young girl is…
Continue Reading »

B.C. courts

Not recognizing marital rape in India as an offence is hypocrisy in law, judge says

IANS New Delhi – Observing that India is yet to recognize woman’s right to control marital intercourse as a core component of equality, a court…
Continue Reading »


3 Afghan soldiers who fled for Canada fear torture, death if they return home

By Carolyn Thompson THE ASSOCIATED PRESS BATAVIA, N.Y. — Three Afghan military officers who sought refuge in Canada after taking off from a military training…
Continue Reading »

3 Afghan soldiers who fled for Canada fear torture, death if they return home

By Carolyn Thompson THE ASSOCIATED PRESS BATAVIA, N.Y. — Three Afghan military officers who sought refuge in Canada after taking off from a military training…
Continue Reading »

B.C. reports two enterovirus cases in child and teen with polio-like symptoms

By Sheryl Ubelacker THE CANADIAN PRESS TORONTO — A new threat is emerging in the outbreak of the respiratory illness enterovirus D68 — a small…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...


Health Canada bans some drugs from India on quality concerns

THE CANADIAN PRESS OTTAWA — Health Canada says it is banning imports of some medications and drug ingredients produced in India due to concerns about…
Continue Reading »


What’s on the White House menu for Indian PM Narendra Modi who’s fasting?

CONNIE CASS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WASHINGTON — What do you serve a man who isn’t eating? Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was served warm water…
Continue Reading »


Video: Rescue story of a dog that fell into hot tar and turned into a rock

VANCOUVER DESI A team of animal rescuers in Western India spent two days working to free a helpless dog trapped in a pile of hot…
Continue Reading »

body image-beauty-weight-control

Self-compassion leads to positive body image in women

IANS Toronto – Women who accept and tolerate their bodily imperfections appear to have a more positive body image despite their high body mass index…
Continue Reading »


Close the Vancouver airport immigration cells where Mexican woman hanged herself: lawyer

SUSAN LAZARUK VANCOUVER DESI Canada should close the immigration holding centre where a Mexican woman awaiting deportation hanged herself, and put up detainees in hotels,…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood Latest

Priyanka Chopra

Gallery: Bollywood celebs — then and now

VANCOUVER DESI We are loyal Bollywood fans and have followed our favourites through the years, be it the Khans or the beauty queens. Here’s a…
Continue Reading »


Haider: A powerful revenge saga (w/trailer)

TROY RIBEIRO IANS  Film: “Haider”; Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Shraddha Kapoor, Irrfan Khan; Director: Vishal Bhardwaj; Rating: *** 1/2) With revenge as…
Continue Reading »


Hrithik Roshan: Adversity is a gym for the mind

RASHIKA BHIRANI IANS  New Delhi – He overcame stammering; witnessed his father’s failure as an actor and producer and his surviving a gunshot wound; saw…
Continue Reading »