My father passed away almost 20 years ago but I remember him every day. I remember him as a loving and doting father, a jolly, generous, kind, often compulsive person, always ready to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. He would buy us gifts – clothes, toys and food whenever he felt like. I would always be so happy and glad just to be in his company.
He had many names and identities you might say. He was known by his Muslim name as Abrar Hussain, his nickname was Khuku and Johnky, his Christian name was Peter.
My grandfather, Late Capt. Iqbal Hussain of IAMC and a major in the INA, was a medical doctor in the British Army. He was from Secunderabad, Peshawar, in West Pakistan. He married my grandmother Matilda in the year 1927. She was from Malki, Shillong, now the capital of Meghalaya. They had five children – three sons and two daughters. My eldest uncle was Altaf Hussain. He was a druggist at Peshawar. He remained a bachelor till his death. We heard a little about him from time to time. He had settled in Germany but moved back to Pakistan due to his failing health. He passed away in Pakistan a couple of years ago. My youngest uncle, Ikram Hussain, is now the only surviving member on my father’s side. He is now settled in Australia with his wife and five children. We are in touch with them and interact on occasion. He used to teach at a Government School at Adnersahar, Peshawar city.
My grandfather had remarried when he went back to Pakistan and no one knows about his wife’s name or identity. She was last heard of as staying with her brother in Karachi after the death of my grandfather. My grandparents lived in Shillong for a few years but soon after, my grandpa was posted at Benares. This is where my father was born in 1939. That very year my grandpa was transferred to Singapore. The family was evacuated from Singapore when it fell to the Japanese during the Second World War. They returned to Shillong but my grandpa stayed behind at his medical unit. He became a prisoner of war. Later on, my grandpa joined the Indian National Army (INA) and was the Special Medical Officer to Subhash Chandra Bose. After the fall of Japan in the war, grandpa was captured by the British Army and was taken to the Red Fort. He was later released when the British granted a general amnesty. He then came back to Shillong to his wife and children.
Unfortunately, perhaps due to personal and religious differences between my grandparents, my grandma filed a case against my grandpa for the guardianship of her children. She won the case and obtained a decree from the courts. But my grandpa deliberately took my uncles and my father away with him to Lahore in 1947. It was a quirk of fate that the area where they lived fell under West Pakistan when India was partitioned after independence. Grandpa had until then never sought or applied for Pakistani citizenship.
My father, on the other hand, when he was residing at Lahore, had always longed for his mother and desired to be with her. The situation at home became unbearable for him after my grandpa remarried a woman whose identity remains unknown. When my father turned 17, he decided to come back to Shillong, back to where his mother was, back home. In 1956, my father decided to obtain a Pakistani passport because according to him it was the only way he could come back to India at that time. For this purpose he took the name of Abrar Hussain. He told us it was a very arduous and long journey for him, traveling alone through unknown and unfamiliar territory. When he reached Guwahati, Assam, he told us that a kind and helpful taxi driver offered assistance to him even though they barely understood one another as my father knew only the Pashtu and Urdu languages. Due to this benevolent act of the taxi driver my father could reach Shillong safely. But he hardly knew the place called Malki. He did not understand Khasi, the local language of the state. He went knocking on each and every door uttering only the name of his mother, ‘Matilda’, ‘Matilda’, over and over again till at last he was able to locate her. My grandma was taken aback when she saw her beloved son standing in front of her. What joy and happiness they must have felt when they embraced each other after being separated for such a long time.
Immediately after my father’s return, grandma engaged a lawyer who surrendered his Pakistani passport to the Deputy Commissioner. After it was returned, it was destroyed by my grandma on the grounds that he was a minor and she was his guardian. Moreover, he was an Indian.
My father then got admitted to one of the popular schools in Shillong, St. Anthony’s, where he studied till his matriculation 1961. He went to college at St. Anthony’s where he completed his secondary education in the science stream. It was during his studies there that he met my mother while they were watching a movie, fell in love with her and later married her. Soon after, father left college as he had to provide for his family. He began working as a contractor in Hind Construction which was situated at Barapani. He also had to take up cultivation at the family land there. He returned home and was unemployed up to March 1965. But the following month, he got appointed as a teacher in Pynursla Mission School, which is about 90 kms from Shillong. My mother also got appointed as a teacher in the same school. They lived there for some time with my eldest sister who was around two years at that time. However, their peaceful existence was shattered when one CID (intelligence) inspector contacted my father at Pynursla and directed him to contact the Superintendent of Police (SP) as he was a Pakistani national living without any authority in India. My father was kept in the lock-up and served with a Quit India Notice on 7th September, 1965. He was then taken to the Dawki border with Bangladesh and deported to Pakistan. As soon as he reached Tamabil (border area) he was arrested by the East Pakistani police for failure to produce the Quit India Notice. He was then taken to Sylhet (Bangladesh) where he was jailed. He was in jail for a week after which he was taken to the Dacca Interrogation Centre and locked up for 14 days.
During this period when he was in jail, he was interrogated by one army major, a DSP (CID) and many other plains clothes police officers. They questioned him about the location of army units in and around Shillong and about the political development in the hills. They read out names of various politicians of that time and enquired about their position and influence among the tribals and other issues as well. They also interrogated him about the economic conditions, about the Police Bazaar mosque. They gave him electric shocks and tried to ascertain whether he was sent to Pakistan as an Indian spy. He was then sent back to Sylhet where he was charged U/S 13 (3) of the Official Secrets Act and removed to a cell in the jail. During his stay in jail, my father later told us, he came in contact with some Pakistani Hindu leaders like Sadhu Babu of Lakkuthi, Sylhet, Nikunjabehari Goswami, editor of Janashakti and others. In January 1966, Wickliffe Syiem, Syiem (traditional Khasi king) of Hima Nongstoin also came to interrogate my father about the Hill State Movement and the mass support behind it and other political issues.
My father was facing a lot of problems in jail. So he wrote a letter to his younger brother Ikram in Peshawar, informing him about his various difficulties and sought his help in this matter. In July 1966, uncle Ikram came to Sylhet and got him released on bail-town bail. A person by the name of Sardar Khan hailing from Peshawar gave my father shelter in his house. Uncle Ikram had given my father 300 rupees and with that meager amount, my father somehow was able to survive. He got appointed as a salesman in the City Pharmacy, Bandarbazar. This was due to his prior experience of working in his father’s pharmacy. While on town bail my father had to go to the Thana everyday and to the DIB office once a week. This was his daily routine for the next six months.
After his release he came back to Shillong to his wife and children. However, their life was again disturbed. As ill luck would have it, my father was again arrested by the police under section 14 of the Foreigners’ Act, Preventive Detention Act, Defense of India Rules and other rules and regulations on 16 September, 1967, just after a few days after his arrival in Shillong from Sylhet jail, East Pakistan. He was released on bail till February 1972.
My father then filed a case against the Union of Assam and Meghalaya for having arrested, detained and deported him when he was in actual fact an Indian. The Munsiff’s Court at Shillong issued an absolute injunction on the three respondents restraining them from deporting him and also from considering him as a foreigner or a Pakistani National until the case filed against him under section 14 of the Foreigners’ Act was disposed of. This case was still going on when he was again arrested and detained on 14 July 1975 under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act 1973). The detention referred to my father as a Pakistani National, despite the absolute injunction. The renewed injunction issued that month again referred to him as a Pakistani National.
My father’s life was spent in and out of jails as though he was a criminal. He was tortured and subjected to all kinds of humiliation because of the false accusations levelled against him. Despite spending time in jail, my father was fortunate enough to get generous help from some kindhearted people to overcome those uncanny hurdles of life. During that time one of his lawyer friends helped him come out of jail. He had finally won the case. But he had to suffer a lot of trauma and was always worried and anxious especially for his mother and kids. But despite all that he had to go through, he never gave up hope and in the end, his honesty and resilience paid off and he was able to lead a normal and happy life till he passed away in January 1992.
This is the story of my father, a man wrongly accused and detained for the simple reason that he did not possess the valid documents to prove that he was legally an Indian citizen. He got separated from his mother. It was not only a partition of the Indian Nation but it was also a partition between husband and wife and a partition between parents and their children and also a partition between brothers and sisters.
Partition Memory and the Northeast: A Note
Partition of India is an epochal catastrophe of human history in South Asia. The partition narrative, proliferated in the wake of India’s independence, recaptures the torturous experiences associated with the birth of a nation and the haunting trauma suffered by many. The partition narratives have essentially redefined the memory of the time. The enormity of the human disaster is so acute and huge that historical accounts of the event quite often seem to have shrunk it into a mere footnote, or a reportage at best, for owing to its own narrative limitations, history is always an inadequate discourse to represent the deeper essence of human experiences at a particular juncture of an epochal moment. With the recent rise in the interest of studying memory as a significant discourse, memories associated with historical events like India’s partition have also gained renewed interest. In his book Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (2003), Andreas Huyssen quite significantly points out, “Historical memory today is not what it used to be. It used to mark the relation of a community or a nation to its past, but the boundary between past and present used to be stronger and more stable than it appears to be today.”
Retrieval of memory is, however, not a neutral rite; this is rather intimately symptomatic of the current imperatives. The literary proliferation on partition has quite distinctively recaptured the human tragedy in the wake the partition primarily in the context of the Punjab and Bengal, the Western and the Eastern locales of partition experiences. There are, however, several other tales of partition experiences that have remained peripheral and unheard of. Northeast India is one such location where partition narrative has a different dimension which is not only about the people dislocated from the other side of the new border to arrive here as homeless refugees, but the same event has some other protagonists as well. In the Northeast the dominant partition narrative is restricted to the Bengali Hindus forced to cross border in the wake of partition to relocate themselves mainly in Tripura and in the Barak valley of Assam. However, there are several other non-Muslim ethnic communities who had to leave behind their native hearth on the other side of the border and come to the India as an act of survival imperative. But their stories hardly find a place in the public spaces. Jennifer Thangkhiew, a young Khasi teacher from Shillong, has a captivating tale to tell about the impact of partition on her family. Partition in the tiny hill station of Shillong was a different experience for the native communities here. Jennifer recalls in this poignant tale how partition all of a sudden changed their intimate world of assurance forever. This is the story she accidentally narrated while interacting in one of my classes.