While India celebrates the 74th Independence Day, a generation of young Indians has forgotten the story of partition and the price of freedom. For Beant Singh, the horrors of partition are still afresh in his mind.
The 84-year-old rickshaw puller of Meerut was born in Kashmir, during the reign of Raja Hari Singh, on January 26, 1936. However, his family had to migrate to soon migrate to Rawalpindi owing to economic challenges and persecution of Sikhs at the hands of Islamists. In the wake of the bloodied partition of 1947, Singh was not only left homeless but also orphaned.
11 years old then, Singh saw his mother and brother burn to death. However, he was fortunate enough to escape the bloodied ordeal of his family. He remembered how military personnel put him on a train, enroute to Amritsar, which was meant for refugees from Pakistan. An orphaned Singh thus lived through the tragedy of loss and separation to start a new life in ‘independent India’.
Started new life as a rickshaw puller in Meerut
Reminiscing the forgotten days of 1947, Singh said that Delhi was overcrowded with refugees from Pakistan who were scavenging for new means of livelihood in India. Since it was difficult to find work in India’s capital city, he made a conscious decision to shift to Meerut. He was however fortunate to meet his old classmates from Rawalpindi who had migrated to Uttar Pradesh, prior to the partition. According to Singh, they helped him with food, shelter, and purchasing a rickshaw.
Singh has no idea whether his family survived
Since he was underage and did not have a licence, he could only drive at night. “If I had not found that rickshaw, I would probably have not made it,” Singh was quoted as saying. The 84-year-old today survives on his hard-earned savings as a rickshaw puller in Meerut. He also lives in the same house that has sheltered him for decades. Singh has no memory of the whereabouts of his family and whether they survived during the riots of 1947. He now spends his evenings listening to old records.
Singh on ‘rising hate’ in India
He is one of the few survivors of partition that witnessed 2 million casualties and the displacement of 14 million people. Expressing his deep concerns about the ‘rising hate’ in India, he remarked, “This is not the ‘free’ India that my mother died for. From what I can see, we are still captive to the ghosts of the past. In conclusion, Singh said, “I started my life in the new India alone. Today as we are in yet another ‘New India’, I’m still alone.”