A letter from 1947...

An edited extract by Gurmukh Singh Musafir from <i>Looking Back - The 1947 Partition of India, 70 years on, </i>edited by Rakshanda Jalil, Tarun K. Saint and Debjani Sengupta

Image Courtesy: Orient BlackSwan
Image Courtesy: Orient BlackSwan

NH Web Desk


Savinder, a Sikh woman, had disappeared during the attack on Muzaffarbad on October 22, 1947 by Hazara tribesmen. Their aim was to take Muzaffrabad, Uri and Domel and surge towards Srinagar in Kashmir.

For a long time her parents had no idea where she was. One day, her father, Asmaan Singh, got a letter from his friend, Munshi Allah Baksh who tells him that his daughter is in custody of “The Khan in the North-West Province”.

The Khan, Allah Baksh says, is “not a bad man – but an evil breeze seems to be blowing..” He assures Asmaan Singh that Savinder for him is “like his daughter” and that he will surely send her to India “even at the cost of my own life”.

Asmaan Singh had estimated that 35,000 Hindus and Sikhs had left the region in the wake of the Muzaffarbad of which 20,000 were killed. There was little likelihood of Savinder having survived. Munshi Allah Baksh’s letter had reached them 2 years after the attack. Then one day they got a letter.


Dear Mataji,

I am saved! After listening to what the others have gone through, believe me, I am saved. In one place, the necklace around my neck saved me, in another, my bangles, and my earrings saved me in the third place. The ring I still have. Didn’t know if I should carry my mother-in-law’s young ones or take care of myself; there was so much chaos one lost track of days, weeks and place. When I jumped into the river the first time, one Pathan pulled me out by my hair, and when we reached the bridge I realised that this was the Jhelum bridge of our Naluchi gurudwara. The skin on my face and my scalp were raw. When I ran, shouting and screaming, another man said, ‘Where are you off to? Not a single Sikh has been left alive.’ I was wearing the iron kada on my left wrist. When one girl shouted, ‘Military, military!’, that man said, ‘What military? The General himself has been killed.’ We saw a large number of Sikh men and women come from the Bastaad side, and we all heaved a sigh of relief. As we ran towards them, a blow from a stick struck my forehead. When I regained consciousness, I was all alone. I couldn’t make out where I was. I got up to walk but had no energy. I could hear the sound of bullets and of splashes in the water, which made me realise that we were still near the bridge. When I stood on my toes to peep over the edge, I could see the bridge. But this was a very big one; I couldn’t understand which one it was. Spinach leaves grew along the boundary...or some other greens perhaps; don’t know what leaves but they tasted like spinach. I ate a great deal. I saw five–six men approaching, and I ran towards the bridge. I must have gone about half a kilometre when I realised that this was some other bridge. When I turned to look back, I could not see anyone. By the time I reached the bridge, my feet were swollen. Mataji, if anybody saw that terrifying scene even in a picture, he would be frightened to death. Leap after leap was being made into the Kishan-Ganga. I had myself jumped into the Jhelum, but now seeing this, I felt dizzy. My feet were already swollen and I had no strength left; I fell into the river in a swoon. The river was in spate; those who were sucked away were sucked away. If anyone was pulled close to the banks by its waves, those rogues would grab her. I came to know later that my body and that of my fellow villager, Banso, had floated towards the banks as soon as we had collapsed.

I had about forty wounds on my body. It took six months for them to heal. Mataji, this turned out to be a boon. Now when I meet you, you won’t be able to recognise me at all. Chacha Allah Baksh could not recognise me. As soon as my wounds healed, a high fever gripped my body. By the time I was in a condition to walk again after three months, Banso had an infant in her arms! How shall I write to you, Mataji, please don’t ever let Pitaji read my letter; it was really fortunate that my condition was so bad. Sometime later I got to know from Banso that I was going to be sold to a cobbler. I also got to know that Chacha Allah Baksh was trying to find me; he even came to the northern belt with the Indians once, but they all got to know about it. All the girls who were here in the locality were sent to Pakistan. I have come to know only now that Chacha Allah Baksh was under the mistaken impression that I had also been sent to Pakistan. Actually, I was still here. I was supposed to take care of Banso’s child. No one noticed me. No one could recognise me from my clothes at all, nor from my face. If you see me even you won’t recognise me; nor will he, my husband. Don’t show my letter to Pitaji. When Banso returned from Pakistan the second time, she told me that the cobbler whom they wanted to sell me to wanted another girl, so the deal could not be struck—that girl belongs to Bastaad. About me the cobbler said that my face was not pretty. Mataji, you must be thinking how shameless I am. You know about Parmeshwari from Bastaad, don’t you; she used to come to Naluchi on Baisakhi. Here we were priced like cattle, Mataji. Finally I was sold, to Fajja the blacksmith of Shinkiari. He beat me black and blue and left me half dead. Indians were taking rounds on this side, but here all the good and bad had become one. The good people didn’t speak up out of fear of the rogues, and moreover, the propaganda spread was that in this way, Islam was being propagated.

One day a rumour spread that people had come to get the Indian girls released; that day I was beaten mercilessly. Fajja said we had to go to the Qazi to get the nikah done. He said that he could not touch me without the nikah ceremony; ‘I don’t want to rot in hell’ he said. He wanted to escape to Pakistan, taking me with him. The Indian search party entered the neighbourhood, so Fajja caught me and set off in the dark night. The pain in my feet started again; there was no proper path that we could follow, nor did we know how far we had to go. Barefoot, we walked on stony paths, and as soon as it was dawn, we got caught. Fajja only told me that the place was called Badal, and that Pakistan was six miles away. On the way he kept trying to persuade me to marry him as soon as we reached Pakistan. ‘In any case, most probably the Sikhs would all have been killed by now; and even if they were alive, no one would accept me—neither my parents nor my in-laws,’ he said. Is that true, Mataji? When I would not agree with Fajja, he would gnash his teeth and say, ‘Once we are there I will call the Qazi and force you to marry me. I have paid money for you. Even if the Indians snatch you away from me, I’ll make sure I send you off with a memento.’ Mataji, don’t let Pitaji read my letter. I thought he meant something else by ‘memento,’ but he meant something entirely different. The policemen who caught us were Pakistanis. They took Fajja to a neighbouring police station and locked him up there. One policeman looked at me from top to bottom, asked me some questions and brought me to the northern belt. There were three policemen and they stood apart to talk among themselves, and that scared me.

‘Let this headache go, let this headache go’—these words kept falling upon my ears. Once we reached the northern belt, we came to know that the Indians who had come there to search had left. Handing me over to a woman in one house, the policemen went off to Khan’s house. Sometime late in the night, I was summoned to Khan’s house. There was no policeman there. Khan said to me:

‘You’ll have to go with Fajja.’

I said, ‘But Fajja has been arrested.’

‘The man who can arrest Fajja hasn’t been born yet!’

I fell silent upon Khan’s words. The very next morning I saw that Fajja had also arrived there. Khan said to Fajja, ‘Take her with you, and tell me if she says no-nay; I have already taken enough tantrums from her.’ Fajja said in a very disheartened voice, ‘This is a big headache. Every other day the Indian rescue team comes looking for them. Today our own police caught me; if you had not come and saved me, I would still have been there. And this one refuses to marry me, so what’s the point in going on feeding her?’ Fajja was saying all this in my presence itself. Today I did not find Banso in the house, and later I got to know that she had been sent to Pakistan again. Mataji, I had to return to Shinkiari again with Fajja. On the way I managed to convince Fajja to take me to Abbottabad, so that I could give a statement before the district magistrate that I wanted to live in Pakistan of my own free will. This way at least this daily uncertainty would come to an end. This time even Banso said the same thing to Khan upon returning from Pakistan—that rather than packing us off to Pakistan every other day, it was better to take us to the district magistrate to have our statements recorded. It so happened that by the time Fajja took me to Abbottabad, Khan’s men brought Banso there. Chacha Allah Baksh too got wind of it. He was present in the courtroom. Banso was clad in a burqa. I ran to Chacha Allah Baksh and clutched his waistcoat. He was taken aback, and when I told him who I was, he said, ‘Savinder, marjaaniye, I’ve gone crazy looking for you.’

The people in the court crowded all around us. They didn’t let me appear before any magistrate at all. Banso got frightened and blurted out before the magistrate that she didn’t want to go to India. Half the people of the group that had come from India were present in Abbottabad. After enquiring about my condition and circumstances, it was announced that I should be sent to India. Enquiries are still afoot regarding Banso. Till the time a decision is taken about her, both of us have been entrusted to Chacha Allah Baksh’s care. I don’t know about Banso, but who knows, I may reach you as soon as you get this letter. Banso is not very sure. She says, ‘Who knows if my family will accept me after listening to all this or not.’ She is in a quandary; moreover her case is different.




This letter was given to Asmaan Singh by a member of rescue party. The couple went looking for Savinder in Lahore. Finally, they found her in the Kashmiri refugee camp.



The above account was reconstructed by the Punjabi writer Gurmukh Singh Musafir in his story, Allah Wale, in the book, Aalney de Bote, published by Sikh Publishing House in 1955. It has been translated into English by Hina Nandrajog.

The National Herald has edited it for brevity and length. The letter has been carried as it is.

Extracted with permission from Orient BlackSwan

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