An Untold Story From The 1947 Partition

An Untold Story From The 1947 Partition

Abeera Chaudhri, Journalist

Your life can change in an instant when your friends, family, home, status, and everything that defines you disappears.

The day India declared Pakistan free is thought of as a time of liberation and freedom; however, the events that preceded were quite the opposite.The survival story of 21-year old Tahira shows the grim reality that migrants had to face.

It was a hot summer day during August of 1947. In India, angry mobs filled the streets, for the partition and loss of land to the Muslims. Tahira was on a train leaving her childhood home to seek refuge from the mobs determined to eliminate any and all Muslims upon sight. Her parents, newborn daughter, almost 2-year-old son, and younger siblings accompanied her on the train. Compared to her mother, Tahira was extremely close with her father, for he was always by her side.

As the train started nearing the borders of the newly formed country, it suddenly came to a halt. No one was aware of what was happening or why they stopped until a blood-curdling scream blared. Alarmed, Tahira’s immediate instinct was to hide her children. As she secured her toddler, Qasid Ali, beneath a seat she felt a splash of warm liquid completely soaking her. Alarmed, she looked up to witness the most horrific sight a daughter could behold, a spear ripping through her father’s chest. Everything went black.

As Tahira gained consciousness, she felt the weight of the world on her chest. She could not breathe. Yet, somehow she prevailed. As she emerged from a pile of mutilated, unrecognizable bodies, she stood to her feet. Evidently, everyone on the train was dead. Devastated, Tahira’s heart sank, for she knew her parents and infant died along with the mass of innocent civilians. She remembered hiding Qasid Ali before the attack, and a small spark of hope grew inside of her. Filled with wishes, she dreamed of Qasid Ali alive. She searched for days, unable to form words. The trauma slowly destroyed the small shatters of optimism she once held.

Due to the high status of her family, a Sikh family recognized her and protected her, for they realized how unsafe it was to wander alone. They treated her like their own, as they fed her, bathed her, and sheltered her from the raging mobs. She stayed for at least two weeks in a silo during unbearable heat, surviving harsh conditions against all odds. Before sending her across the border, the loving family disguised her with traditional Sikh clothing accompanied by a bracelet to hide her identity as a young Muslim woman.

Eventually, Tahira made it to Pakistan where she was reunited with her husband months later.
When Tahira’s family started their journey to Pakistan, they did not know the fate of Ghost Trains. These trains bringing Muslim migrants to Pakistan were almost always invaded, leaving most passengers mutilated and slaughtered. Most young females aboard were raped, taken hostage, or enslaved. Ghost Trains full of corpses continued their journey, leaving all of the migrants in a sea of dead bodies. On the rare occasion that there were survivors of these attacks, they attacked the trains of Non-Muslims going back to India in retaliation, sending Ghost Trains back as well. This phenomenon continued until there were no more migrants.

A fighter and a survivor, Tahira’s experience enhanced her spirituality and independence. She was a woman of principle, an exemplary mother, and even an amazing chef. Having gone through immense hardships herself, she wanted to help relieve the difficulties of others. My mother, Tahira’s granddaughter, said, “It shaped her for the rest of her life. Her strong faith and connection with God kept her going. She remembered her family for how they lived, not the way they died.” My mom grew up listening to my great-grandmother’s story, and she continues to share her legacy. May Tahira Khanum’s soul rest in peace and may her story continue to inspire us all.