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Road to Freedom

- Ramanjit Singh

Chak 64 RB was one of the villages in Lyallpur district that had a Sikh majority. According to the famous Punjabi poet and writer Harbhajan Singh Hundal, the news about the growing violence in both sides of Punjab was gradually trickling through the villages in his district. The village lohars were given the task of building crude weapons for protecting the villagers. The nearby Sikh village of Bharroliawala was attacked and only few survivors managed to escape to Chak 64 RB. The attack on Bharroliawala eventually compelled everyone to plan an escape to India.

As we look into the route that villagers of Chak 64 RB took, we also have to take into account the various factors that were taken into consideration as they walked towards the border. Factors such as which road to take, law and order conditions few kilometers away in towns or villages made a huge difference on what possible routes were chosen and what routes were avoided. Local awareness of the terrain also played a big difference as the caravan slowly moved towards India.

Bypassing towns and going around villages was preferred, interacting with people belonging to the other community was avoided. People were told to walk in tighter columns, any one venturing out of the caravan was inviting certain death from marauders who were waiting to attack from the adjoining fields. There are also stories where Muslims will cry and plead with the Sikhs not to leave their villages. There are also stories of Muslims handing out rotis and water to the refugees as they were making their way towards India. As the villagers walked towards Bandala, Muslim villagers from Nihaloana were shocked to see all the Sikhs moving out. They shouted "O Sardaron kiddhar chaley je".

Chak 64 RB and the nearby village of Bharroliawala

From Chak 64 RB, the villagers took refuge in village Bandala and then after few days took the Khurianwala-Jaranwala road to Balloki headworks and then to Kasur and Khem Karan. Shekhupura-Nankana road was avoided as there were stories about possible violence in that area.

People walking in the caravans also followed some simple rules. Women and children would walk in the middle , the able-bodied will walk on the outer edge of the column, and the elderly or the sick or pregnant women will be on the bullock carts. Things like when to stop for rest, who should venture out to fetch for food or water were also planned carefully. People would often have a mental map of the geography, the kutcha rastas, the shortcuts, which villages were friendly which were not, what to carry with them and so on. A refugee caravan in essence carried with it centuries of history, life experiences, hope and despair from one side to the other. It not only symbolized the utter desperation of people to leave what was once their home but also the dread of the things that were yet to come.

Here's an approximate map of the distance and the geography of the area. It would take several days of walking to cover the distance of roughly 170 km from Chak 64 RB to Khem Karan. One of the important aspects to the refugee migration was that the Sikhs and Hindus from nearby villages would also join the caravan. Seeing your own compatriots moving out triggered a sense of panic and forced remaining villagers to join them.

Chak 64 to Khem Karan

After reaching Kasur, the distance from Kasur to Khem Karan is about 7 km. Refugees would have taken the Khem Karan road to cross the border.

Kasur to Khem Karan

A similar story is about Muslim refugees leaving Ferozepur to Kasur, although the distance covered is shorter than the example above, the sense of panic to leave one's village suddenly is one of the most excruciating decision that people made during Partition.

In the story told by Jan Mohammad, his village was Pipli in the Ferozepur district. Nearby villages are Sherewala, Miani, Bhaini and towns were Zira and Dharamkot. Their route was to cross Sutluj, and then walk towards Ganda Singh Wala and then to Kasur. Here's a possible route from Pipli to Kasur. Not sure if the map algorithm is taking into account the shortest walking distance, river crossings and the current border crossings between India and Pakistan. Overall distance covered is 90 Km. The size of his caravan was 12 miles long and 1 mile wide.

Pipli Ferozepur to Ganda Singh Wala

Escaping to India was easier said than done. Same bodes true for the refugees who were pouring into Pakistan from east Punjab. By mid to late August there was a general sense of which towns and cities in central Punjab were in India or in Pakistan. However for the refugees it was still not clear what parts of the central Punjab districts went to India or to Pakistan. For example, part of Lahore district's Kasur tehsil which included Khem Karan was given to India and also Lahore district's Patti tehsil was allotted to India. Khem Karan, Bhikiwind, Patti were originally part of Lahore district but were given to India as part of the Radcliff boundary award.

Kasur town was in Pakistan and Ferozepur was in India. Ganda Singh Wala was in Pakistan, however Hussainiwala was in India and so on. The boundaries were not marked nor were there any signs telling anyone which side of the border they were headed. The escape routes were dependent generally on easy and safe access to the nearest bridges, roads and railway tracks. People would walk along these routes to get to their destination. The objective was to get to the main town on the other side as quickly as possible.

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