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They Too Were Our Children

- Ramanjit Singh

The effects of partition on the refugee children is not well researched by historians as most of the books that I have come across simply glance over this subject. Writer Dr. Ilyas Chattha has done an extensive research on the conditions of refugees in Kasur and has documented how children were being being cared for in the camp. Some of the stories he describes are horrific and these also bring to light the sheer scale of violence that was occurring in Punjab.

Children in the refugee camps were being lost, a large number of them died from disease and starvation, some were kidnapped and hundreds were orphaned as their parents died in the camps. These tragedies were being repeated hundreds of times in the camps throughout East and West Punjab.

In the research titled 'After the Massacres: Nursing Survivors of Partition Violence in Pakistan Punjab Camps', Dr. Ilyas Chattha writes about the conditions prevailing in Kasur's Hanfia Refugee Camp. Here is an excerpt:


Porter (a Christian missionary worker from United States) provides perhaps the most detailed surviving account of the refugee child experience. It is of course a single and unique account, but it remains likely that the experiences of the Hanfia school camp were mirrored elsewhere in the Punjab. “The children distressed me most. . .”, she noted in her diary on 12 September 1947, “so many of them were absolutely alone, [for] all their folks had been killed and the children themselves wounded”. In another diary log a few days later she wrote, “Several little girls were badly wounded and we had to carry them to the dressing room each time. They had no one with them”. Most of them were between 4 and 11 but some were newborn babies. On the night of 17 September, she poignantly records that two infants died of starvation in the camp. Their mothers’ breast milk had dried up and there was not enough milk in the centre that night to feed them. In one instance, one peasant woman, who with two kids was lying on a cot, “was badly wounded and had great gash across her face and her eyes hardly showed between the rolls of bandage. Her one child got cholera and other whole night cried for milk. Her own milk dried up and she went all around the camp to find milk; but she could not”. In the morning a nurse came to her and asked “what can I do for you this morning?”

“She said bitterly, ‘Bury my child’. It hurt me that we had to wait a couple of hours for the truck to come and that they had only one bed and nowhere else to lay the body”. That same night another woman lost her child. “‘My milk had dried up and I had not been able to get it to drink from a cup’, the distraught mother tragically informed the camp nurse”.


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