Our Eternal August
- Ramanjit Singh
What is it about this month that makes us look back at our past in anguish. Its emotional dissonance leaves us with a heavy heart. We look at August with a sense of foreboding, we long for its passage, each day of this month reminds us of those we have lost.
Each day of this month is marked by tragedy, our failure as humans. Each day reminds us of the treachery that led to so many deaths. Each day is a reminder of our lack of humanity towards each other. None were spared, none can be absolved of their guilt. We are generations apart from that event but we are still somehow chained to that event, we are still living it and struggling to understand it.
Partition continues in us. Our entire life is being defined by 'us versus them'. What has happened to us, where are we headed as a community, as individuals. Strings that once united us are now broken. August is just not a month, it has become a reflection of what we have become. Our eternal August.
August became a background for one of the greatest holocaust in human history. Its timeline is full of events that cannot be comprehended or recorded in a single book. It is a story of horrors that is beyond the scope of our collective imagination.
Nearly every village experienced violence. None escaped the murderers, the looters. Women were raped, children were killed in front of their mothers. Women jumped into the wells to escape the mob. We did all this to each other and we have yet to reconcile with what happened during that month.
In Bhulair, near Sangla Hill, district Sheikhupura, a large number of Sikhs were martyred while fighting against the Muslim attackers. Women, girls and children jumped into the wells and chose death over dishonour by attackers. It is said that the men of this village fought bravely to fend off the mob, but at the end this entire village was slaughtered. August bares witness to this horror.
Around the same time, the Muslim villages of Payal and Ghungrali Rajputtan, district Ludhiana, were attacked by a mob of Sikhs and Hindus. Barely any survived in those attacks. Some 2,200 people died in Ghungrali Rajputtan alone. Those who were able to escape to the nearby village of Payal got caught up in the mass slaughter that was happening in that village. The survivors escaping both these villages were ambushed near Moranwali canal. Children who were holding onto their mothers drowned as they jumped into the canal to escape the mob. August bares witness to this horror.
Of all the stories that I have read, the most heart wrenching are the ones that involve children. With my every breath there's a prayer to God to give peace to their souls. What Punjabis did to them is unbearable, the stain of our crimes can never be cleansed.
I'm reminded of a story where a child sat for weeks in front of a vacant burnt-out house waiting for his friend to come out and play, not realizing that his friend's entire family had been killed by the mob. There are countless stories about children, after seeing their parents being hacked to death by the mob, ran and hid in corn fields for days with no water or food. And there are stories about those children who saw their elder sisters being killed by their own father to save them from being dishonored.
In one story, all of a sudden the mother took her son and ran towards a nearby house. There were other families hiding there and when the mob was done killing all, the child somehow got buried among the dead bodies. He got up and ran towards the street. He was held up by a soldier and brought to a camp. As a five year old that's all he remembers. He does not remember the face of his mother or father. He does not remember his real name. Only thing he remembers is that he was holding onto his mother's white dupatta.
Through their eyes, we finally get a glimpse of what the adults were doing to each other. Their narration of stories is an unadulterated truth of what happened in the small towns and villages across Punjab. They stand witness to history's worst rupture that tore apart centuries of coexistence, destroyed any hopes of reconciliation. According to these children, they were menacing looking men attacking everyone, sparing no one that didn't belong to their own.
August is that month that warns us of our sins. August will never leave our guilty conscience. It comes every year to remind us of who we are.