This is another true story from our archives about the Sikh women forgotten in Pakistan in the rush to escape in 1947 and the story of Akali Chakar Kaur Singh who 4 years later in 1951 went on a mission to save them.
Left Behind: Sikh Women Forgotten in Pakistan after 1947
Taken from Sikhaa(n) Dey Pakistan Vicho(n) NiklaN dee Gatha by Dr. Kirpaal Singh
Once the Khalsa used to be the saviour of other communities. When the Afghan raiders kidnapped Hindu women and were selling them in Afghan markets, the Khalsa army took the responsibility of recovering these helpless souls and returning them to their families. The perpetrators were also punished. In one case, in 1774, a powerful leader in Jalalabad kidnapped and mistreated a Hindu girl. The Khalsa found out and not only sacked the entire town but tied the perpetrator to a manja and burned him alive. Sikhs were heroes who saved the honour of the powerless.
But the Sikhs soon forgot about rehit and their proud traditions. The result is before us today. In the 20th Century, Sikhs left behind their women and children and fled to save their lives. Below is the story of the Sikhs during Partition in 1947 (taken from Sikhaa(n) Dey Pakistan Vicho(n) NiklaN dee Gatha by Dr. Kirpaal Singh):
When Punjab was partitioned, millions of Sikhs found themselves on the wrong side of the border. Punjab's most fertile lands, hundreds of sacred Gurdvaras like Sree NankaNa Sahib, Sree Punjaa Saahib, etc. were all lost. The Muslim population had started the large-scale slaughter of Sikhs in West Punjab and the Sikhs were forced to flee. Tens of thousands of Sikh women and children were kidnapped by the marauders and taken as slaves. Our story, however, begins with Akaalee Chakr Kaur Singh jee.
Akali Chakr Kaur Singh
Akali Chakar Kaur Singh jee was born in 1892 in village AvayRaa Chakaar, Muzufraabaad Kashmir (now Pakistan). His father was Sd. Soobaa Singh and mother Tulas Kaur jee. He was named Lachhman Singh at birth. When he was ready to go to school, his parents sent him to a Maulvee where he learnt Persian. At the age of 18, he left for Sree Amritsar. He was always more attached to doing Sirman and Paath. At Sree Amritsar, he would bathe in the Sarovar and sit in meditation on the Parkarma. One day, Sant Ratan Singh jee and Sant Mishra Singh jee were passing by and saw this young man in meditation and were very pleased. They took the young boy to their dera and here he learned GurbaaNee and Gurmat. He received amrit at Sree Akaal Takhat Saahib and had his name changed to Chakar Kaur Singh.
After four or five years, Chakar Kaur Singh returned to his village and his family expressed their desire to marry him. He refused and remained a life-long bachelor. He then went to Benaras and learned Sanskrit and studied other religious texts from the Nirmala scholars. He would go from place to place preaching Gurmat and the importance of Amrit. At partition, he was at Lahore.
When the violence of Partition erupted, Akali jee went to Jammu. The Pakistani sponsored irregulars had attacked Kashmir and Akali jee became a guide for the Indian army forces (who were mainly Sikhs). Akali jee knew the area very well and led the army through blazing fires and bullets.
Akali jee's entire family, 111 members, were all killed by the locals of their village. His old mother was tied to a pillar and burnt alive by the same boys she considered her sons and helped raise. All his brothers and their families were killed. Countless women and children were kidnapped and taken away. The bodies were completely stripped of all clothes and valuables. The bullet riddled bodies were then hacked into pieces.
Akali jee was deeply affected by all this and began to serve the refugees who had arrived on the Eastern side. No effort was made to recover the thousands of kidnapped women and children by either the Indian government or the Sikh community. The Pakistan government was determined to not send any back until they too received back some women and children from the Indian side. 1600 women and children were kept in Pakistani Kashmir in the Amore Camp. These unfortunate ones were told that let alone any of their family members, no Sikhs were left in the world and convinced to sign a letter saying they wished to stay in Pakistan. The conditions of the camp were disgusting.
1951 Rescue Mission
Akali jee, alone, decided something must be done to recover the Sikh women and children who had been abandoned. He himself arranged to go to Pakistan for this task. He arrived in Lahore on April 3 1951. For four years now, those abandoned Sikhs had been living like slaves in various villages in Pakistan and in the Amore Camp. Many Pakistanis were hostile to Akali jee and had not seen a Sikh for years. Akali jee travelled with the help of some Pakistani police officers, with a shawl wrapped around his head so that he would have less trouble from those hostile to Sikhs. For his travels, he purchased nuts and ghee and other materials so that if he couldn't make parshada, he could at least have this.
Akali jee travelled north to go near the Amore camp. As he passed through Hassan Abdal, he stopped at Gurdvara Sree Punjaa Saahib. He writes that the driver "stopped the jeep a the DeoRee [gate]. I came down and from the outside kissed the dirt and drank some of the water [from Guru jee's spring] but pain was rising within my heart." He was unable to enter the Gurdvara because it was closed off.
As he travelled, it began to rain heavily and Akali jee writes "the screams of the kidnapped and enslaved souls naturally began to enter my ears. Those young girls and boys who were thrown on trucks and taken away…Their souls were screaming and calling out, begging loudly "Oh God! Where are we being taken like lambs and cattle? Our mothers, fathers, husbands, brothers, sisters and sons have all been killed. Taken from those bloody piles of bodies, why too did you not destroy us in the rivers of their blood?…Why were we left alive? Our clothes are now caked with the dry blood of our relatives and we are in the hands of the enemy. Who knows where we will be sold for just cents…God, no one will hear our cries but you…we are helpless, please do something."
At The Camp
When Akali jee arrived near the camp, they authorities refused to let him see the captive women and children. He returned to Pakistani Punjab with a heavy heart and managed to recover a few young Sikh boys and girls. Before he was to return to East Punjab with the few children he had found, he requested to be taken to the banks of the Jehlum river. He writes "Tears began to flow from my eyes by themselves and I saw many skeletons lying by the banks of the river that had kaRas on their hands. I had thought before that my brothers bodies must have washed ashore here and before me was the proof. What doubt could remain? I took the KaRas from two skeletons and kissed them and kept them with me. My own state was very bad. I was soaked in sweat and had to sit. I drank two sips of the water but my heart told me to stop…this was the blood of 33 000 shaheeds…soon Khan jee [Akali jee's guide and companion] came to me and put his hand on my shoulder, saying "don't feel so much sorrow. This is what pleased God. I will tell you the truth, for five days we could not see the water of the Jehlum. Like logs floating down a river, from one end to the other Jehlum was filled with Sikh bodies and for five days the water flowed red with Sikh blood…"
Letter from The Forgotten Sisters
Akali jee returned to East Punjab. The Amore Camp captives had found out about his visit and began to send him letters. Some excerpts are below from these: "we are unfortunate that we too did not die, because of which for the past four years we have been captive and death too is scared to come near us…We began to hear that Chakar Kaur Singh jee and Akali Kaur Singh jee and other Singhs from Kashmir as well as a lot of the Khalsa in Punjab was still alive. But we suspected it was all lies. If there really were Singhs left, they would have taken care of us. They used to even free the women from other communities…"
Another letter reads "For four years we have not been able to fill our stomachs with food and have been making clothes and turbans from left over sacks. We were the children of wealthy people, but now we are wasting away. Now, neither death kills us nor these enemies nor our hunger or nakedness…We cannot run, we cannot die, we cannot go into the villages; If we are to do something, what should we do? We have heard that the Panth is the saviour of the poor and helpless, but four years have passed and neither our own nor any strangers have come to take care of us…For God and Guru's sake, please take us out from here. Or if not, then please pray that death may encourage our captors to kill us as well, or that some disease comes and we may all die here"
The one who had originally convinced these Sikh women and children to sign the letter saying they would stay in the camp (by telling them all Sikhs were dead) was Pandit Shiv jee. He sold Sikh women from the camp and also kept two or three for himself. He was the officer of the camp and kept the women and children in perpetual distress.
Eventually, Akali jee found a way to release these captives. The Commander of the Camp, Mohammed Sabar had been separated from his daughter Kulzam Akhtar, who was stranded with her sister in Srinagar. When Akali jee wrote to Sabar, he replied with the story of his daughter. Akali jee took the hint and managed to arrange for the return of the girl, despite diplomatic roadblocks and other hardships. Sabar was eternally grateful, and Kulzam had grown so fond of Akali jee, she referred to him as her second father. The captives were then released but taking care of them upon their return was again left only to Chakar Kaur Singh jee and Akali Kaur Singh jee Nihung. The women were put by the government in a new camp in the deserts of Bikaner in Rajasthan. Although many were later settled and lived happy lives, others continued to live in terrible conditions. No political leader nor any Singh Sabha nor any Sant helped in this matter of freeing the young women and children or in taking care of them. Many officials in the Indian government in fact tried to prove that Akali jee was a Pakistani spy.
Akali jee passed away in 1954, and till that time continued on as the father for all these helpless children.
The reality is that thousands of women and children remained in Pakistan and the Sikhs were unable to ever get them back.
1984: Repeat of Our Disgrace
This sad story does not end here. The Sikh community also forgot the widows and orphans of the 1984 riots. I once read an article about how many had been forced into prostitution and lived in abject poverty. The widows continue to this day to beg for their rights. The widows and orphans of the Shaheeds of the Freedom Movement are still not properly taken care of. Many live in poverty and people refused to marry into those families thinking they would be the victims of police harassment if they did.
When will we start taking care of our own again? When will the Sikhs remember their role as saviours of the helpless and save their own children, let alone saving those from other communities? May Guru Saahib have mercy on his Panth.