Aware of the looming threat, the villagers started arming themselves in the spring of 1947; even women were asked to renounce ornaments and take up arms.
Kartar Kaur, Sawinder Kaur, Kesra Devi, Shakuntla, Harbanso….
The list of the brave women who chose death over dishonor during Partition is long indeed. Inscribed on a plaque installed at the Golden Temple, their names are synonymous with valor. Daughters, mothers and sisters of Bhuller village, now in Pakistan, they fought the army of rioters that descended on their village in August 1947 when freedom from the British was accompanied by the division of Punjab. Finally outnumbered, some jumped into the wells of their homes while others had themselves shot by their menfolk.
Their stories would have gone untold, had it not been for Dr Virsa Singh, a graduate of Government Medical College, Amritsar, who was then posted as chief surgeon at the Multan dispensary. A badly wounded Dr Singh managed to flee to Amritsar, and sure of his death, recorded a detailed statement of the bloodshed that took place at the village. As luck would have it, the doctor, whose wife Kartar Kaur and daughter Sawinder Kaur died at Bhuller, survived to run a flourishing practice near Jallianwala Bagh, and wrote a 52-page first-person account of the horrors that visited his village in Sheikhupura district.
What happened at Bhuller
A large, prosperous Sikh-majority village in Shekhupura district of Pakistan, Bhuller was rendered vulnerable by a network of canals that separated it from other Sikh-majority villages. Aware of the looming threat, the villagers started arming themselves in the spring of 1947; even women were asked to renounce ornaments and take up arms. Well-trained men formed ‘shahidi jathas’ who were to deter any attacks by goons. A moat was also dug around the boundary of the village habitation. As tension built up, some Hindu families from nearby villages too took shelter with them. But even though they were prepared, the support given to the army of marauders by the local police and army proved to be their undoing.
Dr Virsa recounted how the local police, instead of guarding them, took away their weapons. But in the midst of this wave of hate, a Muslim panchayat of neighboring Sran village promised to protect their life and property on August 28, 1947. Together, they formed what they called a ‘Sialkotia brotherhood’.
Nambardar Mohammad Khan of Vahle village told Dr Virsa Singh how the government machinery had given rioters a free hand till September 1, and the air was agog with rumors that poor Muslims would be given the land of rich Sikh landowners.
The first group of rioters attacked the village on the wee hours of August 31. The brave villagers used crude homemade bombs to beat them back. However, the rioters reassembled on September 1, and this time they were backed by the local police with weapons.
It was then that Dr Virsa Singh’s wife and daughter asked him to shoot them dead. In the melee that followed, many women committed suicide by jumping into the wells in their courtyards.
What followed was a bloodbath. Three Sikhs-Mool Singh, Vajinder Singh and Gupal Singh-managed to escape thanks to one Sher Mohammad, who hid them in his house.
Just when all seemed over, Balwant Kaur of Marur Kalan village across the canal led a jatha of Sikh warriors to the village. This group forced the rioters to flee. That is how Virsa Singh lived to tell the tale.
Then Akali leader Master Tara Singh took special care of these families, and ensured they were given land near Batala. Some women and children, who were kidnapped by rioters, were rescued within the next one year with the help of the Pakistan government. But there were many who never came back.
Kulwant Singh, who was just four when Bhuller was attacked, visited the village in 2004 to a different kind of reception. “A Muslim family living in our house greeted me warmly, now we remain in touch. But we have never broached the topic of Partition.”
On his part, Kulwant Singh holds an annual ‘Shahidi Jor Mela’ on August 31 along with other families who survived the attack. As they say, heroes never die.