Harjap Singh Aujla

In my recent article about the relocation of Lahoria Hindus and Sikhs, I made a mention of where most of them were settled. In this article I shall deal with the tragedy of the Hindus and Sikhs, who were uprooted from the districts of Gujjranwala and Sheikhupura. The Lahorias and the Sialkotias were lucky, because they were the first to be settled in the Punjabi speaking areas of erstwhile East Punjab. The sons and grandsons of the valiant Sikh soldiers, who were settled in Lyallpur and Montgomery districts were very influential. They had Giani Kartar Singh, an astute politician, as their leader. So they were also settled in the areas and districts of their choice. But the refugees from Gujjranwala and Sheikhupura were not that lucky. Firstly, they suffered massive losses of life during the rioting and secondly, they were made to settle in non-Punjabi areas.

As I mentioned earlier, Gujjranwala was the home district of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. As a result a large chunk of his soldiers hailed from Gujjranwala. They were allowed to keep huge sized land-holdings. Even the British rulers did not dispossess them of their large possessions. The Sikhs of Sheikhupura also constituted a significant part of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Army and they were also allotted large “Jagirs”. Since the founder of their faith Guru Nanak was born in Sheikhupura district, the Sikhs living there were emotionally attached to that soil.

The Sikhs of Rachna Doab proved a tough cookie for the large bands of ethnic cleaners. I shall not go into the details of how they were eventually dislodged from their homes and hearths, it is a very painful story. I shall deal with the slowly unfolding tragedy that awaited them on arrival in the Indian Punjab.

The Sikh refugee farmers from Lahore, Sialkot, Lyallpur and Montgomery were settled on every inch of the lands vacated by the Muslims leaving the Punjabi speaking districts of East Punjab. Hardly any land was left for the refugee farmers from the districts of Gujjranwala and Sheikhupura. So they were sent for settlement to Ambala, Kurukshetra and Karnal districts. Ambala was a Punjabi speaking district, but Karnal, along with Gurgaon, Rohtak and Hissar districts, was delinked by the British Rulers from the “Hindu Jaat” areas of Bharatpur, Agra-Mathura and Meerut, as a punishment for their participation in the 1857 uprising against the British occupation. These districts were tagged to Punjab.

The badly attritioned and bruised Sikhs and Hindus finally arrived in different tehsils of Karnal district. A large chunk settled within the district, but many urbanites preferred to settle in Delhi. Within a matter of months, the language of Karnal City and the surrounding areas changed from a crude mixture Punjabi and Hindi, too Standard Punjabi spoken in the heartlands of Lahore division of once complete Punjab. Most of the refugees were still in mourning.

Dr. M.S. Randhawa and Sardar Tarlok Singh, both ICS Officers with great reputation, were appointed as the relief and rehabilitation commissioners in East Punjab. They were both extremely sorry for not accommodating the refugees of Gujjranwala and Sheikhupura in the main Punjabi speaking belt of Punjab.

The strongman Chief Minister of East Punjab Sardar Partap Singh Kairon, who served as the chief minister of the state from 1956 to 1964, always had a lot of sympathy with the people of Gujjranwala and Sheikhupura districts. Although the geographic limits of the Punjabi Region ended on the Western outskirts of Ambala city, but Sardar Kairon considered entire Grand Trunk Road from Wagha Border up to Panipat, the Eastern most tehsil of Karnal district, as the de-facto Punjabi Region. One of the reasons of his opposition to the creation of a Punjabi speaking state, known as Punjab Suba, was that the new Punjabi speaking state with lose Karnal district, Punjab’s only district dominated by the refugees hailing from the districts of Gujjranwala and Sheikhupura.

Late Sardar Partap Singh Kairon’s worst dreams came true nearly one and a half years after his death on November 1, 1966, when Punjab was trifurcated and we lost Karnal district for good. Now Karnal is a part of the Hindi speaking state of Haryana, a spin-off state resulting from the unfortunate trifurcationt of Punjab.

The Punjabi speaking people of Karnal district can not impart education to their kids in Punjabi. Some of the Punjabi urbanites are still moving to Delhi and Chandigarh for better prospects. The not so well to do ruralites do not have such choices. Their language is dying and their rich culture is vanishing.

In 1967, I was in Karnal City and found a shop bearing His Master’s Voice logo. To my surprise, I found some Punjabi records which I could not find in Amritsar or Chandigarh. On further conversation I was told that there are very loyal Punjabi listeners in the area, who even ask for music for films like “Mangti”, “Chan Weh”, “Dulla Bhatti”, “Lachhi”, “Posti” and “Madari” and we can’t provide them that kind of music. Once I suggested to the folks at A.I.R Jalandhar to recruit their announcers from Karnal, Batala or Amritsar

The old timers, who once spoke a very charming dialect of Punjabi, are dying and the younger generation is growing up under the domination of Hindi Culture. Some are looking for the matches of their children in what is left of Punjab. One daughter-in-law of one of my relatives in Jalandhar was speaking beautiful Punjabi. From her language she did not appear to hail from Jalandhar. On inquiring I found out that she is from Karnal district. On further probing she revealed that her parents are originally from Sheikupura district. In a few years time such sounds and voices will also cease to exist. This is just a fraction of the story of the forgotten Gujjranwalias and Sheikhupurias of Karnal.                   

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