Mohammed Muneer, (4 April 1931-February 2009) born in Ghergakh, near Gujranwala [Pakistan side]
Transcription of interview with Mr Mohammed Muneer for the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland’s ‘Legacy of Partition’ Project.
Which religious community did you belong to?
I am Muslim
How would you describe your family’s social standing in the village?
They were a peasant family … my father was a shopkeeper … he went to Delhi, working with the army, providing services … then he came back in 1947 … he’d been to India for 3 or 4 years, in 1945 possibly he went and remained there until the Partition … When I passed my matriculation in 1946 there was rationing in the Gujranwala district and they gave the allocated depots to the villages. My uncle was a member of the Panchet [?] committee of all the headmen of the village, about 5 or 6 of them … so they were allocating the ration depot to those Panchet members so my uncle got it. Since I was the only person in the family who could read and write … so I was doing that, you know, writing the ration cards, giving the ration to the people and working in the shop. But I soon got fed up, and in 1947 I joined the army. I remained in the army since 1959 and after getting out of the army I came to this country in 1959.
Can I ask about the village your grew up in, was it Muslim, Sikh or Hindu?
I would say mixed it was, Sikhs, Muslim, and Hindus I would say equally and there were some Christians also … I think proportionally there were equal numbers …
How did the different groups get along together?
Very well … no discrimination. I had my best friends some of the Sikh boys … even the elders of our communities they used to sit together to talk … they were very friendly … because they grew up from the childhood in that same village. Hindus, they had a small mandir, and Sikhs they had a small gurdwara and Muslim had 2 small and 1 big mosque built later on … there were 2 small mosques in our village, one were on the west side and one were on the east side and they both were of the same size – you could hardly accommodate 20 to 25 people … then later on outside the village a mosque was built … that was bigger than those two mosques.
When you were growing up, would you have considered yourself to be mainly Indian, or Punjabi or Muslim?
My identity was Punjabi, we’re British Indians but mostly Muslim was the identity … but there was no discrimination between Muslims and non-Muslims because we used to live together. We Muslim children used to go to madressa … to read the Koran … We also used to visit there (the mandir) with their children to get … the pudding made of semolina … in Urdu we call it halva [?]. In Punjabi we call it karah [?], it’s very sweet and … after worship they distribute it outside to the children.
What sort of community was it?
… mixed ... there are farms and there are those people who provide the services like washermen, tailors, barber, cobblers, carpenters, blacksmith … and some people will go to the town to work as labourers …
Did people talk much about politics?
No, very few. Those that were educated ... two or 3 people who were educated and they could get the newspaper from the city – sometimes it gets delivered on the bikes … and they’ll read the newspaper and tell the other persons also … people, when they’re meeting the whole village they’re talking about the Communist Party, they used to have the drama, the actors are playing something and they would just make them aware … what the lives of the poor people are against the rich people … otherwise … Politics was hardly talked about in the village. In the town ...Sikhs had their own newspaper, Hindus had their own newspaper, Muslims had their own newspaper so they used to discuss sometimes … but no violence, no prejudice against each other.
The run up to 1947 – how do you remember feelings being about Indian independence?
By 1946 there was some awareness, people were talking about Pakistan … the elders of the village they made some peace committees … consisting of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims and they were stressing on it that there should be no violence in our village. There was no violence in our village at all, even when the Sikhs and Hindus went away … not a single person was murdered. It was in the other parts when it flared up and youths used to come to the other villages also and when the caravans used to go out of the villages and youths, some of these people used to kill them, loot them. Then trains started coming from India side murdered, full of Muslims …this had bad impact on the communities … Then in retaliation they did it in this part as well … Then in our own city it started happening, a few burning, murdering, stabbing, mostly stabbing, not guns fired … but it was terrible.
Could the Hindus and Sikhs have stayed in your village?
There were some people who wanted to stay actually – 3, 4 stayed of the Sikhs, who eventually became Muslims also, they were farmers … and some other villagers stayed because of the land and embraced Islam, but mostly when they heard the news of being murdered … they decided to leave and go to India because their own leaders were saying ‘you won’t be safe here’ … Initially they thought this stage will pass over … it will go away, but gradually it got bad to worse … the militants on both the sides, they created it.
How many people left your village, what effect did it have on the village? Did it mean that half of the village had gone?
Yes. I don’t think it affected very much …because the services were from the Muslim side … therefore it didn’t have much impact on the services and then people came from India to replace them.
Did the Hindus and Sikhs do different jobs from the Muslims in the village?
Yes. There was only one goldsmith in our village, and he was a Hindu … but they were mostly farmers as well and it didn’t affect day-to-day life.
What happened to the houses?
Initially when they migrated they locked them, but soon people started breaking the locks and looting them.
Did you think these people were going to come back?
Those that went away, they thought they possibly would come back as the riots died down, but as more and more murders and riots and unrest came up, the hopes died down that they would ever come back.
Did you and your family ever feel in any danger in this period?
No … Muslim community used to live on one side, Hindus and Sikhs used to live on the other side … there was no danger from the village itself … from the Muslim and non-Muslim youths, we used to form a guard and we used to guard the village from the intruder from outside the city … sometimes people used to come from the city, burn the property of non-Muslim, start rioting, but we warned them not to touch our village, because we were on the edge of the town about one mile from the city centre itself.
In Pakistan side … in the villages it didn’t happen because the community was living in a well-knitted relationship and they used to regard each other like brothers … when they were going they used to cry ... because they played in their childhood together in the same village and they know each other and they used to help each other …
But in the towns it happened because there were different ‘halas’ [?], vicinities … and sometimes it happened that the youths or the militant groups attacked the Hindu ‘halas’, but only in the cities, but in the villages I would say … there were no riots, no instigation …
How much did the Partition affect your family?
It didn’t affect my family. Only my father was in Delhi and he came safely by air because some of his friends there, Muslim, they managed to get him out. We were living in that part of the land which came into Pakistan, and we didn’t migrate from India. For those who did migrate from India it was terrible state. Similarly for those who went from Pakistan it was bad for them to get uprooted from place where they lived for generations … it was terrible …
I didn’t understand politics … We were just excited that Pakistan was to be a Muslim country … We didn’t know what Independence is … Some people … think we were very happy under British rule … I myself sometimes think, the way the countries are going now with corruption and all that and having seen the British Raj we think that we were better off at that time.
When you were 16 in 1947, were you glad to get rid of the British?
No … I never think that we were being ruled by the British … because our town, it wasn’t cantonment area so we would hardly seen any British soldiers … we were completely unaware of the politics. We used to see these demonstrations, sometimes Hindu, sometimes Muslim … all we were concerned with was going to school, doing the homework …
When in 1947 did you join the army?
It was December.
Why did you do that?
Well, I matriculated in 1946 and I was doing for a while this ration depot and got fed up of that. I could get no other work … in the army there were some vacancies and I joined [as] a clerical officer.
You came out of the army in 1959. Why did you decide to come to the UK?
One of my maternal uncles was in Nottingham and he wrote me a letter and said how good life is here and it inspired me to come to UK …
Initially we thought we’d earn some money here … then go back home and start a business but unfortunately the circumstances there went from bad to worse … I have 7 children … I thought I should get my children educated here …
Have you visited much?
I’ve visited [home] up to 1996 …
Has the place changed much?
It has changed a lot. The population has got very congested now. In those fields … are built houses there, no green fields now, you can’t recognise where the village was now, it’s all built up areas now.
Do your children feel any family ties to that area?
No. My eldest child was 11 when he came here – they came in 62, my family, and the youngest one was nearly 4 … they went for the visits … but none of my children is feeling to go back or get settled there … 3 were born in this country.
How do you feel about that?
I think they are better off here.
What are your views about relations between the various religious communities here in Britain?
I think they’re very cordial … we sometimes go to their places of worship, they come to ours … whatever they say in their own places of worship, to their followers, that’s something else …
I was vice-chair of the Leicester Council for Community Relations, actually I founded that and I was one of the founders of the Commission for Racial Equality in 1965 … I’ve been very active in race and community relations …
Looking back on Partition 60 years on, how do you feel about it now?
When you look at the poverty of the inhabitants of both India and Pakistan you think it should not have happened - we were living peacefully together, there was no prejudice … but when you look at the militant elements in both sides … you think you are better off, but overall the situation is bad … we would have been much better off if it wasn’t divided … they can’t afford to fight against each other, they should fight against poverty, they should fight against corruption, they should fight against diseases … it was a mistake, it was a blunder …
Here also … they cannot keep them aloof from the loyalties to these countries …
Page Last Updated: 24 July 2009