I was born in Jaranwala on May 21, 1931. My father was in jail at that time. Earlier in the year he was participating in a peaceful, very mild, and harmless procession that was marching through that small town. People were carrying the tricolor Congress party flag and shouting slogans asking the British to go home and to leave India free. This kind of activities had begun several years earlier in other parts of India and had just begun in this area. The police arrived at some point and asked the people to disperse. Those who didn’t were arrested, later produced in court, and sentenced to jail terms of various lengths. My father at that time got one year. I have heard that this was his second and last visit to jail.
About 7-8 years later, as a small boy, I remember witnessing a similar scene. Its image is so well etched in my memory that I can quite vividly recall it to this day. There were about 100 people in the procession walking through the town’s main street. Most of them were young men belonging to shopkeeper families of different religions. There were Hindu, Sikh and Muslims and all of them looked quite serious about what they were doing. The long 3-4 abreast column of people began to spread into a circle at the end of the street where several policemen, some on horseback, were standing in the middle of the road.
They were shouting orders; ‘disperse, go home, you are breaking the law.’ The officer in charge of the police contingent was British. He had come from the District station. People ignored the orders and stayed put. Orders were shouted again and yet again. No one moved. Then the British officer rode forward and facing the crowd said in his highly accented Hindi: “Since you are not obeying I am asking one of the policemen to draw a line across the road. Those who dare to defy the law by crossing the line will be arrested.”
The police gave several minutes to the people to make up their minds. Fifteen to twenty men defiantly crossed the line. One of them was uncle Dewan Chand, my grandfather’s brother’s son. They were handcuffed and marched to the nearest police station. There they were locked up. We were not allowed to visit them. We learned that they would be produced before a judge in a court in Lyallpur in a week’s time. Later the exact date of the trial was announced. I went there with my older cousins and some of their friends. After waiting for some time we saw several handcuffed men being taken out of a court room. Among them was uncle Dewan Chand. He signed to us with two raised fingers and shouted with gleeful enthusiasm saying, ‘I got just two years in jail.’
I was very impressed thinking how brave he was. This experience added a big chunk to my knowledge and understanding of the world around me. Since then what I read and learned in school about British rule and our struggle for Freedom was real and highly meaningful.
Uncle Dewan Chand’s father Harnam Das lived in Lyallpur with his oldest son’s family. He was a congress party leader and very active in local politics. I met him many times and remember him clad in his beautiful handspun and hand woven clothes including his large turban. It was our elder Harnam Das who inspired my father and others to get involved in the Freedom struggle.
July 18, 2009