Sunday, April 17, 2011

Of Tapestry, Time and Tears by Carol Morgan

Once the first four brave women came forward and Edwina’s piece was published in the Herald, the flood gates opened. Edwina was doing as many as twenty interviews a day. There were tales of the kalifas, of women being forced to dance in the gurudwaras, of being gang-raped in front of family. But it was the physical mutilations that were most horrible. Amputations of hands, ears, legs were common. Some women were thrown screaming in horror into huge bonfires while onlookers watched. The most grisly cruelties were the cases of women whose breasts were cut off. At one medical refugee center alone, there were twelve cases of women’s breasts being amputated and none of them survived.

From subsequent interviews, Edwina discovered it was common practice for women to carry poison. If the horrible fear of being raped came true, they could end their life immediately. Those who had no poison jumped into wells or made bonfires out of carpets and mattresses and jumped onto it, burning them alive.

Entire families of women committed suicide together or sometimes the male family members carried out the heinous familiacide. This was the story of another girl, only sixteen.

“My brother saw himself as my savior, my standard bearer. I didn’t think he was, I was afraid of him with this new identity that possessed him. To me, my dear brother had turned into some sort of demon. I ran away, but not before he threw kerosene on me and set me on fire. It burned my face. Now, no one will want me. I’m no longer chaste and I’m horribly disfigured, like a monster.” She raised her dupatta to reveal half of her body burned, the side of her beautiful face resembled melted plastic and she was blind in one eye.

“I ran. I ran away. I was in the other room with my mother and sister and they were talking about us—my father, brother and uncle. They were talking about what was going to happen to us. They were saying we were going to be raped and perhaps, forced to convert. They said it was better that we die than experience that disgrace. I tried to get out the door and realized we were locked in the room, then I smelled kerosene. I told my mother ‘They’re going to burn us alive in this room, we have to get out.’ My mother and sister said nothing, they were resigned to their fate, but I wanted to live, I didn’t want to die for something that might or might not happen to me, so I knocked out the window to the street and climbed out to escape. I can never go back; I dishonored my family by not allowing them to kill me.”

After these interviews, Edwina was angry at every government official who had anything to do with Partition. The interviews only reinforced her attitude about the vast difference between those making policy and those who suffered the effect of those policies. She even angrily visualized it in her mind—the white-robed aristocratic lawyers and office holders in the pristine marbled legislative buildings of Luytens’ Delhi versus the weary emaciated Indian in the foot convoys engulfed in an angry cloud of red dust, starving, and dehydrated, the specter of death waiting at every tree and hill. Edwina wondered, “While those decision makers composed their dramatic speeches touting lofty ideals and abstract philosophies--did they bother to think of the results of their decisions and the people it would affect?”

By October, India and Pakistan were in armed conflict over Kashmir.

Edwina met Rajil at the white house and after they made love, they lay together and talked about the tragedy of Kashmir.

“The house is gone, you know.” Rajil said quietly.

“Your house in Kashmir?”

“Yes, burned to the ground, all gone. And the barns and horses also.” He added.

It was tragic. The place where their love affair began was only ash now. They could never return to their beginning.

“No one will be able to go back to Kashmir, you know. Probably for years, maybe even never. If Kashmir had ceded to India immediately…but it was their hesitation and delay that made this happen.”

“It’s a division of lives.”

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