Family reunited after 75 years of separation following India's partition

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the partition of India, but its impact can still be felt today. ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports.

Words by Sanjay Jha for ITV News in Sandham, India

It was an emotional reunion for two family members after 75 years of separation.

Hugging tight with his frail body, Sarwan Singh, 92, was thrilled to meet his long-lost nephew Mohan Singh who has adopted Islam and got a new name, Abdul Khaliq.

“I am at peace with myself,” said Mr Singh after meeting his nephew and his family last week.

One of the last wishes of his life was to be reunited with his nephew, who was left behind in the melee of the chaos and migration that took place following the decision to cleave Pakistan from India and create a new country for Muslims.

Muslim refugees sit on the roof of an overcrowded coach railway train in trying to flee India near New Delhi on Sept. 19, 1947. Credit: AP

Mr Singh has been searching for his nephew for the last 75 years. He lost 22 members of his extended family in the aftermath of the partition, which created the largest displacement in human history and resulted in the deaths of millions.

During the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Punjab was divided into two parts.

Sikhs were among the worst affected as many of their religious and historical shrines got divided between western and eastern Punjab - falling in between India and Pakistan.

Riots between Hindus and Muslims ensued, and rampaging crowds would go from village to village to loot and kill other communities. 

“The four or five villagers of my area decided not to attack anyone, but people from outside came and attacked us, so we had to fight in defence, and people from both sides were killed," Sarwan Singh told ITV News

Mohan Singh, who was just six years old at the time, was left behind as Sarwan, his brother, and others embarked on a journey by bullock cart towards the Indian border, little knowing the fate of Mohan and the other family members.

Recalling the gory details of the event that unfolded during partition, he said: “My mother had also jumped in the well but was somehow pulled out before she was killed along with my father and other family members.”

Over time, he thought about the lone surviving nephew in Pakistan. Even though haunting memories of the partition kept lingering in his mind but he never gave up hope of finding the 23rd missing family member.

His nephew was, in the meantime, adopted by a Muslim family in that village.

“They didn’t allow him to come out for 11 years as they didn’t want people to know that he is a Sikh child and they were afraid that somebody would kill him”, Mr Singh recalls.

“It is a matter of great courage that they kept him for 11 years, and later they took permission from the government to convert him as Muslim.”

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Then they got him married to his sister-in-law’s daughter and even gave him a share in their land.

Mr Sarwan still recalls the bloodshed that surrounded the 1947 partition, which wiped out nearly his entire extended family.

But with the passing decades, India and Pakistan have drifted away due to nationalist fervour and profound mutual suspicion, making it almost impossible for people like Sarwan to go back and visit their ancestral village where they once grew up.

Since partition, the relations between the two neighbours have only worsened, with borders becoming more rigid and heavily guarded despite common shared heritage.

Due to deep mistrust and cross-border terrorist attacks, both countries remain estranged with almost no diplomatic relations. Though in the initial years of partition, both governments ran trains and buses across the border, in the later years, it ended after some terrorist attacks in India.

“I still dream that one day Punjab will be reunited again.  Instead of this painful separation, we were happy being a British colony.”

Survivors of partition like Sarwan have a deep desire to visit their once home now in Pakistan, and some of them have successfully obtained visas, but it is not easy to see each other’s country.