Few weeks ago, I lost my uncle (my father’s elder brother, profoundly called “taya ji”). He was the eldest member of my family and was in eighties. Last time, I’d met him in November, 2011 and he looked weak. My father told me about the unfortunate news over phone-call and it was like I lost someone who inspired me, who was strongest pillar of family, who knows a lot despite being illiterate, and I started crying for being helpless over phone-call. I felt lonely.
I can remember taya ji always speaking about the golden olden days of his life and his experiences. Taya ji migrated at the time of Independence from Sialkot (located in Pakistan in the north-east of Punjab province near the Chenab River) along with my grandparents. There wasn’t any official record of his birth year but as he remembered he was around 18 years old at the time India got Independence and he’d memories of it live with him. He never got a chance to go to school but he could read Hindi and Punjabi newspapers without any difficulty.
I had always asked taya ji what living was before independence. What was the life style of our people? Was it like today? Were we better off in Sialkot? Was our village in Sialkot same as it is now? Were we living in Hindu dominated or Muslim dominated village? Was there a mosque also? There were many things I asked taya ji. He always replied me with patience and I always got interesting answers from him. Interesting and strange answers.
“We didn’t even know we are under British rule.” He said once and continued, life for poor wasn’t any different as it is now and we were poor so it hardly mattered whether we were under British rulers or under Brahmins rulers of today. We were discriminated and caste system was as strong as it is today. Maybe today we can’t see open discrimination and upper caste people have devised new plans to discriminate but condition is same as it was before independence. We were offered dirty jobs; we worked in the fields as slaves and were offered nothing but few pieces of bread or rotis.
He told me once and my father confirmed me that our homes or any piece of land if any we had never used to registered under our names. We were not given lands under our names no matter even if we were capable of buying it. We had to register it under the name of higher caste people. We’d to convince upper caste landlords to let us use their name and get us register our land on their names. It wasn’t easy and enough, after registering our land on their names we had to keep them happy via working on their fields so that they don’t change their minds and grab our lands. All this continued till late 70s and I believe in many parts of India it would still be the case. Taya ji also told me that no matter how much money you had in cash at the time of separation, everything was looted from us. Partition of India was ill planned and unfortunate event. Only land was transferred and that also not in the proper way. So, it was another lesson for me and I learnt that also in early in life that is I’ll buy as much as land I can. Earlier we’re not given chance to buy a land and now if we have a right to buy a land then why to waste this opportunity?
I don’t want to make this post long enough so will share only one more lesson I learnt from taya ji. He used to tell me, how hypocrite these so called upper caste people are. He told me a story and that he said is the true story. This is a real story about changing the religion and escaping the discrimination.
He said, we – the untouchables weren’t allowed to drink water from the wells as we can see the same at some places and had only access to dirty water or had to travel long to access good water. Once an untouchable from our village in Sialkot muttered the courage and went to the upper caste well and drank the water. Upper caste people saw him doing the same and all upper caste people were furious with the act. They started chasing the man with lethal weapons; man who had drunk the water from the well kept running and went straight to the Muslim landlord. Untouchable man said to Muslim landlord that he is ready to convert into Islam but he has only one request that he want to piss into Hindu upper caste people’s well and I want to see so called upper caste Hindus drinking from same well.
Muslim landlord thought for a while and agreed. Then he gathered his Muslim brothers and went straight to the upper caste Hindus well along with untouchable man. Untouchable man pissed into the well in-front of upper caste people and Muslim landlord made them to drink from the same well.
Untouchable man really converted to the Islam and we can see the hypocrisy of Hinduism from this real story. They fear the strong ones and united ones. We need not to live in a religion that doesn’t treat us equal, that gives more importance to the cow-dung and urine.
After listening this story, I started wondering what matters the most. Is it the piece of paper that says, “You are Buddhist” or your mental conversion? Taya ji never cared for the piece of paper but was real inspiration that shaped me in childhood. I learnt all this early in my life from my family that mental conversion and unity is more important than anything else. And the conversion that leads you out of misery.