Living beyond religious identities
The partition of the country in 1947 is recalled with gory tales of violence, and memories of the bloodshed deeply etched in every heart that has undergone the tragedy. However, in between these unforgettable tales of partition, unknown stories of human love can be heard.
One such story is that of Sant Singh, a resident of Bakshi Nagar in Jammu District, Jammu and Kashmir, who has seen several religious identities since his birth. The story of Sant Singh is stranger than fiction with every word coming true even before he could well understand the meaning of life!
During 1947, when the entire village of Kumi Kot in Muzaffarabad, now a division of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), was engulfed by communal violence, a two-year old boy dared to cross the boundary.
The blood-stained body of this two year old, clutching an unidentified woman's dead body, was spotted by a Muslim youth and his sister near the banks of the River Jhelum at Chatha Saran. The woman took the abandoned child to her home in the nearby village of Gali Seri and fostered him for over five years as her own son. He was circumcised according to Islamic rituals and named Mohammad Sulemaan.
In 1952, he was separated from his foster parents and forcibly sent to India by the International Red Cross Society so that he could be restored to his real family. At the transit camp of Red Cross Society, Rawalpindi, he was named Sant Ram. Later, at the refugee camp, Kachchi Chawni, Jammu, a Sikh named Suchet Singh claimed that he was the son of his slain brother, Dharam Singh and renamed him Sant Singh. But he was abandoned shortly thereafter, and he had no identity other than that of being an orphan.
In official records, he continues to be Sant Singh, son of Dharam Singh. On one of his frequent visits to the house of Suchet Singh, where he was treated like a family member; Suchet Singh's little daughter taunted Sant Singh that he was not her cousin, but merely an orphan. Heartbroken, the boy picked up his bag and left their house, never to return.
In 1968, Naram Singh, brother-in-law of Suchet Singh, visited the heart-broken Sant Singh in his hostel room, claiming that he was the son of his uncle. Sant Singh, who had accepted the fact that his identity was merely that of an orphan, bluntly told Naram Singh that he does not want to be drawn into another identity crisis.
Unfazed, Naram Singh shared memories of his native village in PoK. "I do not know whether it was sheer coincidence or a fact, but whatever he said seemed to revive my faint memories," said Sant Singh, who then relented and agreed to visit Naram Singh's uncle and aunt.
"Seeing me, the middle aged couple hugged me and distributed sweets in celebration of the family reunion, shedding tears of joy. Well aware of the pain of separation, I accepted Nihaal Singh and his wife, Maan Kaur as my parents," shared Sant Singh.
Life is a circle, they say and Sant Singh's life witnessed it when in 2005 he started searching for his foster parents in PoK for the first time. A chance newspaper obituary notice brought him in contact with a visiting family who belonged to the Gali Seri (Khatpura, Hattian Dupatta) area, close to the village where Sant Singh's foster parents had raised him in the early days of his childhood.
Eager to seek out his foster parents, Sant Singh wrote a brief summary of his life and gave the family some sketchy details on a piece of paper along with his address and phone numbers, asking them to put up copies of the notice in their village.
After a few days, he received a call. "Can I speak to Sulemaan? I am Anwar," spoke a soft voice. It was the daughter of his foster parents. "I am your brother, Sant Singh", he responded, overwhelmed. Shortly after, he applied for, and received, the permit to travel on the cross-LoC bus. On October 1, 2009, he set foot in his first homeland, now in Muzaffarpur, across the border.
His foster parents had died a few years ago. "I was told they would remember me often, complaining that I had forgotten them after leaving for India," he says in a chocked voice, fighting back tears.
His first meeting with the family of his foster parents after nearly sixty years turned out to be another milestone in life of Sant Singh, who considers them as his own family. "At the time of my return to India, the entire extended families of Maskeen Sahab and Anwar, including those who had met me for the first time, were in tears. We remain in touch over the telephone," he says.
Sant Singh believes that religions are social constructs and they must not be used against humanity. The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that his incredible tale leaves one with hopes that how relations come into existence - beyond religion, beyond boundaries.