A poor Muslim barber, Subedar Mia, from the non-descript Daraili Mathia village in Bihar’s Saran district worked for a living on the streets of Dhaka ahead of the partition of India in 1947. Subedar unknowingly and unwillingly seized to be an Indian citizen when Dhaka became a part of Pakistan as result of partition. His brothers, sisters and villagers at large sulked and wept for years for their inability to get Subedar back.
India helped creating the separate nation of Bangladesh by defeating Pakistan in 1971 war. More than enjoying India’s military success, the Daraili Mathia villagers saw it an opportunity to get their estranged Subedar back. My newly released book, THE GREATEST FOLK TALES OF BIHAR narrates in detail the story of Subedar Mia in its Introduction part.
Subedar had, in fact, died long before the 1971 war—a tragedy the villagers were not aware of. But his son, Amir Mia came in with his family members to his village bringing the story of his father, Subedar Mia. I had written the story of how Amir’s arrival had generated celebration at Daraili Mathia and how Amir lived the rest of his life in the atmosphere of love and bonhomie at the village with mixed population of Hindus and Muslims nearly 20 years ago.
Union Home Minister, Amit Shah’s declaration that his government would implement the National Register for Citizens (NRC) at the national level and complete the process by 2024 has created panic among the minorities across India. The exercise is fraught with the danger to question the nationality of millions of people particularly in bordering states.
But a big section of researchers, academics, and policymakers and also the non-RSS and non-BJP politicians fear that the BJP is all out to nurse the NRC as the potent divisive tool to fuel the communal hatred in the country that could help it win 2024 elections.
I had written the story titled as “THIS EARTH OF MANKIND” in The Statesman in 2000. Though India had the A B Vajpayee led National Democratic Government, Amit Shah and Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had not yet got the national stature. My story, “This Earth of Mankind”, hardly had what is called a news peg then. The Statesman had carried it in its Op-Ed section. I feel that the nearly 20 year old story has got a peg now and decodes the colossal humanitarian problem that the NRC can create.
Here I am reproducing the story as it had appeared in The Statesman with due permission from The Statesman.
This earth of mankind
|This is the story of an ordinary man who loved his land of birth like few do, writes NALIN VERMA|
INDIA and Pakistan are moving towards the negotiations table, raising hopes on both the sides of the divide. Eagerly waiting for a thaw in Indo-Pak relations and a ”soft border” are people who were forced to migrate more than half a century ago. Many of these had not migrated from one part of the sub-continent to another – they had simply been working away from home (as many of us still do) and were caught in the political turmoil of Partition. This is the story of one such man.
Amir Mian looked like a contented farmer in deep sleep after reaping the harvest of his labours, only that he was being lowered in his final resting place. Technically, he was a “Pakistani national” but his relatives and friends laid his body to rest beside his ancestors’ at the cemetery of Daraily Mathia, a nondescript village in north Bihar’s Siwan district. Amir Mian crossed over into India from erstwhile East Pakistan during the 1971 war. He was born into a barber’s family at Daraily Mathia, where he lived till the age of 10. His father, Faujdar Mian, took his wife and young son Amir to Dhaka (then East Bengal) in 1946 to earn a living. But the country stood divided the very next year, making Faujdar Mian and his family Pakistanis overnight.
Like the Station Master of Garam Hawa (based on Ismat Chugtai’s Jadein and Chauthi ka Joda), who watched helplessly as his family members migrated to Pakistan, Diljar Mian too suffered silently realising that his elder brother, sister-in-law and nephew had been forced settle in an ”alien” country. Poor as Diljar Mian was, he couldn’t contact his brother in Dhaka after Partition; he didn’t even know when his elder brother had died. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. Before and during the 1971 India-Pakistan war hundreds of thousands of refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) entered India. Amir Mian was one of them. The then 35-year-old barber, his wife and three sons crossed over to Calcutta after trudging hundreds of kilometres from Dhaka. He had always been an Indian at heart but couldn’t cross over because he didn’t have enough money or the documents to prove his Indian citizenship. Life had been hard for him and his family in East Pakistan. And after he reached Calcutta, he realised his dream of going back to his roots in Daraily Mathia could become a reality. He boarded a train from Howrah to Mairwa, the nearest railway station from Daraily Mathia.
Though I was just 11 years old then, I distinctly recall Amir Mian, carrying a bundle of tattered clothes on his head approaching our house on the outskirts of the village in the fading light of the setting sun. His wife and sons were behind him. The ”strangers” drew the attention of my father who was filling fodder in a vat for our cow. “Where are you headed to… who are you?, ” he asked, thinking that they had lost their way. Daraily Mathia and its neighbouring villages are still not connected to a railway station or a bus stop by a pucca road. Even today people have to walk to reach these villages.
“Bhaiya, hum Amir hayeen; Faujdar Mian ke beta (I am Amir, son of Faujdar Mian)”, Amir Mian said. He recognised my father, for our house had stayed at the same spot – one that he used to visit during his childhood. My father walked a couple of steps towards him and had a close look at his face through the dusk enveloping the air. I recall a sudden gush of emotion overpowering my father before he yelled: “Amir, tu kahaan thaa… merai gaon ka bachchaa… tu log kahaan chalaa gaya thaa (Where had you vanished, Amir… a boy of this village… where were you?).”
The scene that followed is etched in my memory: the faces of the ”newcomers” silhouetted against the last rays of the sun, a faint light falling on the right side of my father’s face and the distant trees mixing with the roofs to create a long, ghostly shadow in the background. My father fired one question after another. ”How did you reach here? Where is Faujdar Mian? Who is this with you? Your wife? And your children?” The only thing Amir Mian could do was nod his head; the flow of tears clearly visible even though he was against the light. His wife and children stood like statues. And then my father screamed: “Ai Diljar, ai Phulena, ai Dulai Mian… aawa dekha log, Faujdar ka beta aa gaya (O Diljar, Phulena, Dulai Mian, come in and see Faujdar Mian’s son is here).” Soon I saw the villagers almost running towards my house. Diljar Mian hugged his nephew and wept uncontrollably. It was then that Amir Mian said that his father and Diljar Mian’s elder brother, Faujdar Mian, had died in Dhaka long ago. The ”newcomers” were taken to their ”joint family” house, where Amir Mian was born and spent the first 10 years of life. Diljar Mian, his sons Phulena, Jhulena and grandchildren were still living in the house made of mud and hay. As the ”newcomers” mingled with members of their new family, other villagers turned up with rice, dal and vegetables to help Diljar Mian. Daraily Mathia had just three Muslim families; the rest were Hindus. And they had been living in complete harmony for centuries. On that fateful wintry night some people wrapped in blankets sat huddled around the fire at my door talking to my father. In the flickering light of the fire and with the wood crackling like a refrain in their conversation, the talked about Faujdar Mian – about how he used to get angry when village boys tried to pull his beard… why and how he went to Dhaka… and how Diljar Mian wept for days for his elder brother after Partition. After the neighbours left, my father walked into the house and lighted a lantern (incidentally, Daraily Mathia is still not part of the electricity map). I remember him telling my mother how Faujdar Mian used to carry a spear and move around the village during night, shouting “jaga ho” to keep the people on guard against thieves and brigands. I listened to the tales till I felt asleep.
“Life was difficult in Dhaka. I was not able to feed my family despite working like a dog throughout the day. Hair-cutting in East Pakistan is not a good profession…,” Amir Mian who dropped at the village meeting place the next day told the curious villagers. He narrated several tales – of his life, struggle, hardship and penury in East Pakistan. A couple of landowners got together and gave him some land on bataai (share-cropping). The villagers suggested he open a hair-cutting salon at Mairwa bazaar. “You’ll earn enough to maintain the family,” said Phulena. “And we are there to help you.” Mairwa bazaar is about 9 km from Daraily Mathia.
Amir Mian managed to pool in some money, and opened a salon at Mairwa. First, his eldest son, Maqbul, and then the other two, Shamsher and Shamsul, joined him in the salon. Maqbul grew up to be a skillful and creative barber. Soon the family started earning well and saved enough money to build a pucca house for the large family, including his uncle Diljar Mian, his two sons and their children.
Amir Mian and his eldest son Maqbul became popular also because they were made very good tazia for Muharram and could play the lathi and sword like nobody else. Though a Hindu majority village, Daraily Mathia observed Muharram just like any other Indian festival. Tazias used to be placed at the door of all the Hindu houses on the tenth day of the month of Muharram. Diljar Mian died in 1980, passing on the reins of the joint family to Amir Mian, who remained a father figure for the family till he died.
On my last visit, as I completed the trudge to Daraily Mathia, I saw the villagers walking silently towards the graveyard. “What has happened?,” I asked, fearing that somebody had died. “Amir chacha is no more…,” said Phulena’s son, sobbing. I followed him to the graveyard. As I joined the others in the mitti (symbolic ritual of offering a handful of earth to the dead), I kept thinking here was a man, an illiterate man, who had defied man-made boundaries and teased the chief architect of Partition, Cyril Radcliffe.