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Long read: Havering’s elderly Asian community reflect on the impact of India’s partition

PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 August 2017 | UPDATED: 03:58 28 August 2017

Members of HASWA spoke to the Recorder about their memories of living through the partition of India. Picture: Ken Mears

Members of HASWA spoke to the Recorder about their memories of living through the partition of India. Picture: Ken Mears

Archant

Indian Independence Day is annually celebrated on August 15, but for many it is less a time of joy and more a period of remembrance.

This year, marked the 70th anniversary that the country gained independence from British rule, and on August 14, Pakistan celebrated becoming an independent state.

But these are also dates where elderly members of the Asian community reflect on how, neighbours, family, and friends were torn apart.

Sansar Narwal, 82, a Sikh from Drummond Avenue, Romford, said: “My [Muslim] friend Mohammed Sarbar and I grew up together in India. “When we were 12 we had to separate. He had to go to Pakistan and I had to stay in India.”

Mr Narwal, was aged 12 when the countries were given independence.

He is also one of the founding members of the Havering Asian Social Welfare Association (HASWA), and spoke of the impact partition had.

“Before [partition] religion did not come into it,” he continued.

Tarsaim Dhami, 80, a Sikh from Rainham, added: “Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims used to live in harmony.”

But Britain’s last viceroy Lord Mountbatten suddenly decided that the partition should occur 10 months earlier than expected.

The Radcliffe Line – the boundary demarcation line between India and Pakistan – was meant to keep Muslims in Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs in India.

But communities were crudely cut in two and people turned on each other.

At the tender age of five, Akhtar Arabi, 75, a Muslim from Herbert Road, Hornchurch, and her family were forced to leave India and move to Pakistan.

They were verbally abused and spat on at a train station along the way.

Mr Dhami, then aged 10, saw women of both religions commit suicide by jumping in wells rather than be raped and mutilated.

“Breasts were removed,” he added. “People were speared. I have seen some of it. It was horrendous.”

But great acts of kindness were shown by people like Surriya Mir, 88, a Muslim from Hornchurch.

Aged just 10 and living in Islamabad, she along with her grandmother helped keep safe Hindus who were gathered together in camps before they were made to travel to leave Pakistan and travel to India.

In 1964, Satish Sethi, a Hindu from Hornchurch, came to live in the UK and it was here that she engaged with people from a different faith to her.

“It took time to settle,” she said.

“My parents struggled. But now we are all great friends.”

And it is thanks to places like HASWA, Kilmartin Way, Hornchurch, members of the elderly Asian community in Havering, can share their losses, put the past the behind and enjoy each other’s company once more.

HASWA development officer, Manjit Kaur said: “We’ve been called the united colours of Havering. We cater to everyone, Caribbean, African, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Mauritius, Maltese.”

Santosh Sharmi, 81, a Hindu from Hornchurch, added: “In every corner we should open a HASWA. It is my second home. We are like one family. If I am not here they ring me. They [Manjit, project assistant Daljit Kalar, and outreach worker Nirmala Leal] are so helpful.”

Mrs Mir’s daughter Tasneem, said: “I bring my mother here and honestly it is like a home. They enjoy each others company and talk about the old days, what they’ve been through and they are entertained. That’s the main thing.”

Mr Narwal added: “We are all back on the same track that we used to be.”

There are many activities run at HASWA including yoga, a social club, Bollywood dancing, Punjabi class, a carer’s group, relaxation classes, and a lunch club to name a few.

For more information or to get involved call 01708522789 or email office@haswa.org.uk

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