Lost and found
Starting from 1947, Sant Singh’s life story has been one that transcends national borders and religious identities — to emerge as a tale of human love and trust
Memories of the 1947 Partition are deeply etched in every heart that has undergone the tragedy. In between the gory tales of the Partition, there are unknown stories of human love which share the common ground like the common colour.
Meet Sant Singh, a resident of Bakshi Nagar in Jammu district who has seen many religious identities since his birth. His is an inspiring story that is stranger than fiction with every word coming true even before he could well understand the meaning of life!
During 1947, the entire village of Kumi Kot in Muzaffarabad, now a part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), was engulfed by communal violence. A blood-stained boy, about two years old, clutching to an unidentified woman’s dead body, was spotted by a Muslim youth and his sister near the bank of 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, the boy was separated from his foster parents and forcibly sent to India by the International Red Cross Society so that he could be reunited with his real family. At the transit camp of Red Cross Society in Rawalpindi, he was named Sant Ram. Later, at 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 bringing home the realisation that 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 Suchet Singh’s house, where he was treated like a family member, a cousin 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 Sant Singh in his hostel room, claiming that he was the son of his uncle. A reluctant Sant Singh refused to be drawn into another identity crisis and bluntly told Naram Singh that his identity was merely that of an orphan. 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 resemble my faint memories,” says 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,” shares Sant Singh.
In 2005, life came around full circle with Sant Singh’s search 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.
“My 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.
He had met the family of his foster parents after nearly sixty years, yet Sant Singh 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.
“Religions are social constructs,” muses the greying Sant Singh, concluding his incredible narrative. “They must not be used against humanity.”