Rediff Logo freedom BANNER ADS Find/Feedback/Site Index


Rebel With A Cause

Mridula Sarabhai, born into Ahmedabad's celebrated industrial dynasty and nuclear scientist Vikram Sarabhai's sister, was one of those amazing women who fought for India's freedom. After the midnight hour, she grew disillusioned with the Congress, rejected the lure of high office and championed the unpopular cause of Sheikh Abdullah for the last twenty years of her life, even going to prison for defending the Kashmiri leader.

Aparna Basu, who has just published Mridula's biography, recounts Sarabhai's fearless commitment to saving human life during the horrific trauma of Partition.

Another gruesome attack on Hindu and Sikh refugees was made on 23 September 1947 at Jassarh, a border town in the district of Sialkot. The refugees were being carried in a train which was escorted by the Pakistan military. On reaching the railway terminus, they were ordered to get down and walk on foot across the bridge on the river Ravi for entering into India. The military escort had gone back.

While they were trying to cross the bridge, an attack was made on them by a huge mob of Muslims. On hearing this, Mridula instantly drove to Jassarh in Sialkot district (Pakistan) and was received by the deputy commissioner of Sialkot and Pakistani police officers. A large number of girls had been abducted by the mob and over 500 persons had been killed and 430 wounded. She made arrangements for removing the wounded to hospitals and transporting the survivors to Amritsar.

The news of this attack at Jassarh created a sensation in Amritsar. Infuriated Sikhs and Hindus began to pour into the city from the adjoining villages armed with swords, spears, daggers guns and all kinds of weapons, wanting to take outright revenge.

A few thousand Muslim refugees were camped at the cattle fair ground on the outskirts of the city. Mridula contacted the police and military and suggested that more men should be deployed to avert an outbreak of violence. At her suggestion, the entire community of Muslim refugees was cordoned by the police and army. Sardar Narinder Singh, deputy commissioner, Chaudhary Ram Singh, senior superintendent of police, and Brigadier Chopra personally supervised the operation.

Mridula, the SSP and DC explained to the Sikh and Hindu mob that instructions had been received from the prime minister and the defence minister, Sardar Baldev Singh, that the Muslim refugees had to be protected at any cost. Eventually the mob melted away. Lala Bhimsen Sachar was heard commenting, 'today we saw Bahenji in the role of a lioness'.

Though the police and army were responsible for controlling the frenzied crowd, it was Mridula who had taken the initiative in preventing a counter-attack on the Muslim refugees.

The cattle fair ground incident of Amritsar convinced Mridula that had the police had the army been deployed with strict discipline and honesty in both India and Pakistan, communal disturbances could have been averted and the exodus of minorities from East and West Punjab could perhaps have been avoided.

This episode increased her credibility in Pakistan where she was referred to as 'Mureed-e-Allah' -- servant of God. Her courage as well as her non-communal approach were admired and Pakistan officials listened to her, regarded her as a valuable link with India and gave her full co-operation.

Excerpted from Mridula Sarabhai, Rebel With A Cause, by Aparna Basu, Oxford University Press, 1996, Rs 425, with the publisher's permission. Readers in the US may secure a copy of the book from Oxford University Press Inc USA, 198, Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016, USA. Tel: 212-726-6000. Fax: 212-726-6440.

Back Continued