IF anything can change ones attitude to Partition, it is the love story of Zainab and Boota Singh. It is more than a love story. It is entirely true. And it took place amidst the slaughter and sexual savagery that had accompanied the greatest of human convulsions never before had so many people exchanged their homes and country in so short a time. The same Partition was also a witness to the protection of the honour of a helpless Muslim girl by Boota Singh, who had served under Lord Mountbatten in Burma, during World War II. It is a story about those incidents where human values rose above communal considerations, and protected the life and honour of an abducted woman.
It is also one of those rare renditions of the Partition, which speak about the plight of women, in which more than 10 million people crossed the western border of India and Pakistan. While Muslims trekked west to Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs travelled to India. The official estimate of the dead, according to Britishers, was two lakh, the Indian estimate was close to two million. Millions of homes were divided, houses destroyed and villages deserted. Yet, the case of Zainab and Boota Singh emerges like the silver lining in the dark clouds of Partition, as if to prove that it was not all Muslims against all Hindus and Sikhs or vice-versa.
Shaheed-e-Mohabbat Boota Singh, a recently released Punjabi movie, is a story of love and hate; a story of two nations and four lives. Unable to secure the release of his beloved Zainab, Boota Singh in the end, jumps in front of a train and commits suicide. The suicide note in his pocket, said that he wished to be buried in Zainabs village. Newspaper accounts, published at the time when the autopsy of Boota Singhs body was conducted in Lahore, recount how large crowds had gathered outside the hospital. Many people wept openly and bitterly. When the police party took his body to Zainabs village, it was stopped from burying the body there, as people of that village did not want a permanent reminder of that incident. Boota Singh was then brought to Lahore and was buried there in a Muslim graveyard. A mazaar now stands over his grave in Lahore, and a festival is held to mark his death anniversary.
The film opens up old wounds of Partition, and also raises doubts about the wisdom behind the inter-dominion treaty of December 6,1947, as well as the Abducted Persons Recovery and Restoration Act, 1949, to recover as many abducted women as may be found. According to the Act, any woman seen to be living in the company of or in the care of a man of the other religion, after March 1,1947 was presumed to have been abducted or taken by force. After this date, all marriages or conversions that had taken place, were seen as forced, and were not recognised by either of the two governments. No matter what the woman said or how much she protested, she had no choice in the matter.
The question of children born after this date, being abducted or otherwise, was left unresolved. The movie is a powerful satire on the wisdom behind the Abducted Persons Recovery and Restoration Act, 1949, besides posing a question mark on the manner in which it was enforced.
The movie also raises a question as to why the Indian Government did not slow down the pace of recoveries of Muslim women, particularly in view of the fact that not many women could be recovered from Pakistan. An act that was perceived to be humanitarian in its objective, turned oppressive in many cases, as in the case of Zainab and Boota Singh.
A movie on Zainab and Boota Singh has already been made in Pakistan. It was released on video. Shaheed-e-Mohabbat Boota Singh, which is likely to be released in Delhi, is a far superior version of the real story. Besides the superb acting of Gurdas Mann, the songs of the movie (most of them have been written by him) are its high points. One of the songs is as follows.
"Eh kaisi rut
aayee ni maa, Eh kaisi rut aayee;
(Oh mother ! what kind of season is this;
Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs no longer consider each other as brothers)
The lyrics of Gurdas Mann reminds us of Shiv Batalvi:
(I am crying bitterly; I am begging,
I cant even get death for my asking,
how do I bury a live body.)
His challenge to God, in the midst of separation from his beloved, is like a reminder of Sufi poetry:
lagge hundi ki judaai,
(Oh God! you will get to know what separation is,
when you are separated from your beloved)
The qawwali by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the beginning of the film is most haunting.
"Samajh saken na
(The wise people never understand;
Only love knows the status of love)
Treatment of the movie by Director Manoj Punj is extremely realistic, even though it is a period film. The actress Divya Dutta is equally competent in the depiction of Punjabi exuberance, as well as acute grief.
In this climate where
wounds of Partition are sought to be healed by bus
diplomacy, Shaheed-e-Mohabbat Boota Singh can
become another vehicle of understanding of love between
Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.
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