Over the last decade, the topic of Saka Johar has been explained and talked about widely.  The heart breaking tale of bravery and determination involving the Rajputs in the era of Khilji is no longer a hidden truth.  ‘The Maharanas’ by Dr. Omendra Ratnu has shaken the conscience of Hindus. But the act of Johar had to be repeated many centuries later, once again by Hindus to save their chastity and die with honour.  Only this time, it was Jal Johar.

In 1946, Muslims voted overwhelmingly in favor of Jinnah and partition of India took place. Pre designed large scale riots ensued with the purpose to enforce the partition and exterminate Hindus.  Organised rape gangs roamed all over Punjab & Bengal picking up Hindu-Sikh women of any age. The plan to partition India was announced on June 3, 1947. Soon after, massive disruption took place as around 10 million people started to move in either direction.  Villages were abandoned, crops left to rot, and families separated by the new borders. an even bigger reality of the time was that of genocide as members of one religion slaughtered and raped those of the other religions. Thousands of women suffered the humiliation of being raped and disfigured in public.  The perpetrators tattooed and branded them with slogans, marking a halfmoon on their breasts or genitalia, and amputated their breasts.  To prevent this or forced religious conversions, many women and their families chose assisted suicide by either burning themselves or jumping in wells and rivers, thus committing Jal Jauhar.  Pennebaker (2000) mentions women who jumped into wells or set themselves on fire as a group from one family or neighbourhood.

The work on this topic by Urvashi Butalia (2000) who talked to and recorded the survivors of these times in Punjab. These informers told her of tales of hundreds of women jumping into wells (and
sometimes being forced to jump) to avoid capture, rape, abduction and forced conversions. According to one survivor, she also jumped to kill herself but there were so many dead bodies in the well already that she couldn’t drown.  On 15th March 1947, she saw more than 90 Sikh women jumping in the same well in Rawalpindi, Pakistan as the Hindus in the area came under attack by Muslim mobs. On page 35 of her book, Butalia mentions that after the well filled up, villages dragged the women who were still alive out of the well.  This lady was able to survive after hiding herself among the dead bodies. This incident was also reported in the April 15th, 1947 edition of english newspaper The Statesman. The woman’s brother-in-law had already killed the other women in her family, set himself and his son on fire to escape slavery and forced conversion.  The well was visited by the then PM Nehru.  It was later closed by the British.

The Fact Finding Team set up by the Indian government recorded that, in Bewal Village (in the Rawalpindi district), many women committed suicide by self-immolation on March 10, 1947. They put their bedding and cots in a pile, set fire to it and jumped onto it. A school teacher, whose family was in a camp that was attacked on August 26, 1947, reported that his daughter had a man try to strangle her three times, but she survived despite losing consciousness (Menon & Bhasin, 1998, p. 42). Many women carried vials of poison around their neck so as to have the means for suicide easily available should it become necessary (Menon &
Bhasin, 1998, p. 46).

These women were caught in a horrendous bind. They faced rape, mutilation and torture. For any self righteous woman who practically could not see any future for herself as a Hindu woman, who felt that if she were to remain alive, her womb will be used to create Muslim children and her own stature will be that of less than a third class citizen, taking her own life was the only real option.

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