by Haroon Khalid
On the 19th of February 1958, a man in his mid-sixties jumped on the railway track near Shahdara, with the intention of killing himself. He was being watched by his young daughter, who was 5 at that time. Police recovered three letters from the corpse. The first letter stated that Zainab should look after his two daughters, the second was his will, in which he donated his entire possession to a mosque, and the last letter stated that he should be buried as a Muslim in the village of Nurpur on Burki road. Only his second wish came true.
Heer-Ranjha, Romeo-Juliet, Sassi-Panno are all stories/myths, shrouded in mystery, oblivious to the criterion of chronology, however this story of Boota and Zainab is real. The love story of Boota and Zainab has touched many hearts. Shaheed-i-Muhabbat, a Punjabi feature film made by Gurdas Maan, Muhabbat a novel by Ishrat Rahmani, another novel Zainab Jamil, and Hollywood movie The Partition are all tributes to this couple.
Boota Singh was not allowed to be buried as a Muslim in Nurpur, because he was in love with Zainab, who belonged to that village. He had already made a lot of fuss about his love in front of the whole world. The people of Nurpur were already a laughing stock for the entire nation, how could have they allowed him the final victory. He was buried at Miani Sahib, where his grave became an object of veneration for young lovers. He was given the title of Shaheed-e-Muhabbat. They even wanted to construct a tomb over his grave, but the conservative elements in the society could not afford that at all. To stop the ‘crazy’ people, as they put it, they razed the grave in the darkness of night. Students re-did it in the morning, only to be razed again. This went on for a little while, after which it was permanently removed. Today only the old folks at the graveyard, who happened to have witness the entire episode, remember where his grave once was. This was the last resting place of Jamil Ahmad (Boota Singh). Even today in Nurpur, and its adjacent villages, it is a taboo to ever talk about Boota-Zainab, and who ever dares to do, is immediately asked not to. Nobody wants to talk about, even more than half a century after the incident, not even Zainab, who still happens to be alive and living there.
At the time of Partition, Zainab who was perhaps in her teens was trying to cross over the border to Pakistan. However, on the way, she was kidnapped by two Sikhs, whereas the rest of the family fled. As she was being taken away, her screams were heard by another Sikh. When he saw the girl, he fell in love with her, and purchased her from them for a hefty amount of Rs1500.
For a little while, he looked after her, after which he decided to marry her. Soon she gave birth to two daughters, whom they named Tanveer Kaur and Dilveer Kaur. Dilveer was the younger sister. Almost a decade after the creation of the two countries, the governments decided that they should return all the girls, women, who were kidnapped during Partition. One day as Zainab was in the fields with Dilveer, government agents took them and sent them to Pakistan. For the time being that Zainab was being detained at the camps, Boota was able to meet her, but once she was taken to Pakistan, he lost all contact with her.
Here, her family had settled at the then village of Nurpur, on Burki road. Once she returned, she was married to her cousin. Boota Singh alleged that he received letters from Zainab while she was here that he should come for her. Boota Singh went to the Jamia Mosque in Delhi and became Jamil Ahmad. Then he applied for Pakistani nationality on the basis of his religion, but he was refused.
Later he applied for a visa, but he wasn’t given that either. Finally, he took his older daughter along with him and crossed the border illegally. He was in Lahore. He went straight to the village of Nurpur, where he got a good thrashing from Zainab’s brothers and other relatives. Then he was handed over to the police, who registered a case against him for crossing over illegally. In the Lahore High Court, Boota Singh insisted that he had been wronged, and that he should be given his wife back. So the court decided to take the testimony of Zainab. When Zainab appeared along with her father and other male relatives, clad in no-see burqa, she not only refused to go back to Jamil Ahmad, but also pleaded that her daughter Dilveer Kaur, who accompanied her to Pakistan, should be taken away from her.
Boota Singh could not tolerate this unfaithfulness on the part of his beloved and broke into wailing at the court. Heart-broken, he along with his daughter was last seen loitering at the tombs of Nur Jahan and Jahangir. When he heard the sound of the train, he went to the track and committed suicide. He wanted Zainab to look after their daughters. Some villagers of Nurpur, whom I met recently, told me that Boota Singh and his daughter came here to meet her but she refused to take them in. They never returned, neither did Zainab ever try to find them. The elder daughter, who was 5 at that time, was adopted by Lahore High Court Barrister Rabia Sultana Qari. We don’t know where the younger daughter went.
I met Samuel at the Lahore High Court, who is the son of Bibi Shanti, house maid of Rabia Sultana. He said that Tanveer Kaur was given a Muslim name which he doesn’t remember and she used to sometimes accompany her foster mother to the chamber. She was given some education, probably around matriculation, after which she was wedded off. Her marriage was celebrated at a large scale, as far as he remembers and it was arranged at Rabia’s residence on Mall Road. Nobody at the High Court saw the girl after her marriage. They believe that even Rabia lost contact with her.
The Indians have embraced the legacy of Boota Singh; however his story still remains controversial on this side of the border. There are people who support his cause and believe that he had been wronged, but then there are other elements who still view him as a kafir even after he abandoned his religion. To them he infringed their haya and izzat, which of course they could not tolerate at all. The people of Nurpur and their adjacent villages belong to this latter category.