November 24: A historic railway station, that once linked the Indian city of Jammu, with Sialkot in Pakistan, is soon going to be demolished. A Kala Kendra Complex or centre to preserve art and culture will be established in its place.
The catch is that the Jammu & Kashmir government, that ordered the demolition, itself does not know what exactly it is going to preserve in the art centre. But that clearly does not seem to bother it. The more important job is to tear down the old station, never mind if it is over 100 years old and has a rich legacy, reports the ‘Indian Express’ in an article covering this issue.
Residents of Jammu have always regarded the wayside railway station as an integral part of the history of their town. During the freedom movement against British domination in India, the platform saw national leaders like Aruna Asaf Ali and Jai Prakash Narain addressing their supporters.
Before 1947, residents of Jammu looked forward to trains coming in from Sialkot. “I remember the joy on people’s faces every time the engine, throwing embers high up in the sky, used to halt here with a blast of its whistle,” recalls writer Balraj Puri, who is in his seventies today. “But the last time the train halted in the winter of 1947, it brought 3,000 souls with nothing but miseries.”
Puri is referring to the trainload of refugees from Pakistan, forced to come to India after the Partition in 1947. This was the most painful moments in history when India was split into two, India and Pakistan.
For hundreds of thousands of Indians partition did not just mean forcible migration. It meant leaving behind familiar sights, sounds, smells, and faces, not to mention property like houses. To many unfortunate ones, it also meant horrible deaths at the hands of frenzied mobs.
Apart from Jammu, there were only two other stations on the way to Sialkot – one at R.S Pora and the other at Suchetgarh. While both were destroyed in the violence at the borders, the Jammu station is the only one that exists.
Locals recall that in the absence of a good road from Sialkot, people usually used the train instead. In those days, travelling from Sialkot to Jammu and back, was as easy as travelling from one town to another. Jammu residents would board the train to Sialkot to watch cricket matches in the mornings, and return in the evenings.
Of course not much remains of the railway station today. There is not even a rail linkage any longer. Only a small room, where the stationmaster used to sit, and gigantic iron pipes that fed the trains with water. Some people are of the opinion that there’s nothing worth preserving in the station.
Others like Mr. Shantmanu, the Vice-chairman of the Jammu Development Authority, the same body that is in charge of constructing the art centre, say he is unaware that the station has a history. “We are asking for the reopening of the Sialkot route to light the candle of friendship between India and Pakistan. By demolishing the remnants, they are even killing the last hope,” says a horrified Shantmanu.
But will Shantmanu’s sentiments translate into action?