The partition of 1947 is described as one of the greatest migrations in human history. The huge influx of refugees into India was one of the most historic and challenging events for India. Delhi took in nearly half a million refugees from Pakistan in those brutal months before and after August, 1947. The World Refugee Day, observed on 20th June has special importance, as many parts of Delhi were carved out of these refugee camps, one of the most prominent ones being around the University of Delhi (DU).
This might not look like a familiar picture today, but 72 years back, this was one of the most prominent places of DU. Post-independence, the Kingsway Camp housed 3,00,000 displaced people from Pakistan, making it one of the largest refugee camps in Delhi. Hudson Lane, which is one of the most vibrant places of the North Campus, was crucial to those seeking a new home back then. The Kingsway Camp included areas like Hudson Lane, Outram Lines, Hakikat Nagar, and Dhaka Village. Being central in the refugee movement, it came to be known as the ‘lost and found’ refugee camp, as the families separated on the other side of the border often found each other once they made it to this camp.
Partition transformed the destiny of millions of refugees, and has shaped the present-day Delhi. Tents at Kingsway Camp provided shelter to partition refugees who couldn’t be accommodated in the barracks. They moved into camps at Kingsway, Hudson Line, Outram Lines and Reeds Lines (present-day SGTB Khalsa College). Some were later shifted to Hakikatat Nagar. They started building houses on the allotted lands. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, some of them moved to Mukherjee Nagar, while others were allotted houses in Rajinder Nagar and Inderpuri – a settlement that came up on agricultural land acquired from villagers of Dus-Ghara. A large population of Sikhs had settled in Inderpuri.
Although India has taken in a large number of refugees, it is not a signatory to either the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, nor its 1967 Protocol.
Late Balraj Bahri, who started Bahrisons, one of the most famous book stores in Delhi, lived in this refugee camp. Before his demise in 2016, he said in one of his interviews, “Partition was painful and we witnessed the worst atrocities. We had to leave our ancestral home before August 15, 1947. Riots began, forcing us to take refuge in a local police station for a few days. We moved to Amritsar, and after a brief stay there, we made our way to New Delhi, which we heard had better arrangements for refugees. Once in Delhi, we settled in the refugee camp at Kingsway Camp. It resembled army barracks and the toilets were shared. It took us a while to adjust.”
The close proximity to DU has transformed Kingsway Camp. Once a refugee camp, it has become one of the poshest localities in Delhi today, with thousands of students residing there. The past of this historic place is very intriguing with so many experiences of different people residing there. Although the refugees back then have assimilated in the society today, their struggles and memories of Kingsway Camp during partition remain afresh.
(With inputs from The Wire)
Feature Image Credits: The Nehru Memorial Library