Rebuilding Life after Partition — Vinni School

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 21 Mar 2022

Dr. Ravi P. Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

21 Mar 2022 – The partitioning 1947 of India into two countries — India and Pakistan was a momentous event. People who are still alive relate the horrors, tragedies, anxieties, loss of jobs, loss of homes and one’s belongings. One such family consisted of a man, his wife and two children. The man about 45 years old, lost his job as a College Lecturer in Lahore and his wife who had been a part time school teacher, lost her occupation apart from the loss of their home and their belongings.

The partition of India took place to create a separate homeland for the Muslim population of India. Hindus and Sikhs had to leave the newly created Pakistan — both West and East. Similarly, some Muslim families had to leave their homes, their jobs, and neighbours in India. Many books have been written on the tragedies suffered by ordinary people — Muslims as well as Hindus, Sikhs and people of other smaller faiths. A few films have also been able to depict the tragedy of leaving one’s home and everything else.

The Hindu family and their two small children referred to above sometimes did not have enough to eat. The man may be named Raj Gupta and his wife Radha Gupta. Facing all the difficulties they somehow survived. After many attempts, the man got a part time teaching job in a border town of Ferozepur; his wife Radha scrounged around for some food and work. After several weeks of such degraded life, the wife was asked by her friend to come to Delhi for a better life. Radha came to Delhi with her two kids and a small amount of money.

Initial life in Delhi was unsettled – no home, no occupation as a teacher or anything else, leading to ensuing difficulties. Moving from one small tenement to another and teaching in a few small schools or taking tuitions of other children, became a regular part of this woman. After a year or more of this unsettled life, she was able to find a small home in an ordered neighbourhood in Karol Bagh. The home consisted of a large room and a separate toilet.  It was on the first floor of a house that had Muslim architecture and was located next to a small masjid.

Apparently, the original owner of the house may have been a Moslem and must have been forced to leave the house; he may have probably gone to Pakistan. The ground floor was fairly big — consisting of a set of two large rooms, a big courtyard, separate kitchen and toilet etc. it was now owned by an elderly person named Nihal Puri. His wife had died earlier and his children lived elsewhere — two of whom were in Bombay. This house was on one end of the street — the other end had a Turkish bakery shop where one could have biscuits baked if the right ingredients — wheat, sugar, ghee, etc were provided.

The woman was working as a teacher in a private school. How this idea occurred in her mind, Radha could not say — she thought of starting her own school. Where? In the large courtyard of Mr Puri’s house who gave her permission since he felt that it would hardly work — people would not send their children to a school in such a limited space. Radha was a mentally tough person and despite initial hiccups, a few kids did join the school which was named Vinni School. Radha’s own two children who were only eleven and nine years old often played with the School kids.

Gradually, quite a few children joined the School. In fact, a drawing competition was held which attracted more children and within a few months about 50 children were part of the. Vinni School. A few playthings for children like a sea saw and some toys were bought that were placed outside the home during daytime but pulled inside at night.

As the number of children increased, a teacher was appointed and the services of a peon were engaged. He would occasionally bring kids from some distance away on his bicycle. To attract children, some small poems were sung by Radha and after a while the children could themselves sing these songs. One of them (translated from original Hindi) was:

The fish is queen of the pond
Her whole life is confined to water
Take her out and you know what happens
So let her rule in the pond she swims in

After a year or more in these limited conditions, it was felt that the school needed more space and facilities. Another branch of Vinni School was started in a nearby street. To attract students, simple advertising methods were evolved — a man beating a drum and his partner pushing some posters to people who gathered near the drum beater. These techniques helped in enlarging the school and its scope.

However there was a limit to these techniques. If the woman’s husband Raj Gupta, who was teaching in a college outside Delhi, could be brought in, the school could expand from its limited base. This was not agreed to by him. After a few years, a religious ceremony was held on a full moon day. This pleased some people but was opposed by others. Try what she could; the school base began to crumble. Soon afterwards, she decided to shut the school — easier said than done. First Radha shut down the branch school but that was not enough. She was forced to shut the entire school after about a year, against her own desires.

Ultimately, she said she will only give only tuitions to children in their own homes and this resulted in Vinni School’s total closure. Sensing disappointment in her life, a few months later the hardworking and ambitious Radha fell ill and breathed her last. Her own two kids, in their teens, were desolate. How they came to terms to the new situation is another story.

May her soul and that of the School, rest in peace.

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 21 Mar 2022.

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