No festivities in April, Amritsar’s Behals mourn their kin - Mandi Gobindgarh News

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Friday, April 12, 2019

No festivities in April, Amritsar’s Behals mourn their kin

No festivities in April, Amritsar’s Behals mourn their kin

Vishav Bharti
Tribune News Service
Amritsar, April 11

It was Baisakhi. Ratan Devi had prepared kheer, her husband Hari Ram Behal’s favourite sweet dish. But he was in tearing haste that day. “I will be back in a couple of hours,” he told her as he left the house. A couple of hours later, his body was brought home. It had two bullets — one in the stomach and another in the leg. He was No 19 on the list of Jallianwala Bagh massacre victims.

Ratan Devi lived with regret all through her life. Each time she recalled that fateful day, she would break into tears. A hundred years have passed since then. Neither is kheer cooked, nor sweets brought home by Hari Ram’s children during the month of April. “We don’t attend weddings or buy new clothes either,” says Mahesh Behal, one of the grandsons.

A petition writer, who understood the legal implications of the Rowlatt Act, Hari Ram joined the campaign against the legislation on Mahatma Gandhi’s call. He was a staunch follower of the Arya Samaj and an untiring activist. Mahesh points at a large framed photograph of his grandfather. “How could a man who knew how to use the pen even in those times remain silent on such a draconian law?” he observes. 

Jallianwala Bagh is not too far from Chowk Passian where the Behals have been living for generations. Mahesh recalls his grandmother telling him that the family could hear the sound of bullets that day. She feared the worst. Suddenly, somebody rushed to inform her that her husband had been hit by bullets. “My grandmother’s brother, accompanied by two persons, brought my grandfather home. He was bleeding profusely and asked for water. My grandmother poured water into his mouth, but it was of no help.” A wailing Ratan Devi laid her two young sons besides her husband. “Take them along too. How will I raise them alone?” she kept muttering. It was already dark and curfew had been imposed. Neither could Hari Ram be taken to hospital, nor was any doctor willing to take the risk of defying the curfew. He died at home without any medical help.

Mahesh says freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malviya visited the family a few days after his grandfather’s death. “Those who have lost a bread-winner alone can understand the agony of the family he leaves behind,” he says, sounding bitter. Hari Ram’s wards had to do odd jobs at shops to fend for themselves. 

A shocked Ratan Devi, along with other women, would frequently gather outside the house of a policeman residing nearby, whom she saw as a symbol of British oppression. “My grandmother was a strong woman. Bit by bit, she began piecing together her broken life.” Ratan Devi’s children grew up and entered the business of minerals in the mid-thirties. But the pain she carried refused to go. As long as she lived, she did not allow her children or grandchildren anywhere near Jallianwala Bagh.

Mahesh visited the site almost 10 years after the demise of his grandmother. “I was elected president of the student council of DAV College, Jalandhar, in 1965, and the college principal asked me to accompany him to pay tribute to the martyrs on April 13. I was reluctant and told him about  my grandfather. The principal hugged me and said it was a matter of pride for him to visit Jallianwala Bagh with the grandson of a martyr,” Mahesh recalls. 

One of the worst outrages in history

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