During our visit to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of raising of our regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) – we watched the Retreat Ceremony at Hussainiwala Border Post.
Railway line connecting Peshawar to Mumbai was built in 1885, passing through Hussianiwala. During the Pre-Partition days, Punjab Mail connected the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Ferozepur, Lahore and Peshawar. In those days, most British troops and businessmen arrived at Mumbai and made their way to their destinations in the North-West Frontier Province by train. The train track from Ferozepur to Hussainiwala was an engineering fete, with Qaiser-e-Hind bridge, which stood over several round pillars (all of them intact even today, as depicted in the image above).
When Pakistan was carved out of British India, the border was drawn along the Sutlej River in Punjab and it passed through Hussainiwala Village. Now, Sutlej River has changed its course over the years, running further East in Indian territory. This made Hussainiwala an enclave into Pakistan, with the Sutlej River behind it.
Hussainiwala is named after a Muslim Peer (Saint), Hussaini Baba, whose shrine is located at the entrance to the Border Post. This small hamlet came into prominence on the evening of 23 March 1931 when British soldiers tried to cremate the bodies of three young Indian freedom fighters – Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Raj Guru – who were hanged at the Lahore Central Jail. The hanging, scheduled for 24 March was rescheduled a day earlier as the British feared a revolt in Lahore as the situation had become very tense. They secretly transported their bodies to Hussainiwala and while cremating them on the banks of the Sutlej, the locals got wind of it. They assembled near the cremation site. Fearing repercussions, British soldiers fled the scene, leaving behind the dead bodies which were cremated by the villagers. This site today is a memorial – aptly called ‘Prerana Sthal‘ (Motivation Site).
Later Bhagat Singh’s mother, Vidyawati, and freedom fighter BK Dutt were cremated at this site as per their wishes. The cremation site is called ‘Shaheedi Sthal’ (Martyrs’ Place). This is where Indians from all over the country make an annual pilgrimage to honour the martyrs on March 23 as they observe ‘Shaheedi Diwas’ (Martyrs’ Day).
(Defences on the Indian side on Bund (wall) with a bunker as inset)
This enclave has witnessed three bloody battles between India and Pakistan, with the very first one fought on 18 March 1956. At that time, heavy floods had damaged Bela Bund and Sulaimanki Headworks at Hussainiwala and as the Indian engineers were repairing the damage, Pakistan Army launched an unprovoked attack at 9 PM. 4 JAK RIF was guarding the bund, and they fought gallantly causing heavy causalities on the enemy. This resulted in a hasty withdrawal by the attackers.
During partition of British India in 1947, Hussainiwala, an enclave of 12 villages went to Pakistan. The railway line no more had trains running through Hussainiwala. The railway station at Hussainiwala as it exists today is depicted in the image above. Now Punjab Mail connects Mumbai to Ferozepur via Delhi. Pakistan destroyed Qaisere- Hind Bridge leaving behind the round pillars across the river. The Shaheedi Sthal was in a dilapidated state without any maintenance. In 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister, brokered an exchange deal and Hussainiwala came to India while Sulaimanki Headworks – from where three major canals which supply irrigation water to a large area in Pakistan Punjab originate – went to Pakistan. India immediately restored Shaheedi Sthal to its due dignity and reverence.
During Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, 2 Maratha Light Infantry (Kali Panchwin) was deployed to defend Hussainiwala. The battalion fought valiantly to thwart a frontal attack resulting in two enemy tanks destroyed and two captured, with several enemy killed. The Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Nolan was killed in enemy artillery shelling. The unit ensured that the Samadhi of Bhagat Singh was not desecrated by Pakistan Army. The battalion was visited by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Defence Minister YB Chavan, Congress Party President K Kamraj, the Chief of Army Staff and other senior officers. Kali Panchwin was awarded the battle honour ‘Hussainiwala’ for its role in the 1965 War. The citizens of Firozpur, in honour of the Battalion’s contribution in defending the bridge and Firozpur town, presented a silver replica of the Hussaniwala Bridge.
During the 1971 War, it was 15 PUNJAB defending Hussainiwala enclave and the Memorial. On 03 December, Pakistan Army launched a heavy attack. The valiant Punjabis withstood the attack gallantly despite suffering heavy casualties until withdrawing on 04 December night.
Did the three freedom fighters, who laid down their lives for Indian independence in their wildest dreams ever visualise that post independence, there would be a partition on religious lines and it would all end up in three bloody wars at the very same site their ‘Samadhi’ stood?