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Jagjit Kohli's story

The walk from Burma to Northern India

After the bombing of Mandalay we left for the Punjab leaving my father and uncle behind. The government announced that no male over 19 was allowed to leave, only women and children and the old and sick. We collected our things and met on 27th Jan in Atrobi, with others who were returning to India. We were given 2 boxes condensed milk per family (48 cans), and packets of dried milk. We were allowed to carry cash.

And so we started a journey that would take us three months. My aunt and cousins lived with us so we travelled together. We were told to walk off the road in the jungle which was full of mosquitoes and swamps. We had to sleep in the day and walk at night so the smoke from our cooking fires did not attract attention from the Japanese bombers. Our Burmese guards were changed from village to village. Informants often told the Japanese where we were and each time this happened we would have to move again for fear of being bombed. In this manner we escaped.

We finally reached North-East India and went to Maiwal in the Nagalands, where we received military assistance and a lift to the railway station. We travelled 1500 miles by train to our homes in the Punjab. It had taken us 3 months.

On our way several hundred people died of Malaria, including my cousin. Their bodies were either cremated, left in hope that villagers would give them the appropriate attention, or simply thrown in the river.

I spoke Burmese only, like my ayah. I didn't know a word of Punjabi. My father followed us a year later but I couldn't communicate with him. I was so lonely. It still haunts me; millions of children suffered as we did. Why do we fight? Why do we make one another suffer like that? We were worse than animals in those days.

We lived in Imfal because my father has always hoped that we would be allowed back to claim our property but this was never allowed. He was permitted to visit his house in 1963, but when he came back he suffered a heart-attack, unable to work again. These are the effects of war which we never consider. We become closer to each other and we can cope better with sudden reactions,any trouble. War is not the option for creating friendship and closeness. or for courage.

Wars are different these days. People can't be confined to one place anymore. They don't know about Burma suffering because Burma wasn't linked by air or television. News travelled very slowly, sometimes taking years.

Civilians are never a party to governments disagreements. If we can pass on these messages to other generations perhaps they can be safer if we tell them how we have suffered because of somebody elses intentions and wrong notions. They can create a better world.

There is no gain in war, just waste. The government has no films about the bombing, either before or after. No record. There are a few photographs in the London war museum showing the devastation. They were unprepared.

We went to the part of Punjab that was divided with Pakistan and we had to leave everything behind. We were refugees twice. Again the suffering was not because of our own fault. But these things do happen.

Mrs Jagjit Kohli
Royal Leamington Spa
10th November, 1994

Jagjit Kohli has written another story about her childhood :

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