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   from the issue of January 17, 2008

  Paul learns of his family struggles during India, Pakistan partition

Heritage revealed


As the eldest son of a respected doctor, Prem Paul always felt fortunate as he grew up in India.

HERITAGE FOUND - The family of Prem Paul, vice chancellor for research, survived a harrowing train ride from Pakistan to India...
HERITAGE FOUND - The family of Prem Paul, vice chancellor for research, survived a harrowing train ride from Pakistan to India during partition in 1947. Paul - whose mother was pregnant with him at the time of partition - was born in a refugee camp in India. Photo by Troy Fedderson/University Communications.

It wasn't until later in life - after asking a few questions during a relative's wedding - that Paul realized how lucky his family truly was.

"What I learned was my family almost did not survive Partition, the split between India and Pakistan," said Paul, vice chancellor for research at UNL. "Fortunately, my parents were on the right side of the train when some extremists came and started killing people."

In August 1947, the United Kingdom granted freedom to British India, creating the Dominion of Pakistan (later the Islamic Republic of Pakistan) and the Union of India (later the Republic of India). The border, determined by the British, formed India out of the majority Hindu regions of the country, and Pakistan from the majority Muslim areas.

In the months following "Partition," a massive population exchange occurred, with an estimated 14.5 million people crossing the border into an area they hoped offered the relative safety of a religious majority.

At the time of Partition, Paul's family lived in Churkana, Pakistan. A Hindu family, they had to make a choice - convert to Islam or move to India.

"There was a majority of good people on both sides, but with anything, there were extremists on both sides as well," Paul said. "It was a very dangerous time, but my family decided to move. They gave up my father's thriving medical practice over being forced to convert."

The Pauls didn't leave immediately. Instead, they waited until neighbors - friends who were staying in Pakistan and opted to help protect the Hindu family - could arrange a safe departure.

"Those neighbors looked after my family, telling them to stay in their home and making sure they were safe," Paul said. "Then, the neighbors came and told my family that there was a narrow window, that they had to come now.

"There wasn't time to take anything with them."

Those making the journey to the train station were Paul's father, mother, two older sisters, grandfather, grandmother, an aunt and uncle. Paul's mother was pregnant with him at the time.

After they boarded the train, the Muslim extremists attacked. About half of the people on the train were killed before the Indian Army came to the rescue, Paul said.

"This was not something my family talked about while I was growing up," Paul said. "I didn't learn about it until four years ago when I went to a wedding for one of my nieces in India."

With a growing desire to learn more about his heritage - in particular the Partition move - Prem sat down with relatives (including the same aunt and uncle who were on the train) and started to ask questions.

"No one really wanted to talk about that time," Paul said. "But, I was able to slowly get the information out. I was shocked."

After the border crossing, Paul's family settled in a refugee camp near Jullundur, India. His father helped care for individuals in the camp and Paul was born there.

"Partition is actually the reason behind my name," Paul said. "When my parents left Pakistan, they left everything behind. They always said that they had nothing left but love. So, they named me Prem, a very common name, which means love."

After a few months in the camp, Paul's father settled the family in Nissang, India, and reestablished his medical practice.

The move also helped forge Paul's career path in veterinary medicine.

"Growing up, we had a veterinary hospital across the street from our home," Paul said. "I spent a fair amount of time there. And, my father encouraged me that, if I did well in veterinary medicine, he would support my pursuit of a Ph.D."

In 1969, Paul came to the United States to complete a doctorate and post-doc in veterinary medicine from the University of Minnesota. He became a U.S. citizen in 1977, and from 1978 to 1985, worked at the USDA National Disease Center in Ames, Iowa. From 1985 to 2001 he served in faculty and administrative roles at Iowa State University. He came to UNL as vice chancellor in 2001.

Despite the political upheaval that continues in Pakistan today, Paul still hopes to someday journey to his family's original homeland.

"I do have aspirations to go to Pakistan, see where my parents started out," Paul said. "It is something I feel like I have to do some day."



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