Dr. Francis Xavier
Sardar Partap Singh is no more. He fought valiantly, in the Second World War, against poverty, against government apathy, but the final war with pain was too much for the aged lion. He surrendered.
Sardar Partap Singh came to me about 2002 when I was OSD to LG. He had a bunch of papers but he was not aware what they were, being illiterate. He told the story of joining the British Indian army as a machine gunner/driver and fighting the Germans in Sudan during WW II. He was taken captive in Benghazi and taken to Germany. There he joined the INA along with many Indian POWs. When Netaji came to meet the Fuhrer it was he who drove the vehicle. He spoke a bit of German to prove he was there. After the war he was again arrested, brought to India for the Red Fort Trials and discharged from the Army. He wandered about looking for a living. Finally he came to Andamans in the 80s and worked in ATI. He was living in a ramshackle house in D’Oyly Gunj and finding it hard to pay even the rent. He wanted to know if he could get Freedom Fighter status and pension.
I took up the matter with the INA veterans office in Delhi. One Capt. S.S. Yadava was very helpful. He cross checked Partap Singh’s details and confirmed that he was eligible for freedom fighter pension. It was taken up with the concerned ministry and soon Partap Singh started getting a good pension. When he got the arrears he came to me and innocently said, “There’s so much money, I don’t know what to do with it.” It was, of course, just a small amount.
After that he became a celebrity. He was being invited for all state functions. He went to Delhi and met the Prime Minister and the President. He would always come to my office after each trip and describe to me what had happened there. He was still having problems with getting all the benefits of a freedom fighter. I read in the papers that the Tamil Nadu government had given a rent free flat to a woman INA veteran. I took up the matter with Hon’ble LG and immediately he was allotted a flat in Chakkergaon. He was ecstatic. But he fell for the first time and fracture his leg. He recovered slowly. His son in law would phone me and tell me if anything was needed.
After I returned to the college we regularly met at state functions. He would fondly embrace me and tell about the family. When I called him for the Netaji Memorial Lecture in JNRM he happily obliged in spite of his feeble health. He was introduced to the gathering who gave him a standing ovation.
When I heard he again fell down I was abroad. I was worried if he could pull through this time. I was about to go to the hospital today when I got Dr Rashida Iqbal’s phone. “The Lion is no more.”
I consider it a great privilege that I got to meet and share the memories of this freedom fighter, who was not even aware of what his rights were. There are many like him, unsung and unrecognised. But in the Islands we were able to take care of him and treat him with respect.
I will miss Sardar Partap Sing very badly. But his memories will live with me as long as I live. Farewell Sardar Partap Singji, till we meet again.
Dr. Francis Xavier