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The Sweetest Revenge


Time, Apr. 27, 1953

Photo: Master Tara Singh

Sardar Tara Singh had no cause to love the Moslems. For two bloody centuries his Sikh people had fought them for mastery of the Punjab in northern India, and in those wars, many of his ancestors died martyrs' deaths. One of them, Bhai Mani Singh, fell into the hands of the Great Mogul Aurangzeb, who first chopped off Bhai Mani Singh's fingers, joint by joint, then lopped off his limbs, one by one. Another, Baba Sukha Singh, died under Moslem knives after assassinating a Moslem chieftain who had turned the Sikhs' holy Golden Temple at Amritsar into a brothel.

Under British rule, Sardar Tara Singh and his Sikh compatriots lived in uneasy peace with their Moslem neighbors. But when the British left and India was partitioned, religious violence broke out once more. Five million Sikhs abandoned their ancestral homes in west Pakistan and fled to the East Punjab, and an equal number of Moslems fled westward. Fanatics on both sides organized themselves into bands and killed as many of the fleeing civilians as they could. White-bearded Sardar Tara Singh shook his head over this massacre of the innocent.

'Kill Her!'

From one such slaughter Sikh warriors returned to Tara Singh's village of Sunam, now in India, with a seven-year-old Moslem girl. Her name was Hasan Bibi, and she stood tense and terrified among them while they debated what to do with her. 'Kill her,' advised a Sikh refugee from Pakistan, 'just as they slaughtered my children in Lahore.' A man of piety disagreed: 'Convert her to our holy religion and let her marry a brave Sikh boy when she comes of age.'

But Sardar Tara Singh put a protective arm around the girl. 'I will treat her in a way which will bring the sweetest revenge upon the wicked Moslems.' he said. 'I will bring her up as a Moslem, and restore her to her relatives when she grows up. And she will be as pure as the white snows of the Himalayas. That will teach the Moslems that a Sikh is pious in peacetime, just as he is invincible in war.'

For six years little Bibi lived in the brick and clay house of Tara Singh, playing with his grandchildren, helping his ailing wife with the chores. Tara Singh himself taught her to read and write and to worship according to the faith of her ancestors. Bibi was the only Moslem among the 5,000 Sikhs of Sunam.

Meanwhile, the unrest in India subsided, and Sardar Tara Singh began his search for Bibi's family. Her father, Fateh Ali, seemed to have disappeared, and Tara Singh, despairing of finding him, requested the Indian government to ask the government of Pakistan to find a suitable Moslem boy to marry her when she reached the legal age of 15. Sardar Tara Singh was prepared to bear the expenses of the wedding and give Bibi a dowry, just as he had done for his own three daughters. Then the word came that Bibi's father was found at last, at work as a shopkeeper in Pakistan.

A Cup of Tea

Last week Tara Singh and Bibi journeyed to a town near the Pakistan border to meet him. Bibi was afraid, for despite her careful Moslem upbringing, she had absorbed some Sikh prejudices. 'If I go to a Moslem household,' she cried, 'I shall have to bear the offensive smell of tobacco and eat beef!' But Tara Singh loaded her with presents and new clothes and reminded her of her duty.

When Fateh Ali arrived, he embraced Tara Singh with tears in his eyes. Then they went to a restaurant to celebrate the occasion with a cup of tea. At the sight of a Sikh and a Moslem sitting down together, a murmuring crowd began to gather outside, and the story of Bibi and her foster father spread quickly among the Hindu villagers.

Later, when Bibi and her father had bounced safely off to Pakistan in a jeep and Tara Singh had boarded a train to return home to Sunam, everyone was still talking and arguing over this amazing happening. On the train, one man, who did not recognize Tara Singh, vented his feelings. 'A Sikh who repays the wickedness of the Moslems by a generous action like that,' he exclaimed, 'deserves to be shot.' But Sardar Tara Singh only smiled quietly.

Half a world away, aroused Frenchmen still argued the case of Robert and Gerald Finaly. Both boys, sons of Jewish parents, had been baptized as Roman Catholics after their parents died in wartime concentration camps. Earlier this year they were spirited across the Spanish border by zealous Catholics to prevent their being returned, by a court order, to Jewish relatives (TIME, March 16). Moderate-minded Frenchmen hoped that the children could be put in the care of a theologically neutral group until a higher court rules on the appeal of their Catholic foster mother. Meanwhile, the Finaly family addressed a public appeal to the older boy, Robert: 'Listen, Robert. Listen with your mind and your heart. Today, April 14, 1953, is your birthday. Now you are twelve years old, already a man, or almost a man . . . Do not listen to those who would make us out an enemy . . . Wherever you are, write us . . .' From across the Pyrenees came not a word.