Abida Toosy is remembered as the first civilian shaheed of the 1965 war
“Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain - This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown forever dies.”
his couplet from Omer Khayyam’s rubaiyat, in broad terms, sums up the fragility of life; and war is no exception. It is a bitter reality, and history books have been burdened with war accounts since the dawn of civilisation. The common denominator among all wars is human beings; they are responsible for starting them unwisely and ending them wisely. All great wars were fought with some conviction. The ultimate price is paid through the sacrifice of human lives.
Abida Toosy, at age 20, became part of a war unknowingly when she was travelling from Wazirabad, her hometown, to Lahore on the 6th of September 1965 to resume her education at the Fatima Jinnah Medical College, Lahore, after the summer vacations. On that ominous day, her elder sister, Dr Zahida, also accompanied her in the women’s compartment of the train. Their father, MS Toosy, saw them off at the Wazirabad railway station. At around 6am, when the passenger train reached Dhaunkal railway station nearly 6 kilometres from Wazirabad, the sky roared with the sound of four Indian Air Force Mystere IV aircraft that had invaded the Pakistani airspace. This was the first sign that India had decided to start a war. As a precaution, the train driver slowed down the train, and the train guard asked the passengers to take appropriate cover. The IAF aircraft resorted to shelling the civilian passenger train and ground targets.
Abida Toosy and her sister dashed towards the toilet of the compartment, believing that it would be safer because it had a very small opening. Since there were no other passengers in the women’s compartment, the two managed to take shelter in the small toilet.
Abida Toosy, at age 20, became part of a war unknowingly when she was travelling from Wazirabad, her hometown, to Lahore on the September 6, 1965, to resume her education at the Fatima Jinnah Medical College, Lahore, after the summer vacations.
The train had almost come to a halt, and some passengers had jumped out of the doors and windows to take refuge under the nearby trees and buildings. The IAF aircraft continued to target the train for a while. After the first attack, they circled around for a second time for another round of shelling. The indiscriminate shelling on the civilian train turned out to be fateful for the young medical student. A shell went through the ventilator of the toilet and hit her on the head. Her elder sister tried to stop the bleeding, took her out from the toilet, and made her lie down on a berth. Due to excessive bleeding and head trauma, the young Abida Toosy embraced martyrdom straightaway and became the
first civilian shaheed of the 1965 war.
At that very instant, Wg Cdr Aftab Alam Khan of Pakistan Air Force was airborne on his F-104. He was informed on the radio about the presence of four IAF Mystere IV aircraft attacking ground targets. He was able to locate and engage them in a dogfight over Rahwali Airfield and managed to shoot down one aircraft and damage another.
The authorities informed the parents in Wazirabad, and MS Toosy, father of the shaheed, received the body. He had been an activist during the independence movement and a close associate of Quaid-i-Azam. He had spent time with the Quaid at his residence in Bombay.
The same year he wrote in a national newspaper, “According to false Indian propaganda, the air attack on the passenger train was officially explained in the Parliament by the Defense Minister, Chawan, as a successful raid which destroyed two goods trains carrying oil tanks”. He further writes, “I am personally not grieved at the death of my daughter and would have calmly accepted the death of even my entire family in the cause of my nation, but I am shocked that even the highest Indian leaders conceal the truth and deceive their own country and the world. My nation is at war, and such wanton air raids on the civilian population cannot harass or deter us from our goal of defending our country to the last drop of our blood. Yours. MS Toosy“.
The incident was an immense shock for the entire family, but they considered the departure of Abida Toosy as a small token towards the sacrifices which were made by many people for the creation and defence of the motherland. You do not choose to become a shaheed. Laying down your life for your country is one of the highest honours. Fifty-seven years have passed, but the smiling face of Adbia Toosy Shaheed is still fresh in our thoughts and memories.
Salam to all shaheeds
The writer is an architect based in Lahore/ Islamabad and a nephew of the shaheed. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org