Khanewal Punjab during 1850-1900

Part 1 of Khanewal: A historic timeline by 106 year old

I didn’t only look like my father, I had also inherited his stubbornness. At least that’s what my mother used to say. And this time I was going to prove her right. This was year 1920 and my father wanted us to leave our house in Kabirwala. He wanted us to move to a new city called Khanewal (Khanewal Punjab). I loved living in Kabirwala. Why? Because it was the only city I had ever seen. I was born on the 12th of November 1910. I had spent all by 10 years here, playing on the narrow, busy streets and the huge, musky grounds. Initially when my father announced that we would be moving to Khanewal, I was excited. However, things turned around the next morning. When I told my friends that I’m moving to Khanewal, the first thing in morning in the madrisa, I got a strange reaction. I was no longer excited.

All the older boys in the madrisa hated Khanewal.

“A real man would never leave Kabirwala” said one of them, referring to me. At age 10 we were all determined to prove that we had what it took be to real men. Word spread around and soon the older boys were condemning it. It was considered disgraceful and disrespectful to the land of Kabirwala. For the older boys, it was all about pride; pride of being a resident of Kabirwala. Why? Because Khanewal was a very small village initially. Kabirwala, on the other hand, was a Tehsil of Multan. Kabirwala was one of the most important cities in the Multan District of India. People living in Kabirwala used to have a higher status than those living in surrounding villages including Khanewal.

Early Railway Development in Khanewal Punjab

However, then in 1843, the British government in India decided to build railway tracks all over the country. Experimental train track was built from Bombay to Calcutta in 1843 which ended up being a huge success. In 1858 they approved a rail track connecting Multan-Lahore-Amritsar. Workers from all the villages rushed to get hired. After seven years of continuous work, the rail track finally opened on April 24, 1865. There were train stop stations all along the track connecting several cities and villages.

workers working on railway track khanewal punjab
Workers from all over Punjab participated in building the railway tracks

Khanewal was called Khanewalah at that time. The train track from Lahore to Multan was a slightly arched upwards from Khanewal to Multan. Since most of the track was in straight line and those were early days of train system, the railway department decided to build up a flag station at Khanewal, Punjab. Flag stations are smaller stations along a railway line where the train only stops if someone waves a flag.

Picture of First Train in India (Bombay to Tannah 1855)

Railway tracks were fascinating for locals all over India. People used to gather around the train tracks to see the train moving. With a flag station in Khanewal, people from all the surrounding villages started visiting khanewal just to see the train stop there for some time. That is when someone realized the opportunity and built the first inn (dhaba) in Khanewal called the Railway inn. It was built in 1860 and gradually became a prominent gathering point for people from the surrounding villages.

postage stamp India 1853
Postage stamp for celebrating Railway in India from 1853

The railways department initially allowed the locals to work on flag station but this lead to operational challenges. Therefore they decided to hire trained staff from United Kingdom and post them all over India to operate the railway network. Small quarters for British staff were built in Khanewalah in 1861. These British employees built the first graveyard in khanewal in 1865 which is still at its place and it called Gora Qabarstan of Kohna Khanewal.

Subsequent development of Railway in Khanewal Punjab

Subsequently, British government decided to link Karachi to these major cities of Punjab. Multan railway station represented the lowest end of northern railway system while Lodhran station was the highest station on the map for the southern railway line. However, later on it was realized that the distance from Khanewal flag station to Lodhran (90 KM) is shorter than Multan to Lodhran station (135 KM). Therefore, keeping cost constraints and timeline in mind, it was decided to install a chord line from Khanewal to Lodhran as well.

Therefore, in 1874, more staff from railway department was sent to stay in Khanewal and oversee the construction of Khanewal Lodhran Chord line. In order to support the staff stationed in Khanewal, the railway department pushed the government to improve the area. As a consequence, government opened two schools in Khanewal. First the Government Primary School # 6 was opened in early 1876 in Kohna Khanewal and then MC Primary School # 7B was opened. Since Khanewal would become a junction where to railway line from Lahore splits in two ways, Multan and Lodhran, the railway department decided to build a small station here in 1876. In order to support the communications, a post and telegraph office was also built (current PTCL office) during the same year.

Khanewal Punjab Railway Track development timeline
Khanewal Punjab Railway Track development Timeline from 1850 to 1900

Work slowly continued and after 9 years in 1885, the Khanewal Lodhran Chord line became operational. Khanewal station became more important after getting the status of a junction. Moreover, the railway department needed more competent staff stationed here to make sure junction operations are properly managed. With the increase in economic activity people from Kabirwala gradually started coming to Khanewal (still called Khanewalah among locals) for work. In 1886, a new separate post office was built in Khanewal Punjab.

After the success of Khanewal Lodhran chord line in 1885, the railway department started working on the next phase to connect Layllpur (now called Faisalabad) with Khanewal. Work on another railway track from Khanewal to Layllpur initiated in 1890 and on 4 April 1900, Khanewal-Toba Tek Singh was opened. This made Khanewal the biggest junction of India at that time. By this time the railway station of Khanewal was converted from a small flag station of a bigger developed station. It was one of the biggest stations in Northern India and was regarded highly with stations like Lahore, Multan and the Karachi Railway Station.

train engine on track of khanewal punjab
Engine used on Khanewal Punjab track

However, despite being a bigger railway station, the economic activity in the city was low. The city looked more like a desert with sand everywhere around it. Population of this region was only driven by the railway employees who lived on Kohna Khanewal side of railway track. Other than that, there was no agriculture or any economic activity in the area. There were no blocks, no civil lines, and no Gharibabad. All of it was sand dunes and it was still considered a small village which was a part of Kabirwala Tehsil. The people living in Kabirwala were still considered to have a higher social status than Khanewal.

And then one day, people of Khanewal Punjab rose up in morning to the news which would change the status of this village forever. Do you know what that was? If yes, share in the comments below. If not, wait for the next post…

2 thoughts on “Khanewal Punjab during 1850-1900

  1. I really liked the article. I spent my whole childhood in Railway Colony Khanewal. So, can’t express my feelings after reading the history of my beloved birth place.

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