The film is set in 1947.
A Sikh ex-military man in his thirties, Boota Singh, returns to his village in Jalandhar from the Burma front after World War II. A hope to have a family of his own yet lurks in a corner of his heart. A trader assures him that if he could raise Rs. 2000/- he would buy a young bride for him from UP. Boota starts saving every penny.
Boota Singh saves a Muslim girl
India got freedom in 1947 and Pakistan was born; riots begins on both sides. Boota’s village comes in the grip of riots.
One day while working in his fields a beautiful Muslim girl, chasing by the vengeful locals comes to him for help. The youths demands the girl or Rs. 2500/-. Boota argued that he only had Rs. 1800, and was able to shake them off by giving them his life’s savings. His hopes to settle down by raising dowry money are shattered when he needs to use his savings to rescue the Muslim girl, Zainab. With nowhere to go she stays with Boota.
Boota and Zainab get married
The villagers objects that he can’t keep her home like that: He should either marry her or leave her in a camp, where people bound for Pakistan live. Boota decides that, since he is far older, he should leave her at the camp. He is about to send her off with a man bound for the camp and who is prepared to marry her there. Zainab, who has learned about the sacrifice he made for her and is touched by his simplicity, asks Boota if he is so poor that he cannot even feed her two rotis per day to keep her alive. Boota Singh and Zainab fall in love and get married. Boota’s life transforms overnight. Then they have a baby girl. Boota Singh is pretty happy, matrimonially speaking; he is leading a pleasant life.
An uncle of Boota, who was scheming that Boota would die unmarried and the family property will go to him, becomes envious of his marriage with Zainab. When in 1952 India and Pakistan agree to deport the women left behind in the riots, he informs the police that there is such Muslim woman in their village. In Boota’s absence police forcibly dump Zainab into a truck bound for a refugee camp (leaving the child behind).
And then Zainab is sent to her parents’ village: Barki (Pakistan). Boota sells all his land and goes along with his child to Pakistan illegally. He is quickly arrested and brought before a judge who is quite willing to free him if his wife owns up. Under pressure from her family, she backs off.
A disappointed and mournful Boota jumps with his daughter before an oncoming train. He dies; miraculously, his daughter survives. Pakistani youth, overcome by this, hails him “Shaheed-E-Mohabbat Boota Singh” (Martyr-in-Love, Boota Singh) and erect a memorial and a trust in his name.