Writer A.G. Noorani references several books and official correspondence among British officers and constructs the timeline of the major violence that erupted in Punjab during 1947.
Two key months that appear in the narrative (and this is also detailed in Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed's book).
March 1947 was a defining month. The author reconstructs the outbreak of violence in Rawalpindi on the basis of interviews. The initial clash was provoked by Hindu and Sikh protesters on March 5, a fact that Justice G.D. Khosla's disgracefully partisan report does not mention. The author writes: “The attacks began on the evening of March 6, when the Muslims turned away from the city because the Sikhs were heavily armed, and instead headed towards the nearby villages. Between December 11-14, 2004, Ahmad Salim and I visited some of the villages in the Rawalpindi district that were attacked in 1947. We avoided visiting Thoa Khalsa, whose story has been made unforgettable by Urvashi Butalia in her classic work The Other Side of Silence (2000). Thoa Khalsa is located close to Kahuta, where the principal Pakistani nuclear enrichment plant is located. In Freedom at Midnight, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre depicted the agony of Kahuta – a rather large village of 2,000 Hindus and Sikhs and 1,500 Muslims – in the following words:
‘A Muslim horde had descended on Kahuta like a wolf pack, setting fire to the houses in its Sikh and Hindu quarters with buckets of gasoline. In minutes the area was engulfed in fire and entire families, screaming pitifully for help, were consumed by the flames. Those who escaped were caught, tied together, soaked with gasoline and burned alive like torches.'”
Around 3,000 people were killed. In a special report to Mountbatten dated April 16, Jenkins wrote: “The communal proportions have not been accurately reported, but I should say that among the dead are six non-Muslims for every Muslim. Mr Liaquat Ali Khan can hardly realise the terrible nature of the rural massacre. One of my troubles has been the extreme complacency of the League leaders in the Punjab, who say in effect that ‘boys are boys'. I have no doubt that the non-Muslims were provocative in the cities, but the Muslims had been equally provocative during their agitation and had in particular murdered a Sikh constable in Amritsar.” The author notes that “at the outbreak of rioting in Rawalpindi the Sikhs enjoyed the upper hand for a couple of days until the tide turned on March 6. That evening, Muslim raiders headed towards predominantly Sikh villages surrounded by a sea of Muslim villages and hamlets. Such villages were attacked by large mobs, sometimes running into several thousands, which easily overwhelmed the resistance that was offered. The pogroms and carnages that took place were undoubtedly genocidal – well-planned and executed with the intention of killing. That the Sikhs killed their own women only makes that episode more tragic; it is the code of honour of those times that dictated such behaviour, which outsiders might describe as ‘bizarre'.”
The complacent assumption that the partition of Punjab would not entail massacres and migrations was totally unrealistic. By the second week of May, violent attacks increased. Intelligence agencies reported it and the Punjab Governor passed on that information to Mountbatten. Predictably administrative measures proved grossly inadequate.
“There is no reason to doubt that the Sikh leadership involving the Akalis as well as some rulers of princely states had made up their mind to empty East Punjab of all Muslims. It was put into operation immediately after August 17, when the Radcliffe Award became known to the general public. Next day, which coincided with the Islamic festival of Eid, proved to be the day when all hell broke loose on the nearly six million Muslim minority. Most of the Muslims were unarmed peasants, who had no clue that they would be forced to leave their ancestral abodes. The attacks on them, no doubt, had been planned much earlier, but remained in abeyance till such time that the conditions were ripe. The attacks took place much in the same way that Sikh villages were raided in March 1947; only the scale was many times bigger. No doubt Hindus were involved in financing the attacks, but it was mostly Sikhs who took part in them.
In the Hindi-speaking eastern districts, Hindu Jats also took part in the attacks on Muslims. The lawless Hobbesian state of nature materialised in the fullest sense in the Sikh princely states, where preparations to expel Muslims had been under way for a long time. The PBF [Punjab Boundary Force] had no jurisdiction in the princely states and that made it easier to attack Muslims.”
The partition of Punjab was inevitable if India was to be partitioned, and massacres were inevitable once Punjab was partitioned. The Sikhs faced what they perceived to be an existential threat. “They did have a contingency plan if the Punjab was divided and it was based on the use of force and terror to make the Muslims run for their lives from East Punjab. Therefore, the Sikhs in particular had a special interest in expelling Muslims – if not Hindus at that time – in order to concentrate their co-religionists in those parts of the Punjab they wanted to become a Sikhistan or Khalistan. Such an objective necessitated the use of brutal force and the Sikhs had made preparations accordingly. The weapons they used in some cases included even machine guns and other automatic weapons. The transition from colonial to Indian rule provided the opportunity to quickly realise ethnic cleansing in a matter of a few months.”