In 1947, the Punjab Boundary Force “found a countryside not easily intimidated even by seasoned and heavily armed troops like themselves. They encountered resistance and counterattacks in many places. What seems to have been happening was that the army was being challenged by experts, by people who had formerly served within
its ranks ...”.
Those areas that did bear much of the human cost of partition provide numerous
accounts of the role of soldiers with combat experience that suggest some of the mech- anisms through which this experience translated into ethnic cleansing. These appear to include, in particular, an enhanced ability to kill through the use of modern weapons, to organise violence and the defense and mobility of large refugee groups, and to offset or eliminate the defensive capability of the target group.
Contemporary accounts highlight the importance of specific weapon and tactical skills used by the perpetrators of violence. One account of an attack on a refugee train described how the Sikh attackers, in army-style sections of twelve led by men in blue uniforms,“advanced and retired in military formation” when met with gunfire, and waited for darkness before renewing their attacks on the train (The Times, Monday Aug 25 1947 p.5). Blacksmiths with military training forged and reproduced modern weaponry, even fashioning artillery (Kamtekar 1988), even while reports document Sikhs in Amritsar using “mortars, Bren and sten guns,” all of which required military expe- rience (Khosla 1951). Officers attached to the Punjab Boundary Force near Amritsar reported that Sikhs were:
Operating in armed bands of considerable strength and carrying out raids against Muslim villages, or mainly Muslim villages, or the Muslim parts of larger villages–three or four raids nightly. These bands were well organized and often included mounted men for reconnaissance purposes.... Although there were Muslim bands in the same area doing the same sort of thing, these were generally smaller and not so well organized. The Army had had successful encounters with all those bands. . . . In certain cases the bands had fought back using such weapons as mortars and light machine guns.
The Joint Defence Council in late August noted that “there are definite signs that the trouble now is the work of well organized gangs working under some centralized control,” and “as the gangs wear uniform there is the risk that they may be mistaken for troops by the population.”
These units were well organized and used military flanking and flushing out tactics, which were valuable in attacking columns of refugees, trains and villages with protecting
forces of small units of soldiers or a few armed ex-soldiers (Aiyar 1998, Kamtekar 1988).
Several accounts also mention the skilled use of military flares to light targets, and the initial use of guns to knock out the few armed opponents so that the bulk of the killing could be done by less heavily armed men. Ian Morrison, perhaps the most intrepid of the journalists who covered the killings in Punjab, reported how:
The Sikhs attack scientifically. A first wave armed with firearms fires to bring the Muslims off their roofs. A second wave lobs grenades over the walls. In the ensuing confusion a third wave goes in with kirpans and spears, and the serious killing begins. A last wave consists of older men, often army pensioners with long white beards, who carry torches and specialize in arson. Mounted outriders with kirpans cut down those trying to flee.” The Times, Monday, Aug 25 1947
There is also good reason to believe that military organization facilitated defense and mobility by minority groups as well as violence. Ian Morrison reports how the movement of Sikhs out of Lyallpur district in western Punjab was:
. . . orderly and well organized. The Sikhs moved in blocks of 40,000 to 60,000 and cover about 20 miles a day. It is an unforgettable sight to see one of these columns on the move. The organization is mainly entrusted to ex- service men and soldiers on leave who have been caught by the disturbances. Men on horseback, armed with spears or swords, provide guards in front, behind, and on the flanks. There is a regular system of bugle calls. At night a halt is called near some village where water is available, watch fires are lit, and pickets are posted.” “200,000 on the move,” The Times Sept 19, 1947
- Excerpt from Stanford University Research paper https://web.stanford.edu/group/SITE/archive/SITE_2010/segment_5/segment_5_papers/jha.pdf