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The scale of violence in Narowal and Gurdaspur, August 1947

There are so many stories that remain embedded in one's mind and the following story told by Kirpal Singh (Part 1 and Part 2) about what he saw in Narowal and Gurdaspur is probably one of the most heart wrenching stories that highlights the scale of violence that was taking place in Punjab in August 1947.

Kirpal Singh's village was Chandiawala in Narowal and his family had to leave the village on August 20th, 1947. Coming towards Ghanike Bet (in Gurdaspur) he saw large scale violence against Sikhs where women jumped into the river to save their honor, women who were kidnapped or killed by the mob, women who were killed by their own to protect their honor. In every story we have listened, in every book that we have read, in every family story we have heard, it is the unbearable brutalization of women and the level of cruelty shown to other human beings that remain as the darkest chapter of our shared experience.

Kirpal Singh talks about when Sikhs came to village of Thetherke, Gurdaspur the feeling of revenge took over the entire Gurdaspur district. Several thousand people from different villages grouped together to kill the Muslims. For several days the scale of revenge attacks on Muslims was so large that they were running out of space to bury the dead. For days the dying kept screaming for help but no one ventured to help them. The leaders of the jathas would announce before the attacks to kill all the males and spare the women.

One such tragic story that he shares is about the Muslim father and his children who were running away from the mob. His daughter and sons were in front and the father was behind them. As he saw the mob advancing towards his children, he began shouting at the mob that he has money and they can take his money and started throwing money in the air to attract the mob towards him. Seeing the money being thrown by the father, the mob left his children and came after him, took the money and killed him. In the meantime, the children escaped and crossed the Ravi bridge. The ultimate sacrifice of a father to protect his children occurred in this village of Thetherke in late August 1947.

I'm writing this story here because I want to highlight the sacrifice and heroism shown by those who gave their lives to protect others. It shows the cowardice of the mob who killed innocent men, women and children. It shows complete ineptitude and callousness of the authorities in their inability to stop the madness that was raging throughout Punjab at the time.

This eye-witness account also points out an important turning point in the Partition violence that was taking place in Punjab during August. The killings became industrial scale, where in previous months the violence was more spontaneous and localized. However, in August the violence became organized and planned. It involved organized jathas of several thousand people who had pre-planned which villages to attack and how. The psychology of the mob mentality in August is also becoming clearer to me as I look into the reasons why the mob just didn't let these people go unharmed to Pakistan.

You see, the intention of the mob in August was about committing genocide and not forced removal of people. They wanted to kill all of them because letting them escape to Pakistan would have meant revenge attacks on Sikhs over there.

Not letting anyone escape meant the other side wouldn't know what has transpired on this side of the border. Similar macabre intent was shown by the mob in West Punjab against Hindus and Sikhs as recorded by the massacres that took place in places like Jaranwala and Sheikhupura, just to name a few.

Here's the map of the general area of the Narowal and Gurdaspur where the events described by Sardarji Kirpal Singh had occurred.

Thetherke and Narowal area

The river crossing became another dreaded geographic obstacle to overcome for the refugees. Whether it was the Balloki head near Lahore or the Dera Baba Nanak river crossing over Ravi, these locations became the most difficult natural obstacles for the refugees to cross. These river crossings became the kill points for the mob. They would wait for the refugee caravans to arrive and as they stopped near these bridges, the mob would attack them and throw the dead bodies into the river.

There are so many stories about people waiting to cross the rivers Ravi, Sutlej and Beas, waiting for the military to escort them; however, in most cases the people from adjoining villages would attack the refugees and the horrendous scale of violence has been described in several eye-witness accounts.

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