Sheikhupura and Ludhiana
- Ramanjit Singh
Violence in Punjab from August '47 onwards took a macabre turn as people turned on each other on a scale that was never before seen in undivided India. To some extent, the military, the civil administration and the political parties were all participating in the large scale killings across the province. The genocide in Punjab is unique in that never before in human history one community imploded so suddenly and completely across religious lines. Sometimes it is hard to label the type of violence that erupted during Partition, whether it should be called a "civil war" or a "fratricide" or "genocide" or some other term that properly reflects the conditions that were prevailing during those days.
A case in point is the situation prevailing in August in districts such as Sheikhupura and Ludhiana.
Ludhiana district was part of the Jullundur division and the city had majority Muslim population. In the 1941 census, the Muslim population of the city was 63%. In her book "From the Ashes of 1947", author and lecturer Pippa Virdee writes,
In Sheikhupura, the events took a similar turn. By mid-August the situation in the district was still peaceful up until August 17th when the Boundary Commission awarded the district to Pakistan. After this announcement, the events took a violent turn. Here's an excerpt from the story told by Kuldip Singh Neelam,
Our town ( Sheikhupura ) remained peaceful, when the communal riots had been occuring in various cities of west Punjab such as Rawalpindi, Multan, Amritsar, Lahore and Gujranwala since March, 1947. This continued up till August 17,1947 when the Boundary Commision awarded the Sheikhupura district to Pakistan. The situation in this district began to worsen rapidly. All petrol duties to non-muslims were stopped. Without valid ground, curfew was imposed on the 24th August, and the Biloach Military was brought in to parade the town after the 20th August. On the 25th August, Hindu and Sikh houses were burned in Gurdwara Bazar. A false alarm was raised of an attack on Muslim mohalla by Sikhs. All this was done to incite Muslims to fall upon Sikhs. On the same day about noon hours, a vigorous attack was made on Ramgarha, which had a sikh population Of about 1200 Sikhs were being chased. The Muslim mob was followed by the military. When Sikhs gave a fight the Muslim mob retreated. Then the military took the lead and took up positions against Hindu-Sikh areas. Within few hours, the Hindu Sikh population of this area had been killed, and the houses were in flames.Muslim mobs then swelled and spread out to attack on the different parts of this town. Street after street was surrounded by Muslim mobs, military and police. The looting, burning and murdering continued.
Later on, I learned through some published reports that Hindus and Sikhs of our town (Sheikhupura) were perhaps, after Rawalpindi and Multan, the worst sufferers at the hands of the Pakistanis fanaticism and cold-blooded murderous frenzy. The blow fell on us suddenly and swiftly-leaving between 10,000 and 20,000 dead in two days. The conspiracy that was hatched in Sheikhupura between the Muslim leagers, the civil officers, Police and Military for the extermination of Hindus and Sikhs of this town, and the district governed by it, is perhaps the worst on human record showing devilary on such a large scale.Mr. Karamat Ali, Minister in the West Punjab Government, and a resident of Seikhupura played an active roll in this conspiracy. All secret meetings were held with him to excute this plan. Pt. Nehru at the time, toured the West Punjab with Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan, estimated the number of those killed in Sheikhupura at 22,000.
Here's the map of Ram Garha that is mentioned in Kuldip Singh's narration of the horrible events that took place in this part of the Sheikhupura city.
There were similar and tragic events taking place in Delhi, Amritsar, Gujranwala, Lyallpur, Jullundur and Lahore at the same time. It was a perfect storm of identity politics and religious divide that was fueling the violence during Partition. In Lahore, author Khushwant Singh was talking to his friend Begum Shah Nawaz who reportedly told him that she will avenge the blood of the Muslim losses in Amritsar by killing Hindus and Sikhs in Lahore (transcript). There are stories about compassion where orphaned children were being rescued by the "others". And yet there are stories that cannot be shared as it brings out the worst in us.