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Gujranwala 1947

- Ramanjit Singh

Gujranwala, birth place of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Gujranwala, home of Hari Singh Nalwa.

Gujranwala, where two-thirds of the business and land was owned by Hindus & Sikhs.

Gujranwala, place of the battle between Ahmed Shah Durrani and Sikh Confederacy in 1761.

It is with this legacy, I see the Partition violence in Gujranwala with great anguish and sadness. It is regrettable that the Partition of India was solely based on the subject of demographics and nothing else. Where the British and the political elites of the time did not consider any other factor such as economic contribution of the non-Muslim communities in West Punjab or the entrenched cultural and social heritage of communities living together for centuries. If any district had a Muslim majority that was all that mattered, nothing else was considered.

The Congress Party at the time did not look at countering the narrative of two-nation theory with their own Direct Action plan or "one-nation theory" other than relying solely on the narrative of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. The fact that the Hindus and Sikhs completely dominated the economy and agriculture in Punjab was conveniently forgotten. The dominance of Hindus in owning the economic and industrial outputs of all the major cities of West Punjab and the Sikhs who were the biggest land owning class in all of Punjab never really dented anyones equation about how to draw out the boundaries between the two countries or whether Partition made any sense at all to begin with. All that mattered was the number of Muslims versus the Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab.

The sheer incompetence of the Indian leaders at the time of not pushing for the inclusion of these "other" factors during the days leading up to Partition is breathtaking. Some local leaders of the Sikhs and Hindus pleaded their case in front of the boundary commission but it was too little too late. What was needed at the time was a completely unrelenting and unyielding pressure from the top leadership of the Congress Party on the British to not ignore these critical factors when determining the Partition boundaries. In all my readings, the Muslim League was always on the offense from the very start and the Congress was playing defense without any core strategy. They first ignored the Muslim League as a fringe party and then when the tsunami of Pakistan movement hit all across north India then the Congress scrambled to react but by that time the idea of Pakistan was embedded in the imagination of a large section of the Muslim community. To wrest this unworkable idea away from the Muslim community, the Congress Party did not create a counter argument of why having a single nation is actually best for the Muslims. Instead they relied on the more nebulous Hindu-Muslim unity narrative which, in my opinion, shouldn't have been the sole reason for countering the Pakistan movement.

Congress Party's biggest failure was that they agreed from the outset that demographics was the sole criteria of Partition. The battle was already lost from the outset. You see for Jinnah there was no other card to play other than using the population numbers of Muslims versus non-Muslims in India to make the case of Partition. Demographics became the lowest common denominator of all the discussions and narratives from 1940 (year of the Lahore resolution) onwards. If the Muslim League had made the case of two-nation theory based on population numbers, then Congress could have made the case of "one-nation" theory based on economic power of Hindus and Sikhs that was as overwhelming and equally convincing as any other factor. Congress could have espoused on why having Muslim community living in united India is the best bet for its future prosperity and well being rather than splitting it into three separate governing entities.

I'm making this case here because Partition led to one of the biggest genocidal event in human history. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed just because they were on the wrong side of the border. Political leadership at the time should have made every effort to stop that madness. If one side was hell bent on committing suicide, the other side should have done everything in its power to stop that from happening. But regrettably the leaders of the Congress were willing to give away large parts of the country to attain power at any cost. Add to that by agreeing to having the boundaries be determined by a completely ignorant bureaucrat from London guaranteed that India would be left holding the wrong end of the stick.

In some accounts it is written that the British were convinced after the March violence that Partition was the only way forward. Law and order was crumbling and the Muslim League was running around putting gasoline on the already burning fires in Punjab and Bengal. British were hastily looking for a way out and the Congress became a willing participant in that process.

On the violence in Gujranwala, eminent researcher and scholar Dr. Ilyas Chatha has described some of the key events that took place in this district. He descibes the role of Lohars of Nizamabad, the train massacres of Jammoke and Kamoke, and the wholesale massacre of non-Muslims by the locals in Wazirabad and other parts of the district.


Here are some excerpts from his research:

An elderly Lohar of Nizamabad, by the name of Ghulam Nabi, provided an interesting account of his brother’s role in the killings of Hindus and Sikhs. He glorified his actions by saying that this was in ‘revenge’ for the killings of Muslims in India.

My brother died three years ago, God blesses him; he killed many Hindus and Sikhs all round Wazirabad and Gujranwala [in revenge for Hindus and Sikhs killings of Muslims in India]. He was renowned all over the place because of killing the Sikhs. He was not among those who looted the property of Sikhs. He was a six feet tall man. The people of the area still know our house/family because of his deed.

The account shows the interest to which the perpetrators of violence did not feel remorse for their criminal acts. Instead the respondent proudly states the fact that his brother murdered many non-Muslims. The account also indicates, alongside the cold-blooded killings, a desire for loot, though his brother was not involved in this himself. From a number of other respondents, a similar sort of narrative emerged of well planned attacks on Hindus and Sikhs and the looting of their houses in Gujranwala district’s Wazirabad tahsil. Jamal Din, a resident of Nizamabad, aged 80 plus in 2008, told me about an attack that he along with his mates carried out at the Jamkay railway station.

I killed many Sikhs at Jamkay railway station. They were gathered in the station departing to India. We all knew about this. We, about fifteen people, left Nizamabad that day and from Wazirabad we took a train to reach in Jamkay. I got my sword with me. Some of them possessed carbines; Asraf and Sadiq had their guns with them. We killed Sikhs at asar (late afternoon) time that day. We did not plunder anything, but the local people afterwards looted their belongings. I heard the following afternoon some army men came to Nizamabad and investigated the incident. Nobody told them anything. All our relatives lived there. They did not arrest anyone. [In fact] they were looking for the missing women. Kuda goha hay (God is witnessed) we did not carry away any non-Muslim woman.

The stories of Nizamabad Lohars’ attacks on non-Muslims population and refugee trains were constantly repeated as I travelled around Nizamabad and its surrounding areas such as Wazirabad, Mansooiwali, Salarwali, Jamkay, Chanawa, and Pandoian. The respondents did not need to be persuaded to speak and they readily agreed to talk to me. This response was quite different from what I had experienced with urban residents of Gujranwala, where most of the time prospective respondents had to be convinced of the credentials of the interviewers and the usefulness of the project before they would say anything. One of the most compelling interviews conducted in Gujranwala district was with Sardara Dindar, a Sikh convert to Islam from the time of partition.

He was 18 at the time and is now a resident of village Chanawa. He still remembers the events of that period vividly when his relatives, along with the Sikh population of the village migrated to India, but he and his one brother chose to remain in Chanawa. While representing the victims of partition violence, Sardara narrated his story.

Har koi jan da hay Nizamabadi Lohars har pasay tabey machi sei (everybody knows Lohars of Nizamabad carried out devastation everywhere in the area). Nizamabad Lohars killed thousands of Hindus and Sikhs and looted their property.

They were very brutal and well armed people. They would attack one village, then other. At that time there were all round rumours that the Nizamabad Lohars are coming! They are coming! There were fears, and talks all over the region about their cruelty. They raided in Jamkay, Manchar, Mansoorwali, Kalra and Wazirabad and so on. There were many big gangs. They used to attack with swords and guns which they made for themselves. They killed Hindus and Sikhs without any reason; they would say the Sikhs killed Muslims in India. Hundreds of dead bodies of Sikhs were found in the Chahnaway Canal Head. Many their dead bodies were without heads. Many naked dead bodies were floating at the canal bank.

Sometimes local villagers of the areas invited them (NizamabadLohars) to attack their villages to clear out the Hindus and Sikhs. The local people also looted lots of property of Hindus and Sikhs and eventually placed the blame on Nizamabad Lohars. Many other people looted and killed the non-Muslims but there were general feelings in the region that only the Nizamabad Lohars were at forefront. In some places, the local Muslims convinced the Hindus and Sikhs of their places to leave villages. Many helped them across the dangerous zones. All my relatives migrated to India but I chose to remain here and embraced Islam. I had to convert to save my life and property. I often visit my Sikh relatives in Ambala-India.

Sardara Dindar’s brother added the following information. ‘Although the Lohars of Nizamabad largely made attacks and loot in the region, many kamies people in the camouflage of the Lohars looted the property of Hindus and Sikhs. The non-Muslims were too much scared of the Lohars’. Sultan stressed that ‘they had modern weapons, resources and were all relatives and lived in one place’.

It is possible to point out that the Nizamabad hamlahawars in many instances used the trains as a means of transportation for their criminal activities. They chiefly targeted those places for their attacks, which were either situated on the railway stations or adjacent to the railway-lines, because they used the train as mode of transport. For example, all the above-mentioned attacked localities of Wazirabad, Mansoorwali Salarwali and Jamkay had railway stations. Moreover, they did not confine attacks to their neighbourhood, but covered an area of more than fifty miles for instance, ‘as far as Kamoke and the Naushera Vir[k]an Railway Station[s]’.

It would be extremely difficult, without careful planning and the help of the local railway staff to carry out such precision attacks. A remarkable instance of this fact is the extent of an attack on a Hindu locality of Lohianwala (a mile north of Gujranwala city), at the main railway track and Grand Trunk Road. On 24 August, a train coming from Wazirabad to Gujranwala stopped at Lohianwala and a big crowd of people got of the train and attacked and looted the locality. After completing the ransack in a couple of hours, hamlahawars got back on the train, which was surprisingly still waiting for their return at the railway station. A local resident and an eyewitness of the event, named Mohammad Sanaulla Bhatti, reported the incident to Gujranwala Sadar Police on the same day.

Today afternoon, a train which was heading for Gujranwala stopped at the Lohianwala railway station. Around between four and five hundred men got down from the train, waited for orders and attacked Lohianwala. After seeing such a big crowd of hamlahawars in the locality, all Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims of Lohianwala hurriedly exited their houses and run away, and all gathered on the north side of the locality. After sometime, a haze of smoke and light of flames appeared over the locality. Sometime later, we saw thehamlahawars returned back to the railway line. In this whole happening, the train remained stopped at the railway station until the hamlahawars boarded it back. As they all got on the train; it went away. This big crowd ofhamlahawars appeared to be Muslims. I was watching the incident at a distance so could not identify any of the hamlahawars who were involved in this incident. What I noticed I have informed you

The police record is unable to explain where these hamlahawars came from, where they boarded the train and why the train waited their return. Yet despite the clear organisation behind it, the subsequent Police Report merely termed it ‘a communal riot’ by the ‘unknown’ nameless people. This is evidenced by the forwarding remarks of sub-inspector of Gujranwala Sadar police station: ‘Ya wakaya farkawarana fasad malom huta hay Jasay hie mazed malomat maltiay aap ko beg de jay gee’.

Kamoke Train Massacre

The region between Gujranwala and Lahore because of its geographical location on the Grand Trunk Road and main railway lines earned great notoriety for the systematic attacks on some of the ‘refugee special’ trains and convoys. One of the worst train massacres occurred in the Kamoke railway station, a satellite town of Gujranwala on 24 September at 12 noon on a train coming from Jhelum-Pind Dadan Khan, carrying over three thousand non-Muslim refugees towards the East Punjab. The attack was planned. The daily newspaper The Times reported on 26 September 1947: ‘In spite of heavy firing by the escort, the Muslims, attacking from the rear, forced their way into the last four carriages. The attack lasted 40 minutes, after which the train returned to Gujranwala, where the wounded were taken to hospital’. It quoted 375 casualties. The Punjab police estimated the fatalities at over 400, with about the same number injured.

Despite the fact that the Pakistan government ‘severely condemned’ the incident and assured the Indian government that it would punish the ‘culprits’, the extent and severity of the carnage led the Indian Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation to set up a ‘Fact Finding Committee’. With the consultation of both district liaison offices of Lahore and Delhi and the statements of survivors and eye-witnesses of the tragedy, the fact finding officer Chaman Lal Pandhi submitted his report to Delhi within a short span of time. The report gave the death toll as ‘at least 3,000’ and revealed the involvement of local police in the abduction of large numbers of non-Muslim women. According to the findings of Pandhi, ‘The most ignoble feature of the tragedy was the distribution of young [non-Muslims] girls amongst the members of the Police force, the [Muslim] National Guards and the localgoondas. The S.H.O Dildar Hussain collected the victims in an open space near Kamoke Railway station and gave a free hand to the mob. After the massacre was over, the girls were distributed like sweets’.

Even clothes were torn in the effort to remove valuables. My son was also snatched away in spite of my protests. I cannot say who took him away. I was taken by one Abdul Ghani to his house. He was a tonga driver. I was kept in the house for over a month and badly used. I went to other houses to look after my son. I saw a large number of children but I was unable to find my son. During these visits I also saw a large number of Hindu women in the houses of the Muslim inhabitants of Kamoke. All of them complained that they were being very badly used by their abductors. After about a month it was announced by beat of drum that the Hindu Military had arrived and those of the inhabitants who had Hindu women and children in their possession should produce them at the police station. ...The 150 women who were produced at the station, Kamoke, were taken in tongas to Gujranwala. Out of the women collected only 20 got up and said that they wanted to return to India. I was one of them. There were 10 children with these women. The remaining lot was put into the trucks and sent back to Kamoke by the Sub-Inspector of Police. We were then taken to the Hindu refugee camp and put into trucks which brought us to Amritsar.

This account is taken from the SGPC publication Muslim League attacks on Hindus and Sikhs in the Punjab and it is difficult to know how much weight to give this. Yet this description rings true in the light of oral accounts that I collected from the site during my fieldwork. The respondents vividly reflected the ‘kat-lo-garat’(mass killings) of Hindus and Sikhs and ‘augwa’ (abduction) of their women at the Kamoke railway lines in 1947. A migrant Ali Akbar whose family came from Amritsar to Kamoke told me during the course of an interview.

Upon my arrival in Kamoke, there were many talks that Kamoke people killed hundreds of Hindus and Sikhs and looted their possessions. Many women of non-Muslims were also abducted by the local people during the killing and loot. I did not see anyone, but heard many time people were talking about them. Nobody will tell you about them.

One local resident, Rashid Ahmad, age 80 plus in 2007, vividly remembers the attack on the train which he recalled as follows:

The train arrived in Kamoke that night and stayed there till following dopar(afternoon). Something was wrong with either train engine or train track. There was news all around that a Sikh train stopped in the railway lines. People were planning to attack the train from fajur (early morning). Many hundreds of people took part in the attack and looting. My father and I were also there. Many people died when soldiers fired on them. I know personally some people of Kamoke who killed Hindus, looted their belongings and took away their women. Acho Musali and Allah Dita were among them. You know, many women subsequently voluntarily embraced Islam and became a part of Muslim society. They did not want to back India. They did not live in Kamoke. Many moved in other towns and villages to hide this fact. I know some of these women were sold off. Despite their marriages, people still call them different names; some call them mulliy aurat ( sold woman); others name them adulee aurat (abducted woman).

My first respondent Ali Akbar, believing that one of his acquaintances had taken away a woman in 1947, introduced me to another person by the name Ghulam Khadar. The latter was an elderly resident of Kamoke. Before providing any information about the 1947 Kamoke tragedy, I had to convince the respondent first about my credentials and the usefulness of the project. The interview was not easy despite this explanation because of Ghulam Khadar’s scepticism. Some main excerpts from a long interview are reproduced below which reveal the fate of such women.

The people attacked the train at the station and killed many Hindus and Sikhs. The attackers were not the locals; they came from out of Kamoke. Yes, many non-Muslim women were also abducted in Kamoke. The people took them away in other outlaying areas so that military could not find them. My brother took a woman to Sheikhupura and lived and worked there in a brick-kiln for many years. This woman converted to Islam and became pious. She was a Patwari woman. She lived with him till her death. Islam allows this. They have had four sons and two daughters. They are labourers and poorer. They are more concerned about their daily livelihood.

A few aspects emerge from the above accounts. First, the abducted women were immediately shifted to other places in fear of military searches as well as to escape themselves from social disgrace. Second, the majority of these women preferred to live where they were rather than be sent to India. The account of Shrimati Laj Wanti, for example, identifies that out of 150 women only 20 were ready to go back on India. Third, there is also an indication that the army was periodically researching the recovery of ‘missing’ women. The following account of a recovered woman of the Kamoke incident not only points to the repeated efforts of the army for the recovery, but also further provides evidence regarding the awful experience of the ‘main victims’ of partition. The tale of this recovered ‘girl’ is that after abduction she was taken away to village Pandorian by a Kashmiri Muslim who kept her in his house for five days and afterwards tried to kill her.

I had 16 tolas of gold sewn into my under-garments. I requested him not to kill me and offered him the gold which he took and made over to his brother. In the house, the Kashmiri raped me and then suggested that I should marry his nephew Din Mohammad. Owing to the shock and the atrocities my brain became unbalanced. A month later Gurkha military came to the village. I was concealed in a Muslim refugee’s house. For some hours the Gurkha military searched for me in vain and went away. Three months later the military again came to the village. Neither the Kashmiri nor Din Mohammad were in the house. I had been concealed in a corn bin. The soldiers were going to leave when a Muslim woman told them of my whereabouts. The soldiers returned to the house in which I was concealed and hearing their foot-steps I came out and fell down senseless.

Overall, it is difficult to determine the number of women abducted in Gujranwala in 1947. G. D. Khosla puts the number of ‘young girls’ who were ‘taken away’ during the Kamoke train carnage at about 600. Despite providing the statistics of casualties of the Kamoke train incident, the Punjab police report does not mention the abduction of any women. However, one official government document, ‘Details of Converts and Abducted Women in the districts of West Punjab’ of the Central Ministry of Refugee Rehabilitation provided ‘Evacuation Progress’ of the ‘recovered’ with 21,219 non-Muslim women being returned to India by the week ending on 24 April 1948. In Gujranwala district alone, by that date, 676 non-Muslim ‘abducted and converted’ girls were recovered and ‘evacuated’ to India. At the same time, another 138 recovered girls of Gujranwala were ‘still in camps’.

According to a report of the Gujranwala district liaison officer to the chief liaison officer Lahore, of the 185 women who were discovered 3 were stated to be ‘with police officials and 9 with known badmashes or influential persons in the district’.63 From anecdotal evidence it seems probable that there were many incidences of abduction and conversion of individuals by marauding gangs that received little official and media attention.

Similarly, it is hard to figure out overall the numbers of communal killings in Gujranwala district during the 1947 disturbances. A considered estimate would be somewhere in the region of 9,000-10,000 people. A report of the SGPC placed the total number of Sikh casualties in Gujranwala district at about 15,000, while Francis Mudie, the Governor of West Punjab, reported to Viceroy Mountbatten that the ‘Estimated Casualties After 14th August, 1947’ stood at about 4,000, on the basis of the Punjab Chief Secretary’s Fortnightly Reports on the law and order situation in Gujranwala district.

Indeed there were numerous isolated massacres in the innumerable villages and qasbas and murders of individuals that received no official and media attention. One of the most important factors was that there was no effective communication between the district headquarters and the outlying local police stations. The reality was that, by the end of August, the authorities had little idea of what was happening in the remote villages.


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