The Rape of Rawalpindi
- By Ramanjit Singh
Partition stories often show the ugliness of humanity, some stories over burden the reader with explanation but there are some stories that clearly show the inflection point that started it all. The genesis of the violence that engulfed Punjab in 1947. And all this began on March 6th in the Rawalpindi district.
The Pindi Sikhs and Hindus were considered the cream of the Punjabi elite with their large havelis in the Rawalpindi City. One such haveli was at the city's Chowk Saidpur. Dhan Raj Sehgal's Lal Haveli near Raja Bazar and Sardar Sujan Singh Haveli are some of the famous palatial homes of Rawalpindi. They were the major zamindars and businessmen, and also formed the educated class of the district. Their last names were Bedi, Suri, Sahni, Sethi, Sobti, Chadha, Ahluwalia who were the richest residents of Pindi, as they had lots of land in different canal districts of Punjab, and owned bungalows and palatial houses in Pindi. Next came the Khatris from Bhera whose last names were Sehgal, Chopra, Khosla, Bhatia, Bajaj, Kapoor, Sachdeva, Khurana, Tandon, Thapar, Munjal and others. Each of these families contributed to the development of the city in terms of building commercial infrastructure such as hospitals, colleges, schools, libraries, gardens, cinemas, shopping centers, transport hubs and so on.
The pain of what they endured in the spring of 1947 was the single most important event that bifurcated the Hindu/Sikh and Muslim relations forever. There is no event past or present that made this separation permanent in Punjab. If we look back in history to identify the single most important moment of the 20th century that marked the beginning of this separation, it was Rawalpindi. For the Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus, Rawalpindi represents not only a place but it also represents an event that is forever etched in our collective DNA. The massacre at Rawalpindi was cold blooded, pre-meditated by the Muslim League to silence the Sikhs and Hindus from revolting against the creation of Pakistan. The event had no co-relation to any other event. It was not part of some past violence that triggered Muslims to attack Sikhs. The protest of Akali Leader Master Tara Singh in Lahore on March 5th against the formation of Pakistan is often given the pretext to this violence but this was planned well in advance. The plan of silencing the Sikhs backfired and it led to a backlash that was going to explode into a full scale holocaust in the following months of that fateful year.
Author Bisham Sahni, brother of actor and writer Balraj Sahni, wrote this in his memoir "Today's Past" about the killings of the Sikhs and Hindus in the Rawalpindi District in March 1947 as one of the most heart wrenching event in the Partition saga. He had visited Thoha Khalsa and this event deeply affected him and Balraj Sahni till the rest of their lives. From his memoir:
The tribesmen of Murree attacked the Rawalpindi City and the villages of Thoha Khalsa (map), Doberan, Thamali, Kallar, Dera Khalsa and other parts of the Kahuta region on March 6th. These tribesmen were then joined by thousands of Muslim villagers of the district. Photographs of the aftermath can be seen here.
From the Panthic article:
All the Sikhs after hearing the emotional lecture of Sant Gulaab Singh agreed to move to his house. They brought all their money, jewellery and gold etc, along with them and assembled at his house. In total about 1200 Sikhs assembled at his house. They fortified the haveli by making bunkers and replacing regular doors with heavy doors. They covered the walls of the haveli with shields of iron. First of all they secured a large room and brought all Saroops of Dhan Siri Guru Granth Sahib jee over there. Over 36 saroops were brought to that room. Big tanks of water were filled and large quantity of fire-wood and grains was stocked up. They were in great danger, so they all started doing paath day and night. They asked Guru Sahib for strength to save their faith. On March 8, 1947 while the sangat was doing Siri Rehraas Sahib paath, many thousand Muslims came and surrounded the building.
They were shouting “Allah ho Akbar”, “Muslim League Zindabad”, “Kaffron ko Mar do” i.e kill the infidels. There must have been at least 6000 Muslims and all had weapons. Many had guns. Some were on horse backs and they were shouting anti Sikh slogans. They were uttering obscenities against Master Tara Singh and other Sikh leaders. The sangat kept doing simran of Vaheguru Vaheguru. The Muslim crowd assembled in the school building. It is not clear what was decided in that meeting but when they came out of the meeting they started burning the shops and houses owned by the Sikhs. Then they attacked the haveli where all the Sikhs were present. The Sikhs had some guns and they kept the crowd away.
On one side of the haveli, they attacked with great vigour. Sardar Partap Singh, a very brave young man, took along with him about 8-9 Singhs and attacked the attacking Muslims. They attacked with so much force that the Muslims were pushed back. One of the bullets hit Sardar Partap Singh on his leg.
The next day again the Muslims came back but this time they did not wait for the night. They came back around 10am. The Muslims again attacked but could not get in the haveli. Then the Muslims sent a representative to talk to the Sikhs and Hindus holed up in the haveli. Sant Gulab Singh refused to accept their conditions that they should disarm themselves.This way the fight went on for 2 more days. Finally on the last day, the Muslims came with bombs and said that they would bomb the haveli if the Sikhs and Hindus did not get out of there.
The Muslims promised by swearing on the Koran that they were only interested in the gold and money and not in killing anyone. The Sikhs and Hindus had no choice but to get out. They did ardaas and moved out, leaving all belongings behind.After they came out, they got surrounded by the large crowd of Muslims. The Sikhs and Hindus arrived at the sarovar of the local Gurdwara Sahib. The pathaans armed with latest weapons surrounded the Sikhs and Hindus sitting around the sarovar. The Sikhs were chanting “Satnam Siri Vaheguru”. By then about 10,000 Muslims came where the Sikhs and Hindus were. Along with them, they had a dozens of barbers lined up to cut the hair of Sikhs. Children were crying for food and milk. Old and young were helpless to do anything. The whole scene was a scene from hell.
Author Urvashi Butalia talks to the survivors of Thoha Khalsa and describes the events that took place in March, 1947 in the Rawalpindi district.
My name is Basant Kaur. My husband's name was Sant Raja Singh. We came away from our houses on March 12, and on the 13th we stayed out, in the village. At first, we tried to show our strength, and then we realized that this would not work, so we joined the morcha to go away. We left our home in Thoa Khalsa on the 12th. For three or four days we were trapped inside our houses, we couldn't get out, though we used to move across the roofs of houses and that way we could get out a bit. One of our people had a gun, we used that, and two or three of their people died. I lost a brother-in-law. He died from a bullet they fired. It hit him and he died. So we kept the gun handy. Then there were fires all around, raging fires, and we were no match for them. I had a jeth, my older brother-in-law, he had a son, he kept asking give me afim [opium], mix it in water and I will take it.
My jeth killed his mother, his sister, his wife, his daughter, and his uncle. My daughter was also killed. We went into the morcha inside the village, we all left our houses and collected together in the centre of the village, inside the sardaran di haveli, where there was also a well. It was Lajjawanti's house. The sardar, her husband, had died sometime ago, but his wife and other women of the house were there. Some children also. They all came out. Then we all talked and said we don't want to become Musalmaan, we would rather die. So everyone was given a bit of afim, they were told, you keep this with you…I went upstairs, and when I came down there was my husband, my jeth's son, my jethani, her daughters, my jeth, my grandsons, three granddaughters. They were all killed so that they would not fall into the hands of Musalmaans. One girl from our village, she had gone off with the Musalmaans. She was quite beautiful, and everyone got worried that if one has gone, they will take all our girls away…so it was then that they decided to kill the girls. My jeth, his name is Harbans Singh, he killed his wife, his daughter, his son…he was small, only eight days old. Then my sister-in-law was killed, her son and her daughter, and then on the 14th of March we came to Jhelum. The vehicles came and took us, and we stayed there for about a month and then we came to Delhi.
Author and Historian Ishtiaq Ahmed, writes:
These were not riots but deliberately organised military campaigns. Long before the disturbances broke out secret meetings were held in mosques under the leadership of Syed Akbar Khan … ex-MLA, Capt. Lal Khan of Kahuta, Tehsildar and Police Sub-Inspector Kahuta, Maulvi Abdul Rehman and Kala Khan MLA, in which jihad… was proclaimed against the minorities and emissaries were sent out to collect volunteers from the rural areas…. The armed crowds which attacked Kahuta, Thoa Khalsa, and Nara etc. were led by ex-military men on horseback… armed with Tommy guns, pistols, rifles, hand grenades, hatchets, petrol tins and even carried field glasses.
First of all minorities were disarmed with the help of the local police and by giving assurances on oaths on the Holy Quran of peaceful intentions. After this had been done, the helpless and unarmed minorities were attacked. On their resistance having collapsed, lock-breakers and looters came into action with their transport corps of mules, donkeys and camels. Then came the ‘Mujahideens’ with tins of petrol and kerosene oil and set fire to the looted shops and houses. Then there were Maulvis… with barbers to convert who somehow or other escaped slaughter and rape. The barbers shaved the hair and beards and circumcised the victims. Maulvis … performed forcible marriage ceremonies. After this came the looters, including women and men.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Maharaja of Patiala, Yadavindra Singh. May 19, 1947 (C) Getty Images
Mohammad Ali Jinnah never condemned these atrocities and not a single statement was made by the Muslim League denouncing the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs in Rawalpindi. And during the discussions between Jinnah and the Sikh representative, the Maharaja of Patiala, on 19th May 1947, in which Jinnah was pleading with the Sikhs to join Pakistan in order to prevent Punjab's partition, the notion that the Sikhs would entertain the idea of joining Pakistan after what the Muslims did to them in Rawalpindi was out of the question.
It was too late for a bonhomie to take place between the two communities after the March violence. I wish that the idea of Pakistan was inclusive where all communities could coexist peacefully. I wish that the Pakistan Resolution had sincerely talked about having a country that would be majority Muslims but would also give equal rights to its non-Muslim citizens. That they will not be treated as an after-thought. Sadly, the daily demonstrations of Muslim League workers in the towns and cities of Punjab since 1946 and earlier were all about "Pakistan for Muslims" which meant there was no place for Hindus and Sikhs.
Had there been open condemnation by Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the leaders of the Muslim League, had there been a joint effort made by all political parties to use this tragedy as a lesson to maintain communal harmony in Punjab, we would have seen much less violence during Partition. But there was no such joint approach in maintaining communal peace or tackling the law and order situation that was spiraling out of control. Everyone knew what was coming later in the year.
The events in August saw the armed Sikh jathas going berserk on the Muslims in east Punjab to avenge the killings in west Punjab. Revenge and counter revenge created its own vicious cycle in the summer months of 1947. The tragedy of Partition was that those who were getting killed were being punished for the crimes they did not commit. Hate had blinded people on both sides.
At the end of the violence in Rawalpindi, about 8,000 to 10,000 Sikhs and Hindus were slaughtered in the district. The official announcement of the intent to create a separate Muslim state of Pakistan was still months away but this one event had sown the seeds of a permanent fissure between Hindus/Sikhs and Muslims in Punjab. Punjab at the time was still governed by the British, but the writing was on the wall that the British wanted to get out of India as soon as possible. There was no law and order in Punjab and everyone was left to fend for themselves.
=====From Sikh Panthic account======
Wah refugee camp housed about 12,000 Hindus and Sikhs as a result of the ethnic cleansing that took place in villages such as Thamali, Thoa Khalsa, Dhoberan, and Kallar. Thousands of Sikhs and Hindus were killed by the mobs.
From Panthic website: http://panthic.org/articles/3485
1947 Rawalpindi Shaheedis
We all know that the pogroms of 1947 were among the worse that the Sikhs faced in the last century. Sikhs in 1947 lost all their property, money and many lost their lives. They were forced to live in India and did not change their religion to secure their property, money or lives. After leaving everything in West Punjab (currently in Pakistan), they came to East Punjab(currently in India) and built everything from scratch. Then another massacre came in the 1980s when tens of thousands of Sikhs died for Sikhi.
The following is a narration of selected incidents that occurred in Rawalpindi area of Pakistan, in March 1947. This area was among the worse affected by the pogroms of partition in 1947. The Sikhs were massacred by the Muslims of that area. The striking thing that I wish to convey here is not that Sikhs got massacred but how bravely the Sikhs fought back aggression and how much they sacrificed to keep Sikhi. Some of the stories are very emotional and very hard to read. I am not sure if I can narrate these stories as well as they were narrated by the people who actually saw all this with their own eyes. I will try.
AREA OF POTHOHAAR I.E. RAWALPINDI AREA OF PAKISTAN
This area was the centre of Sikhi in those days. Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh jee writes that before he went to jail, this area was full of bibiyaan with dastaar and many families had adopted the strict Khalsa rehit. It was in this area where Sant Baba Attar Singh jee Mastuanawaale, did rigorous bhagti for many years. This is the land where the great Sikh, Bhai Sahib Thakur Nihaal Singh, reputed to be a brahmgiyaani gursikh, did great preaching of Gurmat. This is where Baba Khem Singh Bedi did heavy parchaar of Gurmat and inspired many to take amrit of Guru Sahib.
Sikhi parchaar was so heavy in this area that even Brahmin Hindus adopted Sikhi and became tyaar bar tyaar Singhs. This area was very prosperous and Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh jee writes in one of his books that due to increase in maaiya, may Sikh families had become weak in Sikhi and had become more indulged in worldly pleasures. Who knows, maybe this is why this area was hit most severely by the pogroms of 1947
MASSACRE OF THE KHALSA AREA OF RAWALPINDI – MARCH 1947
This small town of Thoha Khalsa was one of the main towns of Pothohaar (Rawalpindi area). Sikhs and Hindus living in this town were very well off. In total about 500 families lived in this small town. There were some Muslim families living there too but there was no communal problem at all.
In the fateful month of March 1947, pogroms started in other parts of Pothohaar. It would be a serious misnomer to refer to the events as 'riots' because the Sikhs were not attacking anyone, just defending themselves. The Sikhs of Theha Khalsa town assembled at the local Gurdwara Sahib to discuss what to do. Sant Gulaab Singh was the undisputed leader of this village and he was from a very well-to-do family. His ancestral home was very big. During the discussions, he suggested that all the Sikhs of that village assemble at this house and stay there till the danger from the pogroms was over. He said that it would be easy to defend if all the Sikhs stayed at one spot.
He further said that at this crucial time only Guru Sahib can help them.
SIKHS MOVE TO THE HAVELI OF SANT GULAAB SINGH
All the Sikhs after hearing the emotional lecture of Sant Gulaab Singh agreed to move to his house. They brought all their money, jewellery and gold etc, along with them and assembled at his house. In total about 1200 Sikhs assembled at his house. They fortified the haveli by making bunkers and replacing regular doors with heavy doors. They covered the walls of the haveli with shields of iron.
First of all they secured a large room and brought all Saroops of Dhan Siri Guru Granth Sahib jee over there. Over 36 saroops were brought to that room. Big tanks of water were filled and large quantity of fire-wood and grains was stocked up. The Sikhs were in great danger, so they all started doing paath day and night. They asked Guru Sahib for strength to save their faith.
MUSLIMS ATTACK THE HAVELI FILLED WITH SIKHS
On March 8, 1947 while the sangat was doing Siri Rehraas Sahib paath, many thousand Muslims came and surrounded the building. They were shouting “ALLAH HOO AKBAR”, “MUSLIM LEAGUE ZINDABAD”, “KAFRON KO MAAR DO” i.e kill the infidels. There must have been at least 6000 Muslims and all had weapons. Many had guns. Some were on horse backs and they were shouting anti Sikh slogans. They were uttering obscenities against Master Tara Singh and other Sikh leaders.
The sangat kept doing simran of Vaheguru Vaheguru. The Muslim crowd assembled in the school building. It is not clear what was decided in that meeting but when they came out of the meeting they started burning the shops and houses owned by the Sikhs. Then they attacked the haveli where all the Sikhs were present. The Sikhs had some guns and they kept the crowd away.
On one side of the haveli, they attacked with great vigour. Sardar Partap Singh, a very brave young man, took along with him about 8-9 singhs and attacked the attacking Muslims. They attacked with so much force that the Muslims were pushed back. One of the bullets hit Sardar Partap Singh on his leg.
The next day again the Muslims came back but this time they did not wait for the night. They came back around 10am. The Muslims again attacked but could not get in the haveli. Then the Muslims sent a representative to talk to the Sikhs holed up in the haveli. Sant Gulab Singh refused to accept their conditions that the Sikhs should disarm themselves.
This way the fight went on for 2 more days. Finally on the last day, the Muslims came with bombs and said that they would bomb the haveli if the Sikhs did not get out of there. The Muslims promised by swearing on the Koran that they were only interested in the gold and money and not in killing anyone. The Sikhs had no choice but to get out. They did ardaas and moved out, leaving all belongings behind.
After the Sikhs came out, they got surrounded by the large crowd of Muslims. The Sikhs arrived at the sarovar of the local Gurdwara Sahib. The pathaans armed with latest weapons surrounded the Sikhs sitting around the sarovar. The Sikhs were chanting “Satnam Siri Vaheguru”. By then about 10,000 Muslims came where the Sikhs were. Along with them, they had a dozens of barbers lined up to cut the hair of Sikhs. Children were crying for food and milk. Old and young were helpless to do anything. The whole scene was a scene from hell.
Sant Ghulab Singh jee writes as follows:
“By this time Sardarni Lajavanti Kaur asked me if she could go to the well by my hut. I took her to the well and everyone washed their faces and drank fresh water. There were 90 bibiyaan (Sikh females). Many were unwed young girls. My granddaughters, grandsons, nieces, and other related women were there amongst them”.
“Soon a person came and asked me to go to the Gurdwara Sahib where the aggressors (jarvaane) were troubling the sangat. He said that the sangat was calling me. I said Sat Sree Akaal to bibiyaan and started walking towards the Gurdwara Sahib”.
“The well was about 200 feet from the Gurdwara Sahib. When I reached there, a Muslim leader came up to me and asked me, “So what have you decided?” I found out that the Singhs had been given half an hour to accept Islam or else they get ready to die. The Singhs present there said to the Muslims that they would never forsake their faith at any cost”.
“Dhan Pita Kalgidhar! I laughed after hearing this from the Muslim leader. I said, “Your cruel and tryant emperors like Aurangzeb and Farukhsiyaar too could not do anything to the Sikhs. What can you do, when they could not do anything. Do what you want to do. We will never give up Sikhi and will never become Muslims”.
“When I came to the Gurdwara Sahib, some pathaans and thugs from Punachh and Mairabaad sensing that the bibiyaan were alone at the well, reached there and surrounded the well. They addressed the bibiyaan, “Now we are going to take away your daughters and sister and will marry them after converting them to Islam.” At that time Sardarni Laajavantee Kaur could not resist Bir Rass anymore and said, “Scoundrels! Who can touch the daughters of Guru Kalgidhar. From the time we took amrit, we accepted death as reality and don’t fear it.”
The Muslims thugs got angry hearing such answer from Sardarni Lajavanti Kaur. They moved forward towards her. Sardarni jee was holding her 5 year old granddaughter and a grandson. She loudly said the Jaikaara, “Bole So Nihaal!! Sat Srree Akaal!!”. Saying this she jumped in the well, in order to avoid getting her granddaughter and herself raped by the Muslims. Within seconds all Sikh women jumped in the well. All 90 jumped in. A person came running to me and told me the whole incident. After hearing this incident, all Sikhs present there said, “Dhan Gursikhee!! Dhan Guru Kalgidhar! I dashed towards the well”.
“At that time what to talk about the pathaans but all aggressors were shaken from within. They were saying that who can kill such people who can sacrifice their lives to save their honour.”
“When I reached the well, my granddaughter, Harbhajan Kaur, my daughter-in-law Kartar Kaur and one sister-in-law Sardarni Ram Rakhee Kaur were crying as the well was full and they did not drown. By then 87 lives had been taken. They were taken out of the well. I was baffled. I uttered, “Dhan Gurdev, these daughters of yours have passed your test. Please show me the way too. At that time I had clear darshan of Dhan Guru Nanak Dev jee and Hazoor said, “You still have to see more of this bloodshed. You have to do some more sewa of sangataan”.
“After this bloody massacre, the Muslims got scared and started running away but some scoundrels were left. All Sadh Sangat came to my house and stayed there for the night. Muslims tried to find a lone Sikh to convert but could not convert anyone”.
“I climbed a tall tree and saw a scene from hell. 87 lives had been sacrificed. The towns of Dera Khalsa, Kallar, Thamali, and Beval were burning. At that time I sang out baani to get peace of mind”
“At amritvela, I got darshan of Guru Kalgidhar Jee and He said that our test was over.”
The above was written by Sant Ghulaab Singh and I have made a humble effort to translate the quoted paragraphs above. In any case, the military arrived soon and everyone was taken to the camps. The shaheedi of Sardarni Lajavanti Kaur and other Sikh women, saved the remaining Sikhs.
Reference material can be found here:
Eye witness account by Sardar Pritpal Singh of Thoha Khalsa, who as a young child attempted suicide along with his sisters and mother but survived somehow.
This video shows the well where Sikh and Hindu women jumped into to save their honor from the mobs.
Photographs of the survivors of Thoha Khalsa
Excerpt from "Remembering Partition" - Author Gyanendra Pandey
Link to further reading: http://bit.ly/2FBvkiw
Series of photos showing Lord Mountbatten visiting village Kahuta, Thoa Khalsa and other villages in Rawalpindi District where Sikhs and Hindus were massacred by Muslims. The caption in the AP photo says that about 22 Hindus and Sikhs were killed as a result of the violence. Date of this visit was May 8, 1947. From early March onwards, riots had already begun in the border districts of Punjab.