Against all Odds
- Ramanjit Singh
Marking the 75th anniversary of the partition of India, we should take this opportunity to remember those who rose to the occasion and saved lives.
The mediocre join the mob, the exceptional fight against it.
Dr. Hamid Hussain has provided details about the brave soldiers of the Indian and Pakistani Army escorting refugees across the border safely and in some instances also sacrificing their lives to protect the refugees belonging to the other community.
In one instance, a number of soldiers were on a train taking Hindu refugees from Pakistan to India. The guard van had a Hindu, Sikh and Muslim soldiers protecting their charge. A Sikh subedar, a Hindu sepoy and a Punjabi Muslim havaldar were travelling together on this train. The Sikh subedar was kept out of sight and protected by the Muslim havaldar when the train passed through Pakistan as mobs were roaming the railway stations. Once it entered India, the Hindu and Sikh soldiers threatened large mobs with their weapons to prevent them from entering their cabin. Risking their lives, they protected the Muslim havaldar and dropped him safely at Meerut.
In another instance, when the 7th Battalion of 10 Baluch Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Gulzar Ahmad was stationed in Karachi, a Muslim mob attacked a group of Sikhs near a gurdwara. A patrol was rushed to the scene and soldiers shot at the rioters without hesitation. Muhammad Ali Jinnah complimented the battalion on performing its duty without fear or favour. An Afridi platoon led by Jemadar Shera Baz was escorting non-Muslim soldiers from Sarwakai to Jandola when their convoy was ambushed. Shera Baz and several scouts laid down their lives protecting the soldiers. It was a matter of honour for them to protect their charge. They performed their duty against enormous odds and pressure from their own kith and kin.
There are other stories where individuals risked their lives and protected the innocents. Jaranwala, Lyallpur witnessed mass killings of Sikhs and Hindus in September as documented by author GD Khosla in his book Stern Reckoning. When describing the horrific events in Jaranwala, GD Khosla specifically mentions the name of a Muslim zamindar Nawab Saadat Ali Khan and his valiant effort in protecting the Hindus and Sikhs of Jaranwala.
The Hindu military, stationed at Kamaha to protect the non-Muslims, was replaced, on September 1, by Muslim troops. Nawab Saadat Ali Khan and a number of other Muslim Zamindars of the area made very gallant efforts to protect the Hindu and Sikh residents and offered their assistance.
The town was attacked on September 6 by a huge mob. It is said that the ammunition was given to this mob by some Muslim soldiers who arrived in Kamaha by a refugee train.
The mob invaded the whole town, attacked the Khalsa High School, the Gurdwara Prem Sati, Arya Pathshala and the house of Bahadur Chand Zamindar where non-Muslims had collected. In the course of a determined attack, made by the mob, large numbers of Hindus and Sikhs perished. Many young women were kidnapped.
On September 7, a Hindu Army officer arrived with two military trucks to evacuate members of his family. He had an armed escort with him and the non-Muslims of Kamaha begged him to stay and lead them to a place of safety. The officer had a small military escort which was quite inadequate to protect a convoy of several thousands. He, therefore, left. Deprived of this avenue of escape the non-Muslims despaired of surviving the bitter attack. The next day, however, Nawab Saadat Ali Khan appealed to the good sense of the Muslims. It is said that he went to them with folded hands and his turban round his neck and asked them to spare the non Muslims. The fury of the mob had abated and they desisted from continuing their brutal attack. The non Muslims were a few days later evacuated in military trucks and refugee trains.
In the village Sunni in Hoshiarpur, people of the village were able to protect two Muslim girls, who were abducted and somehow fled and came back seeking help from the village elders. Not only did the villagers gave them shelter but attacked the abductors when they came again to forcibly take the girls away. They killed the three men and the girls were safely escorted to Pakistan. Punjabi writer Gulzar Singh Sandhu narrates the horrors that took place in this village.
These are just some of the countless stories of individuals fighting the mob to protect the people of the other faith. Their heroics saved innumerable lives. One must not forget the sacrifices that these individuals made to preserve some semblance of humanity which was fast eroding in those days. People of other faith bringing food to the refugees assembled in the camps. In the village Dholanwal, Hoshiarpur the Hindu villagers saved their Muslim neighbors. At one point both Hindus and Muslims successfully defended the village from the rioters. When one of the rifleman got tired another one would take his position and fire at the mob trying to enter the village.
For every massacre, we need to remind ourselves of those who risked their lives to protect the others. For every abduction, we need to remind ourselves of those who rescued the girls. For every instance where the police was aiding the mobs, we need to remind ourselves of those men in uniform who sacrificed their lives to protect the innocents regardless of their faith. We need to remember partition not just because of its horrors, we need to remember it for those brave souls, the exceptional amongst us, who did not look the other way, who defended humanity against all odds. Alas, this is who we are, this is who we must become.