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Bits and Pieces

- Ramanjit Singh

In order to understand the enormity of events that had befallen on Punjab in 1947, we need to look at each event in its own context. And more importantly, we need to look at them through the eyes of those individuals who saw those events first hand and described them with specificity.

In our research, we came across a reference of a particular diary that was written by Mr. Anokh Singh, who was a District Collector at Ferozepur in 1947. He was in charge of managing the influx of refugees arriving from west Punjab and rehabilitating them in the district. He was also helping the Muslim refugees as they were migrating to west Punjab.

In his interviews of the refugees, Mr. Anokh Singh had managed to write down in his diary the horrors that they had experienced, as those events were still fresh in their minds. His diary has been studied by Dr. Kulwinder Singh Bajwa, professor and historian (now retired) who headed the Department of Punjab Studies at Khalsa College, Amritsar and later at Punjab University, Patiala.

The analysis by K.S. Bajwa can be found in JSTOR (requires subscription) with title "Journal Article: A Critical Appraisal of Diary of Anokh Singh on the Partition of India 1947".

We have taken certain key examples of his analysis and will try to present them here along with other supplemental material, such as maps and additional reference links.

The plan to attack the Muslims of Moga tehsil (District Ferozepur) started in earnest. One of the person that Anokh Singh interviewed revealed that the plan was hatched in July and an amount of 80,000 rupees (which was a big amount at the time) was allocated to carry out the plan. Different groups from the RSS and Akali Dal were organized, and they attacked the Muslims from August 1 onwards. Sikhs of village Kokri killed 18 Muslim tenants. On August 2nd, six Muslims were killed on the Moga-Ludhiana highway. Following day, a Muslim majority villages of Athhur (Hatur), Patto Hira Singh, south of Moga, were attacked and all its inhabitants were killed. By August 23, 1947, not a single Muslim could be seen in the city of Moga or its surrounding villages.

Several villages in Moga saw massacres of Muslims starting August 1, 1947. These are just small samples of the wider genocide of Muslims in eastern Punjab. (Click to expand)

On August 19th, instigated by an officer in a Police station and encouraged by the Superintendent of Police, Mr. Kaul, Hindus and Sikhs attacked the Muslims of Ferozepur. After three days of killings, not a single Muslim can be seen in the city of Ferozepur.

At the same time in Sheikhupura, around 10,000 Hindus and Sikhs were brutally massacred in the city and adjoining villages. The mob was led mainly by Baloch soldiers, Pirs, Maulvis, Muslim League leaders and administrators. One of the eye witnesses described how the girls were being taken from the refugee camps. There was a special focus on not to let the women escape the mob violence. When the girls resisted, for example at the Akalgarh camp, the mob said that these girls were needed to perform namaaz in Delhi.

Events shown here in Sheikhupura are just a small sample of the wider genocide of Hindus and Sikhs in western Punjab. (Click to expand)

In another interview, the person described how the catastrophe in Sheikhupura stood out as one of the most horrendous event of the 1947 Partition saga.

"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 Pakistani 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 Sheikhupura played an active roll in this conspiracy. All secret meetings were held with him to execute this plan. Pandit Nehru at the time, toured the West Punjab with Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan, estimated the number of those killed in Sheikhupura at 22,000."

From Professor K.S. Bajwa's journal:

"In western Punjab, the leaders of the Muslim League backed by police, military, religious leaders organized riots against Sikhs and Hindus. For example, Muhammad Akbar Zaildar of village Taragarh, in Chak No. 44 distributed arms to the mob and led them against Sikhs. In Firozewala, zaildar Zafarrulah and Zamindar Budee Khan and Barkat were the organizers. A Muslim League leader Mumtaz backed by the police and military organized riots in Machiwal Chak No. 63. In Okara, zaildar Abdul Wahab distributed arms and ammunition among the rioters. In Chak No. 13 weapons were distributed by Roshan Din Bangu, his son Faqeer Ali and his brother Noor, Zaildar Husain Ali, Mir Ali and a Maulvi from village Maujeanwala. Besides, miscreants like, Rama and Nurra, Chaudhary Sadardin, Thanedar and tehsildar of Sheikhupur, magistrate Ahmad Shafi, Abdu Ghani superintendent police of Sheikhu[ura and son of Bahadur Shah zaildar of Kureshianwala were the leaders of the rioters. About ten thousand Muslims including forty policemen in uniform having two hundred rifles, attacked a Sikh village Ramnagar (map) in district Gujranwala. The leader of the mob was Barkat Ali, president of Muslim League. He was accompanied by Murad Ali and his brother Feroze, a safedposh and Cheema Zamindar of village Buraj, Atta Muhammad and Rahmat Khan of Baloke, Khan Bahadur of Ramnagar, Hafiz Din, Hussain Muhammad of Tahliwala and Muhammad Khan of Suloki etc. They first looted Ramnagar and then set it on fire."

Sikh and Hindu village of Ramnagar (now Rasulnagar) on the banks of River Chenab. (Click to expand)

The events of Ramnagar (old photos of the village) are of particular importance because this was also the site of a ferocious battle between the Sikh and the British armies during the Second Anglo-Sikh war. On 22nd November, 1848, the British forces led by Sir Hugh Gough were soundly defeated by the Sikh Army led by Raja Sher Singh Attariwala. In August 1947, a different battle was taking place between the Sikhs and the Muslims. Such was the enormity of the violence that was taking place in and around this area that several accounts have been written by eye witnesses who were present during that time. The event described by Anokh Singh in his diary is also corroborated by Lt Col Lakhbir Singh Chatha in an article published in Punjab Tribune. He writes that after the destruction of the village, people moved to a refugee camp at nearby village of Akalgarh:

"We reached the outskirts of Akalgarh (now Alipur). There, we found ourselves face-to-face with almost the entire male Muslim population of the town with weapons in hands, baying for our blood. On seeing us, they started shouting “Ya Ali!” and “Allah Hu Akbar”. The Sikhs, not to be outdone, countered with “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”. A deadly clash appeared inevitable."

In Mr. Anokh Singh's diary there are also honorary mentions of the duty performed by civilians to protect the members of the other community. These commendable acts also show that in both sides, there were still remnants of humanity left that bravely defended the innocent civilians who found themselves in the most vulnerable moments. In one occasion, a retired Sikh Indian Army Major in the village Boh (map), District Ambala, found out that the mob was planning on killing the entire seven hundred Muslim inhabitants of that village. Through his contacts in the Army, he quickly arranged for the migration of the Muslim population to nearby refugee camp and thus saved everyone of their lives. Similarly, at Sangla Hill, western Punjab, a Muslim police officer fired at the mob which was attacking a train bound for India.

However, the brutality of what humans were capable of doing to each other was in stark display in the town of Khanna in Ludhiana District. It was hard for me to read the following incident and it takes a while to understand that the madness that was raging in Punjab cannot be the result of sheer hatred alone but it was also fueled by a sense of revenge, to take vengeance against the 'other' who allegedly did similar things to them when they were trying to escape from the other side of the divide. In his diary, Mr. Anokh Singh interviewed a person by the name of Sardar Girdhara Singh. He witnessed a brutal incident and here is his account in its entirety:

"We were told that two hundred and fifty Muslim women of Nabha reached Khanna by buses. Unfortunately, the bus driver informed the Sikhs and the Hindus living in that area about their arrival. The assembled mob attacked the women and killed nearly all of them except for three young girls. One of the girls happened to be quite young barely eleven years old. The ruthless mob surrounded them, stripped them and forced them to dance before the mob. The observer noticed the mental and physical state of these girls. According to him, the girls had lost their senses and were not conscious of whatever happening to them, shocked and speechless and danced mechanically. He further informed that no human being can describe this brutish humiliating scene. Soon these girls were raped by some from the mob. The youngest cried and died on the spot. The remaining two were pushed and pulled down again and again. Ultimately, they too died. The incident took place near the Christian Mission's compound in Khanna in the presence of the police officer in charge who justified this cruelty by saying that his kind of suffering had been faced by our own sisters and families across the border."

A brutal attack on Muslim women convoy took place in Khanna, District Ludhiana. (Click to expand)

In his analysis of the diary, Professor K.S Bajwa writes that the 1947 bloodshed was given impetus by the members of the political and religious parties belonging to the three communities. They organized the people on communal lines and the communal hatred became obvious and prevalent at the local level. "The worst victims of this man made tragedy were the women. Abduction, molestation and rape was a general phenomenon during the Partition."

In our lives, we will continue to hear stories, in bits and pieces perhaps, of what happened in the distant villages and towns of Punjab during that fateful year. Each one of these stories surprises us of its inherent brutality. It forces us to bow our heads in shame and pray for all those who were lost in the carnage. In each of these stories, we place ourselves in those situations and think of how we would have survived, what we would have seen. Those women could have been our sisters or wives or our mothers or daughters. These women and young girls were also ours, they were part of our family, all of them, everyone of those lost souls belonged to us.

Partition is a story of human tragedy. It is a case study in human depravity. It is a jigsaw puzzle that can never be solved. It is the story of what we are willing to do when there is no one to stop us. Our willingness to go to the deepest depths of cruelty when there is no one to show us the better angels of our nature.

God Help Us All.


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