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Boys will be Boys

- By Ramanjit Singh

Violence in Punjab as reported by Governor of Punjab Evan Jenkins in Spring of 1947 (click on the map to expand)

In reading through the official communiques of the British officials during January - March 1947, one can sense the impending apocalypse that Punjab was being pushed into by the events that looked more like a genocide being perpetrated by one group against the other in western Punjab. I have taken few of those incidents and overlaid it on the map above to show the widespread violence that was already taking place in the spring of that year which led to a full scale "civil war" in summer.

There's no other way to interpret the absolute anarchy that resulted in a complete extermination of civilians in the far flung villages of the western districts of Punjab during the month of March.

In his book 'Khizr Tiwana, the Punjab Unionist Party and the Partition of India' , Ian Talbot writes the following:

"The Punjab had been a powder keg for many months. It is nevertheless significant, that within less than a week of Khizr's resignation, communal violence had reached alarming proportions and the Congress had demanded the partition of the province. For the first time, violence spread from the cities to the countryside and took on the sinister undertones of 'ethnic cleansing'. Whole villages in the Jhelum, Attock and Rawalpindi districts were put to the sword. About 40,000 people, mainly Sikhs had taken refuge in hurriedly established camps. The outrage which many Sikh leaders felt at these assaults which were orchestrated by Muslim National Guards and ex-servicemen [Jenkins to Wavell, 17 March 1947] and condoned by Muslim League politicians[Jenkins to Mountbatten, 30 April 1947] fed a desire for revenge which bred a civil war mentality..."

In his communication to the Viceroy, the Governor of Punjab, Lord Evan Meredith Jenkins, wrote the following about the March violence:

"The Muslim League made no efforts to maintain peace and Mamdot made no serious attempt at forming a Ministry. At the time he had no majority and he gave me the impression that he was not anxious to take responsibility for quelling a very serious outbreak of violence.

(2) The total number of dead is not yet known. The latest figure is just under 3,000 and I believe that the final figure may be 3,500. The communal proportions have not been accurately recorded, but I should say that among the dead there are 6 non-Muslims for every Muslim. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan can hardly realise the terrible nature of the rural massacre. One of my troubles has been the extreme complacency of the League leaders in the Punjab, who say in effect that "boys will be boys". I have no doubt that the non-Muslims were provocative in the cities, but the Muslims had been equally provocative during their agitation and had in particular murdered a Sikh constable in Amritsar."

One of my troubles has been the extreme complacency of the League leaders in the Punjab, who say in effect that "boys will be boys".

Such was the scale of the violence, for instance the violence in Rawalpindi (see reference article "Rape of Rawalpindi"), which was led by armed ex-military soldiers from Murree and joined by thousands of Muslims from adjoining villages, that the number of deaths reported in that incident alone was in the thousands. E Jenkins in his reports also mentions the role of former military members planning and executing the attack on the Hindu-Sikh villages of Rawalpindi and nearby districts.

In his March 17th, 1947 communique to the Viceroy, Governor Evan Jenkins offered to resign from his post. He wrote the following:

"I would resign sooner than see one in office at this juncture, and I thought practically every British officer would do the same. The massacre had been conducted in the name of the Muslim League, and senior Military Officers thought that it had been carefully planned and organised. Non-Muslims with some justice now regarded the Muslims as little better than animals, and for my own part I thought that British officers would find it difficult to work with or under such people."

The Governor, in his notes, further accounts each incident that happened in the western districts from Attock all the way south to Multan and east to Lahore and Amritsar. I would venture into making an educated inference that the violence in March against Hindus and Sikhs led to an explosion of violence against Muslims in eastern districts of Ferozepur, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Ludhiana, Jullundur, Hissar, Rohtak, Ambala, Hoshiarpur, and Kangra. That there was a growing sense of anger among the Hindus and Sikhs who then took out their revenge against the Muslims who had nothing to do with the violence in western Punjab.

The reason why March is so important in chronicling the events of Partition is because the authorities, whether they be the British or the locals, knew what was going to happen in the latter half of the year. The writing was on the wall with all the evidence of a full scale civil war in the province. However, maybe out of sheer incompetence or indifference, no larger contingents of the army or police were deployed, no delay or postponement of the partition was considered, no joint peace marches or activities took place among the parties to calm the tensions, no controlled transfer of population was planned. As if everyone who was in authority was resigned to the fact that people would die and that everyone needs to move on. Maybe most of the leaders were non-Punjabis, however, among the Muslim League, people like Mamdot from Ferozepur and others were all involved directly or indirectly in the violence.

In one of his notes, the Governor writes about the Muslim League Punjabis who were doing the dirty work for a "man from Bombay" (referring to M.A Jinnah):

I said that the troubles of the Muslim League were due to folly and bad leadership. The League had given the impression that the Muslims were a kind of ruling race in the Punjab and would be good enough to treat with generosity their fellow Punjabis, such as the Sikhs, when their rule was established. They could not explain what they meant by "Pakistan", and unless they were prepared to deal with other Punjabis as equals, they would make no progress at all. It was a ludicrous position in which the so-called League leaders had to take orders from Bombay from a person entirely ignorant of Punjab conditions.

He further explains the futility of restoring law and order in Punjab without political leadership from all sides:

"I have concentrated all available troops in the Punjab. Flag marches and patrols are being carried out widely wherever tension is greatest. But it must be clearly understood that such preventive action is only a palliative. We are dealing with the symptoms of disease and cannot eradicate the disease by military action. The disease comes from the political leaders of all parties. The only complete cure is for them to come to some agreement. An agreement now between the Sikh and Muslim leaders would result in immediate peace in the Punjab. Failing this unlikely contingency the avoidance of provocative statements and the impressing on their followers of the necessity of avoiding bloodshed and protecting minorities is the only hope."

In reference to the provocative statements mentioned by the Governor above, there was one rather insulting statement that was made by Ghazanfar Ali Khan on February 7th 1947, who at the time was the Finance Minister in the central government that was formed in 1946, and this statement was also reported by Congressman Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel to Field Marshall Viscount Wavell (Viceroy of India).

I also enclose a cutting from the Free Press Journal (dated 7th February 1947) of Mr. Ghazanfar Ali Khan's speech in Lahore. I would particularly invite attention to the following passage:
"Mohammed Bin Kassim and Mahommed of Ghazni invaded India with armies composed of only a few thousands and yet were able to overpower lakhs of Hindus; God willing, a few lakhs of Muslims will yet overwhelm crores of Hindus."
The parallel drawn significant, particularly in regard to Ghazni's invasion, which consisted of repeated raids on India in which Hindus were killed in thousands and temples were destroyed.

In the spring, the Muslim League was on the offense with actively planning and committing ethnic cleansing against the non-Muslims in the districts where they had overwhelming majority. Subordinating to any rule of law or respecting civil society was no longer part of their playbook. The sheer numbers were on their side and they took advantage of this asymmetry to cleanse the western districts out of any potential boundary dispute. However, in their zeal they failed to realize that these events in western Punjab were creating a catastrophic situation for the Muslims in eastern Punjab. That the level of violence against the Muslims there would be unprecedented in its ferocity or scale. Along with the influx of refugees from the west came the horrific stories of their ordeal. Eventually this powder keg blew up in August in a horrendous explosion of violence that was probably one of the worst holocaust in human history.

One can say that the intensity of the August inferno towards Muslims was directly related to the one-sided violence against the non-Muslims in March. There was no reason to kill Hindus or Sikhs in Chakwal, in the villages of Dhudial, Vahali. There was no reason for the attacks in Rawalpindi. The extermination was done because the League was in swagger, they had the numbers and wanted to get rid of any non-Muslims from those districts and they planned and executed that plan in cold-blood. They thought that the violence would instill fear into the hearts of Hindus and Sikhs and force them into accepting all of Punjab going to Pakistan. But it backfired. Same formula of planned violence against the Muslims was going to be executed by the Akalis and the Hindus in the east later in the year. Hatred had taken over and humanity was no longer alive in Punjab. People forgot the common bonds that united us, all was lost in the madness.

Refer to the heart wrenching article "They Set them All on Fire" published in Dawn about the events in Chakwal in March 1947. One should also note the events narrated by the great Milkha Singh from Govindpura, Kot Addu, District Multan.

Those who were so intoxicated in communal hatred and were attacking the Sikhs forgot that Sikhs too admired Baba Farid just like they admired Baba Nanak. Those who attacked the Hindus in Chakwal forgot about their common ancestry or history, the temples and the culture that the community was protecting over thousands of years. The idea of living in a Muslim Pakistan became toxic to the rest of us not because we were biased towards it from the outset, but because the violence against the innocent Hindus and Sikhs in the far flung villages of western Punjab, where we were out numbered, where we were being exterminated, where we could not defend ourselves against the extra-ordinary odds, foretold the type of future that was in store for us. This much was quite evident that after March, there was no sense of restraint among the perpetrators, as according to their own leadership, "boys will be boys".

A note to the readers; the purpose of this article is not to engender hatred in an already charged environment that we live in today where we are again seeing an unfettered and engineered communal hatred on the rise. But it is to show that the playbook of these political parties is the same. It is about sowing divisions, creating hate, creating lawlessness in the society. It is about justifying violence in the name of religion. That there's no reversing this process once it gets started. The lesson of Partition is that we need to nip the communal elements in the bud and if we don't do it or if we are too late in realizing the quagmire that they push us into, then it would be too late for the civil society, for the common men among us to address it, let alone reverse that hate.


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