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Ramanjit Singh

Jhelum District, part of Rawalpindi Division.
1900 map showing Jhelum District, pre-partition Punjab

There's something about Jhelum, its people, its soil that has produced extra ordinary men throughout history.

In the Imperial Gazetteer of British India published in 1908, the authors wrote about the "position of Jhelum on the great north-western highway, by which so many conquerors have entered India, from the Greek to the Mughal, has necessarily made it a land of fortresses, and has turned its people into hereditary warriors".

Jhelum is where Alexander the Great fought with the Indian King Porus in the Battle of Hydapses in 326 BC. Porus ruled the region between Hydapses (Greek for River Jhelum) and Acesines (Greek for River Chenab).

During the early Sikh period, the Rohtas Fort in Jhelum became a strategic military outpost in 1825 to defend Punjab from the Afghans before the Khalsa Army expanded further west to Peshawar and reached the Afghan border. Gurdwara Chowa Sahib is located near Fort Rohtas.

Jhelum is also the place of ancient Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples. The famous Katas Raj Temple (tearful eyes in Sanskrit) date from the Mahabharata where according to the Hindu tradition, the Pandava brothers spent large portion of their exile in this area and at the nearby salt mines.

Jhelum produced the cream of the crop of the British Indian Army. The leading tribes of Ghakkars, Janjuas, Awans and the Sikh Jatts enlisted freely in the army.

Jhelum has given birth to some of the most notable individuals in contemporary South Asian history. India's two Prime Ministers, Inder Kumar Gujral and Manmohan Singh were born in this district. Artists like Sunil Dutt, Gulzar and the famous Indian Army General Jagjit Singh Arora belonged to Jhelum.

In reading through the partition stories about this district, one often finds a contradiction of narratives. Some stories point to the humanity shown by the brave Muslims who protected the Hindus and Sikhs at all costs and then there are those stories that are indescribable due to their inhumanity.

In the village Khurd, as the violence spread in summer of 1947, late actor Sunil Dutt's family took shelter in an adjoining village at a Muslim friend's house of Yakub Khan. As the mob swooped in to their residence, Yakub and his brothers took out their swords and guns and vowed to protect the Dutt's till their last breath.

Author Ayesha Jalal in her book "Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam Since 1850", writes about how the Muslim League, in the months prior to Partition, was deliberately spreading the fear among the masses that "Islam is in danger". She writes about the pirs and maulanas from the Muslim League organizing huge rallies in Jhelum instigating people to wage war against the kafirs. At a rally, the Muslim League's organizing secretary of the Rawalpindi Division, Ghulam Mustafa Shah Gilani (bio) exhorted two thousand Muslims in Jhelum to 'promise to die for Islam as their ancestors did in Babar's time and to follow the footsteps of Imam Hussain, who had shown how Islam had to be protected in times of danger'.

The author also has an interesting evidence on the preparation for violence that the groups like the Muslim League, RSS and Singh Sabha were planning in late 1946. In one of the footnotes in her book, she mentions about the purchase of acid in Chakwal, Jhelum. Enquiries on November 2, 1946 revealed that hundreds of bottles of acid were sold by licensed dealers in Chakwal in the months leading up to Partition then compared to previous years.

Similar to the events getting out of control in Patiala and Kapurthala in eastern Punjab, the machinations for violence took similar route in Jhelum.

In the village Vahali, Chakwal tehsil, Hindus and Sikhs suffered attacks that are described by those who witnessed the violence with their own eyes. In this article by Nabeel Anwar in Dawn, published in September 2017, the writer narrates the following event.

“Hindu women carrying their children desperately pleaded for mercy. They begged and conceded to send their children to village seminaries and even pleaded with Muslim rioters to marry their Hindu girls, converting them to Islam. However, no person heard their cries, as every Muslim was focused on plundering gold, currency and other valuables stashed in the Maari. They set them all on fire,” recalls Resham Bee, who was a witness to these horrors.

Vahali (map), also spelled as Wahali, had a major Hindu and Sikh population. Main businesses of Salt Mining and agriculture were owned by the Sikhs and Hindus who had served in the various administrative units under Sikh and Kashmiri rulers. Vahali was divided into two villages, Vahali Zer and Vahali Bala. In this article, the writer narrates the following story.

"Om Prakash, who had stayed back in Wahali after the family had left. When he finally arrived in Simla several weeks later, he sat before Sardar Darshan Singh and sobbed. He told the Sardar that before he left, he had seen new Muslim mobs from the city enter Wahali. Some of the remaining Hindu locals sought refuge from the mob behind the Wahali palace’s tall walls and had locked the entry gates to the compound. Upon being unable to access the grounds, he watched the mob lob lighted firebrands into the palace’s courtyard, causing the palace to burn to the ground and taking the lives of many people who had sheltered there."

Nabeel Anwar, in his Dawn article, mentions that the killers of Wahali had come from the nearby village of Minhala. The event described in this article by a 90 year old Mola Buksh of Haraaj village is about an incident of a Hindu man who showed tough resistance to Muslim rioters in the adjacent village of Gugh throughout that day. By evening however, rioters had set the building on fire where the valiant man stood. “More than 30 Hindu women asked this brave man what they should do. He ordered them to plunge into the fire, rather than getting raped and killed by rioters, and so all the women obeyed him. Later, this Hindu man also jumped into the fire,” Mola Bukhsh recollects of the horrific episode.

According to the 1941 census, Jhelum district (which had three tehsils) was overwhelmingly Muslim. Even if we look at the below 1901 census published in the Imperial Gazetteer, the census showed the following statistics. Over the next decades this ratio did not change much and thus the risk of violence against the tiny minorities which were surrounded by the Muslim majority in districts like Jhelum grew as the rallying cry of "save Islam" swept through the countryside. Their existence became even more precarious as the continuous drumbeat of "removing the kafirs" grew in Punjab.

I should also mention that in Jhelum and other districts, the business community which had a mix of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were more vocal against the religious division that was taking place however their vocal opposition was overruled by those that saw an opportunity in partitioning the country. There were class based splits within communities that had differences in terms of how the independence should be achieved.

Atrocities like this were being committed by people on both sides across Punjab. Districts in the eastern Punjab experienced similar horrors against the Muslims. I should also note that I have found more research done by the Pakistani scholars describing the deeds committed by their own against the non-Muslims in west Punjab than the Indian scholars about the deeds committed by their own against the Muslims in east Punjab.


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