Lahore and Us
- Ramanjit Singh
Partition has affected us in a multitude of ways and has left an indelible mark on the social fabric of the two countries. It stains our land and everyone of our lives.
One might ask how it is still affecting us?
It is affecting us because we carry the memories of it. It forces us to look at the "other" as different, a lesser human or someone who does not belong to us. It is affecting us because it has created a sense of false pride, vanity of false distinctions about our own superiority over the other. That we have to forcibly remove the "other" or force the other into submission so that we can go on with our lives.
Karan cannot be same as Ibrahim. Names are so different, both cannot possibly have the same blood or even be considered same human beings. We are so different, there's nothing in common.
We consciously make distinctions about the others, whether they look different, or belong to another religion or belong to a "lower" class. Partition lines drew us apart as two separate nations, but it has continued to metastasized into a sense of hating our own. Hate has taken over, institutional indifference and incompetence has become a norm. Inequality is rising, but as long as the leadership is towing the religious line, Hindu (in case of India) or Muslim (in case of Pakistan) then nobody cares about their own wellbeing. As long as we are descendants of some glorious past, the government's incompetence, unemployment, and abject poverty should not be of anyone's concern.
We are trying to build our own lives over the shattered dreams of others. We carry hatred for those who believe in a different faith, or if they are of a different caste, or if they are poor or speak a different language. We can use force on the vulnerable and there's hardly anyone who can stop us. The atrocities on women in our society is a matter of shame and yet no one cares. Our protest marches only happen if someone from another religion or sect does something "bad" to us, and for the rest of the occasions nobody bothers to speak out. Today's generation marches more over manufactured stories of victimhood than on cases when someone's human rights are actually violated.
You see, partition in 1947 was a perverse idea about separating the two communities. Partition in 2021 has turned inwards and it is now about separating out and conquering our own, and this process has become irreversible.
The hatred that destroyed centuries of coexistence in 1947 has now seeped deep into every level of our society.
The events of Lahore and Delhi, to take two major cities in undivided Punjab as an example, were in essence a microcosm of a larger wave of violence that engulfed the entire province. What happened in these cities is a reflection of who we are as a society. The violence is a reflection of us.
Lahore, in 1947, was a city that was fast venturing into an abyss with daily riots and violence that was engulfing its various neighborhoods. Lahore had a Muslim majority, however, its commerce and industry was mostly owned by the Hindus and Sikhs. Author Ilyas Chattha's (University of Southampton) research paper on Lahore, provides some interesting data points.
The city of Lahore consisted of the old walled town, Anarkali, Civil Lines and scattered houses here and there along the Lower Mall. Lahore began to expand in 1914 and the house building activity in Lahore received great impetus in the years 1929-37. The new Abadies (settlements) which come into existence since 1913 are Ramgali, Gwalmandi, Nisbet Road area, Rishi Nagar, Sant Nagar, Ram Nagar, Krishan Nagar, Janak Nagar, Qila Lachhman Singh, Qasurpura and Mohammad Nagar. Most of these Abadies are situated to the east and west of Lower Mall, skirting round it from almost Ravi Bridge to Nawankot.
The other new settlements of importance were New Mozang, Islamia Park, Chauburji Gardens, Arya Nagar, Muslim Town, Garden Town, Model Town, Canal Park, Wasanpura, Dharampura, Misri Shah, Bharat Nagar, Singhpura and Ramgarh. A prominent feature of the new Abadis around old Lahore is that their growth has been on communal lines and that most of these Abadis were predominantly Hindu and Sikh.
The destruction of the predominantly Hindu neighborhood of Shahalmi (also spelled as Shah Alami) prior to August 15, was one of the most horrendous events in the city's history. The large scale destruction of a major business center of the city, aided by one Magistrate Cheema and the mob from Mozang has been referenced by many authors and eye witness accounts. Petrol bombs were placed in the drainage pipes and whole area was blown out. The point of riots was the junction of Lohari and Shah Almi Gates. Hindu and Sikh possessions in Chowk Matti were also targeted. It seemed as if everyone was a butcher. There was open stabbing on the streets during processions and brick throwing from the high rise rooftops of the nearby havelis and houses.
Probably the date that shall live in infamy is August 10th. When the entire city was set on fire by the mobs. Here's an eye witness account of those days:
On the 10th August almost all Hindu and Sikh localities were set on fire. Fires were raging in Chune Mandi, Bazaz Hatta, Sua Bazar, Lohari Gate, Mohalla Sathan and Mozang. Everywhere the police led the attacks on non-Muslim areas.
Non-Muslim tried to escape from this burning inferno. But all outlets were closed to them. On the 11th August at least 500 people were killed, while trying to escape from Lahore with their lives. In the streets, on the roads, and especially at the Railway Station they were killed in hundreds. Muslim goondas, Muslim National Guards and the Baluch Military who were part of the Boundary Force, all participated in this slaughter with zeal and gusto. The only non-Muslim evacuees who escaped killing on this day, were those who either by good luck or through someone’s help managed to reach the Lahore Cantonment Railway Station. These got into the trains reaching Ferozepore, and thus saved their lives. That was because there were Sikh soldiers in, the Cantonment area, and so Muslim aggression could not be free there. Lahore main station was completely in the grip of Muslim troops and police.
Harrowed, miserable Hindu and Sikh refugees from Lahore began to be in evidence in towns of the East Punjab as far off as Ambala by the 13th August. . They came completely destitute, hungry and with a haunting terror of death at the hands of Muslims in their eyes.
Other areas which were set on fire on August 12 and 13 were: Bharat Nagar, Singhpura, Dabbi Bazar, Lohari Gate, Gali Hingaran, Gali Kagzian, Kucha Chah Telian etc. In all these areas and many others non-Muslims were killed not in hundreds, but in thousands.
The famous historic Sikh Gurdwara of Chhevin Padshahi, situated at a distance of fifteen yards from the Police Station on Temple Road in Mozang, was set on fire on the morning of the 15th August. The few Sikhs who were inside the Gurdwara were burnt alive in the flames.
This was one of the numerous places of non-Muslim worship which had been burned in Lahore. Baoli Sahib, Gurdwara Chaumala Sahib and others had been burned before. Even the famous Dehra Sahib, held in highest sanctity by the Sikhs as being the place of martydom of Sri Guru Arjan Dev, fifth Guru of the Sikhs, was attacked. The Sikh guards and priests of this Gurdwara were mostly killed. Such money and valuables as were there, were looted by the Muslim police and military stationed in the Lahore Fort which is at a distance of a few yards from the Gurdwara.
In these days Lahore railway platforms presented the picture of a shambles. Such Hindus and Sikhs as managed to reach the railway station were shot down in heaps. Regular chase was given by the mob to the unfortunate men, women and children who tried to escape with their lives.
The destruction of Lahore and of its non-Muslim inhabitants would have been complete but for the presence in the city of Dogra troops, but they were soon shifted from Lahore. It was only in the Cantonment that non-Muslims could find some safety, as Sikh troops were present there."
In this 1970 audio interview, author Khushwant Singh talks about the Partition violence. Living in the suburbs of Lahore city, there wasn't a night when he didn't hear the screams and rioting.
Center of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge
(Audio stream starts after few seconds)
Navdip Kaur in her study about the train massacres describes the horrific events that were taking place in Lahore and Amritsar train stations in August and September of 1947.
Religious tensions were on the rise. Author Pran Seth started his career as a lecturer in Political Science in a Punjab College in Lahore in 1946. He has written about the Partition experience in his book "Lahore to Delhi: Rising from the Ashes".
Walking ahead of me was an old lady of more than sixty years. As I passed by her, my jacket may have touched her loose clothes. She became very angry and pushed me to the floor. The cause became clear as she cursed me for being a dirty polluted Muslim who, by touching her body, had polluted her. She continued fretting and fuming for quite some time.
I was too stunned to react initially as I was lying on the floor. I got up slowly and spoke to her meekly. I explained that I was not a Muslim, that I was a Hindu boy called Pran and part of a Seth family. The lady calmed down a bit but did not accept my Hindu identity. She continued to call me a liar and a Muslim as she finally walked away.
It was a confusing state of affairs then for adults, never mind a child. In a later chapter, I describe life in the narrow streets of Lahore where mutual distrust among the communities, Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other, manifested itself in every sphere of my early life. My hatred and fear of Muslims was reciprocated by them with equal intensity. Though claiming to preach love, religion was very much the base for hatred and prejudice in our daily life.
In the book, "Narratives of Home, Displacement and Resettlement", author Amrita Pritam provides this account of Lahore.
I should also remind the readers that same level of horrific violence was being perpetrated on the Muslims by Hindus and Sikhs in East Punjab and Delhi. In his book, "The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia" author Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar describes the plight of the Muslims in Delhi and of the Hindus in Karachi.
As hundreds of thousands of Hindu and Sikh refugees poured into Delhi in August and September of 1947, their plight and horrific tales resulted in an orgy of revenge killings of Muslims in places like Karol Bagh, Paharganj, Sadar Bazaar, Sabzi Mandi, Lodi Gardens. Some 20,000 Muslims were killed and those who escaped from the violence went through the ordeal of forcibly being evicted from their homes to provide housing for the newly arrived refugees.
Here's a news report of the violence in Paharganj, Delhi in September 1947.
M.M. Baig, an educationist, gives a very detailed eye-witness account of the Muslim evacuation camps in Delhi during September to November, 1947. An interesting account of the Muslim residents in Delhi moving to camps at Purana Qila and Humayun's tomb. How the Hindu families came to help their Muslim neighbors who were now camped as refugees. MM Baig also talks about saving a Hindu boy from the enraged Muslims. Audio: http://www.s-asian.cam.ac.uk/archive/audio/collection/m-m-begg/
Partition was a disaster for the two countries. Those who survived were all in favor of it eventually. Those hundreds of thousands who perished, I would rather ask them if partition was necessary. When societies go through such a level of violence and upheaval, it is impossible for them to then pivot back to normalcy. The effects of partition remained in us and took different forms. It changed the psychology of the majority, violence became a means to settle scores.
If we can do this to them, then we can do this to you.
The apparatus that inflicted large scale pain on one community remained and was turned inwards and it was then used against our own people on multiple occasions since independence. An entire section of a population is considered an outcast, not worthy of being citizens of the country. Their religion is used as a reason to violate their human and civil rights. Caste is used as a reason to not accept a large part of a population as our own. They may live in a common dwelling but they are not part of a common effort. They may live among us but they are not part of us. They live on the fringes and that is fine with us.
They are the "other", anyone who is not us.
Partition normalized violence, it normalized the suppression of human rights, it normalized that differences cannot be tolerated, rather they have to be confronted. And we are seeing this behavior now openly and it is being encouraged by the politicians and the media.
Sometimes I shudder to think what is the end state of all this. Where are we headed, what will become of us.
Partition never ended, it continues in us. God Help us.