VIOLENCE AFTER THE PARTITION OF INDIA AND PAKISTAN

VIOLENCE DURING THE PARTITION OF INDIA AND PAKISTAN

Some say as many as three million people were killed as violence erupted along the borders after the partition of India and Pakistan in August 1947. Nisid Hajari, wrote in “Midnight’s Furies”: “Gangs of killers set whole villages aflame, hacking to death men and children and the aged while carrying off young women to be raped. Some British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps claimed Partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found literally roasted on spits.” Gandhi, who opposed the partition and worked hard to overcome Hindu- Muslim animosity, himself became a casualty of the divide: he was assassinated by a Hindu extremist five months after Partition.

During partition, people recall seeing oxcarts stacked with bodies. Thousands of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim women were abducted and raped. "Terrible vendettas were enacted on their bodies," wrote novelist Bapsi Sidwa in TIME, "not so much to dishonor them as to humiliate the men of another faith." The violence lasted for about three months, from August until it ended suddenly and mysteriously in November. It is estimated that around 20,000 people had already died when Nehru gave his famous independence speech at midnight on August 14-15.

Entire trainloads of refuges and entire columns of people fleeing on foot were slaughtered for being caught in the "wrong" zone. Most of the violence was carried out against Muslims by Hindus angry that India had been divided and Sikhs bitter over the loss of their land in the Punjab. Muslims answered back with retaliatory killings. The murder of trainload of Muslims heading for Pakistan, for example, lead to "ghost train" of dead Hindus going the other way. Much of the violence was incited by rumors of atrocities that never happened or rumored attacks that never occurred. "People on both sides had gone mad," one journalist from Lahore told Time. "Any sane person can't explain it. The entire people were caught in a frenzy."

According to the Columbia Encyclopedia: An autumn of violence and slaughter among Hindus and Muslims came between independence and the task of developing the new nation. Disturbances in Delhi were only a prelude to the slaughter in the Punjab, where the Gurdaspur district had been partitioned to give India access to Kashmir. Although there was some violence in Calcutta (now Kolkata), the efforts of Mohandas K. Gandhi prevented widespread killing in partitioned Bengal. The communal strife took more than 500,000 lives; [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., The Columbia University Press]

Good Website: 1947 Partition Archive 1947partitionarchive.org;

Scale of the Violence After Partition

By most estimates 200,000 to 1 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs died after the 1947 partition. Most of the violence was in the Punjab and to a lesser degree Bengal, where long-standing animosity between the Hindu majority and Muslim and Sikh minorities, egged on by firebrand politicians, erupted in full scale carnage. No one knows how many people were killed. The British have long claimed only around 200,000 were killed. Most historians put the figure at around 500,000 and some so as high as 2 million.

Yasmin Khan wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “There had been ethnic violence between some Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in the past. But the violence that followed the partition was of a force unlike anything that had preceded it. The scale of the killing was so grave that historians are still uncertain how to quantify the numbers of dead children, women and men; some say a quarter of a million died, some say a million. Chaos and disorder threatened the integrity of the new states themselves -- and left the Kashmir region an unresolved chronic crisis to this day. The province of Bengal, where Calcutta is located, was faced with such calamitous waves of refugees that even today refugee camps exist that date to 1947. [Source: Yasmin Khan, Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2007]

William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker:“Across the Indian subcontinent, communities that had coexisted for almost a millennium attacked each other in a terrifying outbreak of sectarian violence, with Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other—a mutual genocide as unexpected as it was unprecedented. In Punjab and Bengal—provinces abutting India’s borders with West and East Pakistan, respectively—the carnage was especially intense, with massacres, arson, forced conversions, mass abductions, and savage sexual violence. Some seventy-five thousand women were raped, and many of them were then disfigured or dismembered. [Source: William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

“By 1948, as the great migration drew to a close, more than fifteen million people had been uprooted, and between one and two million were dead. The comparison with the death camps is not so far-fetched as it may seem. Partition is central to modern identity in the Indian subcontinent, as the Holocaust is to identity among Jews, branded painfully onto the regional consciousness by memories of almost unimaginable violence. The acclaimed Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has called Partition “the central historical event in twentieth century South Asia.” She writes, “A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.”

Hindu and Muslim Animosity Grows in World War II

William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker: “Hindus and Muslims had begun to turn on each other during the chaos unleashed by the Second World War. In 1942, as the Japanese seized Singapore and Rangoon and advanced rapidly through Burma toward India, the Congress Party began a campaign of civil disobedience, the Quit India Movement, and its leaders, including Gandhi and Nehru, were arrested. While they were in prison, Jinnah, who had billed himself as a loyal ally of the British, consolidated opinion behind him as the best protection of Muslim interests against Hindu dominance. By the time the war was over and the Congress Party leaders were released, Nehru thought that Jinnah represented “an obvious example of the utter lack of the civilised mind,” and Gandhi was calling him a “maniac” and “an evil genius.” [Source: William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

“From that point on, violence on the streets between Hindus and Muslims began to escalate. People moved away from, or were forced out of, mixed neighborhoods and took refuge in increasingly polarized ghettos. Tensions were often heightened by local and regional political leaders. H. S. Suhrawardy, the ruthless Muslim League Chief Minister of Bengal, made incendiary speeches in Calcutta, provoking rioters against his own Hindu populace and writing in a newspaper that “bloodshed and disorder are not necessarily evil in themselves, if resorted to for a noble cause.”

Massacres in Calcutta in 1946

The first series of widespread religious massacres took place in Calcutta, in 1946, partly as a result of incitement by Muslim League leaders. On August 16, 1946, a pro-Pakistan demonstration turned violent when Muslim mobs, allegedly organized by the Muslim League, set about killing Hindus and destroying their property. Local blacksmiths worked around the clock producing weapons and 72 hours later, piles of corpses lined the streets and 5,000 were dead. A Hindu butcher who organized a gang to seek revenge told Time, "I handed out guns, swords, grenades. For every dead Hindu, I ordered ten Muslim corpses."

According to a 1946 Time magazine account: "Rioting Moslems went after Hindus with guns, knives and clubs, looted shops, stoned newspaper offices, set fire to Calcutta's business districts. Hindus retaliated by setting fire to mosques and miles of Moslem slums...By the 21st day of Ramadan, direct action had killed some 3,000 people and wounded thousands more." One Hindu who refused to leave his home and was slashed across the head with an ax told Time: "There was tremendous fear all over the city. Friends and neighbors had suddenly become enemies." Recalling an assault on a Hindu neighbor he said, "The women were all screaming. The mob threw down one of the owners from the second floor. I saw a dead woman dragged by her legs. I remember wondering why there was no blood. I still have nightmares about that woman.”

The violence spread across Bengal and east India. Gandhi attempted to bring peace by walking from village to village in the troubled regions and reasoning with people to stop. The violence ended after a few months but not until thousands of homes were destroyed, hundreds of women were raped and an estimated 20,000 people died in riots in which Hindus promised Muslims a new state called "graveyard-stand." "The slaughter definitely made the partition inevitable," a Bangladeshi editor told Time in 1997. "It was the point of no return."

William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker: “Von Tunzelmann’s history relays atrocities witnessed there by the writer Nirad C. Chaudhuri. Chaudhuri described a man tied to the connector box of the tramlines with a small hole drilled in his skull, so that he would bleed to death as slowly as possible. He also wrote about a Hindu mob stripping a fourteen-year-old boy naked to confirm that he was circumcised, and therefore Muslim. The boy was then thrown into a pond and held down with bamboo poles—“a Bengali engineer educated in England noting the time he took to die on his Rolex wristwatch, and wondering how tough the life of a Muslim bastard was.” Five thousand people were killed. The American photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, who had witnessed the opening of the gates of a Nazi concentration camp a year earlier, wrote that Calcutta’s streets “looked like Buchenwald.” [Source: William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

“As riots spread to other cities and the number of casualties escalated, the leaders of the Congress Party, who had initially opposed Partition, began to see it as the only way to rid themselves of the troublesome Jinnah and his Muslim League. In a speech in April, 1947, Nehru said, “I want that those who stand as an obstacle in our way should go their own way.” Likewise, the British realized that they had lost any remaining vestiges of control and began to speed up their exit strategy. On the afternoon of February 20, 1947, the British Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, announced before Parliament that British rule would end on “a date not later than June, 1948.” If Nehru and Jinnah could be reconciled by then, power would be transferred to “some form of central Government for British India.” If not, they would hand over authority “in such other way as may seem most reasonable and in the best interests of the Indian people.”

Violence After Midnight: August 1947

William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker: “On the evening of August 14, 1947, in the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi, Mountbatten and his wife settled down to watch a Bob Hope movie, “My Favorite Brunette.” A short distance away, at the bottom of Raisina Hill, in India’s Constituent Assembly, Nehru rose to his feet to make his most famous speech. “Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny,” he declaimed. “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” [Source: William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

“But outside the well-guarded enclaves of New Delhi the horror was well under way. That same evening, as the remaining British officials in Lahore set off for the railway station, they had to pick their way through streets littered with dead bodies. On the platforms, they found the railway staff hosing down pools of blood. Hours earlier, a group of Hindus fleeing the city had been massacred by a Muslim mob as they sat waiting for a train. As the Bombay Express pulled out of Lahore and began its journey south, the officials could see that Punjab was ablaze, with flames rising from village after village.

“What followed, especially in Punjab, the principal center of the violence, was one of the great human tragedies of the twentieth century. As Nisid Hajari writes, “Foot caravans of destitute refugees fleeing the violence stretched for 50 miles and more. As the peasants trudged along wearily, mounted guerrillas burst out of the tall crops that lined the road and culled them like sheep. Special refugee trains, filled to bursting when they set out, suffered repeated ambushes along the way. All too often they crossed the border in funereal silence, blood seeping from under their carriage doors.”

Violence in the Punjab During Partition

The greatest upheaval occurred in the Punjab, where the border was drawn between the region’s two largest cities: Lahore and Amritsar. Millions of Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistani Punjab migrated to India and millions of Muslims migrated to Pakistan. Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker: “As Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs on either side of the new border suddenly found themselves reduced to a religious minority, the tensions of the preceding months exploded into the violence of ethnic cleansing. It seems extraordinary today that so few among the cabal of Indian leaders whom Mountbatten consulted anticipated that the drawing of borders and the crystallizing of national identities along religious lines would plunge millions into bewilderment, panic, and murderous rage. If the British were eager to divide and quit, their successors wanted to savor power. No one had prepared for a massive transfer of population. [Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, August 13, 2007]

Even as armed militias roamed the countryside, looking for people to kidnap, rape, and kill, houses to loot, and trains to derail and burn, the only force capable of restoring order, the British Indian Army, was itself being divided along religious lines—Muslim soldiers to Pakistan, Hindus to India. Soon, many of the communalized soldiers would join their co-religionists in killing sprees, giving the violence of partition its genocidal cast. Radcliffe never returned to India. Just before his death, in 1977, he told a journalist, “I suspect they’d shoot me out of hand—both sides.”

“Trains carrying nothing but corpses through a desolate countryside became the totemic image of the savagery of partition. British soldiers confined to their barracks, ordered by Mountbatten to save only British lives, may prove to be the most enduring image of imperial retreat. With this act of moral dereliction, the British Empire finally disowned its noble sense of mission. As Paul Scott put it in “The Raj Quartet,” the epic of imperial exhaustion and disillusion, India in 1947 was where the empire’s high idea of itself collapsed and “the British came to the end of themselves as they were.”

Violence Against Muslims During the Partition

Many Muslim immigrants that arrived by train in the newly formed Punjabi section of Pakistan were slaughtered by Sikh residents. One man told Time that he came upon a mass of bodies with sword and gunshot wounds. He said the entire landscape was silent except for the cries of babies crawling around the corpses of their dismembered mothers and the moans of an elderly woman that was still alive but had her arms and legs cut off.

One Hindu man, who was 12-year-old at the time of the partition, told Time he accompanied a gang of youths that attacked a trainload of Muslim refugees heading out of India. He said arrangements had been made for the train to stop at a pre-arranged place, where the passengers were told to lie face down while they were stabbed and beaten death. A Hindu boy that screamed "Kill, me too" was granted his wish. The Hindu man told Time, "At the time it seemed OK and justified because we were doing it in reaction to what happened in India."

A Sikh living in a Muslim village in India told Critchfield, "The Muslims thought they were safe. They were ready to fight back as soon as they saw the Sikhs start to surround the village at daybreak. A two o'clock in the afternoon Dogra [Hindu] soldiers opened fire...The Muslims had muzzle-loading rifles. They answered the fire...At about four o'clock in the afternoon those Dogras came with machine guns...Thousands and thousands they were, Sikhs and Hindu and Dogra, like herds of sheep surrounding the village." [Source: "The Villagers" by Richard Critchfield, Anchor Books *=*]

"When the Muslims saw they couldn't cope with the heavy incoming fire, they all ran back into their houses...The Sikhs shouted 'Kill these kaffirs!'...We could hear the screams of women and the shouts of our Muslim friends 'Help us! We are being killed!' ...It ran like fire. Men who were hungry for generations started raping women right in the courtyards. Some of the women jumped into wells...I saw a woman holding a child. They tore the baby from her and speared him in the air in front of her eyes...The wells were filled with women and there was a cutting and harvesting of human heads. I ran to a sugar cane field and hid myself there...Even six months later the stench in [the village] was terrible. Like the children, most of the women died. I would wager less than two percent of the women escaped. *=*

One Sikh man, who admitting killing 40 people with a machete, told Time 50 years later: "I feel no remorse. The Muslims were responsible for the division of the country. We needed to teach them a lesson."

Describing attacks in Bombay in 1947, one Muslim man told The New Yorker, “One night, there were attacks by the Hindus on various houses. So many were killed that night. Three or four times our own house was under attack. But when the Hindus would come with all their weapons and run to attack on the gate of our building, the Muslims who lived in our building would get together behind the gate and raise our slogan: Allahu akbar! God is great. When hearing that, they would think were fully armed inside or I do not know what, but they would run away. They wold run away! And we had nothing.”

Violence Against Hindus During the Partition

One Pakistani soldier, who played a part in the torching of a markets that killed several hundred Hindus, told Time: "Our chaps would kill with really good spirit. We didn't feel anything.” One Muslim family that arrived in Pakistan on a train that been sprayed with bullets, leaving most of the passengers on the roof dead, said when they arrived "near our house there was a harsh smell." They soon discovered a Hindu temple and drinking well stuffed with corpses.

Edward Behr, a filmmaker who served in the Indian army, wrote in Newsweek, "Three weeks after partition, wave after wave of armed Pathans swept into Peshawar from neighboring tribal areas, systematically massacring Hindus and Sikhs and looting their homes. From Sept 7 to 17, in Peshawar City, some 800 bodies were recovered a day."

Muslims that arrived from India and were traumatized by what they saw on the trains to Pakistan began butchering Sikhs troops waiting to go to India. "This left only a handful of troops," Behr wrote, "to save Peshawar's Hindu and Sikh minority from marauding, murdering tribesman. Many to their credit did try to stop the violence. Others—including the Peshawar police—looked the other way."

"I was compelled to open fire on tribesman caught butchering Hindu nurses in the courtyard of Peshawar's Military Hospital. To my knowledge, none of the tribesmen were ever brought to justice, though as a personal favor to me, Peshawar's chief of police, fearing for my life, kept them in jail until the November day I left for England—and demobilization.”

Violence Against Sikhs During Partition

Reporting from New Delhi, Rama Lakshmi wrote in the Washington Post: “Every year in March, Bir Bahadur Singh goes to the local Sikh shrine and narrates the grim events of the long night six decades ago when 26 women in his family offered their necks to the sword for the sake of honor. At the time, sectarian riots were raging over the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, and the men of Singh's family decided it was better to kill the women than have them fall into the hands of Muslim mobs. "None of the women protested, nobody wept," Singh, 78, recalled as he stroked his long, flowing white beard, his voice slipping into a whisper. "All I could hear was the sound of prayer and the swing of the sword going down on their necks. My story can fill a book." [Source: Rama Lakshmi Washington Post, March 12, 2008]

Shashank Bengali wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Amolak Swani “was 16 when Muslim mobs in the city of Peshawar, in the northwest corner of what was then British India, burned down the houses of minority Sikhs in early 1947. The city where the family had lived for generations was about to become part of a new Muslim nation called Pakistan. With their long hair and turbans, Sikhs were easy to spot. Swani and her family cowered in their second-story residence for days as their phone line was cut and food supplies ran low. [Source: Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2017]

One day her father came upstairs carrying a box of matches and a canister of fuel. “If a mob breaks in, they will do terrible things,” Swani said he told her and her mother. “Set yourselves on fire. Don’t fall into their hands.” Her father and husband, both in the dried fruits business, were away on business when the family’s employees, all Muslims, hatched a plan for Swani and her mother to escape Peshawar.

Wearing burkas the workers’ wives gave them, the pair climbed into the back of a company truck and hid behind boxes of almonds and raisins. They drove to the train station, where the women joined crowds of Sikhs and Hindus heading east to what would soon become an independent — and secular — India. Among the few luxuries Swani spirited out of their house were her wedding jewelry, hidden inside a Singer sewing machine, and a radio.”

Gandhi in Calcutta after the Partition of India and Pakistan

On the evening of August 15, 1947, as Indian and British big shots toasted independence in Delhi, Gandhi was camped out in an abandoned house in Calcutta in effort to quell sectarian violence that seemed to be ready out at any moment. Four days after arriving in Calcutta on August 12, Gandhi wrote: "I have taken many risks, perhaps this is the greatest of all. Who knows what will happen. If things go wrong here they will probably elsewhere. If things improve here, then perhaps they will improve everywhere."

As he pulled up in his temporary home in Calcutta in a Chevrolet, a mob greeted him with shouts of "Traitor!" and "Save Hindus, not Muslims." One man who saw Gandhi recalled, "I was very disappointed. Gandhi had no biceps, no triceps, nor forearms. I saw an old man with no teeth. When he spoke he made a 'whoosh, whoosh' sound."

One for the first things that Gandhi did was strike a deal with a Muslim leader, saying that he would guarantee the safety of the Muslims if the Muslim League promises to protect the Hindus. Gandhi then gave speeches, fasted, walked through troubled neighborhoods, lead prayers and read from the Bhagavad Gita.

One Hindu bodybuilder later told Time, "I promised my gang ten rupees for each murder and five rupees for each injury. It was a lot of money at that time but most people did not want to be paid. They wanted revenge." After listening to a Gandhi speech he said, "What he said began to make a lot of sense. 'Blood for blood will not solve the problem. Then this violence will never end." I understood that he was right. I had enjoyed killing Muslims but then they killed my 19-year-old son. The more I killed of them, the more they would kill of mine. I pledged that I would stop killing and start working for Gandhi"

At midnight on August 14-15, Hindus and Muslims celebrated independence together in Calcutta and each group invited the other into their temples mosques and homes. Gandhi spent the first day of Indian independence—something he spent most his life to achieve—by praying, fasting, dictating letters, spinning cotton and skulking about potential for violence.

Two weeks after independence, Gandhi’s calls for restraint and non-violence were ignored. Muslims and Hindus fought with one another and mobs ransacked the British governor's mansion. The Indian writer Nirad Chaudhuri blamed the violence on Gandhi, who, he said, based his campaign on hatred by Muslims and Hindus against the British but ignored the tendency of the work groups towards violence. "Gandhi thought that his admonition of violence would be listened to," Chaudhuri wrote. "Of course they were not and could not be."

Pity of Partition

William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker:“As recently illuminated in Ayesha Jalal’s “The Pity of Partition”—Jalal is Manto’s great-niece—he was baffled by the logic of Partition. “Despite trying,” he wrote, “I could not separate India from Pakistan, and Pakistan from India.” Who, he asked, owned the literature that had been written in undivided India? Although he faced criticism and censorship, he wrote obsessively about the sexual violence that accompanied Partition. “When I think of the recovered women, I think only of their bloated bellies—what will happen to those bellies?” he asked. Would the children so conceived “belong to Pakistan or Hindustan?” [Source: William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

“The most extraordinary feature of Manto’s writing is that, for all his feeling, he never judges. Instead, he urges us to try to understand what is going on in the minds of all his characters, the murderers as well as the murdered, the rapists as well as the raped. In the short story “Colder Than Ice,” we enter the bedroom of Ishwar Singh, a Sikh murderer and rapist, who has suffered from impotence ever since his abduction of a beautiful Muslim girl. As he tries to explain his affliction to Kalwant Kaur, his current lover, he tells the story of discovering the girl after breaking into a house and killing her family:

““I could have slashed her throat, but I didn’t. . . . I thought she had gone into a faint, so I carried her over my shoulder all the way to the canal which runs outside the city. . . . Then I laid her down on the grass, behind some bushes and . . . first I thought I would shuffle her a bit . . . but then I decided to trump her right away. . . . ”
“What happened?” she asked.
“I threw the trump . . . but, but . . . ”
His voice sank.
Kalwant Kaur shook him violently. “What happened?”
Ishwar Singh opened his eyes. “She was dead. . . . I had carried a dead body . . . a heap of cold flesh . . . jani, [my beloved] give me your hand.”
Kalwant Kaur placed her hand on his. It was colder than ice.

Exchange of the Lunatics

William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker:““Manto’s most celebrated Partition story, “Toba Tek Singh,” proceeds from a simple premise, laid out in the opening lines: “Two or three years after the 1947 Partition, it occurred to the governments of India and Pakistan to exchange their lunatics in the same manner as they had exchanged their criminals. The Muslim lunatics in India were to be sent over to Pakistan and the Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistani asylums were to be handed over to India. [Source: William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

“It was difficult to say whether the proposal made any sense or not. However, the decision had been taken at the topmost level on both sides.

“In a few thousand darkly satirical words, Manto manages to convey that the lunatics are much saner than those making the decision for their removal, and that, as Jalal puts it, “the madness of Partition was far greater than the insanity of all the inmates put together.” The tale ends with the eponymous hero stranded between the two borders: “On one side, behind barbed wire, stood together the lunatics of India and on the other side, behind more barbed wire, stood the lunatics of Pakistan. In between, on a bit of earth which had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh.”

“Manto’s life after Partition forms a tragic parallel with the institutional insanity depicted in “Toba Tek Singh.” Far from being welcomed in Pakistan, he was disowned as reactionary by its Marxist-leaning literary set. After the publication of “Colder Than Ice,” he was charged with obscenity and sentenced to prison with hard labor, although he was acquitted on appeal. The need to earn a living forced Manto into a state of hyper-productivity; for a period in 1951, he was writing a book a month, at the rate of one story a day. Under this stress, he fell into a depression and became an alcoholic. His family had him committed to a mental asylum in an attempt to curb his drinking, but he died of its effects in 1955, at the age of forty-two.

“For all the elements of tragic farce in Manto’s stories, and the tormented state of mind of Manto himself, the reality of Partition was no less filled with absurdity. Vazira Zamindar’s excellent recent study, “The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia,” opens with an account of Ghulam Ali, a Muslim from Lucknow, a city in central North India, who specialized in making artificial limbs. He opted to live in India, but at the moment when Partition was announced he happened to be at a military workshop on the Pakistan side of the border. Within months, the two new countries were at war over Kashmir, and Ali was pressed into service by the Pakistani Army and prevented from returning to his home, in India. In 1950, the Army discharged him on the ground that he had become a citizen of India. Yet when he got to the frontier he was not recognized as Indian, and was arrested for entering without a travel permit. In 1951, after serving a prison sentence in India, he was deported back to Pakistan. Six years later, he was still being deported back and forth, shuttling between the prisons and refugee camps of the two new states. His official file closes with the Muslim soldier under arrest in a camp for Hindu prisoners on the Pakistani side of the border.

Guneeta Singh Bhalla and the 1947 Partition Archive

In an article about Guneeta Singh Bhalla and her website the 1947 Partition Archive, Somini Sengupta wrote in the New York Times: “Some of those interviewed have never told their stories before, not even to their families. A Zoroastrian woman from Karachi recalls how her grandmother hid her Hindu maid from family members who wanted to convert her against her will. A Hindu man from a village near Lahore recalls surviving the train journey to India only because a Muslim man, a stranger, hid him in his first-class compartment; other Hindus on that same train were killed or wounded. A Muslim man from what is now Indian Punjab describes watching a mob stab his mother as she tried to protect her older son. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, August 13, 2013]

“In California, Ms. Bhalla came upon two men — one Sikh, one Muslim — who had spent their childhoods in neighboring villages in what is now the state of Punjab in India. Ali Shan, a Muslim who fled to Pakistan, was living in Fremont, south of here. Hardev Singh Grewal, a Sikh who remained in India, was living in neighboring Union City. Ms. Bhalla asked if they wished to meet. Of course, they said.

“On a rainy Saturday evening, they shared samosas and tea at the Grewal home. Mr. Shan, 72, sat stiffly at first on a white leather sofa. For the first couple of hours, they reminisced about an annual fair in Jurrahan, where Mr. Shan once lived. They remembered the names of the local schools. As the evening wore on, the more difficult stories trickled out. Mr. Shan told Mr. Grewal how a mob stabbed his mother and brother before his eyes when he was 6 — and then how a man in that mob inexplicably took him home.

“Mr. Grewal, 76, inched close to him, patted him on the shoulder. Mr. Shan’s eyes filled with tears. He kept going. He remained with the stranger’s family for months, he said, and then an uncle took him to Pakistan. Mr. Grewal kept his arm on Mr. Shan’s shoulder.

“Mr. Grewal recalled that the elders of his village, Gujjarwal, barely four miles from Jurrahan, had offered to save its Muslims if they converted to Sikhism. “They meant well, but looking back, I don’t think it was a good thing,” Mr. Grewal told Mr. Shan. Nor did it save them. They were attacked as preparations were under way for the conversion ceremony. Mr. Grewal had no idea how many were killed, only that there were enough bodies to fill ox carts and a mass grave. Mr. Grewal remembered, too, that his older brother had taken home three of his school friends, all Muslims who had been injured in the attack. They stayed in the Grewal home until they were fit enough to travel to Pakistan. He has no idea what became of them. “Ali, I want to ask you,” Mr. Grewal finally ventured, “do you get nightmares?” Mr. Shan shook his head: “As soon as I forgave the people who killed my family, I was a new man.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last September 2020


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