Partition resulted in mass migration and unprecedented violence. Yet firsthand accounts make it evident that compassion and tolerance enabled many to reach across communal lines to help.
Last Updated: 04 Nov. 2013
The horrific events of the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 had the most significant impact on the Punjab in terms of sheer destruction and bloodshed. The degree of mass migration and unprecedented violence has marked this event as one of utmost turmoil in the history of the world. The province was bifurcated into East Punjab to remain in India, and West Punjab to be handed over to Pakistan. The Radcliffe Commission responsible for drawing the boundary line cut through villages and destroyed whole communities that had lived peacefully for centuries.
The task of creating clean borders along religious lines resulted in the murder of an estimated 1 to 1.5 million people, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs; men, women and children of all religions. Trains heading for both India and Pakistan were attacked by unruly mobs. Partition resulted in the displacement of an estimated 14 million people, 10 million of whom were from the Punjab. Sir Penderel Moon maintains that between August 1947 and March 1948, about 4.5 million Hindus and Sikhs migrated from West Pakistan to India, and 6 million Muslims migrated in the opposite direction.
Stories of horrific violence are innumerable, yet firsthand accounts of those whose lives were forever changed by Partition, make it evident that compassion, tolerance and courage enabled many to reach out and help the powerless, often at the expense of their own safety.
All stories provided have been excerpted from Ishtiaq Ahmed ‘s book, “The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed.”
Kidar Nath Malhotra (pp. 352-353):
After partition, minorities on both sides congregated in safe zones such as gurdwaras, temples or mosques, in the hopes that the army would arrive and escort them to the other side of the border. Violence usually broke out sooner, as security forces, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh, gave in to the environment of communal violence, often assisting rather than preventing as a neutral force, leaving no place safe. In Gujranwala, the Hindus and Sikhs collected in a gurdwara to wait to be escorted. Attacks on the gurdwara soon commenced, and Mr. Malhotra’s father sent a message to his Muslim friend Ramzan Chacha for help, who sent his son Javed for the task. Mr. Malhotra’s father insisted that his son be taken to safety while he stayed behind.
“I believe only half an hour later the gurdwara was set ablaze and most of the people, around 150 were slain or were burnt to death. Ramzan Chacha was very angry with me and Javed for leaving Manoharlal (my father) in the gurdwara. But nothing could be done. It was too late to save him.”
“I stayed with Ramzan Chacha and his family for a few days. They were very kind in every way. I was given only vegetarian food and could drink water directly from the water pump they had in their home. Being an orthodox Hindu this was my first experience of living and eating in a Muslim home. Javed and I became very close. He was a few years younger than me. In early September the Indian military came to Gujranwala and I could accompany other refugees that they were escorting to Amritsar. On the way I saw many dead bodies. The road between Wagah and Amritsar was littered with dead bodies. They must be Muslims I suppose. I came to Jullunder where the rest of the family was already living. There were still Muslims living in Jullunder at that time, but most Muslim mohallas were deserted. It was clear that they had also suffered greatly….Often times I think of Gujranwala, our house and neighborhood where Ramzan Chacha lived. I am 81 now and Javed should be 79 or 78. I remember that family always in my prayers.”
Chaudhri Anwar Aziz (p.324):
“There was a village of Hindu Brahmins called Rehal. The Brahmins from there were known for their erudition and piety. They provided many facilities to human beings as well as animals, free of any charge and were very much respected by all communities. One of them, Ram Saran Sharma, wrote a textbook on Persian grammar which was used in schools and colleges.”
“The Brahmins came to my father and pleaded for help. They started crying and so did our elders, because we had had very good and close relations with them. They offered ornaments as a reward for protecting them, but my father told them not to worry. So, they decided to leave seven of their young girls, all very beautiful, sophisticated and educated, in our protection while some twenty of us young men and some elders took the other women and men to the river to find passage for them to the other side. The Ravi was in high spate at that time but a brisk traffic of boats in both directions was going on. The boat owners were charging exorbitant price for taking the people across the river. At the bank on our side a boat brought over Muslims who were badly injured, the breasts of two women had been cut off and they were in great pain. When they men realized we were going to take the Hindus to the other side safely they became very angry and tried to attack them, but we became a wall against any such outrage. We told them that Hindus who were in our charge could not be blamed for what their co-religionists had done on the other side. Also we were better armed than them and so nothing happened and the Brahmins were safely transported to the other side. ”
Teja Singh (p. 499):
Outside criminal elements were often the cause of inciting violence as communities had been living in peace for centuries.
“Mathi was a Muslim-majority village. It was the criminals from outside who raided it in 1947. We treated our Muslims like brothers. There were Jatt Muslims too, one of them was called Ilalhi Baksh. There were also many Muslim kumhars (potters) who lived in Mathi. Mathi was bigger than Boran. The attack took place during day time. It was raining that day. I was out grazing the cattle. Some 800-1,000 Muslims were killed. I came to Mathi to find out what happened to the Jatts. None of them had survived. Only a small boy of theirs was alive. His name was Jaamu son of Chanan. I took Jaamu under my protection and he lived with me 4-5 years. ”
Babu Kham (p. 504):
“Then the Sikh said to him, ‘Come with me. I will say nothing’.
At this the boy shouted to me, ‘Babu come out. He will not harm us’. He was really a very good man. He touched our heads fondly. He took us to Harnam Singh and Prem Singh who were lambardars. He said to them, ‘We must keep these boys’. They gave us food. Then they gave us beds to sleep. They locked the doors and said, ‘You remain in here’. That village had saved some seventy Muslims. ”
Ahmed, Ishtiaq. The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed. Karachi: Oxford UP, 2012.