The Partition of India in 1947

November 12, 2009 by Kuldip Singh Neelam

During partition of India in 1947, my family was living in Sheikhupura a district next to Lahore on the western side in West Punjab, now in Pakistan. My father was a Govt. contractor who owned the furniture shops in Sheikhupura and Lahore. We were four brothers living with our parents at the time of partition. My older brother aged 19 had come to visit us from Lahore who was a resident student at Dayal Singh College there.

Sheikhupura district contains Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Siri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, and a huge estate was attached with this Gurdwara. This district was also known for fine agricultural land, industrial enterprises, business houses, and factories mostly owned by the Sikhs and Hindus at the time of partition.

Our town ( Sheikhupura ) remained peaceful, when the communal riots had been occurring in various cities of west Punjab such as Rawalpindi, Multan, Amritsar, Lahore and Gujranwala since March, 1947. This continued up till August 17,1947 when the Boundary Commission awarded the Sheikhupura district to Pakistan. The situation in this district began to worsen rapidly. All petrol duties to non-muslims were stopped. Without valid ground, curfew was imposed on the 24th August, and the Biloach Military was brought in to parade the town after the 20th August.

On the 25th August, Hindu and Sikh houses were burned in Gurdwara Bazar. A false alarm was raised of an attack on Muslim mohalla by Sikhs. All this was done to incite Muslims to fall upon Sikhs. On the same day about noon hours, a vigorous attack was made on Ramgarha, which had a sikh population Of about 1200. Sikhs were being chased. The Muslim mob was followed by the military. When Sikhs gave a fight the Muslim mob retreated. Then the military took the lead and took up positions against Hindu-Sikh areas. Within few hours, the Hindu-Sikh population of this area had been killed, and the houses were in flames.Muslim mobs then swelled and spread out to attack on the different parts of this town. Street after street was surrounded by Muslim mobs, military and police. The looting, burning and murdering continued.

As we heard these horrible news, we were frightened. My father then took us in a Christian Church for shelter which was located near our home. Few other Hindu-Sikh families in our neighbourhood also joined us there. By afternoon the Muslim mobs backed by police, and military attacked our mohalla. We were then hiding in the priest's residence of this church, and I heard the shouts" maro, maro, maro" cries, and the bullets were being fired with the machine- guns. Somehow, we escaped that horrible night of 25th August.

But on the following day 26th August, some Muslim gundas (thugs) came over and they knocked at the door of the priest residence. After a brief talk with the priest, the Muslim gundas escorted us in the open. They promised our safety, and demanded to hand over the valuables, money and weapons to them before they'd take us to a refugee camp.Our people believed them, and complied with their demands.At that moment, my father was holding my youngest brother aged 6, I and my other two brothers and my mother were all standing close by with the rest of our neighbours. Soon after I saw those Muslim gundas started hitting our people.

I became very frightened and ran to nearby street for my safety. My younger brother also followed me.I was then about 12 years old and my younger brother was 9 when we were separated from our family. We had no knowledge what happened to our family members after that?

We first tried to hide ourselves in a ransacked house, and saw a dead body of sikh youngman in front of this house.As soon as we entered that house we saw three little kids hiding behind the kitchen wall. We joined them. Soon after that, two men entered the house, and they were holding long sticks in their hands. One of them saw us and said to his companion look at those “ Nikian Nikian Jindaan”- little kids and left the house. I thought those men might come back and will kill us.My brother and I ran to the Ramlila Ground, and sought shelter in the huts of poor people. But these were not found safe. There after, we ran to a factory near railway lines, and saw some frightened men there looking for a safe place to hide. Some of them were carrying swords in their hands to protect their loved ones. Few young women were nervously running around to find a well to commit suicide. I felt for a moment that this place was not either safe. My brother and I jumped over the outer wall of this factory, and rushed to a near crematorium which was surrounded by dense trees and high grass. We both lied down in the grass beneath the trees. We were shocked to see some Muslim men were chasing innocent people there also, and were shooting them at point blank.

I remember, I said to myself “ Musa Daria Mout Taun, Age Mout Khari”.At that moment I realized that the death was certain .My brother and I mentally prepared for it. However, I felt deep inside my heart that some invisible power was guiding us to escape the death. Finally, we found a hut in this crematorium ground which was locked from outside.An older sikh gentleman came over there and told us to kick the door open of this hut. We luckily managed to open the left door, and the lock remained intact on the right door. We went inside this hut, and closed the left door with the support of a wood. We passed few days hiding in this hut, and survived eating leaves and drinking water.

Probably, on the 4th day (30th August), some Christian peace volunteers came over there and took us first to their house. They gave us bread to eat and begged us to cut our long hair for safety, but we refused. They walked us safely to a refugee camp which was set up in Gurdwara Bazar of our town. On the way I saw that most houses and shops of Hindus and Sikhs were badly burned. I smelled the stink of dead bodies every where. In the refugee camp, we met with our mother for the fist time after we were separated on 26th August. She was wounded in the head, we arranged the first aid for her injuries. We did'nt find our father and other two missing brothers in this camp. My mother told me that my father gave his wallet to a Muslim goonda, somebody hit him and he was beaten to death. My mother began to cry, other Muslim goonda hit her in the head and she fell unconscious on the ground. After she regained her consciousness , my mother saw some other women in the neighbour running toward their houses she followed them. Eventually she was rescued along with other women, and brought to the refugee camp. My mother had no further information about our two missing brothers.

An eye witness in the above refugee camp told me that she saw my youngest brother crying for help, running towards our home, and coming out all that after noon on August 26th. She ( eye witness) told me that she helplessly watched my brother crying loudly “ Hai Bhabo Ji, Hai Bhapa Ji” but could not help him for fearing of her own safety. She was hiding herself in nearby house.While in the camp, my brother and I managed to visit our home with the help of a military guard. We saw our home partially burned, and saw a dead body probably of a child in the front room, but were unable to recognize the dead body of this child because it was badly decomposed. We then came back to our base camp with terrible feelings of personal loss. We stayed in this camp for few days, and were transported later to another refugee camp in Lahore. From there, we crossed the Wagha border in a bus and arrived in Amritsar which was located in East Punjab state of India.

Later on, I learned through some published reports that Hindus and Sikhs of our town (Sheikhupura) were perhaps, after Rawalpindi and Multan, the worst sufferers at the hands of the Pakistanis fanaticism and cold-blooded murderous frenzy. The blow fell on us suddenly and swiftly-leaving between 10,000 and 20,000 dead in two days. The conspiracy that was hatched in Sheikhupura between the Muslim leagers, the civil officers, Police and Military for the extermination of Hindus and Sikhs of this town, and the district governed by it, is perhaps the worst on human record showing devilary on such a large scale.Mr. Karamat Ali, Minister in the West Punjab Government, and a resident of Seikhupura played an active roll in this conspiracy. All secret meetings were held with him to execute this plan. Pt. Nehru at the time, toured the West Punjab with Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan, estimated the number of those killed in Sheikhupura at 22,000.

On both the Pakistani and Indian sides horrible atrocities were committed. Foot weary convoys of refugees were attacked till the roads were clogged with corpses; trains were attacked and sent across the borders with bogies jammed with slaughtered passengers. No consideration was given to the sick or the aged or even to infants. Young women were abducted and raped.

Never in the history of the world was there a bigger exchange of population attended with so much bloodshed . It is estimated that over ten millions people changed homes between east and west Punjab, and approximately 400,000 to 500,00 people were killed on both sides of the border. Nearly 150,000 to 250,000 mostly Sikhs were killed in West Punjab alone. Those innocent people were murdered by Muslim gundas only because they were Sikhs or Hindus I believe that we suffered the most in terms of cost in human lives, wealth and our rich sikh heritage that was left behind in West Punjab during partition of India in 1947, which we as a Sikh Nation should never forget, and must try to regain our glorious past with strong commitments and actions in order to build a strong future for our coming generation.We must also continue our fight for peace and justice so that all peoples can live with dignity and without fear.

When we were being transported in a bus from Sheikhupura refugee camp to Lahore, and then to Amritsar in India, I noticed the monsoon burst in its fury; rivers rose; roads were submerged; bridges collapsed; train tracks were washed away. In refugee camps cholera broke out. Corpses of dead animals, and human beings were scattered on the road sides. The floods wiped the bloodstains off the land. These were the awful scenes that are still fresh in my memory.

Though a long time has elapsed since the partition holocaust occurred, I nevertheless feel the same pain of loosing our loved ones as was always before, and I sincerely pray that no one should ever go through this situation again. In any human tragedy of such a scale, the survivors particularly the children suffer the most when their parents, brothers and sisters are killed before their eyes by members of mad gangs for no reasons. I don't know how long such human tragedies will be going on before the world will wake up, and put a stop to this madness which is fanned by hatred and communal frenzy.

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