Partition 1947: The silent minority suffered but never reported their grief in Kashmir

18,000 - 20,000 Sikhs were killed by Pakistani armed raiders as they passed through north Kashmir in October/November 1947

Surinder Singh Oberoi
21 Nov 2022
Partition 1947: The silent minority suffered but never reported their grief in Kashmir

Image Courtesy: BBC

New Delhi: It has taken me more than a decade to collect the data and sad testaments of people who suffered from the Sikh community in Jammu and Kashmir. My PhD is awarded, and the thesis will be published soon: said Dr Komal JB Singh to Newsdrum in a special interaction.

Dr Komal completed her Doctorate from Jawahar Lal University, New Delhi, on the issue of unfinished Partition tales. She had an opportunity to interview dozens of survivors of those partition mayhems, primarily women who buried aches for their family’s honour.

Dr Komal estimates around 18,000 - 20,000 unreported killings of mostly Sikhs in scattered parts of J&K, including those areas now under Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir took place in late October-first week of November 1947.

Komal says that it is crucial to understand the time and the activities that went between the week of 21 -26 October. When the Qabalis or Pakistani raiders were diverted towards Rafiabad from Baramulla city in North Kashmir, to save Srinagar, and on the way, armed raiders killed and maimed Sikhs, and Hindus, destroying their villages as they were visible from a distance wearing turbans.

The raiders were angrier when they released that they were deceived by Sherwani, a local and his colleagues, misleading their direction, which led to more killings of the civilians as revenge, including the killing of Sherwani, but saved Srinagar till Indian troops landed.

Komal says that families still are hesitant to narrate the painful stories they heard from their grandparents and parents, who witnessed the cruelty and inhumanity in mountainous villages dotting the Jhelum River Road. This snakelike motorable highway crosses through both sides of Kashmir.

She says history has been cruel to the Sikh community of Jammu and Kashmir, who suffered massive losses in human capital and still were instrumental in engaging the raiders at the cost of their lives. Historians and local administration never recorded it.

Describing various fault lines, she blames the community, which grew scattered in "dreadful and survival mode". The Sikh community then was not very educated and lived as a closed-knit minority in a landlocked valley, not ready to share the truth, fearing society's shame and further external harm.

What happened to the Sikh community in Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Kotli, Domel, Poonch, Rajouri {Some of these towns and villages are in Pakistan-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK)}, and several villages of North Kashmir are a footnote text in the partition history.

Few newspaper articles and books were published in the late eighties and nineties, narrating atrocities, but it still needs more detailed mapping and research at a larger scale, suggests Komal.

Komal has grown up hearing stories of the horrors of Partition from her family grandparents, who were first-hand survivors of 1947. In her childhood and adolescence, Dr Komal interacted with scores of widows and survivors in and around her native village in Baramulla, north of Kashmir, hearing the gory stories through whispers.

Komal says that she was always discouraged from speaking in the open "lest the community will suffer". Komal articulates that whenever she tried to intrude further to learn more from the suffering families, she was scolded by elders.

It always frightened her even though she wanted to understand the facts. She says she was encouraged after reading a few books on Kashmir issues by authors like Jasbir Singh Sarna, Himat Singh, Prof Sewa Singh and others but always felt that something more needed to be told.

Komal got to visit several frontline areas, incredibly remote historical Sikh temples or Gurdwaras in and around places which usually are less ventured. Several of these Gurdwaras have no Sikh population anymore living in their vicinity.

Komal discovered shocking stories. She trailed a few of them to reach the bottom of the truth. One of them is an interaction with J Singh (name changed), a survivor who narrated for the first time the gory scenes of mayhem let loose by "Pathans" from tribal areas killing minorities, indulging in arson and looting wealth.

Singh said," We attempted to tell writers to transcribe our sacrifice, but few did fiction stories. We have sacrificed; still, we couldn't tell anyoneOur sacrifice remains unheard and unrecognized."

S Kaur, (name changed) another sufferer and witness to the atrocities speaking about herself, used the plural "sadanaal," which means "us" rather than "me".

She said, "Bura haal bankyaa ta yaara, Sikh ni kolaye gaya chun chunkar (They were bad days; they took Sikh women). Changiya changiya lay gaya radee wade churgaya (They took all beautiful women, and the others were left)." "Baadh bura haal hoya bachaya (We had a terrible time, my child)."

Kaur defines how her life changed with that one incident. Nor did she lose her parents and many family members, but also her strength, felt embarrassed and became an object of discussion in society amid curiosity and shame.

When Kaur returned to Kashmir, she was immediately married, regardless of her desire to study or speak. Kaur, a vulnerable young woman with no parental support and an abductee (stigma), could not make her own decision. That trauma still was evident in the old sad deep eyes of Kaur.

Armed raiders arrived in Muzaffarabad, Domel and other cities, setting houses of minorities on fire, killing innocent and kidnapping them on October 22, 1947. The famous slogan of the Qabalis was said to be "Hindu ka zar, Sikh ka sar, Muslman ka ghar" ("Take the Hindu's money, the Sikh's head, and the Muslim's house"). Young women were taken into custody and sent to Qabali camps.

Dr Komal has scores of such testimonies and concludes that hundreds of families left their homes after their loved ones, mostly men were killed, and a few women were kidnapped.

Several women jumped into the river Kishanganga, Jhelum, Neelam, or the village wells to save their honour. They never wanted to get converted or used for other purposes after being separated from their families.

Komal says that Sikhs, being physically visible because of their turban and beard, and many were then working as farmers, guards or government jobs, were the first target of the raiders. Hundreds of Sikhs were killed by the raiders forcing thousand to run away and migrate to safer planes.

These deaths of Sikhs and Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir were not reported as most historians were busy covering Punjab and Bengal, followed by winters and early snow blocking Kashmir from the rest of the country for the next four to five months.

In memory of those Sikhs killed in 1947, several villages in North Kashmir still organize "Akhand Path", a three-day religious ceremony in the last week of October every year praying for the lost souls and deaths of their community members.

In Chandoosa, North Kashmir, where 24 Sikhs gave a brave fight to the Qabalis when they were approaching the Srinagar airport, all 24 Sikhs died while fighting hundreds of raiders to protect their families and community.

The memorial nameplate of all 24 Sikhs killed, where they were cremated in Chandoosa speaks volumes of the missing history of civilian sacrifices in Kashmir. These unsung heroes gave their lives to delay Qabalis reach to Srinagar Airport and other strategic locations.

Komal says that after Duni Chand Mehta, a civil servant of Jammu and Kashmir and Wazir-e-Wazarat of Muzaffarabad, was shot dead by the raiders, most of the administration and local police ran towards the Indian side, leaving hundreds of thousands of civilians unattended and on their fate.

Some survivors had to depend on their neighbours and local Muslim policepersons, who were more supportive of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and hence wanted to eliminate Hindus and their properties.

Komal today feels content with her work after collecting testimonies of people who wanted to be heard; speak as she narrated a story of an eighty-year-old survivor who said, "I waited for 70 years of my life to be heard. Now I will rest in peace even if I die."

Komal says true tales of trauma and testimonies of some of the hurt persons will permanently stay with her life. Komal is worried that the lingering political issues of Kashmir keep shadowing the problems of the inhabitants, who have so many grievances and are longing for someone to listen to their side also.

She concludes that her research and story are about Sikhs, but when you visit the ground zero, you find every religion and community of Kashmir suffered in 1947. They all need to be heard patiently, and more need to be written about the forgotten conflict.

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