“Never before in South Asian history”, wrote Aijaz Ahmed, “did so few, divide so many, so needlessly”, about the bloody partition that besieged the subcontinent as Britishers prepared to leave in 1947. “A bloodless winning of independence would be accompanied by an unimaginably bloody communal carnage”, predicted Sumit Sarkar.
The background was already built by Congress and Muslim League whereby both parties stood adamant over their positions right from the beginning of talks over freeing the subcontinent. Congress, being the majority party, under Nehru, never made a serious effort towards realizing a compromising arrangement with the League. So while the League talked of partition, Jinnah contemplated confederation; while Congress spoke of a union, Nehru prepared for scission.
The top brass of Congress made no attempt to avoid the resultant mammoth bloodshed. Gandhi, the wavering figure in Indian liberation movement, proclaimed, “I am more than ever convinced that the communal problem should be solved outside of legislation, and if in order to reach that state, there has to be a civil war, so be it”. (Harijan, 18 May 1947, p153)
In 1930, Gandhi said, “I would far rather be witness to Hindus and Mussulmans doing one another to death than that I should daily witness our gilded slavery”. (CWMG, Vol 42, p388: 11 Jan 1930 [Vol 48, p219])
The ensuing catastrophe had around a million people dead. Four and a half million Hindus and Sikhs were driven out of their homes to East Punjab, five and a half million Muslims to West Punjab, in a communal inferno. This communal inferno was most penetrative in Bengal and Punjab. Kashmir, not much far from Punjab, was contagious to this partition aftermath too.
The Forgotten Genocide
As the communal fury traveled to the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, which happened to be a Muslim majority region, Muslims found themselves susceptible to the impending rabid communal forces. Being a Muslim majority state, J&K was destined to accede to Pakistan as per the dictum enabling princely states to opt for either of the two dominions. This imminent reality opposed the wishes of both Maharaja Hari Singh and India, the former wishing to remain independent and the latter merging J&K with the Indian Union.
To make the path to fulfill their wishes easier, both the parties synergised efforts to eradicate the contradiction in the state viz; large Muslim population. A period of massive destruction of human lives, Muslims to be precise, property and forced migration took place in the Jammu region right from August to November of 1947. For Hindu and Sikh mobs to have a lean run over Muslim population, the matters were eased by the Hari Singh government by putting Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas, the Muslim Conference leader, behind bars throughout that year, leaving the Muslims of Jammu vulnerable to frenzied mobs.
Khalid Bashir Ahmed, in a November 5, 2014 Kashmir Life story titled “Circa 1947: A Long Story” mentions the most factor leading to this massacre was “the complicity of the State apparatus in violence”. “What sets Jammu massacres – for there were many across the region – apart from those in Punjab is the official connivance. From the Prime Minister to Governor to Hindu component of the Dogra Army, everybody in the administration had his hands soaked in blood. The ruler and his wife too were never above suspicion”. This orchestrated massacre had “a profound political motive of ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the eastern Jammu Province and changing the demography of the region.”
Krishna Dev Sethi also records that “the Maharaja and his administration played an important role in flaring up communal riots after Hari Singh arrived from Srinagar. Muslims in Jammu city were under the influence of the Muslim Conference. The Maharaja played a significant role in promoting and pampering the RSS in Jammu”. He further says that “the administration too participated in the massacre. Organized armed Hindu jathas (groups) went as far as Bhimbhar.”[An interview with Khalid Bashir Ahmed on 6th December 2011]
Balraj Puri, an eyewitness to Jammu violence, says: “The Maharaja had RSS leader Guru Golwalkar as his personal guest and his rajguru, Sant Dev’s role was also dubious.” G.K. Reddy, who was removed as Editor of Kashmir Times and ousted from Jammu & Kashmir for advocating its accession to Pakistan reports that he saw “a mad orgy of Dogra violence against unarmed Muslims [that] should put any self-respecting human being to shame”.[Christopher Snedden in Kashmir: The Unwritten History p51]
During one of the forced migrations from Jammu city, on the orders of Maharaja on November 5, Muslims were halted and attacked at Mawa. It was during this attack that the mother and daughter of Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas, the President of Muslim Conference, were taken away by the attackers.
The Death Toll
“What was the death toll in the killing fields of Jammu? There are no official figures, so one has to go by reports in the British press of that period. Horace Alexander’s article on 16 January 1948 in The Spectator is much quoted; he put the number killed at 2,00,000. To quote a 10 August 1948 report published in The Times, London: ‘2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated — unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border — by the forces of the Dogra state headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by the Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.’
(Being the Other, Saeed Naqvi)
According to Ian Stephens, former editor of Statesmen, Delhi/Culcatta, “Half a million or so, had almost totally disintegrated in the autumn 1947. About 200,000 simply vanished, being presumably butchered or killed by epidemics and exposure while seeking to get away; the rest had fled into Pakistani Punjab” (Ian Stephens, Horned Moon London: Chatto and Windus 1953 p. 138)
“In the remaining Dogra area, the 2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated — unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border — by all the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October, 1947 — five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India. This elimination of two-thirds of the Muslims last autumn has entirely changed the present composition of Eastern Jammu Province.” (Times of London 10th October 1948)
The Census Report of 1961 gives a fair clue of “the phenomenal fall in the rural population of Muslim Community in Jammu district during the last two decades [1941-1961] as a result of the mass migration to Pakistan of most of the Muslims who inhabited the various tehsils of the district.” According to the Report, the total population of Muslims in the district as a whole, as returned at the 1961 Census, is about one-third of what it was in 1941. In figures, it would mean that Muslim population in Jammu district had fallen from 160,158 in 1941 to 51,847 in 1961. In Jammu City, the fall was recorded by 3,441 people during the same period.
On March 18, 1948, Col. H.K. Johnson, Commandant of a British Red Cross Hospital in Kotli, Azad Kashmir, reported that Indian aircrafts had bombed non-Muslim refugees who were ready for evacuation. Many were killed and wounded in the attack.
Building False/Incomplete Case
In the popular literature on the dispute of J&K, this forgotten genocide never prompts up. India claims the state as its “integral part”, Pakistan as its “jugular vein” while the indigenous Kashmiri position vouches for both Pakistan and independence settling for nothing less than freedom from India.
In all the deliberations and discussions for a plausible solution to this long pending dispute, the forgotten genocide is willfully buried, the records were destroyed long ago and along with it the repercussions it could have on the final verdict. The alterations in the demography of Jammu region by the use of large-scale violence might favour India in case of a plebiscite in the same region. Moreover, the Muslim majority state of J&K is imperative for India’s secular claims.
Jammu region demographically represents a multi-religious society in the present time. The Muslims are willingly or unwillingly integrated in the sense that the dissent found in Kashmir valley is lacking in Jammu regions because a minuscule Muslim population can never rise up in rebellion considering the State backlash. Their security and development lies within their participation in state activities and not anti-India resistance. This is more devastating politically being aware of the fact that Muslims of Poonch and Rajouri were the first to take up arms against the Dogra regime in 1947.
With Muslim Conference calling the shots, these areas were imminently waiting for a merger with Pakistan. The genocide, and the war later, however, left the community in ruins, segregated and divided across what is now known as the “Line of Control”. Relatives now live across this faulty line. This has been the worst human tragedy of a political conflict where the State has created incisions among relationships for its imperial designs.
Thus, a coexisting multicultural society that the region now appears to be has roots in the forgotten genocide of 1947. The ancestors of present Sikhs and Hindus have exterminated and displaced the ancestors of Muslims in the region. Any future solution has to look back at the past, at this forgotten genocide in particular, so that the right to self-determination becomes politically right.