.:.BY Khalid Hasan
The 1947 massacre of the Muslims of Jammu city, its neighbouring areas and the farther reaches of the province, remains one of the most poorly documented of the human tragedies with which the subcontinent’s major religious communities greeted independence. With the passing of years, the memory of those who were killed has all but faded.
Every year, the Muslims of Jammu who remain or those of their children who still care, mark the anniversary of the great Jammu killings. But these sombre gatherings have diminished with time. In another ten or twenty years, no one will remember the Muslims of Jammu who were killed because they were helpless before an organised force made up of the RSS, the Maharaja’s own forces and “help” from Punjab’s Sikh States.
I made a small attempt to preserve the memory of Jammu’s fallen Muslims through a book of 1947 memoirs. Originally published in Urdu, I later translated it into English and it appeared under the title Memory Lane to Jammu . I visited Jammu in March this year and it was there that my friend and host, Ved Bhasin, the editor and publisher of the independent English daily Kashmir Times , who was born in Jammu and has lived there all his life, told me of a memoir of those days he had once recorded. It is a document of great worth because it comes from the “other side” and what follows are excerpts from Bhasin’s vivid account, written with admirable honesty. He was 17 at the time and in college.
He writes that Jammu’s politics was polarised on religious lines, as was its student community. The Maharaja was wavering as independence approached. There were rumours that his guru, Swami Sant Dev, had predicted that he was destined to be the sovereign of a large Hindu state. Ram Chand Kak, his prime minister, favoured independence. Pressure on the Maharaja was growing from both sides when Gandhiji visited Srinagar, apparently to urge him to join India. Kak was removed and replaced by Maj Gen Janak Singh, a Maharaja loyalist.
Communal tension had begun to build up in Jammu after the June 3 Plan was announced. Hindu and Sikh refugees had also started pouring into Jammu from areas that were going to become Pakistan.
The Maharaja’s administration had not only asked all Muslims to surrender their arms but also demobilised a large number of Muslim soldiers serving in the State army. Muslim police officers, whose loyalty was suspected, had also been sent home. The Maharaja’s visit to Bhimber that summer was followed by large-scale killings. In some areas of Poonch, Muslim ex-servicemen staged a revolt. Clashes between Hindu soldiers and the ex-servicemen followed. In Jammu, meanwhile, false rumours that city Muslims were arming themselves were spread to justify the carnage that followed. As the situation worsened, Muslims from the rural areas flocked to Jammu or fled to Pakistan. The last train from Sialkot to Jammu brought a larger number of Hindu and Sikh refugees.
There were reports of large-scale killing of Muslims in Udhampur district, particularly in Udhampur town, as well as the Chenani, Ramnagar and Reasi areas. The RSS played the lead role in these killings. It was joined by armed Sikh refugees who paraded Jammu streets with drawn swords. The riots that followed were planned and executed by the RSS. Thousands of Muslims were killed in Chhamb, Deva Batala, Manawar and other parts of Akhnoor. In Kathua district too there was large-scale killing of Muslims with women raped and abducted. In the Bilawar area, the same grisly story was repeated. Instead of trying to prevent the killings, the Maharaja’s administration helped and even armed the killers. Jammu’s Muslim mohallas, Talab Khatikan and Ustad, were besieged and the residents denied water and food. Most Muslims outside Muslim-dominated areas were brutally killed by armed gangs that moved freely in vehicles even when the city was officially under curfew. Bhasin and some of his friends once managed to carry some food grains for the besieged Muslims of mohalla Ustad. By now, troops from the Patiala state forces had also joined the killers.
Mass killing of Muslims in and around Jammu now got underway. Hundreds of Gujjar men and women, who used to supply milk to the city from surrounding villages, were massacred while they were on their rounds. The Ramnagar game reserve was littered with the dead bodies of these men, women and children. Sheikh Abdullah arrived in Jammu on 16 November and a refugee camp was set up in mohalla Ustad. The worst carnage took place some time later when Muslims in mohalla Talab Khatikan were asked to surrender, which they did. They were shifted to the police lines at Jogi Gate and encouraged to go to Pakistan. The first batch of several thousands was loaded in about sixty lorries escorted by troops. When the convoy came close to Chattha on the Jammu-Sialkot road, waiting RSS men and Sikhs attacked it. People were pulled out of the vehicles and killed mercilessly. The soldiers either joined the killers or simply stood aside watching the carnage. The next day, another batch of Muslim families was similarly put into buses, only to meet the same fate. Some managed to escape to reach Sialkot. In the absence of any record, it is difficult to say how many were killed, raped or abducted, but there is no doubt that their number ran into thousands.
Bhasin writes that though the State administration denied any involvement in the killings, he witnessed two incidents that prove official complicity. After he as general secretary of the college student union issued an appeal for communal harmony, he was summoned by Jammu Governor Lala Chet Ram Chopra who told him to desist and instead work to defend Hindus and Sikhs. He also told him that Hindu and Sikh boys were being trained in the use of arms and he and his friends should join them. The new prime minister, Mehr Chand Mahajan, told a delegation of Hindus that now when power was being transferred, they should demand parity. When one of them asked how that was possible, given the huge Muslim majority in the State, Mahajan replied, pointing to the Ramnagar forest that lay below, and where dead bodies of Muslims were still lying, “The population ratio too can change.”
Bhasin also records that in the towns of Rajouri and Mirpur and the Mirpur district, Muslim gangs resorted to mass killings, loot ing and rape. Hindu refugees, moving on foot without food and water, were killed and their women raped and abducted. Hindu and Sikh killings also took place at Alibeg. Bhasin concludes, “While expressing my sense of shame for the orgy of the 1947 violence, I can raise my head with pride that the enlightened and politically mature people of Jammu have preserved perfect communal peace and harmony after those dark days of communal violence.” To which I add, “And may it always stay that way.”
Article first published on May 27th, 2005