Stories that send Shivers down the spine

Ashok Ogra
In August, 1947, when, after three hundred years in India, the British finally left, the subcontinent was partitioned into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Immediately, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Muslims trekked to West and East Pakistan (the latter now known as Bangladesh) while millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed in the opposite direction. Many hundreds of thousands never made it.
There are many first-hand accounts by people who actually saw the partition. There are many secondary accounts too in the form of books, letters, journals, etc. It is through these books and accounts that the partition is still living in our memories.
However, in this larger calamity that seized the sub-continent, the atrocities committed by Pakistan invaders in Jammu & Kashmir in 1947-48, has somehow not received the attention it deserves. Remember, 38,000 Hindus and Sikhs lost their lives in the worst holocaust perpetrated by Pakistan army. The official machinery and other ‘researchers’ have focused on how invaders attacked Christian Mission Hospital in Baramulla, where seven people were killed.
It is here that Dr. Ramesh Tamiri who by training is an ophthalmologist but by temperament and knowledge a student of history has explored and examined that yesteryear era for the first time in such great detail. This is indeed the first explosive story to come out on the 1947 invasion; a stunning piece of history.
In his monumentally impressive book ‘Pakistan’s Invasion on J&K (1947-48): Untold Stories of Victims’ Ramesh describes it all: Nazi-style invasion launched by Pakistan to grab the J&K state. In telling details he describes the reign of terror and ethnic cleansing let loose by the Pakistani invaders against the minorities – Hindus and Sikhs – living in the areas that fell to the aggressor. He compares the horrendous atrocities committed against minorities with those seen at Auschwitz.
The author turns his attention to a crucial question: why were these atrocities carried out? Long before the invasion, Jinnah and other leaders had depicted Kashmir as a princely state that ultimately belonged to Pakistan. Their territorial ambitions were further inflamed during the violence that accompanied the partition in 1947.
We are all aware that the delay in signing the instrument of accession encouraged the Pakistan army to launch the attack. But Ramesh armed with historical evidence, argues against blaming Hari Singh and dubs it as a ‘fake narrative.’ However after the Instrument of Accession was signed (the Maharaja had just 9000 soldiers at his disposal), Indian troops landed in Kashmir and pushed back the invaders. But a large part of the territory went under the illegal occupation of Pakistan.
Quoting Bal Raj Madhok, the author reveals a conspiracy by Pakistan plan to kill the Maharaja either on the day of Dussehra at Batmaloo on October 24, 1947 or earlier during his tour of border areas in Jammu.
Ramesh writes that a sizeable chunk of the invasion force was Pashtun tribesmen of the NWFP, but, copying the Nazis, the whole aggression was sponsored, directed, and controlled by the Pakistan government. Regular Pakistani soldiers and officers, paramilitary forces of the NWFP, senior bureaucrats, and British army officers and governors, were associated with the conspiracy and conduct of this aggression.
Ramesh writes: “the invading force was led by Major Khurshid Anwar and Khan Rahim Dad Salar. The invaders were joined by the deserters from state forces. The latter provided the strategic details they needed. They too joined in the looting and arson.”
A tense and gripping narration which hums with killings, rapes and escapes leaves a lasting impression. It is laced with authentic poignant stories; tales of common people. These tales are interlinked with the larger politics that was behind the raid.
According to the author the first account of what happened in Muzaffarabad was published by the Publicity Division of the GOI in 1961. It was the memoir of Krishna Mehta. It revolves around her own story and how she and her family faced those horrible days. Another account was on Mirpur by educationist Amar Devi. Around the same time, accounts of Rajouri by Pishori Lal Jhinjotia and Skardu by S. Kumar Mahajan were also published. The latter two accounts as primary sources are quite valuable for Rajouri and Skardu. There are small studies on Kotli and Poonch too. Anoop Singh Sodhi and Prof. Himat Singh have worked on how the Sikh community in Kashmir faced Pakistani aggression, but this is mostly documentation. None of these works cover Kashmiri Hindus.
Ramesh turns his attention to Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs who used to live in more than 350 villages in Kashmir that came under the occupation of Pakistani invaders. Over 128 Kashmiri Hindus were killed in numerous massacres and in selective killings at different places. Hundreds were repatriated by the International Red Cross after 2-3 years. Thousands were displaced from their habitats and had to face worse humiliations.
He narrates similar touching scenes from Muzaffarabad: “The Sikh community bore the brunt of the attack because they were identified easily. Prominent citizens – Chet Ram, Faqir Chand, and pleader Bodh Raj- were taken to the Krishanganga River and shot dead… Over sixty people, who had been locked up in the hospital ward, were killed.”
In an emotional and pricking account, Ramesh turns his attention to the carnage that took place in the town of Rajouri on November 11, 1947 speaks of the horrors committed against the minority communities: “Over 20,000 people were present in the Tehsil grounds. They decided to go for honour killing to save the dignity of their women and escape the brutality of the attackers. At sunset, women and men started ending their lives by swallowing poison. In all around 1700 women ended their lives.”
This book covers Muzaffarabad, Jammu region-Kotli, Mirpur, Rajouri, Budhal, and Chassana, Baltistan-Skardu, Khaplu, Shigar, Drass, Leh, Gilgit-Gilgit, Astore, Bunji and Chilas.
In a chilling account, the author narrates the brutal killing of J.L. Warikoo who was working as a teacher in Skardu region. He was hit by his own peon with an axe on the head and died on the spot. There were those who put to their own life in danger to rescue refugee girls from being raped and killed. Dr. K.N. Tiku comes for a special praise in the book for rescuing many young girls abducted by the invaders. The cataloguing of personal details of such individuals – Bishamber Nath Sapru, Ramchand Koul, Govind Ram, Gopi Nath Ganjoo, Rdha Krishan Bhat and many others – has allowed new escape stories to come to light to be told for the very first time.
In the chapter ‘Nationalist Resistance Saved Ladakh in 1948’, the author credits Young Men’s Buddhist Association for mobilizing the people who took arms to defend themselves against the aggression. D. P. Dhar who was looking after the defence of the frontier, got sanction from the state government for raising National Guard Force at Leh.
The author demystifies some of the myths about ‘Kashmiriyat’ when it reveals how locals in some areas supported the barbarous invaders.
However, there were some rare examples of solidarity and reciprocal support. Maqbool Sherwani’s suggestion to non-Muslims to stay on in Baramulla tremendously affected Hindus badly and there was Danse Macabre, but his advise to Pandits in Sopore to flee saved them. Similarly, for her bravery, Mata Ganga Kaur in Attina has become part of folklore, and a memorial for her has been built at Attina.
The author does not shy away from mentioning the names of those Muslims who fought valiantly to save Hindus/Sikhs: Master Abdul Aziz and Munshi Ferozuddin in Muzaffarabad, Abdul Aziz Thekedar in Mirpur, Mir Zaman in Shardi and Haji Mohammad Khan in Budhai.
Well-written and carefully researched it is no surprise that it took 23 years for the author to collect all the relevant material to make for a compelling reading. The good thing is that the book goes beyond documentation. Rather than taking up the repeated narrative, it has something fresh to offer.
The facts presented resonate with the audience, making it relatable and memorable. The author deserves praise for the manner he has managed to weave together hard facts with rigorous research and narrate it in stories with passion and intensity- evoking emotional connections.
The author does not spare the government of India for failing to act on the information it had of Pakistan’s plan to invade Kashmir. In the first week of October 1947, the Deputy Commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan, Devan Shiv Charan Lal, had submitted an official report revealing this information.
However, Ramesh shies away from engaging in interpretation except providing conclusions in brief towards the end. An excerpt: “Pakistan had decided to annex J&K by force as early as May or June 1947. Though a parallel track was kept to engage the National Conference leadership and the Maharaja simultaneously, its main focus was on the annexation of J&K by force…. British military officers were kept in the loop. In fact, the ‘Operation Gulmarg’ circular was signed by General Frank Messervy, Chief of Staff of Pakistan Army…”
The book is rich in rare pictures of victims, survivors and witnesses with extensive endnotes and useful selected bibliography. That is what makes the book a must read for all those who want to fully understand what happened during that dark October month of 1947. Will one deny that the brutality of the soldiers towards essentially the civilians in J&K remains one of the greatest horrors of the free India? There is an unwavering honest testimony; a slice of history that we will all do well never to forget. Thus, one should read it, for sure! It is one to stay with you long after you have finished reading.
(The author works as Advisor with reputed Apeejay Education, New Delhi)

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