On the 14th of August 1947, our family was vacationing in Pehlgam, one of the most famous resorts in Kashmir. My father, Dr Rahmat Ullah, had earlier been deputed to Calcutta for an advanced training course in Public Health. The course was, however, terminated on account of violent sectarian riots in Calcutta and other parts of Bengal. My father consequently had to return to Jammu. He was informed by his department that since his next posting as a district officer would take, at the very least, a month, he ought avail the leave due to him. So he rented a small cottage in the beautiful summer resort of Pehlgam and took the family there.
We were among the very few in Pehlgam who flew the Pakistani flag on their house on Independence Day. It was, however, a pleasant surprise to see a full-sized Pakistani flag fluttering on top of the local Post Office building. We later learnt that disciplinary proceedings were initiated against the post master, who defended himself by pleading that since a “Standstill Agreement“ had been signed by the Maharaja of Kashmir with the Government of Pakistan, under which the management of postal services in Jammu and Kashmir was the responsibility of Pakistan until further notice, therefore, it was not incorrect to hoist a Pakistani flag on the buildings of the Postal Department.
There were reports of the distribution of firearms to militant Hindu organisations, the seizure of licensed arms from Muslims and the transfer of Muslim field officers from the Police and Revenue Departments
News was pouring in that the law and order situation in most of Jammu province was rapidly deteriorating. It was reported that in the three southern non–Muslim majority districts of Jammu province (namely Jammu, Udhampur and Kathua), parts of district Riasi and in Jammu city itself, organised groups of extremist/militant Hindu organisations (e.g. RSS) were active. They were not only harassing the Muslim population but had also resorted to directly attacking Muslims and damaging their property, especially in the more remote areas. The most disturbing aspect to the news was that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir was actively encouraging these activities. There were reports of the distribution of firearms to militant Hindu organisations, the seizure of licensed arms from Muslims and the transfer of Muslim field officers from the Police and Revenue Departments from these districts. Refugees coming in from West Punjab, seeking refuge in Jammu and Kashmir further inflamed the situation, with stories circulating of atrocities committed in Muslim-majority areas of West Punjab and three Muslim-majority western districts of Jammu and Kashmir, namely Muzaffarabad, Poonch and Mirpur.
My taya jan, who was the head of our clan, repeatedly sent us messages from Jammu, asking us to return there. My father and uncle Fazal-e-Haq tried to argue that returning to Jammu would not be wise, as our families were safe in Pehlgam and Srinagar. But the two younger brothers could not succeed in convincing their elder brother. Consequently, we left Pehlgam and arrived in Jammu city by mid-September. Taya jan wanted a conference of brothers to decide the future course of action. The decision taken by consensus was that all women and children be shifted to Gujrat, where my two other paternal uncles were living since many years.
Despite this decision and the easy travel between Gujrat and Jammu, the families could not move to Gujrat for one reason or the other. The law and order situation, in the meanwhile, was further deteriorating. One could see smoke rising from habitations on the adjoining hills. Instances of arson, looting and killing of Muslims in areas around Jammu city had increased manifold. The railway service between Jammu and Sialkot was suspended and a permit system introduced by the local administration for traveling in and out of the state. Abba jan (Father) hurriedly obtained the permit and our own family was all set to travel by tonga to Suchetgarh, on the border, less than 20 miles from Jammu. The evening before the proposed day of travel, City Police Inspector Raja Sohbat Ali, who was a friend of my father, came to our house and strongly advised abba jan to refrain from travelling without an escort. He informed us that a tonga going to Suchetgarh that very morning had been stopped on way by a gang of miscreants and all three Muslim occupants of the tonga grievously wounded with swords and lances. Raja Sohbat said that next morning, he was scheduled to go out of the city to investigate a murder case, but would return by evening and personally escort our family, with a police contingent, on the following day. The Inspector never came back alive. He was ruthlessly killed by RSS during the investigation: some bullets in the chest at point-blank range, followed by chopping off his two fingers which had gold rings on them.
Our house was the last Muslim house in mohalla Kanak Mandi/Partab Garh in lower Jammu and was surrounded by Hindu houses on three sides. It had become unsafe to continue living there. We therefore moved to Talab Khatikan, a predominantly Muslim locality. Likewise, many other Muslim families from other Hindu-dominated areas also moved and squeezed into whatever accommodation was available in Talab Khatikan. Muslims of upper Jammu mohallas had, by then, taken refuge in Ustad Ka Mohalla, a predominantly Muslim area.
I do not recall the exact date of our move to Talab Khtikan, but my best guess is that it was the third or fourth week of September 1947. The situation continued to deteriorate rapidly. Hindu elements of the city had organized themselves well and had virtually encircled the Muslim sanctuary of Talab Khatikan. Intermittent small-arms fire aimed at the besieged Muslims proceeded daily, with varying intensity. The supply of food and other essential items to Jammu city had already diminished with the closure of railways and vehicular traffic linking the city with Sialkot and the rest of Punjab. The situation for Muslim inhabitants in Talab Khatikan became quite precarious on account of the siege. The Muslims hardly possessed any effective firearms. Except for half a dozen revolvers and torray dar rifles, they depended on swords, lances daggers, hockey sticks and lathis. Captain Nasiruddin, a retired British army officer provided leadership to the encircled Muslims in defensive tactics and vigilance.
There was a regular inflow of people with gunshot wounds and other injuries. My father, Dr Rahmat Ullah, assisted by Dr Abdul Karim Malik and one compounder, established a basic first-aid centre for which they had to break open an absentee chemist’s shop. The meagre booty of bandages and disinfectants retrieved from the chemist’s shop was quickly exhausted. Thereafter, the doctors were left without any material for treating the wounded.
One report alleges that the Maharaja himself fired a shot at a roadside gathering of Muslims, thus signaling to his Hindu subjects to follow suit
As a last resort, my father persuaded a sweeper to convey his “Salaams” to Dr Partab Singh Khosla, Medical Suprintendent of Sri Maharaja Partab Hospital. A day later, Dr Khosla returned the compliments to my father by sending two janitors, baskets full of bandages, cotton wool, disinfectants, antiseptics and other essential medical items.
Only one simple meal was cooked for the whole day, for everyone, for instance rice and grams. Ladies, during most of the day would recite verses of Quran particularly Ayat e Karima. We, the children, attempted to memorize parts of the Quran and also kept count of the gunshots heard each day.
The RSS and other militants surrounding the Muslims fired ceaselessly but refrained from an all-out attack on our mohalla. Possibly, they were not sure about the defensive capabilities of the Muslims. Several tactical steps to mislead the Hindus about the capability of the Muslims had already been taken, thanks to Captain Nasiruddin. An interesting episode from those days was that a couple of young Muslims were deputed by the elders to sneak into the locked house of the late Major General Sumundar Khan, paternal uncle of Air Marshal Asghar Khan. The initiative met with great success and the youngsters found a couple of good rifles with substantial ammunition. That day, the Muslims retaliated vigorously, thus discouraging the enemy from a frontal attack.
During October, the local ex-servicemen from the districts of Poonch, Kotli and Mirpur rose in rebellion against the Maharaja, captured police stations and other government buildings and organized themselves into irregular units of troops. The formation of an “Azad Government of the State of Jammu & Kashmir” was announced on 24th October1947 and contingents of Qabaili (tribal) Lashkars also started invading various parts of Jammu & Kashmir. When these forces advanced well into Jehlum valley, the Maharaja panicked and fled from Srinagar, the summer capital, to Jammu. On his way to Jammu, the Maharaja broke his journey at several places to meet the Dogra elders who had assembled along the road to meet him. Maharaja Hari Singh is reported to have told the Dogra elders “Raj ja raha hay, bacha sakte ho to bacha lo” (our rule is ending, so save it if you can). One report alleges that the Maharaja himself fired a shot at a roadside gathering of Muslims, thus signaling to his Hindu subjects to follow suit.
The brutalities committed by the RSS and the local Dogra population on the Muslims in rural Jammu increased manifold. Houses were burnt, property plundered, women molested and taken away and men killed or maimed. Towns like Riasi, Akhnoor, Udhampur, Samba and Kathua were severely brutalised.
As Eid-ul-Qurban was approaching, tensions peaked because the RSS had reportedly vowed that not sheep and goats, but Muslim men and women, will be sacrificed on the coming Eid.
Then, all of a sudden, the firing stopped and a lull prevailed for about a week. Announcements were then made through loudspeakers that all Muslims wishing to go to Pakistan should assemble in the Police Lines on the morning of Wednesday, 5th November. Every family was to carry not more than one suitcase and one set of beddings. His Highness’ Government, it said, would provide transport and safe passage to Pakistan.
Around 5-6,000 Muslims assembled in the Police Lines on that fateful day. Buses were lined up; officials on duty were verifying lists of family members, checking baggage and allocating buses to passengers. It turned out that the number of available buses was too few to carry even 20% of the assembly, so it was apparent that the buses would have to undertake several trips. Most people wanted to travel in the very first convoy and reach Pakistan quickly, but everyone could not be accommodated and the officials on duty exercised some discretion.
Our whole clan comprising of my father and his three brothers with their families, my maternal grandparents and two maternal uncles, successfully got into the first convoy. The convoy, consisting of 30-35 buses, was able to make a start by midday. Buses those days were much smaller and ordinarily allowed to carry only 18-19 passengers, but on that day about 25-30 women and children were stuffed inside a bus and about 15-16 males made to sit on the roof of each bus, in addition to the luggage. The drivers and cleaners of the buses were mostly Sikhs wearing kirpans, and the front seat of every bus was occupied by a soldier/NCO of the Army (I am not sure which army it was: Jammu and Kashmir, India or Patiala). The convoy of 30-35 buses was piloted by an army three-tonner vehicle carrying soldiers and another three-tonner escorted the convoy from the rear. The passengers inside the buses were extremely uncomfortable, as women and children were packed like sardines, but the main tension was on account of our acute trust-deficit with our escorts. The doubts in our minds regarding their intentions soon turned into certainty. Soon after getting out of the city, instead of proceeding towards Sialkot through the regular (metalled) road, the convoy turned east on the dirt-road leading to Kathua/Pathankot. Women and children started wailing and reciting duas. Jathas of local Dogras, armed with swords and lances, were seen freely moving along the road. One bus broke down near Samba, but the convoy did not stop for more than a few seconds. It continued its journey, leaving the unfortunate passengers behind at the mercy of the armed killers who were roaming freely along the road.
After a painful wait of around an hour, we noticed that some local cutthroats had started to attack and loot
The convoy reached Mawa, a village situated between Samba and Kathua, during the light of day. There were large patches of level ground on both sides of the road, where the buses were made to park. Initially, the passengers were not allowed to disembark but after some persuation, the JCO in charge of the convoy allowed them to come out of the buses, unload their luggage and sit in the big field next to the parked buses, awaiting further orders. A small number of armed locals were hovering around.
My estimate is that the people in our assembly numbered between 1,000 and 1,200.
I was nine and a half years old and my brother Khalid Mehmud had just turned twelve. The ages of the accompanying children of our family ranged from thirteen-year-old Azmat, son of uncle Haibullah to one-month-old Tahira, who I never see tired from playing with her grand-children in Fort Worth, Dallas. My younger brother Arif Kamal was only nine months old and was carried by Ramzani, our Delhi-born servant, who was the lone survivor of his family killed in the Delhi communal riots. The poor boy must have thought Kashmir was a paradise on earth and had sought refuge there. Arif Kamal retired from the Pakistan Foreign Service in 2007 after two ambassadorial assignments.
Mawa, we later came to know, was only about three kilometers east of the border from Pakistani tehsils Shakergarh and Narowal in Sialkot district. My uncle Fazal-e-Haq, an officer of the Customs Department, whispered into the ears of my father that a few years ago, he had extensively toured the area and felt confident that he could safely find his way to the Pakistani border. He had made up his mind to slip away from Mawa in a few moments and would take elderly Tayi jan (aunt) with him. Tayi herself was alone, as all her children had left for Gujrat a month-and-a-half ago. And the whereabouts of Taya jan were not known, despite the fact that he had been seen riding the very leading bus when the convoy left Jammu Police Lines. Uncle Fazal-e-Haq wanted abba jan’s blessings for his plan, but also sought permission to take with him one of us two brothers and one son of uncle Habibullah. Abba jan approved his plan but the proposal of parting with their sons was summarily rejected by the two mothers. After a quick and emotional “Allah Hafiz”, uncle Fazal-e-Haq, accompanied by Tayi jan, disappeared in to the fading light of the evening.
After a painful wait of around an hour, we noticed that some local cutthroats had started to attack and loot. Luckily for us, their first priority appeared to be looting and taking away women. We also noticed a few uniformed and armed personnel joining the loot. They were probably from amongst those who had escorted us. There was total pandemonium and the assembly, reacting as if from an electric shock, got on their feet and sprinted westwards to save their lives. The caravan of about 1200 persons who had been brought by buses soon split up and then further sub-divided into many groups. A good number of fleeing people fell into the pits of adjacent brick-kilns and many of those who were slow starters or indecisive about parting with their belongings were mercilessly brutalized at Mawa. Our good luck was that the assailants had first focused on looting, which gave us a precious lead of 15-20 minutes. While fleeing, we did hear shouts, shrieks, moans and later, rifle shots. We also watched from a distance as our pursuers lit up flares.
Our sub-group consisted of about 70-75 people. No one knew the exact route to Pakistan, but we continued walking and trotting on the broken ground in a generally western direction. We avoided getting too close to the villages on our way and refrained from speaking loudly. At several places, the village dogs barked at us fanatically but we retreated backwards or sideways. Whenever an infant cried, there were immediate shouts from some companion such as the following: “Silence the baby”, “Throw the baby away” or even “Strangle him or we will all be captured”.
The total belongings which we were able to keep consisted of my father’s overcoat, my mother’s burqa and infant Arif Kamal’s bag: containing a milk bottle, a tin of milk powder and a bottle-cleaning brush. I had lost my shoes right in the beginning of our flight at Mawa and hopped barefoot all the way without any complaints. On the other hand, Khalid and I were carrying a dozen each of paperback childrens’ books taken from our library, stuffed in our pockets. We had been on our feet for about ten hours on that rugged ground but still had no clue where exactly we were. None of us had eaten since the morning of the 5th of November, but most of us were not lacking in spirits.
In the pre-dawn twilight of Thursday, the 6th of November, while we were crossing a small stream, some of us saw a person clad in unfamiliar clothes, i.e. a tehband wrapped around his waist and a typical rural Punjabi headgear called “safa” around his head. “Who are you and where are we?” we asked.
“You are already about two miles inside Pakistan, this is village Chang and I am Alaf Din”. He uttered those beautiful words and continued further saying, “Do not lie down here! Come inside the village!”
The writer is a retired civil servant residing in Islamabad and can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org