Millions of people were brutally killed by communal mobs under the tutelage of erstwhile Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir in the winter capital in the months of October and November in 1947, but, one of the biggest genocide and ethnic cleansing in the contemporary times hardly finds a mentions in the pages of history.
Each year, India— ‘the world’s largest democracy’— commemorates, April 1919, Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in which British army’s Brigadier General Reginald EH Dyer fired over crowd for nearly ten minutes and killed hundreds and left thousands injured, but why has been a large scale genocide and ethnic cleansing of Jammu Muslims been pushed under the rugs of oblivion?
The gory event being systematically erased from the pages of history has made it difficult to trace the bloodbath. Questions about the systematic killings at a mass level and the hidden hands to change Jammu’s demography even after 65 years seek clear answers.
Documents unravel that the events of time in Jammu that changed fate of millions received least reportage. Was the authoritarian Maharaja working under a plan and did he impose a blanket ban on noting down the gory events? Perhaps one would never know the details, but has been chronicled is: Around 500,000 Muslims were killed with military precision in Jammu in the months of October and November. (“Prejudice in Paradise”, communalism combat, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, 2005. http://www.indianet.nl/indpk146.html)
Such was the intensity of this carnage in the province that about 123 villages were ‘completely depopulated’.
While the decrease in the number of Muslims in Jammu district alone was over 100,000. Thousands of Gujjars were massacred in local mohallas and the villages within Jammu cantonment area were completely burnt down. Kuthua almost ‘lost’ fifty per cent of its Muslim population.
The Muslims numbered 158,630 and comprised 37 per cent of the total population of 428,719 in the year 1941, and in the year 1961, they numbered only 51,690 and comprised only 10 per cent of the total population of 516,932.
The Dogra state troops were at the forefront of attacks on Muslims. The state authorities were also issuing arms not only to local volunteer organizations (RSS) but to those in surrounding East Punjab districts such as Gurdaspur.
“The Hindus and Sikhs of Jammu and those who had gone there from outside (referring to RSS from Gurdaspur and surrounding areas) killed Muslims there. Their women have been dishonored. This has not been fully reported in the newspapers. The Maharaja of Kashmir is responsible for what has happened there.” (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, volume 90, page 115 and 298).
The state administration had not only demobilised a large number of Muslim soldiers serving in the state army, but Muslim police officers had also been sent home.
The idea was to create a Hindu majority in the Jammu region. Eighteen per cent fall in Muslim population in the region from Census 1941 to 1961 was noted after Muslims were butchered.
Names of the places were immediately erased to conform to new ownership. Urdu Bazar became Rajinder Bazar and Islamia School became Hari Singh High School. Almost 95 per cent of left-over properties which should have in the normal course been taken over by the state government were given to looters and rioters (Daily Telegraph of London dated 12 January 1948). These properties continue to be under the illegal occupation of looters and their descendants.
Out of a total of 8 lakhs Muslims who tried to migrate, more than “237,000 were systematically exterminated by all the forces of the Dogra state, headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs.” (“The Master and the Maharajas: The Sikh Princes and the East Punjab Massacres of 1947,” Ian Copland).
Local media too perpetuated in intensifying the killings and exodus. For example, a Jammu-based Hindu paper boasted that ‘a Dogra can kill at least two hundred Muslims’ which illustrated the communal level to which the media and parties had sunk.
Then emergency administrator, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah too conceded genocide and ethnic cleansing in his speech two weeks later at Jammu. But he put the blame on victims and said: “Jammu Muslims are to be large extent themselves responsible for what has happened to them, because though in a minority, they had, by their words and deeds, let their tongues in favour of Pakistan.”(The Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir p. 332, P N Bazaz).
However, in Sheikh Abdullah’s autobiography, Atish-e-Chinar (page 312), he writes that the carnage received an impetus after the arrival of Union Home Minster Sardar Patel, Union Defence Minister Baldev Singh along with the Maharaja of Patiala, a person known for his anti-Muslim bias, in Jammu. The trio had met various Hindu organizations and delegations, after which the massacre attained a great momentum. Fanatics, aided and abetted by government forces, started burning down village after village inhabited by Muslims. Women were abducted, raped at will.
Even the daughter of the Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas, the front-runner political figure, was not spared. Many women preferred death than falling prey. “His family suffered in all possible ways during ethnic cleansing of Jammu. Several of his sisters and brother were killed. His family members were specifically targeted because of his proximity to Muslim League. His youngest daughter was recovered from an Indian Army camp after the massacre of Jammu Muslims.” (Sheikh Showkat Hussain, “19 Profiles”).
GK Reddy, an editor of the Kashmir Times in a statement published in the daily Nawa-i-Waqt wrote: “I saw the armed mob with the complicity of Dogra troops killing the Muslims ruthlessly. The state officials were openly giving out weapons to the mob.”
Ironically, explanations of the violence –both in India and Pakistan – always have portrayed the killing as erratic and spontaneous, many with the aim of ‘blame displacement’. Each country floated the subsequent course of violence as a ‘reaction’ to the ‘action’ and in many cases as ‘self-defence’. But the execution of Jammu Muslims breaks the meta-narrative created around the communal killings during partition.
Umer Beigh is a journalist based in Kashmir.