By Wajahat Masood
(Translated from Urdu by Sohail Arshad)
One angle of the administrative chaos was that the transfer of a large number of the government officers to Pakistan or India on religious lines had become inevitable. Because of the possibility of migration also there was a decline in the sense of responsibility, discipline or the fear of authorities’ reprimand among the administrative officials. In the united Punjab, Lahore was the administrative centre. The systems of all the important government offices, banks, railways, telephones, radio, and the roads were centralised in Lahore. Unfortunately, Lahore was the centre of communal skirmishes that took place from time to time in the months of May, June and July. In the united Punjab, Lahore and Amritsar were like twin cities. Apart from the geographical proximity between the two cities there was a striking similarity in social, cultural and civilisational approaches there. The only difference was that Lahore was regarded as the centre of Muslim society and culture while Amritsar represented Sikh culture.
After mid-July both the cities became a part of such a communal confrontation that can be called the duet of barbarism. The irresponsible inflammatory oration of the religious leaders of two communities was reaching its crescendo. The cut-off organs of Muslim victims would be sent to Lahore in brass containers (the circumcised organs would indicate the religious identity of the dead). The next day, the brave men of Lahore would despatch a gift of similar nature to Amritsar. A train of Muslim refugees coming from east Punjab was slaughtered in Amritsar, and the next day a whole train of non-Muslim refugees was massacred. When a procession of nude girls was taken out in Lahore, the Muslim girls were meted out the same treatment in the streets of Amritsar the following day. When the Muslim localities were burnt down in Amritsar, the incidents of burning down of non-Muslim localities started in Lahore. A number of Muslim authors have written in their books without any regret or remorse, rather with a little pride that in the non-Muslim locality of Lahore called Shah Almi which was a marvel of architecture, the Hindus had made proper arrangements for protection against the attacks of the rioters. But some Muslim youths sneaked into Shah Almi through underground drains, and the locality comprising beautiful timber framed homes turned into ashes in no time.
With a view to the possible failure of civil administration in controlling the riots, the Chief of the Army of the united India, Field Marshal, Aukin Lake had constituted Punjab Boundary Force which was headed by the renowned commander of the second World War Major General Thomas Winsford Reese. He enjoyed the advisories from Brig. Ayub Khan from Pakistan and Brig. Brar from India. This Boundary Force had been active from August 1, 1947 to August 31, 1947 in 12 districts of Punjab. The 12 distrcits were Lahore, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Jullunder , Ludhiana, Ferozpur, Gojranwala, Montgomery, Layllpur, Sheikhpura and Sialkot. The total population of these twelve districts was one crore and thirty five lakh and the total area was 37 thousand 600 square miles. These districts located on either side of the proposed Radcliffe Line were the centres of the riots in the later half of 1947.
The report presented by Maj. Gen. Reese to his Supreme Commander on September 1, 1947 after the dissolution of the Punjab Boundary Force, is an eye opener. The original copy of the report is kept in the department of manuscripts of Birmingham University, Britain. At one point, Mr Maj. Gen. Reese writes:
“The 80% of the personnel in the police of the united Punjab were Muslim, but the non-Muslim authorities issued an order to disarm the Muslim jawans. In these circumstances the disarmed Muslim jawans refused to discharge their duties and went over to Pakistan.” Though the partisan attitude of the Muslim jawans might be the reason behind their being disarmed, it should also be considered how the disarmed police could discharge their duties during the riots.
According to Maj. Gen. Reese, “the number of security personnel in the Jullundur Division alone had come down by 7000 from its original strength because the Muslim police personnel had shifted to Pakistan. In Amritsar tehsil, only 200 out of 600 policemen were left. The situation was the same in other districts.”
This aspect should also be kept in mind that after the Second World War was over, the trained Sikh soldiers had come back to their homes. Even the armed police was no match for these battle-hardened soldiers. Ordinary citizens were simply at their mercy. The soldiers were burning with the desire for revenge. Higher Muslim and non-Muslim officials had become completely biased. You have read about the ‘professional impartiality’ of Mushtaque Ahmad Wajdi in connection with his dealings with Sardar Shaukat Hayat. The assistant commissioner of Bhagalpur Qudratullah Shahab, in his book, Shahab Nama, has narrated with pride the incidents of his passing of the official correspondence over to Qaid-e-Azam, transgressing his official powers.
Choudhry Md Ali has openly admitted in his book “Emergence of Pakistan” that it was he who had advised the Muslim League leadership to accept the Finance Ministry in 1946 and had vowed that he would make life hell for other ministries. A reading of “Sarguzasht”( A personal account), the autobiography of Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari, a senior officer of the All India Radio, can easily give you an idea of his ‘secular credentials’.
In the given circumstances, it would not be farfetched to assume that the non-Muslim government officials too must have been engaged in similar kind of mischief-mongering with the Congress, particularly with Sardar Vallabh Patel. In this context, the name of Randhawa, the then deputy commissioner of Delhi, has gained proverbial proportions.
The tales of persecutions and oppression committed in the east Punjab are documented in countless books. Among them, Khwaja Iftekhar’s famous book, ‘Jab Amritsar jal raha tha’ (When Amritsar was burning) is an impressive one. In his autobiography, the renowned cartoonist and Punjabi fiction-writer Anwar Ali has penned the details of the horrible days in Ludhiana from the point of view of a humanist.
The Oxford University Press has published a book titled “ Common Legacy”, but its contributors—Shaista Ekramullah, Khushwant Singh, Shahla Shibli, Mukhtar Zaman, Aruna Asaf Ali, Brij Kumar Nehru and Pandu Chintamani---are so ‘secular-minded and conscientious’ that a no-holds-barred narration of bitter historical truths cannot be expected from them.