Muslim League Attack on Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab 1947
Compiled for the SGPC by S. GURBACHAN SINGH TALIB
PRELUDE TO GENOCIDE OF HINDUS AND SIKHS N.-W. FRONTIER PROVINCE MASSACRIES AND THE PUNJAB MUSLIM LEAGUE AGITATION
In the North-Western Frontier Province a Congress Ministry came into power after defeating a Muslim League Ministry on the floor of the Provincial Legislature. The Muslim League regarded this Province as one of its especial preserves, for the population was overwhelmingly Muslim. But the freedom-loving Pathan character under the guidance of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his brother, Dr. Khan Sahib, had preferred the Congress way over the League way, which was known to be working in collusion with the British bureaucracy, and which moreover, was dominated by reactionary feudal elements-the nawabs and title-holders and the fanatical mullahs. When the Muslim League Direct Action campaign was started, the League leaders naturally thought of stirring up trouble in the North-Western Frontier Province, and thus turning the tide against the Congress ministry, which would naturally pursue a policy of cementing the good relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. As early as July 28, 1946 as narrated earlier, trouble of quite serious nature had occurred in Hazara district-an area which was particularly susceptible to Muslim League propaganda. Hazara is not properly speaking a Pathan area; it is Punjabi-speaking, and not Pushtu, and in its political character takes more after the Punjab, to which it is cognate, than to the rest of the Frontier Province, which is trans-Indus in respect of geography. Local Muslims, along with fanatical marauders from the tribal areas, whom loot and the desire for attacking ‘infidels’-be they Hindu, Sikh, Christian or any other-would always bring hurtling down the valleys, looted and burnt Hindu and Sikh shops and terrorized the Hindu and Sikh population of the Hazara district. Gurdwaras were attacked, their inmates killed and the holy. places themselves desecrated.
The firm hand of the Congress Government of the Frontier Province for a time kept the communal situation under control. The League was busy intriguing-and there is no doubt that in this intrigue for disturbing the peace of the province, it had the active assistance of the local British bureaucrats. The attitude of the British bureaucracy was made perfectly clear in the got-up attacks on Pandit Nehru’s party, when he made his tour of the tribal areas as Vice-President of the Interim Government of India. This alliance between the League and the British bureaucracy was in evidence everywhere all through the years 1946 and 1947 in stirring up attacks on non-Muslims in the Muslim-majority areas of India.
Calcutta and Noakhali did not bring any condemnation from the League of these criminal attacks on minorities. Far from it-in the League Press the attempt was made to shift the responsibility, where there occurrences were admitted at all, on the Hindus. The Muslim League did not, to begin with, join the Interim Government. The Congress got associated five eminent and capable Muslims in the Interim Government, to fill for the time being the seats which by agreement, the Muslim League should have occupied. One of these Muslim members of the Interim Government, Dr. Shafaat Ahmed Khan was murderously attacked at Simla by some League hirelings, a few days before the Interim Government was to take office. This attack was only part of the League campaign of murder and assault on all who dared to differ from its policy.
In the Hazara District, which was selected by the Muslim League as the venue of its operations against Sikhs and Hindus in July, 1946 and later in December of the same year, the Muslim population is 94.94%. As a matter of fact, in the entire province the Muslim percentage in the population was as high as 91.79. In such a province the life of the minorities is not worth a day’s purchase, if the majority decides to make things hot for them.
On 7. 12. 1946 in the villages of Batal, Uggi, Sum Ilahi Mung and Garhi Jallo, very serious and unprovoked attacks on Hindus and Sikhs occurred. In Batal 11 Hindus and Sikhs were killed, and 11 were wounded. Hindu and Sikh houses were looted. The bazar of Uggi was attacked and Hindu and Sikh shops were set on fire. In this village 5 Hindus and Sikhs were killed. In Sum Ilahi Mung, an attack was made on the Hindu and Sikh evacuees from the two previously mentioned villages, and 14 were killed, with 27 injured. In Garhi Jallo stray killing of Hindus and Sikhs continued, and the Gurdwara of the place was burnt down.
The trouble spread to other parts also of Hazara District. On 18.12.1946 in Garhi Habibullah, in Mansehra Tehsil, one Hindu was abducted and later found killed. In Havelian and Lahore (Hazara), commencing on the same date anti-Hindu-Sikh rioting continued well on into January, 1947. A massacre of Hindus and Sikhs in Havelian was averted only by the timely arrival of the military; but stray killing of Hindus and Sikhs continued for weeks. By the end of December, 1946 conditions in the Havelian area had deteriorated so far that all Hindus and Sikhs of this area had to leave their homes and property at the mercy of the Muslim marauders, and seek safety of life and honour in the Punjab.
At a place called Daddar in Hazara District, on 11.12.1946, 40 Hindu and Sikh evacuees from the surrounding area were waylaid by Muslims; 10 of them were killed and the rest were seriously wounded. All were deprived of their belongings.
By the end of December, in Hazara it became a general uprising against Hindus and Sikhs, who were killed and robbed, and their houses burnt and sacred places desecrated. This ‘holy’ war was carried into the village of Mohri, Dival, Akhroota, Pipal, Jaba, Gohra, Phulgara, Dhanak, Muhari, Karchhan, Malach, Dakhali Sair, Bafa, Sihalian, Samadhra, Jabori, Sankiari, Balakot and Bhata. In all these and other places Hindus and Sikhs were killed, their houses looted and burnt down, Gurdwaras and/or Hindu temples desecrated, Hindu and Sikh evacuees from places of danger waylaid and attacked and the entire Hindu and Sikh population forced to seek refuge in the Punjab. As, however, the numbers involved were not very large, and moreover, neither the Frontier Congress Government nor the Congress-Panthic-Unionist Coalition Government of the Punjab wanted to excite the Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab, this serious campaign of extermination against the Hindu and Sikh minorities was given the minimum of publicity, and the general public never had a notion of the serious magnitude or import of what was happening, or that another Noakhali was being enacted at the other extreme of India. The features of Noakhali, or for the matter of that, of all Muslim attacks on minorities, were repeated here-mass murder, looting, burning, desecration, collusion between the police and officials and the marauders, with the Muslim League working as the guiding hand in pursuance of its Direct Action Programme, behind what was happening.
In some of these places wholesale massacre of the minorities occurred. In Bhata 116 Sikhs were burnt alive, and several shot dead. In Malachh 115 Hindus and Sikhs were killed.
As has been said above, the general public in the Punjab had no notion of the real scale of what was happening in Hazara. Why at this time the Muslim League did not try to stir up trouble in the Punjab, had a very good reason behind it from the Muslim League point of view. While in the Frontier Province, the League could count on the 92 per cent. majority of Muslim population and the comparative ignorance and fanaticism of the local Muslim population, along with the bait of loot which would draw tribesmen from the neighbouring hill-tracts; in the Punjab the Hindu and Sikh minority was as strong as 44% and so could be expected to give back to the attackers as good as they got, and in certain districts to completely rout and smash them. Moreover, the Coalition Government, at that time in power in the Punjab, although perched on a very shaky eminence, yet it knew that its very existence depended upon its maintaining communal peace with all the resources in its power. Once communal trouble broke out, the coalition would break down, with altogether unforeseenable consequences for the province. So, they maintained peace with the last ounce of their energy. When large-scale trouble broke out in Calcutta on the Direct Action Day, the Punjab maintained peace-though a tense and precarious peace. On August 29, 1946, which was Id, trouble was widely expected in the Punjab. Feverish apprehensions were entertained of another Calcutta being enacted in Lahore; and the other Punjab towns too were awaiting the day with anxiety. But so strict was the vigilance of the Punjab Coalition Government, and so well did the Muslim police and officials understand that their Government meant business when it instructed them to maintain peace at all costs, that not a single incident was allowed to occur anywhere. It was well-known that arms and incendiaries had been collected by the Muslims in the Punjab, as in other provinces, by August. 1946 and only the proverbial button awaited to be pressed for horrors such as were later witnessed in Calcutta to be enacted. But August passed off peacefully and indeed, as long as the Coalition was in power, disaster was staved off in the Punjab. But mass-attack on the minorities occurred with a vengeance as soon as the Coalition resigned on March 2, 1947.
The Punjab continued to be tense all through the latter part of 1946 and early 1947. The Muslim League wanted to capture power in the Province, but its intentions were now known to be so fascist, so totalitarian, and its programme and policy so completely to be the enslavement, nay elimination of minorities, that the League Party in the Punjab Assembly although the largest single party in the House, could not get even a single Hindu or Sikh M. L. A. to give it support.
Not finding it possible by any professions of friendship or any assurances to create confidence among the minorities, the League tried its method of Direct Action in the Punjab to capture power and to subjugate the minorities.
THE MUSLIM LEAGUE AGITATION IN THE PUNJAB, 1947
The Muslim League was on the look-out for an opportunity to wage their war on the Coalition Government in the Punjab, which had so far succeeded in maintaining peace-albeit a kind of ‘armed truce’-in the Province. The League gave all the provocation it could to the Coalition Government, and to the Hindu and Sikh minorities. The Muslim National Guards recruitment proceeded with very increased speed during all the months after the Direct Action Resolution of the Muslim League was passed. So great and ubiquitous was the organisation of the League Private Army, the Muslim National Guards, that every Muslim mohalla, every small town, sometimes every considerable village, had its own National Guard contingent and its commander, called Salar. One would be surprised to find the organization existing very often in unlikely and out-of-the-way places. The Guard collected arms and petrol-almost everywhere. They received secret instructions from head-quarters, and had a quasi-military, fascist kind of organization, with the rule of implicit obedience to the orders of the leader. An idea of the numbers and of the formidable threat which the Muslim National Guard constituted to the peace of the Punjab, can be formed from the fact that in the city of Amritsar alone the National Guard razakars (volunteers) numbered 9,000, while in Lahore this number was estimated to be in the neighbourhood of 10,000.
Since the Muslim National Guard were assuming such alarming proportions the Coalition Government of the Punjab, on January 24, 1946 declared the Muslim National Guards and along with it, the Rashtriya Swyam Sewak Sangh, a private Hindu army, unlawful associations. While this was done, the Punjab Government in a communique made it clear that no Government could tolerate the existence of private armies, which constituted a grave menace to the existence of the State.
Declaring unlawful the Muslim National Guard perturbed the League leaders a good deal. It meant the weakening of the League’s power of coercion of minorities. Mr. Ghazanfar Ali, later a member of the Interim Government on behalf of the League, called this banning “an attempt to ban an important part of the activities of the Muslim League itself.”
Search of the Muslim League office in Lahore was resisted. Those resisting were arrested and they included Khan Iftikhar Husain of Mamdot, President of the Punjab Provincial Muslim League, and later Premier of West Punjab. Some more of the important League leaders of the Punjab were arrested. The search of the Muslim League office revealed 1,000 helmets and badges with signs of swords, pistol and dagger.
The Muslim League began defiance of the law by taking out processions and holding meetings all over the Province, in contravention of the Safety Ordinance, which had prohibited all meetings and processions.
Although soon after arrest the League leaders were released and the Muslim League meeting in Lahore in defiance of the Safety Ordinance was allowed to be held, yet the League decided to continue the agitation it had launched against the Punjab Government.
The League agitation continued for 34 days-a period during which the tempo of the movement became more and more violent, and from being ostensibly a movement for fighting the attack on the civil liberties of the population in the form of the Safety Ordinance, it became openly a. movement for the conquest of the Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab. The speeches made on the day the movement was launched left no doubt as to what its real aim was. On January 27, 1947 Mian Iftikharuddin said at a Lahore public meeting of Muslims:
“We have come here to tell you that if you can carry on the fight with the same determination and discipline as had been displayed during the past three days, not only will you have achieved victory in the Punjab, but you will also have reached nearer to your goal of Pakistan.”
That Pakistan was to be brought nearer by this agitation, and that Pakistan was the device for enslaving the Hindus and Sikhs to the Muslims, were the true premises for determining the character of the League agitation. That the Muslim League was in alliance with the overwhelmingly large Muslim police of the Punjab and the Muslim officials, is beyond a doubt. In meeting this agitation there was none of that vigour with which the Congress movements in India have been sought to be crushed by the British Government-nor was there the discipline inculcated among Congress workers by the Congress creed and by Mahatma Gandhi and his personality. The agitation was allowed to drift on. Few arrests were made; the burden of the Government communiques in those days in describing the movement was “No arrests were made.” Those that were made, were described as “temporary”, that is, the arrested persons were released before the communique was out The League agitators, on the other hand, in this first movement which was not directly a riot had little quarrel with the police, which was sympathetic towards it. –
Some well-meaning people among the non-Muslims in the Punjab were deceived as to the real character of this Muslim League agitation. Hopes were entertained that now at long last the Muslim League too, like the Congress, had adopted the way of Civil Disobedience, and that it was fighting a battle in the way of peaceful agitation for the vindication of certain civic rights, such as freedom of association, etc. That this estimate of the real character of the movement was a mistake, was soon made evident by certain ugly incidents, which must have shocked those who thought that the proverbial leopard of the Muslim League had changed his spots. The League which had to its credit several years’ campaign of hate, of the two-nation theory, of its Direct Action, Calcutta, Noakhali and the N.-W. F. P. attacks on the minorities, could not transform its character formed all through its above mentioned activities over years. In the Punjab Agitation the usual slogans raised by the League crowds were: ‘Lar ke lenge Pakistan’; ‘Khun se lenge Pakistan’; ‘Dena hoga Pakistan’; ‘Leke rahenge Pakistan’ etc. All these slogans, as the Sikh leaders rightly pointed out, were really attacks directed against the Hindu and Sikh minorities, who to a man were opposed to the establishment of the Islamic State of Pakistan, and to enslave whom to the rule of the Muslim-majority this state was sought to be established. The Sikh leaders felt deeply perturbed over the growing strength of the League Agitation, and over the week-kneed and pusillanimous attitude with which the Punjab Government was dealing with this movement of extremely dangerous potentialities. That the movement was extremely dangerous for the peace and well-being of the Province, was demonstrated within about only a week after its termination, in the shape of the terrible and unprecedently widespread March, 1947 attacks on the Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab. Well in the middle of February, 1947, when the movement was about three weeks old, attacks had begun to take place on Hindus and Sikhs-not widespread, but nevertheless symptomatic of the true character of the movement, and of what it was going to become, if allowed to continue a little time longer. What the Chief Secretary of the Punjab Government, who incidentally was a Muslim, and is occupying at present a position of great responsibility under the West Punjab Government in Pakistan, says on this agitation, is highly illuminating:
“The agitation which the Muslim League commenced on the 24th of January has continued until the time of drafting this report. It has affected all districts in the province in varying degrees and in places there have been situations of some seriousness. The campaign is one of deliberate disobedience and defiance of law conducted with a definite undemocratic political motive.
“So far there has been no sign that the Muslim leaders at large or in jail have been persuaded to a sense of responsibility or to reasonableness. In the circumstances the early restoration of the Province to its normal life cannot confidently be expected.
“The crime situation continues to be unsatisfactory with criminals taking advantage of police preoccupation in dealing with disturbances created by politics. The law and order field may be further and adversely affected if the Muslim League puts certain of its threats into action. These include interference with communications and a campaign of non-payment of taxes. So far as taxes go, there has been no translation of the threat into action, but there has been interference in the running of trains advocated and practised by the more extreme among the League’s adherents. Persons taken in the commission of offences of this kind are being dealt with under Ordinance XXVIII of 1946 in order that sentences awarded may have a deterrent effect.”
“The Muslim League agitation continued in the Punjab until the 26th of February when it was called off as the result of a settlement reached between the Punjab Government and the President of the Provincial Muslim League. The settlement was timely, for in its concluding days the agitation took a decided turn for the worse and acts of individual and mass violence were committed in several districts. In three places, Amritsar, Jullundur and Ambala, the police were forced to resort to firing to control unruly, violent crowds and there were casualties on both sides, some of them of a serious kind.
“Since their release from jail, the League leaders have been active and the League’s committee of Action has met.
“A decision has been taken to observe the 2nd of March, as Victory day.
“Many were shocked by the vulgarity of the League’s tactics and behaviour, the agitation undoubtedly attracted the sympathy of most Muslims who are not nationalist in their political opinions.
“Among Hindus and Sikhs resentment at the agitation is growing and, particularly in the case of the latter in an ominous degree. On the 12th of February in the second statement he has issued against the agitation since it started, Master Tara Singh declared that it was communal in its essentials and has as its purpose the domination of the Punjab by Muslims. He called on the Sikhs to prepare themselves to face the Muslim League onslaught and towards this and to reorganize the Akal Fauj.
“Of the three communities the Sikhs are undoubtedly the most perturbed at the shape political events are taking. Their apprehensions that the Centre will not be able to withstand the demand for Pakistan and the Muslim League agitation have drawn them further from the League, making any understanding between the two now unlikely and have driven them more to the thought of a separate Sikh-Hindu State made up of the Punjab districts where Muslims are in a minority and the Sikh States.”
Sikh leaders publicly protested against the pro-Pakistan and provocative slogans of the Muslim League, such as ‘Khun se lenge Pakistan’, ‘Dena hoga Pakistan’ and ‘Leke rahenge Pakistan’; etc. On 15.2.1947 and 21.2.47, on which tension among the communities was mounting high, the Muslim League was adopting a bullying, menacing and hooligan character, encouraged no doubt by the mild and almost indulgent attitude towards it. The police merely watched Muslim mobs of ten thousand or more going about, threatening to disturb the inter-communal atmosphere with their provocative movement. Even when the Muslim crowds were very violent as they were first at Amritsar and later at Lahore-invading courts and destroying files, no police action followed. That this same police force could deal sternly and revengefully with the non-Muslim movements, even though the latter might be perfectly non-violent in character, was demonstrated by the repeated police firing on Hindu and Sikh students on the 3rd of March in Lahore, when these students only took out a procession to demonstrate their protest against the impending formation of a Muslim League ministry in the Punjab.
That the Muslim League agitation grew more and more violent after the middle of February, way shown by a number of incidents. There were several train hold-ups at Amritsar, at Ludhiana, Gujranwala and other places. Lawlessness was on the increase, and the police took no more than the minimum, and in this case, wholly insufficient steps to meet the situation. On the 14th February, faces of non-Muslim tonga drivers were blackened by Muslims at Amritsar, as they refused to join a hartal organized by the Muslims, including Muslim tonga drivers, against the arrests of Muslim League leaders. That the non-Muslim tonga drivers were perfectly justified in refusing to make common cause with the Muslims in a matter which concerned Muslims alone and not tonga-drivers as such, did not prevent their disgrace at the hands of these Muslims tonga-drivers. A similar incident on the same day occurred at Lahore. This further enraged the Sikhs and made them ponder over the rising tide of Muslim arrogance and bullying tactics being used against Hindus and Sikhs.
That the League agitation was only the first beginning of the organized Muslim attempt to attack and subjugate, in the interest of establishing Pakistan, the Hindu and Sikh minorities of the Punjab (and not long after of the N.-W. F. P.) is amply proved by the following news-items and commentary, extracted from The Civil & Military Gazette of Lahore, a paper by no means anti-Muslim in its general policy.
In its editorial of February 12, 1947 when the League agitation had run for near upon three weeks, and evidence of its violent character had already shown itself prominently, the Civil made this very clear and penetrating analysis of the character and dangerous potentialities of the Muslim League agitation.
“Its (the League’s) agitation…… is dangerous…… to the peace of the province and the constitutional security of Government in the Punjab as far as can be seen – into the future. Tempers are daily wearing thinner…… and time is not far off when bullets may replace tear-gas bombs. (The League leaders) would do well now to pause and take stock of the position, examining the ominous trends of the policy to which they are committed and weighing possible gains against certain and apparently inescapable losses.
“The attitude of the Punjab Government will, of course, be conditioned by the decision of the Provincial Muslim League, but it must face up to the problems created by a decision to continue the agitation and prepare plans for implementation in that event. The present policy of drift (of the Government) is playing into the hands of the agitators and it is preparing the way for goondaism………”
“An attempt to wreck the Frontier Mail near Rawalpindi was made by Muslim League saboteurs on Monday (i. e. 17.2.47). Instances are multiplying of the demonstrators planting the League flag on railway engines and damaging railway property.” (C. &. M. Gazette-18.2.1947)
“On Friday evening (i. e. 14.2.1947) Sikhs and Hindus held a meeting (at Amritsar) in view of the violent conduct of the Muslim League processions earlier in the day. Considerable indignation was expressed at the conduct of Muslim Leaguers in blackening the faces of two Sikh and one Hindu tonga-drivers that day who refused to participate in the day’s hartal.
“There were many largely attended and rowdy processions in Sialkot City but no arrests were made. At Gujranwala there are definite signs of rowdyism, and processions for the last two or three days have not been well -behaved .” (C. & M. Gazette – 18.2.1947).
In Amritsar, Sialkot, Ludhiana, Bhalwal, Gujranwala, Gujrat and other places violent activities were indulged in by the League processions on 18.2.1947.
In all these places tear-gas and lathis had to be used by the police against the processionists.
The 24th February, which was one month from the launching of the agitation, was a very violent day indeed, and it incidentally revealed the League agitation in its true colours, as the forerunner of the March, 1947 war on the Hindu and Sikh minorities. The Civil & Military Gazette report of the day is as under:-
“The Muslim League agitation assumed dangerous proportions in Amritsar where the police had to open fire on several occasions on Monday (i. e. 24.2.1947).
“A Sikh constable was beaten to death by a wild mob in the civil lines, the Additional District Magistrate was brutally assaulted…… and a murderous attack was made on a Sub-inspector by a demonstrator who was killed by police fire. . . .” C. & M. Gazette-25.2.1947)
Firing had to be resorted to by the Police on this day in Rawalpindi. The Lahore Courts were raided and files tempered with. At Kasur there was violence too.
Regarding the murder of the Sikh police constable at Amritsar, certain details of it are very revealing. The Muslim mob asked the police to withdraw, which the police did. This helpless Sikh constable was beseiged by the Muslim mob, and stoned to death in a most brutal manner. The Muslim members of the police party, among whom there were only a few solitary non-Muslims, did nothing to rescue their comrade from the clutches of the murderous mob. The lesson of it was clear-that a Sikh had been murdered, solely because out of a party of policemen he was the only Sikh. In Congress agitations the police used to be attacked, seldom physically though, as the Police, as the instrument of foreign rule, and no discrimination was made between its Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian personnel as such. But here was a case of such discrimination.
This incident amply proved that Sikhs in particular, and Hindus and Sikhs in general, were in for trouble at the hands of Muslims. This most dangerous character of the situation drew two statements on February 26, 1946 from important Sikh sources-one from the Assembly Panthic Party and the other from Master Tara Singh. The Panthic Assembly Party, at which Master Tara Singh was present by special invitation, appealed to the Muslim League to “Stop these unlawful activities, which are bound to have serious repercussions if continued any further” and asked the Punjab Government to ‘adopt a firm attitude and take speedy action in dealing with this menace to the peace of the Province.’
Master Tara Singh in a separate statement pointed out that the Muslim League agitation was meant to overawe the Sikhs into agreeing to Pakistan.
That this agitation was meant as part of the Muslim League campaign for the establishment of Pakistan was further made clear by the arrogant speeches made by the Muslim Leaguers on the occasion of the League “Victory Day” on March 2, 1947 to mark the release of the Muslim League leaders from jail as a result of negotiations in which the Muslim League achieved nothing, except the release of the imprisoned Muslim Leaguers. Bashir Ahmed Akhgar, speaking at Amritsar, said that this agitation was only the stepping-stone of the struggle which the Muslims would have to launch for the achievement of Pakistan.
On the 4th March, 1947 a Muslim Sub-Inspector of Police appeared before Hindu and Sikh students and other demonstrators at Lahore, who had gathered to express their opposition to the impending formation of a League Ministry in the Punjab, and told them to disperse, as their agitation was futile and Pakistan in any case must be established. This was the kind of mentality of the Muslim-dominated police force of the Punjab, upon whom had fallen the responsibility of dealing with the attack of the Muslim population on the Hindu and Sikh population of the Punjab in March, 1947.
Several factors at this time entered into the situation and made it critical and brought matters to a head in the Punjab very fast. The British Prime Minister, on the 20th February, 1947 made an authoritative statement of policy on behalf of the British Government in which he said:
“His Majesty’s Government wish to make it clear that it is their definite intention to take necessary steps to effect the transfer of power to responsible Indian hands by a date not later than June, 1948.
“………His Majesty’s Government will have to consider to whom the powers of the Central Government in British India should be handed over on due date, whether as a whole to some form of Central Government for British India or in some areas to the existing Provincial Governments or in such other way as may seem most reasonable and in the best interests of the Indian people”.
This statement brought the prospect of power very near the imagination of the Muslim League leaders who were now anxious more than ever to wrest power in the Punjab, so that by the time the transfer of power occurred, in June, 1948 or earlier, the Muslim League should be already firmly in the saddle in the Punjab, to receive power from the British Government and to consolidate the Western bloc of Pakistan. Come what may, thought the League leaders, none but a League ministry must function in the Punjab from now on. And it was to create such a situation that the Muslim League intensified its activity many times over, and when it failed to form a ministry, it let loose the horror and terror of the March, 1947 and subsequent riots over the Punjab.
Sir Khizar Hyat Khan, Premier in the Punjab Coalition Ministry, although his ministry had survived the League agitation, had yet received such a drubbing at the hands of the Muslim League as must have made his heart sick. The foulest and filthiest abuse was uttered daily in all places where the League agitation was conducted, for Sir Khizar and his Muslim colleagues, while the non-Muslim ministers came in for severe castigation minus the abuse. Probably Sir Khizar’s relations and others close to him felt like advising him to get out of this situation in which he had fallen foul of the majority of his coreligionists. The statement of His Majesty’s Government quoted above must have made him to ponder and to think of relinquishing office. So, on the 2nd March, 1947 Sir Khizar Hyat Khan resigned office, and his ministry naturally came to an end. Sir Khizar took this step, as he said he thought it incumbent to leave the field clear for the Muslim League to come to some arrangement with the other parties. On the next day, that is the 3rd March, 1947 the Governor of the Punjab invited the leaders of the Muslim League Assembly Party to form a ministry. But by that date a strong wave of protest against and opposition to the formation to a Muslim League Ministry, committed to the division of India and the establishment of Pakistan in the Punjab, arose among Hindus and Sikhs. The Hindu and Sikh students of Lahore took out a big procession to demonstrate their resolve not to tolerate a Muslim League Ministry. This perfectly non-violent procession was fired on by the Muslim Police, which had stood hooliganism and law-breaking from Muslim mobs for over a month in the Province. Meetings, demonstrations and processions of Hindus and Sikhs continued in Lahore and Amritsar and some other towns. The situation was growing serious. Opposition to the Muslim League was rising, with the result that in its efforts at Ministry-making, the Muslim League Assembly party did not get a single Hindu or Sikh supporter. The Governor found that he could not allow a purely Muslim League ministry, without any support whatever from Hindus and Sikhs, to be formed in the Punjab. The Muslim League having lost the confidence of Hindus and Sikhs due to its past conduct of several years and its creed of hate and violence, got no support from them. The Governor suspended the constitution, and the Punjab from March 5, 1947 was to be governed directly by the Governor under section 93 of the Government of India Act.
The report of the Chief Secretary of the Punjab Government, a Muslim, who has been quoted before, is highly significant as descriptive of the Muslim League attitude during this fateful period in the history of the Punjab, as being the prime cause of the occurrence of the Riots, from March 5 onwards. According to the Chief Secretary’s report:
“One of the most remarkable features of the situation has been the speed with which events moved. On the 2nd of March, following the settlement with Government, the Muslim League celebrated a “Victory Day”. No communal clash accompanied the observances but they afforded evidence of Muslim arrogance and intensified the fear and hatred of other communities, and increased their determination not to be subjected to an unwanted domination. On the same day the Premier announced the resignation of the Coalition Ministry in a statement to the effect that he was taking the step because he felt His Majesty’s Government’s announcement of the 20th February, made it incumbent to leave the field clear for the Muslim League to come to some arrangement with the other parties. On the 3rd, His Excellency the Governor invited the leader of the Muslim League Party to form a Government. On the 4th March disorder commenced. On the 5th March, in the presence of the Muslim League’s failure to form a Government, proclamation was issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act transferring all responsibilities to the Governor.
“On the afternoon of the same day, and inevitably, communal rioting broke out accompanied by cases of stabbing and arson. By the 6th of March, both Amritsar and Multan were gravely affected and much damage had been caused to life and property. Since that date, with news of grave events radiating from Lahore, there has been bloodshed and burning in many districts, and rural areas have paid the price levied by insensate fury as well as towns. Many of the gravest incidents have taken place in the districts which form the Rawalpindi Division where Muslims are in the majority. In the Rawalpindi and Attock districts in particular there is every reason to think that casualties have been heavy. Up to the 15th March the known victims of internecine strife numbered 1,036 killed and 1,110 injured. The figures in both categories are almost certain to be very much greater when there has been more accurate counting after the madness has passed.”
According to the Chief Secretary:
“The prospect is not improved by the brutality of some of the acts committed by the majority community (Muslims) in the areas most effected. When details of these acts become known as inevitably they will, the danger of retaliation will arise in a degree fraught with much danger,”
On piecing together all the factors present in the Punjab situation in early March, 1947, we find:
(a) The Muslim League agitation had as its aim the over-throw of the Coalition ministry, and clearing the way for the achievement of Pakistan,
(b) H. M. G. Statement of February 20, 1947 declaring that power would be transferred in India in default of one Central Government, in some areas to the existing Provincial Governments, made it imperative for the League to capture power and to establish its own Government in the Punjab at all costs, so that such a Government should be able to receive power independently of a Central Government of India;
(c) The “Victory Day” of March 2, 1947 was used by the League for marking provocative speeches, and whipping up the passions of the Muslim masses against all who might oppose Pakistan;
(d) Not being able to get the cooperation of a single Hindu or Sikh inside Provincial Assembly, the Muslim League decided upon capturing power by waging a war on the minorities in the Punjab;
(e) For this purpose the Riots of March, 1947 were started, which occurred simultaneously in Lahore, Amritsar, Jullundur, Multan, Rawalpindi, Campbellpur and other Districts, the aggressors in all places being Muslims;
(f) These riots were no ordinary riots, but were a war of subjugation and conquest in which the Muslim people, the Muslim police and Muslim officials worked in perfect unison, and brought widespread death, destruction and uprooting to Hindus and Sikhs in a dozen districts, killing many thousands and uprooting about a million, before the month was out.
So, from the 5th March, 1947 onwards the constitutional game was up, and for the Hindus and Sikhs it became a struggle for sheer life against a fierce and well-planned Muslim onslaught-well-planned in that the Muslim League had a fighting corps (the Muslim League National Guard), ample stores of weapons, both sharp-edged and fire-arms, and a plan of attacks in which with police and official help the Muslims were to be encouraged and covered against risk, while Hindu and Sikh retaliation, if it ever were planned, was to be stifled.
Left to themselves, Hindus and Sikhs, although they reeled under the first unexpected blow in the first and second weeks of March, yet they would have rallied and retaliated, for the Sikh has never taken beating for long. But the Sikhs and Hindus were helpless against police and official backing of the Muslims and for the moment could at best defend themselves in a place like Amritsar where they were not heavily outnumbered by Muslims. In other places, where they were outnumbered, the Muslims rained destruction on them-month after month. Such retaliation as came, and as has been hinted at by Chief Secretary Akhtar Hussain in his report quoted above, came towards August, when with the nearness of partition the stranglehold of Muslim police and officials began to loosen on the Eastern districts. But just then this stranglehold was complete from Lahore westwards, and from there it became total mass murder and driving out of Hindus and Sikhs, with looting and abduction on a scale horrible to contemplate. The following pages tell in a more detailed manner the story of which the outline has been given above.