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  • Srilagna Majumdar

What haunts the Valley of Kashmir

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

The Partition of 1947, the biggest mass migration in history, is not an event of the past, because its consequences are still very much in operation. Its heaviness continues to weigh down – sometimes only subconsciously – both those who have lived through it as well as those who have inherited fragmented stories and the memories of this cataclysmic event. Official reports and writings on Jammu and Kashmir from 1947 to much later are fraught with mere politics and war, a tendency that unfortunately has continued till date. If we look at the secondary sources, we would surely be shocked by how few detailed accounts exist of the unthinkable massacres that happened in many districts of Jammu and Kashmir (in Jammu, against Muslims; in Rajouri and Mirpur, against Hindus and Sikhs) during the months following the Partition.

During the last few months of the year 1947, thousands of Hindu and Sikh refugees were pouring over state borders from India and Pakistan per day, with at least 70,000 Hindu and Sikh in Jammu in early September. Some Partition refugees, sufficient to infuse Kashmir with some of the raging tension of that time, used the Kashmir valley as a corridor to pass through. They were on their way between the two dominions of newly made Pakistan and divided India. While Sikhs from Peshawar and elsewhere in the frontier travelled through the Kashmir valley, Muslim refugees tended to avoid that route.

It was October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and 9 days before the Maharaja’s accession to India. More than 2 lakhs Muslims were systematically exterminated – unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border – by the forces of Dogra state headed by the Maharaja in person, and aided by the Hindus and the Sikhs. As a result of the massacre, Muslims, who were in a majority in the Jammu region(in 1947, Kashmir's population "was 77 per cent Muslim”) became a clear minority. On the other hand, the barbarities of the Pakistan troops and civilians on the women who were kept for some time in the Alibeg Camp before their dispersal to different towns put to shame the worst orgies of rape and violence associated with hordes of Chengiz Khan and Nadir Khan.

Refugees from Jhelum in West Punjab had taken refuge in Mirpur town, causing non-Muslim population to increase to 25,000 in 1947. In November, during large scale rioting, Hindus and Sikhs were killed inside the town of Chitterpari and the remaining were marched to Alibeg, where a gurdwara was converted to a prison camp: a holy shrine converted into a slaughter house. While captives continued to be killed at a gradual pace by captors, many committed mass suicide by consuming poison to avoid rape, abduction and falling into the hands of militants. The scars are still all too evident. Most of the social tensions in the region can be traced back to 1947 - not simply the conflict in Kashmir, the most obvious unfinished business of the independence settlement, but the millions of stil divided families. The estimated death toll was over 2 lakhs. This bloody day – 25th November- is remembered in Kashmir as the ‘Mirpur Day’. Firsthand accounts often state that when some of these prisoners returned after 6 months or more, their families couldn’t recognize them – for, they have almost turned to skeletons, due to lack of food, water and minimum hygiene.

In one his essays, Dr. Dori Laub, an expert in the area of testimony methodology, and a trauma researcher, discusses that sometimes a traumatic experience which has long been submerged becomes distorted in that submersion. The horror of the historical experience is maintained in the testimony only as an elusive memory that feels as if it no longer resembles any reality. Therefore, when Ms. Promila Gupta sharing her Partition story to 1947 Partition Archive, about how family members would place rocks on chests of exhausted little children to weigh them down lest they would follow, probably she sees not anything more than a blurred, distant and painful imagery. Similarly, Ajit Kaur, who had migrated from Mirpur in 1947 and has lost most of her family members during that, talks about those days quite passively and in a cold tone. And this should not surprise us.

Photo Credits: Sunaina Tourangbam

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