babies were burned -- 8/2/16

Today's selection -- from Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann. In the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, there were as many as a million deaths as Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs attacked, murdered, raped and burned each other:

"In the four days since partition, the Punjab had been reduced to open anarchy. Seventy thousand Muslims from India had already arrived in Lahore. The Pakistani government opened camps for forty thousand, but the rest were obliged to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, Hindus and Sikhs fled the city. In April 1947, the Hindu and Sikh population of Lahore had been estimated at three hundred thousand. It was now, just four months later, barely ten thousand. In Amritsar, on the Indian side of the border, a large group of Muslim women was stripped naked, paraded through the streets and raped by a Sikh mob. Some Sikhs were able to rescue a few of the women and hide them in the Golden Temple until the army could arrive. The rest of the women were burned alive. Murders were running at several hundred a day, and a bonfire had been made of Muslim houses. The police on both sides either stood by or, in many cases, joined in. The phrase 'a thousand times more horrible than anything I saw during the war' became a cliché among British and Indian officers. One officer was confronted with the sight of four babies that had been roasted to death over a fire.

Muslim refugees on the outside of New Delhi

"A strong desire for revenge following the massacres of Sikhs by Muslims in March meant that the Sikh campaign was being orga­nized with striking efficiency, recruiting and mobilizing ex-servicemen and arming them from private stockpiles. Groups of anywhere between twenty men and five thousand men (and sometimes women and children) would meet in gurdwaras and organize themselves into jathas, or fighting mobs, to raze Muslim villages. They were well armed with machine guns, rifles and shotguns, as well as grenades, spears, axes and kirpans, the ceremonial blade carried by all Sikhs. Usually, their Muslim adversaries only had staves. The pattern of attack was well established. When Muslim villagers saw a jatha coming, they would climb onto their roofs and beat gongs to alert neighbor­ing villages. The Sikhs would send in a first wave to shoot them off the roofs, a second wave to lob grenades over the walls and a third wave to cut survivors to pieces with kirpans and spears. A fourth wave of older men would then go in and set fire to the village, while outriders would ride around, swinging their kirpans to fell any escapees.

"Retaliation against these atrocities was swift and furious. On 23 August, a train full of Sikh refugees was attacked by Muslims at Ferozepur, leaving twenty-five dead and one hundred wounded. In Quetta, riots kicked off between Muslim League supporters and Pathans. After three boys were paraded through the streets, bearing injuries sustained from riots in West Punjab, both sides turned on the local Hindus. One week after partition, Delhi was a temporary home to 130,000 Muslim refugees on their way to Pakistan, a quarter of whom had arrived in the preceding fortnight. Five thousand crowded into a squalid refugee camp in front of the Jama Masjid sixteen other camps were set up to host the rest. Inside these enclaves, according to Lord Ismay, 'conditions defied description': there was no water, no food, no sanitation and no security."


Alex Von Tunzelmann


Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire


Picador, Henry Holt and Company


Copyright 2007 by Alex von Tunzelmann


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