Note : This article on POJK and Gilgit Baltistan refugees has been written by Ms. Nidhi Bahuguna and first appeared on her blog. We have made only minor changes to this article.
15 August is approaching . In the run up to the Independence Day we remember our freedom fighters , our leaders and evaluate our progress as a young nation with an ancient civilisation. Often forgotten is the fact that it was British Bharat that was partitioned and declared ‘Independent’ while for the 562 plus princely states , the Paramountcy of British power ended and existing treaties ,leases etc were dissolved. The princely states could accede to either Dominion of Bharat or Pakistan- there was no provision for a third Dominion. The time preceding and post Partition was violent and turbulent -a fact often forgotten in the euphoria of celebrations.
Jammu and Kashmir acceded to Bharat on 26 October 1947. On the night of 21-22 October 1947 , Jammu and Kashmir was invaded by Pakistani raiders from Pashtun areas, supported by Pakistani Army. The events in the Kashmiri valley are well known, and the looting and violence that was unleashed is well documented, the Bharatiya Army soon forced the raiders to retreat..
The story of non-Muslims of Mirpur -Muzzafarabad districts and Gilgit Baltistan province is however forgotten. The Hindu and Sikh victims of the events of 1947 are but an erased footnote in the post 1947 history of Bharat.
The National Archives has documents relating to the hapless victims of partition, both in Mirpur-Muzzafarabad and Gilgit Baltistan area , both under Pakistani occupation since UN mandated Ceasefire of 1 January 1949. Till 1950, the issue of evacuation and release of Hindu and Sikh girls, women and children was in national headlines, but soon it was relegated to the dusty files of National archives.
Here, an effort will be made to bring out the story of the forgotten victims. Where are these girls,women and children now? Their present generation ,both in Bharat and Pakistan ,may not even know they existed once as Hindus and Sikhs.
POJK and Gilgit Baltistan refugees
From the night of 22 October, violence and terror was unleashed on Hindus and Sikhs of Mirpur, Muzaffarabad , Bhimber, Kotli ,Poonch and surrounding areas. Thousands of Hindus and Sikhs perished and thousands of young women, girls and children were kidnapped and taken captive by raiders. The lucky Hindus and Sikhs who managed to flee reached Jammu and later lived on as POJK refugees. The violence did not stop even after Bharatiya Army was deployed. For two years, until ceasefire was announced, the Bharatiya army protected the refugees ,often under siege, surrounded by Muslim areas and Pakistani Army. The woes of non-Muslims worsened after cease fire was announced and the areas came under Pakistani occupation.
Recovery commissions were set up to locate and free kidnapped non Muslims from Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Applications abound in the archives for securing release of young girls held captive in villages by refugees from POJK. One such application from a refugee camp in UP ( refugees from POJK were not settled in Kashmir valley, this story will be explained another time) states that young girls as young as 12 years were abducted, converted and married off to old men.
Mridula Sarabai made efforts to locate, secure release and evacuate the unfortunate Hindu and Sikh girls. Her report in national archives, even though in official language ,cannot hide the terrible human tragedy that was being witnessed in the open, in front of everyone’s eyes. The report speaks of 3 abducted girls , in Mirpur ,who were recovered. But public pressure was so intense that a person of the rank of a Deputy Commissioner returned the three girls back to the abductors.
There were confirmed reports of the kidnapped girls being taken to ‘closed’ villages in the interiors and by the raiders back to their villages. Any efforts to return the abducted girls and even children was resisted by the whole village. Before ceasefire, it was still possible to recover girls via Bharatiya armed forces, but after ceasefire, the Pakistan recovery office and police did not make any credible efforts to secure release of the girls.
About 200 young girls were reported to be kept in an non-official camp, in Mirpur head water works, for ‘use’ of Millitary.
In refugee camps in Pakistan occupied territory of J&K , these women,girls and children were kept as bargaining tools and not returned to their families even when located. A Muslim conference meeting held in Lahore upheld the view that the kidnapped persons and those in refugee camps should not be returned until accession of Kashmir to Pakistan. These views were also supported by the officers of the recovery police.
Two refugees who had returned from POJK met Mr Rishi, head of congress committee in Delhi. The ministry of states has reported that in the meeting with the refugees and Mr Rishi, the refugees informed that camp commandants were refusing to release women and children unless a corresponding number of Muslim women and children were given in exchange. A camp in Datya, was reported to have 79 women and 38 children, who were not being released.
Areas of Mirpur Muzzaffarabad were under the recovery office and there were reports, recoveries and evacuations , though reduced to a trickle . The case of Gilgit Baltistan was even more pathetic. After the mutiny and accession of Gilgit to Pakistan, there was no way to contact non Muslims in Gilgit Baltistan. The Hindu traders of Kashgar were the first to inform the British consulate there to the plight of Hindus and Sikhs .
The government of Bharat initially put up its hands ,but the pressure of the Hindu traders in Kashgar made it act.
The Sikh and Hindu employees of the Kashmir government were the first victims. They were kidnapped and taken to frontier areas and made to work for Pakistan. Many were killed. A tragic application stating that Daughters and even wives of J&K government employees were converted and forcibly married to army officers of Pakistan army . Elder daughter of a postal clerk Shankar Lal Dhar was converted and forcibly married to a Pakistani army officer.
The traders who managed to escape Gilgit informed that 150 Hindu and Sikh traders in Gilgit, along with their women and children had converted to Islam.
Further application from a Sikh trader in Dehradoon requesting evacuation of his family members from Gilgit informed that the family ,along with the women, had converted to Islam.
Hindu and Sikhs of Gilgit were confined to the Gilgit fort and converted , fate of their womenfolk were unknown, but were supposed to have been converted and forcibly married off.
Applications requesting evacuation of Hindu and Sikhs in Skardu, Astore, Chilas also abound in national archives . Tragic stories of Husband not being allowed to leave while the wife was lucky to have been released abound.
These stories, written in cold official language, nevertheless, speak of a great human tragedy. These are victims of our political freedom which we got on 15 August 1947.
Mridula Sarabai gave a list of about 2317 abducted persons ,which she stressed was neither final, nor the least, as every released person gave details about further persons.
The kidnapped women,girls and children were leading secure ,happy lives, having dreams and their little joys – when events not in their control turned their lives upside down. What terrible experiences must have befallen these hapless girls ,women, children, to be snatched away from their known lives and becoming slaves and living in hostile villages. Did their children even know the past of their mother? How did the families of these abducted girls carry on with their lives . Did they pass on their tragic stories to the next generation?
The employees of the Kashmir government were thrown into these events by virtue of being posted to these areas. Many were kidnapped, their daughters forcibly married off! What happened to them and to the traders and others who were converted ? Did their second generation know the history?
These answers were never sought ! A few survivors did write about their experiences but somehow, these stories never made way into the Kashmir Narrative. The wife of the Wazir -e-Wazarat of Muzzafarabad , Smt Krishna Menon has written about these terrible times . Her husband was pushed to his knees and killed by raiders for being a kaffir. A person so powerful could be killed like this. She recounts girls defacing themselves in refugee camps to save their honour and women killing themselves to escape rape and kidnapping.
These are gross human right violations, which happened under eyes of UN commissioners, Red Cross, British Authorities- all these profess to be beckons of human right protection. The nation of Bharat watched helplessly while its women, girls ,young men and children were enslaved and converted or who killed themselves or were killed.
Let us not forget them, for they payed a great price for our political freedom.
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