Partition of Punjab and Women
– Where Govt of India failed, a Sikh Missionary succeeded in Recovering Abducted Women –
Women constitute one half of the population of the world and they play significant role in the society. It will, therefore, be very significant to bring to focus the sufferings and sacrifices of women during the trauma of partition of Punjab in 1947.
The trouble for the non-Muslims in general and the women in particular started in Punjab in March 1947. Whatever may be the causes(1) of Rawalpindi and Multan riots, it had been admitted that these were of terrific nature. Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India after visiting District Rawalpindi reported to the British Govt in England, "The whole of the Hindu Sikh part is an absolute wreck as though it has been subjected to an air raid".(2) Several Hindu and Sikh villages were wiped out. Justice Teja Singh, a member of the Punjab Boundary commission stated before the Commission that during Rawalpindi riots, "A large number of people were forcibly converted, children were kidnapped and young women were abducted and openly raped".(3) Though distinct number of female casualties is not available, the official figure of death in district Rawalpindi was 2263 which was considered far below the actual number. (4) The women were subjected to maximum humiliation and torture. Their agony can be judged by the fact that a number of women jumped into wells to save their honor. It is as unbelievable today as it was at that time. But unfortunately, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru visited the village on the 14th March, 1947 and he was told the incident of ladies jumping into the well. His staff photographer took photographs of the bottom of the well with the help of flash-gun and found decomposed limbs of the ladies there. One copy of the photograph was given to me by late Sant Gulab Singh in whose Haveli that well existed. He told me that his wife was the first to jump into the well. The photograph has been published in my book "Shahidian".5
During the fateful month of August and Sept 1947, the communal riots flared up on very large scale in both the Punjab's. It is estimated by the British writers that about two lakhs were killed in the East and West Punjab.6 Thousands of women and children were abducted. The governments of India and Pakistan who had recently taken over form the British had no comprehension of the enormity of the situation. The people in general were infected with the spirit of vendetta and took revenge by committing excesses on the women folk of opposite community. Consequently the women were the worst sufferers. Though military Evacuee organ and Liaison Agencies had been established in both the Punjab's in Sept 1947 nothing was done at the govt level to alleviate the sufferings of the abducted women uptil the 6th Dec 1947. Following agreement was made between government of India and Pakistan regarding recovery of abducted women.
Agreement for Recovery of Abducted Women
The following decisions reached at the conference between the govts of India and Pakistan held on 6th of Dec 1947 are brought to the notice of all concerned for early compliance:
1. Every effort must be made to recover and restore abducted women and children within shortest time possible.
2. Conversion by persons abducted after 1st March 1947 will not be recognized and all such persons must be restored to their respective dominions. The wishes of the persons concerned are irrelevant consequently no statements of such persons should be recorded before Magistrates.
3. The primary responsibility for recovery of abducted persons will rest with the local police who must put full efforts in this matter. Good work done by police officers in this respect will be rewarded by promotion or grant of cash awards.
4. MEO'S will render every assistance by providing guards in the transit camps and escorts for the transport of recovered persons form transit camps to their respective dominions.
5. Social workers will be associated with the scheme. They will look after the camp arrangements and receive the abducted persons in their own dominions. They will also collect full information regarding abducted persons to be recovered and supply it to the IG police and the local SP.
6. The DLOS will set up Transit Camps in consultation with the local Dy commissioners and the public workers and supply information regarding abducted persons to be recovered.
7. Coordination between different agencies working in the dist will be secured by a weekly conference between the Supdt of police and local MEO officer, the DLO and the Dy Commissioner. At this meeting progress achieved will be reviewed and every effort will be made to solve any difficulties experienced.7
The Chief Liaison officer designated the Dist Liaison officer in every district as District Recovery officer. In this way, official machinery was established for recovery of abducted women in both the Punjab's. In the East Punjab Miss Mridula Sarabhai and Bhag Mehta organized women workers for recovery work. Soon it was found that the local police was not helpful. The recovery officers were allowed the police of their respective provinces or military from the Military Evacuee Organs of the respective dominions. The public in general was hostile to recovery work in both the provinces. This made recovery work difficult. At places women workers appointed by Sarabhai and Mrs Mehta did not see eye eyes to with the District Recovery officers. All these problems resulted in inordinate delay in the recovery work which caused growing misery to the afflicted women. The following proceeding of steering committee held on March 10, 1948 indicates the inherent conflict between the East Punjab Liaison Agency and Women workers led by Sarabhai.
"The Steering Committee requested the Chief Liaison officer to cancel his instructions to the DLOS that the woman workers are not to grant alone in the districts. If the woman workers desired to go out alone, there should be no restriction on their movement. If however, they want the DLO to accompany them, then it is a matter of mutual adjustment" (item no.4).
"It was decided that all reports received by the CLO from the DLOS regarding the progress of recovery of abducted women will be put up to the Steering Committee. Similarly, all reports received by Provincial Women Workers from her Dist women workers will also be put up to the Steering Committee" (item No.5:1).
Miss Sarabhai stated that her Regional Workers did not want the collaboration of the Regional Workers appointed by the CLO" (item no.6).
"It was decided that all reports to be submitted by any member of this committee to the govt of India (Min of R&R and Mrs Rameshwari Nehru) relating to the work of recovery of abducted women in West Punjab and NWFP. Should be put up first to the steering committee which will consider them and forward them to the Govt of India with its own recommendations"8 (itemNo.8).
As indicated above Mrs Sarabhai did not cooperate with the DRO. Similarly, CLO considered women workers job as useless. In his communication to the Chief Secy East Punjab Govt. he wrote on 24th April, 1948:
"Two women workers each are posted at Sheikhupura, Sargodha, Mianwali, Jhang, Lyalpur and Gujranwala. A third women worker was taken by Mrs Bhag Mehta when we went to Mianwali. She is for recovery work in Bhaskar Tehsil. As will be observed from what has been stated above, very little work is being done in connection with the recovery of abducted women and girls throughout the West Punjab. These women workers along with their transport are, therefore, being practically wasted.
"The matter was discussed today in a meeting of the Steering committee in which Mrs Punjabi, Mrs Bhag Mehta and D. Surendra Nath, DSP East Punjab were present. It was admitted that the women workers were at present unable to do any useful work but it was decided to let them continue as it was hoped that things will improve with the additional East Punjab Police starting their activities in the districts."9
It appears that in the beginning both the organs did useful work. But the task was enormous and their time limit was short. Both began to quarrel and drift responsibility on the other organ. Ultimately the entire responsibility was given to the East Punjab Liaison Agency which worked up till Nov1948. After that the work was transferred to Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The decision to alleviate the sufferings of women folk, who had suffered most during the partition of the Punjab were, however, indifferently acted upon. A very large volume of the correspondence between the high officials of the East Punjab & W. Punjab indicates that the police officers in both the Punjab's acted partially in favour of their own community while recovering the abducted women. The Dy High Commissioner for Pakistan wrote to the Chief Secy, East Punjab: "One … has written to say that his daughter …aged 13 years has been kept by one… son of .. Jat of village Bhoma Distt Amritsar. In reply to his request for the recovery of the girl he was informed by the Indian Military authorities (copy attached) that his daughter did not wish to leave her husband.10 The DLO, Campbelpur reported that the DY Commissioner of Cambellpur and Rawalpindi distts were not handling over the recovered abducted women and girls because they had been handed over to the Azad Kashmir Govt.11 In some cases, the police officers in various districts had openly declared that it was their duty to see that proper regard was paid to public opinion. When recovered, the statements of the recovered women and girls were recorded and they were returned to their abductors by the Distt Authorities12 as it was said that they did not wish to leave their abductors.
On account of the fear of disturbance, the local authorities purposely avoided taking any action against the Pathans who had abducted the girls. Five non-Muslim girls were recovered by the Sub-Inspector of Phularwan, Dist Shahpur. The girls were brought from Phularwan to Sargodha and handed over to the DLO. During the night, a large number of Pathans surrounded the house of the Inspector and on the following day they surrounded the office of the S.P. and created a lot of commotion in the city. The DC and SP prevailed upon the Disdt Liaison officer to handover the girls to the DY S.P. The commissioner, Rawalpindi Div and Dy Inspector Gen of Police reached Sargodha and with great difficulties these five girls were removed to India at the dead of night.13
At places the police officers who were appointed to protect the women, themselves committed the worst crime. Tow Asst Sub Inspectors of police went to recover a non-Muslim woman from a village in the West Punjab and the unfortunate woman was raped and ravished by those very police officers during the night on the way.14 In the meeting of the officers of the East Punjab Liaison Agency, it was brought to light that one S.I. of police at Kamoke (Dist Gujranwala) had collected all the non-Muslim girls at the time of the Kamoke train attack and distributed them to his accomplices.15
So far there had been no special legislation for the recovery of abducted women. An ordinance called "Abducted persons Recovery and Restoration ordinance" was promulgated on Jan 31, 1949 and was subsequently replaced by the Abducted persons Recovery and Restoration Act 1949. One of the Principal features of this Act was that it adopted a more comprehensive definition of the term "Abducted" than the one already provided in the Indian Penal Code.16 Another important aspect of this legislation was the provision of setting up of an Indo-pak Tribunal to decide the disputed cases of he abducted women. Camps for the stay of the recovered persons were to be established. This Act applied only to the 'affected areas' viz U.P. East Punjab., Delhi, Patiala and East Punjab states Union and the United States of Rajasthan. A special provision was made to enable the recovery of the abducted women from the other states in India. The coordinative officers and staff were appointed to assist the police in the recovery of the abducted persons. Social workers were also associated with this work.17 There was, however, no corresponding legislation regarding the abducted persons in Pakistan.
The abducted persons (Recovery and Restoration) Act continued to be renewed every year upto 30th Nov 1957. By then, the abducted women began to show increasing reluctance to go to the other country after leaving their children. By the Indo-Pakistan govt decision of 1954, they could not be forced to go the other country against their wishes. 2ndly the most serious consideration which prevented the govt of India from renewing the abducted persons (Recovery and Restoration) Act of 1949 was the problem of the post-Abduction children. During the period from Jan1, 1954 to Sept 30, 1957 no fewer than 850 children were left behind by Muslim women restored to Pakistan, where as 410 children were taken by them. These children created problems for the State which had to take care of them.18
The statements exchanged between the two governments indicated that 25,856 and 9,366 persons had been recovered in India and Pakistan respectively.19 it is a significant fact that in both the countries a large majority of persons recovered were not those included in the lists of missing persons furnished by the respective government. No less than 4415 abducted persons out of 30,33520 were declared as "the non-abduction cases" by the Pakistan Govt. The information regarding the abducted women supplied by the Indian Govt. could not be wrong as it was based on the data collected from the individuals concerned. About 419121 abducted persons, that is to say 13.8 per cent of list furnished by the Indian Govt were reported by Pak Govt to have died in Pakistan. This figure too does not appear to be correct as the corresponding number of the abducted women who died in India was surprisingly low viz.3.3 per cent.22
The most peculiar phenomenon with regard to the recovery work of non-Muslim women was that the non-Muslim abducted girls very often refused to be evacuated. They were too afraid of the rigidity of the caste system and were over conscious of having lost their chastity. These very notions prevented them form facing their relatives. Though they were completely helpless under the circumstances, some of them really believed that their husbands and other relatives had failed to protect them and hence they had lost all rights over them. Delay was yet another major factor impeding their recoveries, because it gave their abductors the time and opportunity to din into their ears so many false and baseless rumours like "there is no food in the East Punjab". "Near and dear ones had all been murdered" etc. In certain cases, the arguments of the abducted girls were very correct and genuine. One of them said to the Dist Liaison officer, Gujranwala: "How can I believe that your military strength of two sepoys could safely take me across to India when a hundred Sepoys had failed to protect us and our people who were massacred". Another said, "I have lost my husband and have now gone in for another. You want me to go to India where I have got nobody and of course, you do not expect me to change husband every day". A third said, " But why are you particular to take me to India ? What is left in me now, religion or chastity? "23
The troubles and tribulations of the Hindu and Sikh abducted women of occupied Kashmir especially of District Muzaffargarh had altogether different tale of woe. Their recovery got complicated owing to the armed hostilities between India and Pakistan over Kashmir issue when the tribals attacked Kashmir Muzaffargarh area was the first to be occupied by them. The Hindus and Sikhs of the area were killed and a large number of women were abducted. About one thousand and six hundred women and children were lodged in Amor Camp.24 On account of hostilities with India, Pakistan Govt had banned the entry of Indian officials not only in Kashmir but also in the adjoining districts of West Punjab.25 Consequently, all abductions in West Punjab migrated to those districts to avoid detection. The non-Muslim women and children of Armor Camp could not be brought to India for four long years. It was reserved for Akali Chakkar Kaur Singh to recover them and to bring them to India.
Akali Chakkar Kaur Singh (1892-1954 A.D) belonged to Averha Chakkar, tehsil Uri, Distt. Muzaffarbad, Kashmir. He did not get married and devoted himself to missionary work of Sikh religion. During the tribal invasion of Kashmir, he lost his one hundred and eleven relatives including his aged mother. This stirred him to action. He went to Delhi and became guide of first Indian army which landed at Srinagar to stem the tide of tribal invasion there till cease fire was declared. Later on he devoted himself to the recovery of abducted women. In 1951 he met one Goodwill mission from Pakistan and convinced them about the miserable conditions of women and children at Amor Camp and was able to secure a promise of help.26
Soon after Kaur Singh reached Lahore, the Indian Govt. also encouraged him and introduced him to Pak officials … great orator having knowledge of Islam and other religions. Two police inspectors and eighteen police constables along with conveyance were given to him by the West Punjab police Dept. Wherever he went, hostile crowds gathered around him which were dispersed by his police escort.27
Chakkar Kaur Singh had undertaken three recovery tours in Pakistan. Indian recovery officers in Lahore gave him very difficult cases like that of Amar Kaur. He pursued them with diligence and recovered the girls details of which he has given in his diary.28 But his most remarkable achievement was the recovery of 1230 women and children from Amor Camp.
Sabar Hussain, the Commander of Amor Camp had a personal grievance. His daughter Kulzam Akhtar had been left in Srinagar (Kashmir) in India. He had been trying his best to bring her to Pakistan but to no success. Because of Indo- Pak conflict in Kashmir, no Kashmir Muslim could go to Pak or come to India. When Chakkar Kaur Singh contacted Sabar Hussain he told him frankly that first his daughter should return before he could arrange the return, of the Hindu and Sikh women and children in his camp.29 This was a very difficult problem. But Chakkar Kaur Singh took it as a challenge. After coming to India he worked for six months in Srinagar meeting political leaders like Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad to request them to allow Kulzam Akhtar to go to Pakistan so that Hindu and Sikh women could be recovered. Ultimately he was successful. He personally brought that Muslim girl from Srinagar to Jammu then to Jalandhar to secure her entry into Pakistan through Dy High Commissioner Pakistan.30
In this way, one thousand two hundred women and children were brought to India.
There was a silver lining in the dark cloud. Amid the recovery of misry struck women and children there were some very rare heartening episodes of noble deeds. In many cases the policemen of West Punjab committed excesses on women but one example of police constable was rare exception. Fateh Mohd, a Muslim Police constable took one Sikh girl, 16 years old whose parents had been murdered in the communal riots to his house. After taking a copy of the holy Koran which was lying in his house, he swore before his young daughters, wife and aged mother that he would treat that girl as his own daughter. He kept his vow and saved that girl for a number of months. He made an earnest effort to locate her relations in East Punjab. Ultimately, he was able to find her brother who came to Lahore to take her, in the office of Chief Liaison officer, East Punjab and she gave the detailed statement how she was looked after by Fateh Mohd. Her statement is preserved in East Punjab Liaison Agency Records No.LV-26-ES.
Similarly, S. Narain Singh of Bathinda area gave shelter to a Muslim girl of tender age whose parents had been murdered during the communal riots. He got her admitted in the school along with his grand daughters. When she came up of the age of marriage, he was able to locate one distant relative of her through the Pak High Commissioner's office in India. He also prepared dowry articles for her marriage. The dowry articles he gave to her at the time of farewell on the Indo-Pak border. The episode was published in New York Times, USA with the title "Sweetest Revenge".
1. For causes vide my book Shahidian, Amritsar 1964, pages 36-45. Also Making of Pakistan: Richard Symond, p.82.
2. Viceroy's personal Report No.5 dt May 1, 1947. Also introduction on my book Select Documents on Partition of Punjab (hereinafter ref. as SDPP)P.XX.
3. S.D.P.P; p.352.
5. This book was compiled by me at the instance of late Bhai Vir Singh. It was pub by Chief Khalsa Diwan, Asr. In 1964.
6. For detail of causalities vide my book Partition of Punjab, Patiala 1989, Pages 130-132.
7. PRCF 119- ER-49, Page 2, Document No. 197, SDPP, Pages 572-73.
8. SDPP, P 583, Document no. 204.
9. SDPP, Page 615, document no. 219.
10. P.B.R.Letter No. DHC 115/47 dt 11.3.1948. File No. C.F. 321-ER-48
11. L.A.R.D.O.N no.8312/CLA dt 23,1,1948 File No. LXVIII/5.
13. L.A.R. Proceedings of meetings of officers, File No.L-VIII/14/171(PT-11)
14. P.B.R.File No. C.F.463-ER-49
15. L.A.R. File No. L-VIII/14/171(Pt II) similar statement regarding this sub-inspector of kamoke was also given in the P.B.R.
16. According to clause 2 of the Abducted persons Recovery and Restoration Act, 1949, "Abducted persons" means a male child under the age of sixteen yrs or a female of whatever age who is, or immediately before the 1st day of March, 1947 was a Muslim and who on or after that day and before 1st Jan 1949 has become separated from his or her family and is found to be living with or under the control of any other individual or family in the latter case includes a child born to any such female after the said date.
18. Recovery and Restoration of Abducted Persons in India and Pak. Govt of India, publications, Min of Foreign Affairs, page 7.
23. L.A.R. File No. LIX/3-D.L.O; Gujranwala's Report.
24. Akali Chjkkar Kaur Singh de Pakistan de safar, edited by Kirpal Singh, Khalsa Samachar, Amritsar P. 1959, p.63
25. Partition of Punjab, Kirpal singh, 2nd ed; p172-73
26. Akali Chakkar Kaur Singh's Pakistan De Safar, p-13.
28. Ibid. p.47-48,53-57
30. Ibid; p.67-68.
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