Eternal Wounds: Sikhs of Sheikhupura and the Unforgotten 1947 Partition Horrors

by Saloni Poddar

They say ‘forgive and forget’. Really? Can we really do that? I don’t think it is humanly possible. Can the Sikhs of Sheikhupura forget how their womenfolk were distributed amongst Muslim men? Can Lajwanti forgive the mob that snatched her infant son from her loving embrace, never to find him again? Can the horrors of Partition ever be forgotten, let alone forgiven? Even after 75 years, the wound is open. It still bleeds in the form of tears in the eyes of Partition widows. It still aches in the hearts of Sikh men who lost their families and homes. It still haunts those mothers who witnessed their daughters being ravaged.

Sheikhupura was considered to be a non-Muslim stronghold. With about 20% Sikhs, the town considered them the most important and formidable community in the district. Hence, even after the announcement of the Mountbatten Plan of Partition of India, Hindus and Sikhs did not evacuate the area as it was considered to be safe.

As politics and hatred prevailed in the district, on 24th August 1947, a curfew was imposed as a non-Muslim’s house was set afire in the dead of the night and the Muslim Military shot two men who tried to douse the flames.

This was only a teaser to the horrors that were underway. The next day again curfew was imposed at 2 P.M. and all petrol pumps were ordered to give petrol to local authorities due to an ‘unforeseen emergency’. All the while, the Muslim shopkeepers, in the vicinity of Hindu and Sikh shops, removed their own merchandise to safer places. Then began the march. The Magistrate, Qazi Ahmad Shafi, led the Military from one end of the town to the other, killing all men and old women, abducting young girls, looting properties, and setting non-Muslim houses and shops on fire.

In a locality called New Ihatas, men and women were made to stand in queues, facing each other, the young girls were then selected and distributed among Muslim men.  All before the eyes of their brothers, husbands, and fathers! A whole lot of men were shot dead, even if one of them objected.

Mass murders were committed by Sten and Bren guns in a rice factory in Sheikhupura where people were told to settle in the refugee camp in the factory. Again, men and women were segregated and as women were demeaned and ‘examined vulgarly’, men were shot dead mindlessly.

This orgy of bloodshed continued for 2 – 3 days till, out of the 15000 non-Muslims in the district, only 1500 remained alive! The Massacre of Sheikhupura. This was the worst recorded genocide in history.

Shocking as it may seem, this is not where it ended. Brutality after brutality was committed. Each act was more heinous than the last. I don’t understand how these men slept at night! In spite of hearing about atrocities in their own community, some Sikh and Hindu families were still apprehensive about leaving their homes and hearths. They were falsely reassured by Mr. Jinnah that they would be safe and protected in Sharaqpur (district Sheikhupura). However, on 27th August 1947, they met with betrayal and brutishness.

A gang of men, most of them members of the Muslim League and Muslim National Guard and some constables, armed with rifles .303 (Lee-Enfield) and Sten guns, attacked and killed non-Muslims rampantly. No one was spared, neither young nor old.

People’s eyeballs were scraped out, some were maimed and thrown alive in the Deg Nala. Tek Chand Nanda, government school Principal (Sharaqpur) was executed on the road, in the public eye. Infants were thrown against the wall, some slaughtered into pieces like meat. Out of about one thousand non-Muslims, only 71 managed to escape, to tell of the gory tale! 15 girls were abducted. Never to be heard of again. Properties were plundered and looted rampantly. The Treasury of Pakistan deposited gold and jewelry worth around three lakh rupees in their vaults, recovered from the authorities at Sharaqpur.

The bloody carnage continued. Wells continued filling up with corpses of women determined to protect their ‘honor’. Streets were littered with bloodied bodies. There was a menace lurking around every corner. A thirst for blood. A lust for innocence. As man became a beast, crimes upon crimes were committed.

When it wasn’t there, Mohammad and Gurpreet played marbles in their gully. Faiza and Sukhjeet celebrated Lohri together. Fields grew yellow gold. Rivers gurgled with cheerful abandon. Pammi called Ahmad ‘Veera’. Beeji loved Amina more than Param. And in the blink of an eye, the line was drawn. ‘A bloody line’. A line that brought with itself a legacy. The legacy of hatred, brutality, helplessness, and despair.

‘The line’ turned Mohammad and Gurpreet into staunch enemies. Faiza and Sukhpreet plunged into wells to save themselves from being ravaged by savages. The fields grew headless and spineless men. The rivers overflowed with shame. Pammi was raped. By Ahmad. Beeji was burnt alive in the ‘chowk’ trying to protect Amina. Her brother gouged Param’s eyed.

 All this because of the bloody line.

Saloni Poddar

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