1947 Massacre at Thoa Khalsa
Thoa Khalsa, Rawalpindi March 13 1947
Testimony of Sardarni Basant Kaur
This is a direct testimony of Sardarni Basant Kaur given to Urvashi Butalia about the events in and around Rawalpindi district from March 11-13th. Thoa Khalsa was a village close to the current Pakistani nuclear establishment at Kahuta on the outskirts of the city of Rawalpindi.
My name is Basant Kaur. My husband's name was Sant Raja Singh. We came away from our house on March 12, and on the 13th we stayed out, in the village. At first, we tried to show our strength, and then we realized that this would not work, so we joined the morcha to go away. We left our home in Thoa Khalsa on the 12th. For three or four days we were trapped inside our houses, we couldn't get out, though we used to move across the roofs of our houses, we couldn't get out a bit. One of our people had a gun, we used that, and two or three of their people died. I lost a brother-in-law. He died from a bullet they fired. It hit him and he died. So we kept the gun handy. Then there were fires all around, raging fires, and we were no match for them. I had a Jeth, an older brother-in-law, he had a son, he kept asking give me afim (opium), mix it in water and I will take it. My Jeth killed his mother, his sister, his wife, his daughter and his uncle. My daughter was also killed.
We went into the morcha inside the village, we all left our houses and collected together in the center of the village, inside the sardaran di haveli, where there was also a well. It was Lajwanti's house. The sardar, her husband had died some time ago but his wife and other women of the house were there. Some children also. They all came out. Then we all talked and said we don't want to become Musalmaan, we would rather die. So everyone was given a bit of afim, they were told, you keep this with you. I went upstairs, and when I came down there was my husband, my jeth's son, my jethani, her daughters, my jeth, my grandsons, three granddaughters. They were all killed so that they would not fall into the hands of the Musalmaans. One girl from our village, she had gone off with the Musalmaans and everyone got worried that if one is gone, they will take all our girls away. So it was then that they decided to kill the girls. My jeth, his name is Harbans Singh, he killed his wife, his daughter, his son, he was small, only eight days old. Then my sister-in-law was killed, her son and her daughter, and then on the 14th of March we came to Jhelum. The vehicles came and took us, and we stayed there for about a month and then we came to Delhi.
In Delhi there were four of my brothers, they read about this - the camp - in the papers and they came and found us. Then gradually, over the period of time the children grew up and became older and things sorted themselves out. My parents were from Thamali. Hardly anyone survived from there. You know that family Gurmeet's, they had two sisters, the Musalmaans took them away. It's not clear whether they died or were taken away, but their bodies were never found. Someone died this way, someone that, someone died here someone there, and no one got to know. My parents were burnt alive.
That whole area was like a jungle, it was village area. One of my brothers survived and came away, one sister. They were helped by a Musalmaan, there were some good ones, and they helped them - he hid them away in his house and put them into the vehicles that came, the military ones. The vehicles went to Mator and other places. In Mator, Shah Nawaz made sure no harm came to them. People from Nara managed to get away, but on the way they were killed. Then my brothers read the papers and got to know. My husband, he killed his daughter, his niece, his sister, and a grandson. He killed them with a Kirpan. My jeth's son killed his mother, his wife, his daughter, and a grandson and a granddaughter, all with a pistol. And then, my jeth, he doused himself with kerosene and jumped into a fire.
Many girls were killed. Then Mata Lajjawanti, she had a well near her house, in a sort of garden. Then all of us jumped into that, some hundred... eighty-four... girls and boys. All of us. Even boys, not only children, but grown-up boys. I also went in, I took my children, and then we jumped in -- I had some jewelry on me, things in my ears, on my wrists, and I had fourteen rupees on me. I took all that and threw it into the well, and then I jumped in, but it's like when you put rotis into a tandoor, and if it is too full, the ones near the top, they don't cook, they have to be taken out. So the well filled up, and we could not drown... the children survived. Later Nehru went to see the well, and the English then closed it up the well that was full of bodies. The pathans took out those people who were at the top of the well -- those who died, died and those who were alive, they pulled out. Then they went away -- and what was left of our village was saved.
I was frightened. Of course, I was ... we were also frightened that we would be taken away by the Musalmaans. In our village, already, in the well that was inside the village, girls had jumped in. In the middle of the night they jumped in. This happened where the morcha was. The hundred.. eighty-four women who jumped in they were just outside, some two hundred yards away from Lajjawanti's house. In the morcha, the crowd had collected in Lajjawanti's house. She was some seventy,seventy-five years old. A tall, strapping woman. She did a lot of seva of all the women, she herself jumped into the well. Many people were killed in the morcha, and the Musalmaans climbed on top to kill others, and then many came and tried to kill people with guns, one of them put a gun to my jeth's chest and ... and we began to jump in. The others had died earlier, and we were in the morcha, the well was some distance away from Lajjawanti's house, in a garden. There were two wells, one inside and one outside in the garden. My nanan and her daughter, they were both lying there... close by there was a ladle, I mixed afim in it, and gave it to them, and she put it in her mouth.. she died, and I think the village dogs must have eaten her. We had no time to perform any last rites. An hour or so later, the trucks came... just an hour.
She did path, and said don't throw me away, let me have this afim, she took god's name and then she died. We had afim because my jeth's son used to eat it, and he had it with him and he got more and gave it to everyone. My jeth's son, his daughter-in-law and his daughter, they died in Jhelum later, when we were going going to the Dinia camp, on March 15 or so. The camp was close to the Jhelum. Four days we fought, and we remained strong, the around the 12th we got into the morcha, on the 13th our people were killed, and then the trucks came in the evening and took us to Rawat, a village.
They brought us there [to the well]. From there... you know there was no place.. nothing to eat, some people were eating close by but where could I give the children anything from .... I had barely a few paise... my elder son had a duvanni (two annas) with him, we thought we could use that.. my brother's children were also hungry.... but then they said the duvanni was khoti, damaged, unusable ... [weeping] such difficulties.. nothing to eat... we had to fill their stomachs.. today they would have been ranis... so many of them, jethanis, children... I was the youngest.. now I sit at home and my children are out working and I kept telling them these stories... they are stories after all and you tell them and tell them until you lose consciousness...
Thamali was my parent's house. They took young girls away from there. In our village there was one temple and one gurdwara, but no masjid. The Muslims came from outside. In Thamali there were a few Musalmaans, those who ground wheat, grain, channas... They used to participate in some customs, it was a sort of ritual. They did nothing (not saved us), they used to eat our salt.
My Husband, My nephew killed him, my nephew. Because they had killed the girls, his daughter, sister, grandchildren, with their kirpans, and then my jeth's son had a pistol and he killed his mother, his uncle... then my nephew killed my husband with a pistol. He had a small daughter, one and a half years old, she also ate pistol shots. Yes, my husband was killed by my nephew as I told you, he killed him because my husband said he did not want to become a Musalmaan. Imagine... fifteen, twenty thousand people and we had four guns. Those also took them away. The same thing happened at Thamali, they had collected all the weapons, but then they had to part with them. Then they killed them. My nephew was young and strong, my jeth's son.. he had shops. It was not this boy's father who died from himself after this. I have a son who killed his wife, his daughter, a small son... one jeth came to Rangabad, where his son was, one died from burning, another one -- the eldest-- kept watching all that was going on, he did not say anything, people thought why kill this man, he had no children, no daughter, no son, nothing. Two of my jeths had no children... All this had happened before and then we jumped into well. Four women were pulled out of well by Musalmaans. Four women, one was really beautiful, she had eight children, she was saved all her children killed.
There were Hindu houses in our village, mayby thirty, forty of fifty. And the rest of the village was Sardars. There were twenty or twenty-five houses of Bahmans. Thoa was like a town, it was quite big. The Hindus did their work, the same sort of things, shops, cloth shops, hundreds of things. The sikhs were all kattar Sikhs, they all had pattas from Maharaja Ranjit Singh's time.
Some time after we met Basant Kaur, I (Urvashi Butalia) came across Bir Bahadur Singh, her son. He gave us a more detailed account of incidents of community violence in Thoa Khalsa
In Gulab Singh's haveli twenty-six girls had been put aside. First of all my father, Sant Raja Singh, when he brought his daughter, he brought her into the courtyard to kill her, first of all he prayed, he did ardaas, saying Sachche Padishah, we have not allowed your Sikhs to get stained, and in order to save it we are going to sacrifice our daughters, make them martyrs. Please forgive us.
Then there was one man who used to do coolie work in our village. He moved forward and ... caught my father's feet and he said, bhapaji, first you kill me because my knees are swoolen and I won't be able to run away and the Musalmaans will catch hoold of me and make me into a musalmaan. So my father immediately hit him with kirpaan and took his head off. Then Nand Singh Dheer, he said to my father, Raja Singha, please martyr me first because my sons live in Lahore... do you think I will allow the Musalmaans to cut this beard of mine and make me go to Lahore as a sheikh? for this reason kill me. My father then killed him. He killed two and third was my sister, Maan Kaur... my sister came and sat in front of my father, and I stood there, right next to him, clutching onto kurta as children do, I was clinging to him.... but when my father swung the kirpan (vaar kita) perhaps some doubt or fear came into his mind, or perhaps the kirpan got stuck in her dupatta... no one can say.. It was such a frightening fearful scene. Then my sister, with her own hand she removed her plait and pulled it forward... and my father with his own hands moved her dupatta aside and then he swung the kirpan and her head and neck rolled off and fell... there.. far away. I crept downstairs, weeping, sobbing and all the while I could hear the regular swing and hit of the kirpans... twenty-five girls were killed, they were cut. One girl, my taya's daughter-in-law, who was pregnant... somehow she didn't get killed and later my taya's son shot her with a pistol. but she was saved. She told us, kill me, I will not survive. I have a child in my womb. She was wounded in the stomach, there was a large hole from which blood was flowing. Then my mother and my uncle (taya) sat together and Harnam kaur -- her name was Harnam kaur-- she said, give me some afim (opium). We arranged for afim, people used to eat it those days... in a ladle we mixed afim with saliva... she said the japji sahib path.. just as the japji sahib bhog took place so did her bhog. Completely as if she was prepared for death... few people can do that... she had death in her control and it was only when she wanted it that death took her. For nearly half an hour she did the path.. half and hour and then she spoke her last shlok she also ended. She knew she would die so much control over death.