The Battle for Amritsar, 1947

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Excerpted from a book by Gurcharan Singh Talib

In the history of the Muslim League War on the Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab in 1947, Amritsar occupied the pivital position. It was in this city, fought with an even greater intensity than the battle for Lahore, that the most sustained war, of over five months, was waged on the Hindus and Sikhs, especially the latter, by the Amritsar Muslims. In the scheme of the Muslim League, Amritsar appears to have been Theatre of War No. 1. The degree of success achieved in Amritsar would depend the League's measure of success in cowing down the minorities in the Punjab and the prospect of the establishment of Pakistan. While in Lahore the Muslim population was quite a large majority, in Amritsar it was almost balanced by the Hindus and Sikhs combined.

Taking Amritsar from the Sikhs to be the Muslim Prize

Amritsar, the spiritual capital of the Sikhs, and Sikh history is full of battles fought by the Sikhs, in the pre-Ranjit Singh Era, for the recovery of Amritsar from the hands of Muslims who desecrated the holy HarMandir (the Golden Temple, of later days) and filled the sacred Tank with sand. The Muslim League knew that Sikhs might be uprooted and even exterminated in Rawalpindi and other cities and villages in the West, that they might be driven out of Lahore, but that they would make a determined, last-ditch stand in Amritsar. To surrender Amritsar to the Muslims would mean practically the writing off of Sikh history and admitting a status inferior to that of the Muslims in the Punjab; a status, in view of the past record and declared ambitions and methods of the Muslim League, of serfdom. To break the Sikh resistance and morale in Amritsar was, therefore, of the first importance. And it was in Amritsar that the League poured all its strength and resources. It, was in Amritsar again that the Sikhs staked their lives during the long months of agony and unequal fighting from March to August, 1947. Amritsar, to use an appropriate parallel, became a kind of Stalingrad of this Muslim League-Sikh War.

Battle for Amritsar/ The Battle of Briton/ Battle for Stalingrad

Like the 'Battle of Briton' when the Nazis attempted to break the back of the English in 1940 and 1941, or the turning point that Stalingrad was for the Russians in 1944, it was in Amritsar that the tide turned, as the Sikhs held out and emerged victorious. The Sikhs successfully stood the Muslim onslaught for four months or more. And with the approach of August 15, the Muslims fearing the inevitable counter-attack on the part of the Hindus and Sikhs, rendered inevitable in this case by the accumulated sufferings and helplessness, hate and anger of months of destruction in Amritsar, Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, the Frontier Province and other places, lied Amritsar in panic. It was a wonderful sight to see how within the space of a day and a night, almost no Muslim was to be seen in Amritsar when freedom dawned on August 15, expecting those who had entrenched themselves in the notorious area of Sharifpura, expecting what they knew to be well-deserved punishment for brutal and inhuman crimes against their former countrymen.

Such is the character of the story of Amritsar, which opened in the afternoon of March 5. Even during the days of the Muslim League agitation Amritsar had been the scene of the most hectic violence seen anywhere in the Punjab. It was here that the League's agitators had, several times, attacked the police and officials, raided the courts and murdered a helpless Sikh police constable, who was stranded in their midst. Most of the train hold-ups during the League agitation period occurred in Amritsar. The Muslims of Amritsar were undoubtedly a very formidably well-organized Community and strategically well-situated to wage a relentless and even successful war against Hindus and Sikhs.

What ultimately carried them through, was the dogged tenacity of the Sikh character, which has never been defeated, even after heavy losses, as there undoubtedly were in Amritsar. To understand the nature of the war in Amritsar, and the relative strength of the Muslims, a few factors should be pointed out:

(1) Out of the combined Hindu-Muslim-Sikh population of Amritsar (376,824) Muslims were as many as 184,055 that is, nearly half. The Hindus were roughly 134,000 and Sikhs 58,769. So, in point of numbers the Muslims had great advantage and were a solid, well-knit community.

(2) In Amritsar the Muslim National Guards Organization was the strongest anywhere in the Punjab. This organisation, according to reports received by the authorities, had a membership of over 8,000 when the 'war' started in March. Later on recruitment to it proceeded apace in every Muslim ward and mohalla. Working hand in hand with the National Guard, were two other well-equipped Muslim organizations, the Khaksars and the Ahrars. The former of the two had a long record of secret violent training and activity. The Muslim National Guards headquarters were shifted from Lahore to Amritsar in March, as Amritsar was the most important front on which the League had to fight.

(3) The Muslim localities were situated in a ring quite deep all around the town of Amritsar. Hindu and Sikh areas were in the interior of the circle, and once the Muslims decided to close in upon these areas and shut egress and ingress into the city, Hindus and Sikhs were shut in and cut off from the rest of the world. Excepting an opening through Sultanwind Gate, which is away from the Railway Station, the Courts, Civil Hospital, Telegraph Office etc. there was no opening in the deep Muslim belt through which any Hindu or Sikh could come out without running the gauntlet of large and well-posted Muslim mobs, ever ready with their murder squads. A very large number of casualties among Hindus and Sikhs occurred round the city walls.

(4) Proportion of Muslims in the regular and additional police force in the Punjab, as has been pointed out, was everywhere very heavy, that is, over 70%. So was the proportion of officials in the Civil list. These two classes of Government employees could and did make all the difference for the peace and safety of an area. A separate and detailed study is needed to assess the true role of the Muslim police and officials in riots in Bengal and in the Punjab, especially the latter. Majorities no doubt tell in such a total warfare as the Punjab Muslim League attacks of 1947, but even the majority in population without the collusion of the police and officials cannot inflict such losses as those sustained by Hindus and Sikhs in the Western districts of the Punjab.

And in a place like Amritsar, where the two sides were balanced in population, without the police and officials working 'all out' for one side, Hindus and Sikhs could not have been held at bay by Muslims for so many months. Most of the Hindu and Sikh policemen were posted in the Southern and Eastern districts of the Punjab, in which the majority in population was Hindu and/or Sikh. In Amritsar as in Lahore one might rarely come across a Hindu or Sikh policeman, else all the force was Muslim. The Muslim police helped Muslims to collect arms both lethal and firearms and ammunition. Smuggling was done in collusion with the Muslim police who were posted on all strategic points. Storage of arms and petrol, the latter for purposes of quick arson, was done in houses and buildings which were protected from detection by the Muslim police.

The Curfews allowed the Muslim Police free reign

Again, the operation of the curfew was made to work in favour of the Muslim assailants and to the detriment of the Hindus and Sikhs who might want to protect their houses from burning. Muslim goondas or even Muslim policemen set fire to Hindu and Sikh houses during curfew hours, and no Hindu or Sikh was allowed, on pain of being shot, to come out of his house to fight the fire. This happened both in Lahore and Amritsar. The police stood guard while Muslims broke open Hindu and Sikh houses and shops and carted away the loot, at great leisure. The dumps for such looted property were known to and guarded by the Muslim police.

Muslim Police and Looters worked together

The police went shares with the looters. Hindu and Sikh officers were generally held under terror by Muslim policemen, and in some cases were attacked, or not protected when attacked by Muslim mobs, as in Amritsar, Dera Ismail Khan and other places. Sometimes rifles and rounds were supplied by Muslim policemen to Muslim mobs. Muslim policemen went about in lorries and jeeps sniping at Hindus and Sikhs, and in several cases asking men to come out of their houses on some pretext and then shooting them dead. This happened in a number of cases in Amritsar, and in other places.

(5) Muslim Government servants other than the police behaved in the same partisan manner, and in collusion with the Muslim Leaguers. Muslim doctors in the Civil Hospital would not attend to Hindu and Sikh injured. Muslim telephone operators, who almost had the monopoly of the Department in Amritsar, cut off Hindu and Sikh telephone connections and tapped their lines and made secrecy of communication among Hindus and Sikhs impossible.

(6) Muslim colleges and schools, especially the M. A.-O. College at Amritsar, the houses and mills of Muslims notables, such as Sheikh Sadic Hassan, President of the Amritsar District Muslim League, were regular arsenals and planning and operating centres in the war on Hindus and Sikhs.

(7) Large stores of brickbats were collected by Muslims in their houses, for their fight against Hindus and Sikhs. They would shower brickbats mercilessly on Hindus and Sikhs from the roofs of their houses. The Muslims themselves were mostly steel-helmeted, and so could even sally out on Hindus and Sikhs, while Hindus and Sikhs, being unprovided with any such defence, got serious and even fatal injuries from these brickbat showers.

(8) The Muslims' methods of arson were skilled. In arson there were always two men-one who sprinkled petrol and the other who lit the match. This was a 'safe' method. When non-Muslims retaliated, both processes that is, of sprinkling petrol and lighting the match were entrusted to the same man. This man invariably got burnt. It was long after that non-Muslims realised the nature of the Muslim technique of arson and learnt to do the thing efficiently as the Muslim 'army' of the League had no doubt learned by forethought long before the thing was taken up in real earnest.

(9) On the 5th March, when the attack opened, the Muslims attacked only such Hindu-Sikh areas as were mostly surrounded by heavy Muslim zones, such as Sattowali Gali, Gokal New Abadi in Kila Bhangian, Deviwali Gali, Chhaju Misr's Gali, Islamabad, Hall Bazar etc. All this shows pre-planning.

(10) Attacks on Hindus and Sikhs were made by Muslims in Muslim National Guards' uniforms, wearing steel helmets.

The attack opens

The Muslims of Amritsar began preparations for the attack on Hindus and Sikhs on the 4th March, the day on which the Hindu-Sikh students' procession was fired on by the Muslim police, and Muslim mobs and assassins had taken a good number of Hindu and Sikh lives in Lahore. The Sikhs and Hindus on the 4th evening held a public meeting in Amritsar, in which the resolve not to tolerate a communal ministry in the Punjab was reiterated. These speeches were interpreted by the Muslim League as a challenge to their design of establishing Pakistan, of which the Punjab was to be the 'corner-stone'. So, they tried to beat down the Hindu-Sikh, especially Sikh, opposition in Amritsar, the city in which a defeat of the Sikhs would mean breaking their morale. Amritsar was rightly selected from the League view-point as the place on which the entire energy of the League must be concentrated. Defeat and rout the Sikhs in Amritsar, and they will not fight elsewhere, at least not anywhere very near; that was how the League tacticians argued.

Nothing happened on the 4th, however, although the atmosphere was tense. Hindus and Sikhs did not expect that a general mass attack would be made on them. So, they were nowhere prepared even to save their own lives in the event of a sudden attack. Everywhere they were taken by surprise, and lost heavily in life and property. The Muslims, on the other hand, were fully prepared for a large-scale offensive, big enough to surround the entire city and destroy Hindu-Sikh localities and force the inhabitants out and finish them off. Arms and petrol were stored in large quantities by Muslims. They had organised squads for committing arson, for looting, for stabbing and for general attacks and sorties. Among the proceedings of the Executive Committee of the Amritsar Muslim League, held on the 3rd March, 1947, two days before the attacks started and at a time when no Hindu or Sikh could imagine there would be any emergency, this body appointed a sub-committee for first aid to the injured and maintenance of an Ambulance Unit. This provision means clearly that they were preparing ahead for the fight which, they knew was coming, for it were they themselves who were to start it when the time was opportune.

Muslims crowd their sword shops

A Sikh lawyer, who was going to attend court on the morning of the 5th March, noticed a great rush at Muslim sword-shops, where swords were being distributed free to Muslims. Hindus and Sikhs did not take warning from this very clear action. They probably thought there would be some sabre-rattling but not any actual fighting, with the result that on the 5th, the opening day of attack and on the two subsequent terrible days, Sikhs and Hindus had nowhere any arms or other means of defence. In Darbar Sahib, the holy of holiest of Sikh faith, which in the case of a general attack by Muslims would be one of the first targets of Muslim attack, as it actually would have been but for the morale of the few Sikhs who took it upon themselves to defend the holy place, there were about only two dozen sewadars or attendants employed by the Committee managing the shrine and its precincts. These two dozen men had their swords, as they always had as a symbol of their being Sikhs. Additionally there was about a thousand defenceless Sikh pilgrims, including women and children, who would be a problem rather than help in the defence of the holy place.

There were four old and rusted twelve-bore guns and a small stock of cartridges in the place, but no one present knew how to use them. Khalsa College, the premier Sikh institution did not have even ten swords on that day, and no firearms. It was open to attack from all sides, and a large population of young students, teachers and their families were residing on its premises. The same was true of the Shahid Sikh Missionary College. And this was true of all Hindu and Sikh mohallas and areas-utter defencelessness. No one was prepared for defence, for no one knew off the designs and plans of the Muslim League.

Muslim Government servants with the exception of the police, were almost wholly absent from their places of work on the 5th March. Especially was this true of the Muslims in the Rationing Department, as they knew better than others the location of Hindu and Sikh houses which were to be burned.

They were, instead, by information passed round among Muslims, keeping out of harm's way or even joining in the plan for attack in their respective areas. In their complacence Hindus and Sikhs did not know what was about to happen, and so by the afternoon they got stuck up wherever they were-in their offices, at the Railway Station, in the Golden Temple or other holy places, etc. These marooned people in most cases could not reach their houses and families right up till the 11th March, the day on which the curfew was for the first time relaxed after being imposed on the 7th.

During the day on the 5th March, a group of three or four Sikhs on behalf of the Shiromani Akali Dal went about Amritsar announcing the holding of a public meeting that very evening to protest against the design of the Muslim League to establish Pakistan in the Punjab. So little did the Sikhs expect an attack or general attack on that day. This group was attacked by Muslims with a storm of brickbats in Chowk Moni and one Sikh, Bhai Mangal Singh by name, was done to death. The news of this brutal act spread throughout the town, and Hindus and Sikhs apprehending trouble, began to close their shops. But traffic to and from the Railway Station was still continuing. In the meantime, without any provocation being given by any Hindu or Sikh, Muslim goondas in the thousands collected in all parts of the city, especially on the outskirts, near the approaches to which areas the Muslims had an overwhelmingly large population. The collecting of Muslim parties and mobs all over the town and up till a great depth from all approaches practically closed the town to those who were outside it and made it impossible for those inside it to get out. Hall Bazar, the main business centre of the City and the most important approach to and from the Railway Station and the Golden Temple, was full on both sides of large armed Muslim mobs.

Hindus and Sikhs, unsuspecting any developments and incidents were going about the town, when at a signal at about 4 o'clock a general attack by the Muslim in all parts of the town began. Hindus and Sikhs found in Hall Bazar, whether in tongas or going on foot or at their shops, were attacked and done to death. One of the victims of these attacks, Mohan Singh, was a student of the Khalsa College, who along with another student got caught in a Muslim mob in Hall Bazar. One of the boys escaped with a hurt; the other was killed on the spot. In this first attack a large number of Hindus and Sikhs, especially the latter, were killed. By five o'clock dozens of Sikh dead were brought to the Government mortuary, but many never got traced. Hindus and Sikhs were marooned wherever they were. Telephones were not functioning at this time; the Muslim operators had disconnected Hindu and Sikh lines.

The Muslims now turned to general destruction of Hindus and Sikhs. In Hall Bazar, almost all the shops were the property of Hindus and Sikhs, and it was a prosperous business centre. The surrounding population was almost entirely Muslim. This bazar was looted fearlessly and on a large scale by Muslim mobs. A large number of shops after being looted were burned. Muslims would come out in parties from Khair Din�s Mosque situated in the middle of the bazar and the M. A.-O. College, distant about half a furlong on a side. The police were just doing nothing. The City Kotwali is where the Hall Bazar ends. Within five minutes the police could be on the scene of the looting even at the other end of the fine Bazar. But the looting continued throughout the afternoon and the night, uninterrupted. Booty literally worth millions was carried away. So leisurely and assured was the conduct of the looting Muslim mob that in some cases they did not even care to take the trouble to break open the locks of the shops. All that was done was to remove a plank of the outer door, to scop a kind of manhole and to remove loot out of that. Such a thing was possible only because there was a plan behind all that was happening, and those engaged in looting knew that the police would not come, as it actually did not.1

A large number of Sikhs killed at this time were Sikh factory workers who left work at 5 o�clock when they used to be let off, and set out for their homes, unaware of the general Muslim attack. As they approached the City gates such as Hathi Gate, Hall Bazar, Mahan Sigh Gate or Ghee Mandi Gate, they were surrounded and done to death. Another class of Sikhs who lost heavily in these first days were the Sikh milkmen who used to carry the milk-supply of the town from the neighbouring villages. They were killed on the 5th and 6th March; and by the 6th morning, 18 dead bodies of these men had been carried to the mortuary. The total number of milkmen killed must have been very much larger, for the Muslims generally threw the dead bodies into the burning houses or otherwise disposed them of.

On the 5th March in Amritsar, there was no Government, no law and order. No one�s life was safe. On all sides was killing, burning and looting. People suddenly woke up from the notions of safety and security to which they had grown accustomed during the days of British rule. Now on all sides there was complete lawlessness. The police were not merely neutral in this, but were planning for, leading and aiding the Muslim aggressors. The Muslims burnt and looted whatever area they pleased-the only thing to stop them being possible effective Hindu-Sikh resistance, which on these two days and for months after was not organised. Not Darbar Sahib itself, not any of the Gurdwaras was safe at this time. The Muslims had planned an all-out offensive, and were carrying it out very successfully. No one in the whole city ate anything on this night; no one slept a wink. The whole town was ringing with the yells of the attacking Muslims and the defiant shouts of Hindus and Sikhs. Flames were rising and tall buildings were gutted with huge fires.

The dead bodies in the Civil Hospital brought on the 5th March were seven in number; 6 Sikhs and one unidentified as Hindu or Muslim. Among these six Sikhs killed was Mohan Singh, a student of the Khalsa College, whose murder has been mentioned elsewhere. This circumstance will show more than anything else that the Muslims were aggressors in Amritsar, and they remained so for months. Figures of casualties given later on will amply prove this.

During the night, the Hindu and Sikh quarters got hell. Parties of Muslims would go about shouting Pakistan and Islamic slogans, setting fire to Hindu and Sikh houses. The method adopted for setting fire showed planning, skill and long preparation. Petrol would be sprinkled over buildings with a stirrup pump or some other device. Then a burning ball of cloth or cotton was shot over the petrol-soaked surface and he flames left to do the work of destruction. Sometimes a solution of phosphorus was just painted over the door of a shop or house and left to burn of itself within a short time. Hindus and Sikhs trying to escape from flames were lynched by the mob. A large part of Amritsar was reduced to cinders and rubble in the fires of this night and the one following it. If one stood on the top of a high building in the night, red flames could be seen rising high, spread over large areas, lending a terrible and awful glow to the darkness of the night. Hall Bazar, Kara Jaimal Singh and several other localities were almost wholly destroyed.

Attacks on various localities began as the evening fell. Firing from the attackers could be heard all through the night. By the morning thousands of man, women and children whose homes had been burnt or who had been beseiged throughout the night left as refugees to various localities where shelter could be had. Many went to Darbar Sahib and the other sites in its vicinity such as Jallianwala Bagh. Many ran out to the Civil Lines which were comparatively safe. Khalsa College received a few thousand of these hunted people whose homes were attacked.

During the night a Muslim mob tried to attack Krishna Market, one of the largest emporia of cloth in Northern India, which is close to Darbar Sahib, and Darbar Sahib itself. A pitched battle took place on the road between the Queen�s statue and Chowk Fawara. In this battle courage and grit shown by Sikhs and Hindus routed the Muslim assailants, and immediate danger to Darbar Sahib was averted.

Attacks on Sikhs found anywhere became a feature of the Muslim campaign in Amritsar. Any Sikh found anywhere on the road was attacked and killed. A large number of Sikhs coming from the villages around Amritsar, and many pilgrims coming from outside to visit Darbar Sahib were stabbed by Muslim parties lying in ambush.

Many of those killed were Sikh milk-sellers, who carried milk singly or in groups of two or three from villages round about Amritsar into the town. As they had to pass through Muslim localities in order to enter the city, they would be waylaid and done to death. In many cases several Muslims would fall upon a Sikh, snatch his kirpan and butcher him with the kirpan so snatched. So widespread and persistent was the campaign of stabbing that Sikhs were stabbed even at the Railway Station, which was supposed to be a comparatively safe place-one man was stabbed while actually boarding a train; the kirpan of another was snatched. Public servants were not immune from attack while engaged in doing duty. Such dastardly attacks were made by Muslims everywhere in the Punjab on public servants. In Amritsar, one Sikh wireman was murdered while repairing an electric wire connection in a Muslim locality under orders. A Hindu postman was assaulted while on his round. The most serious case of its kind was the attack made by a Muslim mob on a Sikh Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police on duty. This officer was on duty in Hall Bazar with a force of Muslim constables under him. As he was standing, a Muslim mob of about 150 attacked him. The Muslim constables whom he was supposed to command, simply stood and watched their officer being attacked by the mob, who left him for dead. Later, however, this officer recovered from his serious injuries. This is only one evidence of the spirit which actuated the Muslim police in these times.

Attacks on Hindus and Sikhs became more frequent and easier because Hall Bazar, the main thoroughfare leading into the City and to Darbar Sahib, was blocked by the ruins of burned down houses and shops, and anyone coming out and going in had to make a long detour, and pass for about a mile through Muslim areas to reach the Queen�s Statue, the place where the non-Muslim areas began. Hindu and Sikh passersby were almost daily attacked and killed here. It was only when on repeated representations and protests of Hindu and Sikhs, including several from Master Tara Singh, the Hall Bazar was made available for two-way traffic, that these attacks grew fewer. But the police morale was so much deteriorated that the existence of police in those days afforded no protection to any Hindu or Sikh.

One of the most dastardly attacks which sent a thrill of horror through every Hindu and Sikh was the attack on the 6th of March by the Muslims of Sharifpura, a suburb of Amritsar spread for a long distance south of the railway track east-west wise, on Sikhs and Hindus arriving from Pathankot side. The assailants stopped the arriving train by climbing on to the outer signal and raising it. Then the mob, concealed in Muslim houses along the railway track, fell upon the helpless Hindu and Sikh passengers, and murdered a good number, including women and children before the train could be restarted and brought to Amritsar station. Trains and lorries coining from Jullundur and Pathankot and Narowal were similarly attacked by Muslims of this suburb and Sikhs killed with great brutality. Men, women and children were chased like animals and gored to death with spears. This was the first train-attack made anywhere in this conflict, and this kind of thing was repeated by Muslim Leaguers in many places in the subsequent months. This cowardly attack horrified all decent people everywhere.

Besides the Muslim mobs and assassins, Muslim police shot out of hand any Sikh or Hindu they could lay hands on. Muslim police are known to have gone about prowling of a night, to have sometimes called out of their homes Hindus and Sikhs and to have shot them dead on the spot. This practice they called �shikar� and it was a terror for Hindus and Sikhs.

These first March days were a period of extremely great disaster for Hindus and Sikhs, especially the latter, of Amritsar. With houses and shops burnt in large numbers, and with daily imposition of curfew all business was at a standstill. Thousands got unemployed in consequence of this. Thousands were rendered homeless in Amritsar itself, and destitute through destruction of household property. They had to be sheltered and fed. Over and above all this was the problem of looking after the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Muslim terror in the West Punjab. No doubt the community felt it was passing through a life-and-death struggle, and it �took it� with characteristic Sikh calm and courage.

The Muslim police was working with full vigour in implementing its policy of partiality towards Muslims. In the extensive house searches, both in Amritsar town and in the countryside, every semblance of a weapon was taken away from Sikhs-not only spears, but even wood-choppers and knives. Licensed weapons were confiscated so that whole groups of Hindus and Sikhs were left defenceless in time of attack. The Muslims, on the other hand, could import arms and material for making spear-staves, swords, daggers and even pistols. Guns and bombs flowed freely among them. It was only rarely, when a non-Muslim might happen to be on the watch duty that such smuggling might be intercepted. Once a Hindu police-man on duty at Putlighar, on the Grand Trunk Road on the Lahore side of Amritsar, stopped a Muslim-driven truck which was carrying into the town 4,300 lathis. These were obviously intended for making spears. But while this one truck-load got intercepted hundreds such must have passed on to their destination without check. That is why Muslims could make such a terrible blitz against Hindus and Sikhs.

The attack on Sikhs was carried on by the Muslims with such vigour and organisation that the Sikhs suffered heavy casualties during all the months from March to June, and even later. The Muslims continued, with police help, to waylay individual Sikhs and to make mass attacks on them. Their plan for Amritsar City was ambitious. They wanted to keep the City beseiged, to force Hindus and Sikhs out by arson and murder, and finally to capture two places held dear by Sikhs, and wearing a character symbolic of Sikh greatness and pride: Darbar Sahib and Khalsa College. Letters threatening destruction of these two places continued to be received by the authorities of these places from Muslims. In their confidence and feeling of being advantageously situated the Muslims did not mind declaring their plans. That during all these months Sikhs were fighting against superiorly armed and determined attacks is shown by the following official figure of casualties in Amritsar. These figure are, of course, bound to be gross underestimates, but they help to establish the proportions in which casualties were suffered. In almost all cases Sikh casualties are more than Hindu and Muslim casualties put together, or at least many more than of either community. In considering the nature and extent of the Muslim attack, Hindu and Sikh casualties may also be reckoned together.

Chart of Casualities

Casualties to date Date of report




Hindu & Sikh 11.4.47




32 2.5.47




59 9.5.47




90 11.5.47




132 15.5.47




185 22.5.47





The moral of all this is very clear:

(a) Sikhs were the victims of a malignant and determined campaign of murder and arson, so that even according to official figures, up till 22.5.47, that is, more than two and a half months after the attack opened on March 5, as many as 174 of them had been killed as against 85 Muslims. The total number of all non-Muslims killed by Muslims during this period is 243.

(b) Sikhs did not attack Muslims anywhere in the areas where the former were in a majority. East Punjab continued to report �quiet� during all this period and till much later.

(c) While Muslims had a plan of subduing and even exterminating the Sikhs, the Sikhs had obviously no such plan. During all these months they suffered heavily everywhere, fought an unequal struggle against the Muslim majority organised for fighting, and the Muslim police and officials in combination.

(d) One other factor which conclusively proves that the Sikhs had not only no intention of attacking Muslims, but did not even have knowledge of any intended attack on the part of Muslims is that on and after the 5th March, a large number of Sikhs had gone on the Hola pilgrimage to Sri Anandpur Sahib, in Hoshiarpur District, and were in fact marooned there on account of the curfew in Amritsar and several other towns. A large number of these Sikh pilgrims had to be escorted by the Patiala State police to Amritsar, Lahore and Gujranwala etc., in lorries provided by the State.

Every nook and corner of Amritsar, which was close to a Muslim area, and where a Muslim mob could gather conveniently or a few assassins hide or lurk, was a place of death for any Sikh found in its vicinity. The technique adopted by the Muslim goondas was skilled and well-thought out beforehand. These assailants would generally divide themselves into groups of three, each hiding at a distance of fifteen or twenty yards from the other along a lane or street. While the Hindu or Sikh pedestrian, cyclist or rider in tonga, as the case might happen to be, had been allowed by the first group along the line to pass, the middle group would raise a hue and cry and scare the intended victim. As he ran for life backwards or forwards, he was pounced upon by the group which happened to be nearest to him, and done to death. In this way hundreds got killed in the various Muslim localities, especially along the road leading from Hall Gate to Hathi Gate towards the West, and that leading from Hall Gate out through Rambagh, Mahan Singh and Ghee Mandi Gates to Sultanwind, either of which roads the Sikhs and Hindus must take if they were at all to enter the town from the northern side. Burj Baba Phula Singh, a Sikh shrine and kind of abbey, which is situated just outside Mahan Singh Gate, and was surrounded on all sides by large Muslim populations was repeatedly attacked, and several of the Sikh inmates were killed.

In the attack which began on the 5th March three Sikh foot-constables of police were reported missing. Reports daily poured in of Sikhs stabbed, speared or shot dead on the outskirts of the town. Sharifpura, Mahan Singh Gate, Hathi Gate, Bhagtan wala Gate and Chauk Farid were localities especially notorious for this kind of attack on the Sikhs. M. A.-O. College, was a very active centre of attack from which Muslim groups sallied out to attack or snipe at Hindus and Sikhs. One cinema house, belonging to a Hindu and situated next door to M. A.-O. College was burned. Hindu and Sikh houses situated on all sides in the vicinity of the M. A.-O College were kept constantly under fire by gunmen from inside this College. A large number of these Hindu-Sikh houses, along with others lying between this place and Chauk Farid were burned.

There is a marked difference in the behaviour of Muslims and Sikhs towards women and children captured during this fight. While Muslims everywhere dishonoured, abducted or murdered Hindu and Sikh women and children, Sikhs never resorted to anything of which they might have reason to be ashamed. On the first day of attack, several Muslims got killed by an infuriated Sikh crowd in a locality which was at the junction of a Muslim and non-Muslim zone, not very far from the centre of the Sikh influence. More than one hundred Muslim women and children, whose menfolk had either been killed or had run away for safety, fell into the hands of the Sikhs. Sikhs kept them safe and fed them for the two or three days that the fighting lasted and all communications in the town were cut off, and later sent them under escort to the City Police Station, These women acknowledged the chivalry and courtesy of the treatment of the Sikhs towards them.

The first round of the attack was over after the curfew partly lifted on the 11th March. The sight which was revealed to passersby and onlookers was truly terrible and pitiful. In various parts of the city huge mountains of debris and rubble were lying, blocking roads and bazars. Burnt, demolished buildings, with holes for doors and windows gaping out of damaged walls told a tale of utter and stark brutality. Merchandise and household property worth so many millions had been destroyed by fire, and some was buried under debris, which must have also killed many human beings while falling. This scene of destruction and desolation elicited from Pandit Nehru, who visited the city in March, the remark that Amritsar looked like a bomb-scarred city. The experience, thought Hindus and Sikhs, must have chastened the Muslims and made them realize the folly of a fight in which fire destroyed the neighbouring Muslim houses and shops as much as the Hindu, and in which some at least of the Muslims, no doubt as innocent as the Hindu and Sikh victims of assassination, must have lost their lives. But the Muslims were thinking in no such way. They looked upon this first fight only as one major test of success of their methods and preparedness and the perfect co-ordination of all wings of their forces-the Muslim National Guards, the mobs, the police and officials. So, they were on the look-out for a repetition of this first attack and for winning more �victories� over Hindus and Sikhs.

Muslims made repeated attempts at saying prayers in the burnt Pragdas Chowk Mosque. This place is situated in the midst of Sikh-Hindu localities, though on one side it had easy approach to a vast stretch of Muslim-inhabited area, ending in Gilwali Gate. To have attempted to lead a Muslim congregation, which was bound to he well-armed, defiant and shouting �slogans�, was really an attempt at mischief. In those times when passions were running high, when hundreds of Sikh Gurdwaras had been burned down in Rawalpindi and Western Punjab and not a word of regret or condemnation for such acts had emanated from any Muslim Leaguer, to have tried to lead a prayer-gathering in Chowk Pragdas was both an insult to Sikhs and a calculated attempt at mischief. Sikhs opposed such a move. But the European Deputy Commissioner permitted that every Friday a limited number of Muslims say their noon prayer in Pragdas Chowk under heavy police protection. On April 11, which was again a Friday, a large Muslim crowd estimated at 4,000 to 5,000 came to Chowk Pragdas with the ostensible purpose of saying prayers. But they were well-armed and were shouting slogans vowing to take revenge for the Muslims who had been killed in Chowk Pragdas in the early days of the attack. This naturally hurt the Sikhs. But, although provoked, Sikhs did not do anything which might lead to unpleasant occurrences. And the prayers were done peacefully. But after the prayers were over, some of the returning Muslims attacked some Sikhs. At this some Sikhs in return attacked some Muslims and rioting again started in Amritsar on April 11, after being suspended for about a month, though during this interval stabbing had continued. The Muslim crowd got out of the control of the Police, a large part of which was naturally not too conscientious about checking its activities. Muslims murdered Sikhs and set fire to Hindu and Sikh houses in several areas, including Chowk Lachhmansar, Qila Bhangian, Chauk Chira and Hall Bazar. Extensive damage was done by these fires, and the tall pillars of smoke could be seen from as far as Chheharta which is more than five miles from Amritsar.

There had been a comparative lull for sometime in the campaign of stabbing Hindus and Sikhs in the later part of March and early April. But after the Chowk Pragdas incident of April 11 narrated above, this stabbing campaign was intensified. Arson too began to be on the increase. No day went without the report of some Hindus and Sikhs being stabbed or shot dead, mostly by the hired Muslim assassins and sometimes even by the police. Hindus and Sikhs got killed in varying circumstances. They were sometimes killed while trying to extinguish fire in their own houses. If they fought Muslim assailants in self-defence, more often than not they were shot dead by the police, which always intervened on behalf of the Muslims. If not killed, Hindus and Sikhs fighting in self-defence would be arrested, while the Muslim aggressors were let off.2 As shown above, the death-roll of Hindus and Sikhs continued to be very high. Sikhs got killed in larger numbers than Muslims and Hindus combined.

Incidents typical of what was happening in Amritsar in April and after are given below:-

(1) The grinding mill of a Sikh was gutted by a Muslim mob on 11.4.47. On this same day one Sikh was fired on by the police for no cause whatever.

(2) Two Sikhs were surrounded by a group of Muslims near Bhagtawanwala Gate and their kirpans were seized. The Sikhs escaped by running away.

(3) The car of Sardar Ishar Singh Majhail, a prominent Sikh leader, and later Minister of the East Punjab was surrounded by a Muslim mob, and he was saved only by the skill of his driver.

(4) On 2.5.47 one Sikh was stabbed outside Hakiman Gate.

(5) One Sikh, Sohan Singh was brutally murdered while going on bicycle near Chauk Farid.

(6) Two Sikhs were murdered by being shot near Rego Bridge, which is on the Grand Trunk Road, close to the Railway Station.

(7) On 21-5-47 one. Sikh was found murdered in Gol Bagh between Baijnath High School and the Railway Footbridge. On this day also were set on fire 7 Hindu and Sikh shops inside Hall Gate and several houses inside Mahan Singh Gate and Gali Lahorianwali in Katra Karam Singh. One Sikh was murdered on the Mall, and two Sikhs were assaulted and chased in the same locality.

(8) On 24.5.47 one Sikh who had gone towards Anjuman Park to buy vegetables was murdered. One Sikh was stabbed in the middle of Hall Bazar near Chartered Bank while a Muslim police constable, No. 132, was looking on. One Hindu was murdered near Hall Bazar, and two others were shot dead near Ganj-di-Mori by Muslims, while extinguishing the fire in their houses. Two Hindus were shot dead in similar circumstances in Gali Nain Sukh. Eighteen Hindus received serious injuries in two places where fire was set to Hindu houses. In these places members of the family of Sheikh Sadiq Hassan, President of the District Muslim League of Amritsar, were leading the attack.

(9) On 26.5.47 one Muslim Sub-Inspector of Police chased a Hindu from Islamabad Railway Crossing to Khalsa College, and repeatedly fired on him with a revolver. This crossing and all other crossings and junctions of roads were guarded by Muslim Police, who shot dead any Hindu or Sikh they could lay hands on.

(10) Sikhs murdered in different localities in the beginning of May, 1947 were: 9 outside Bhagtanwala Gate, near the brick klin; 7 in Daimganj; 30 outside Rambagh Gate; 12 outside Sharifpura, and a large number in the Muslim abadis of Maqbulpura and Rasulpura.

(11) The Grand Trunk Road between village Vallah and the Canal to the city was absolutely closed to Hindus and Sikhs, who inevitably got murdered if found there. Hundreds of Muslims, however, freely moved about in these areas. Muslims could also move about near Hindu and Sikh areas, but not vice versa.

(12) One Sikh Bal Singh of village Mulachak was killed by Muslims on 25. 5. 47 near the canal.

(13) Trucks nos. 2410, 1421, 1428 and cars nos. 676 and 3388 regularly went about the roads outside the town with Muslim goondas in them picking off Hindus and Sikhs. Information about this was conveyed by responsible Hindus and Sikhs to the authorities.

(14) On 25. 5. 47 village Mulachak was attacked by 60 Muslims with firearms. Sikhs of the village put up stiff resistance, and the assailants ran away.

(15) On 26-5-47 one Sikh was stabbed in Hall Bazar while going to the police station to give report of arson in his own house. One Hindu was murdered in Chitta Katra.

One of the most shocking and dastardly outrages took place in the Daimganj locality of Amritsar on the 10th May. A party of about a dozen Sikhs and Hindus, including women were going out to cremate the dead body of a child. They passed by the large Muslim locality of Daimganj, close to which is also the Idgah. While these Hindus and Sikhs were returning to their homer after cremating the child, the Muslims who were hiding inside the Idgah, fell upon them, killing seven on the spot. The dead bodies were sought to be made unidentifiable by being soaked in petrol and set ablaze. The smoke attracted the sight of the police force inside the Amritsar Fort, who reached the spot. The authorities imposed a fine of Rs. 20 per male adult Muslim in this entire locality.

This murder was most shocking and brutal, and it shook the conscience of the entire Hindu and Sikh population of the Punjab. Even barbarians respect the sight of death, and none but these offspring of the Muslim League doctrines with unclean minds and souls would have done killing in the circumstances of this incident. It is significant that no Muslim Leaguer uttered a word in condemnation even of this brutal outrage. This incident intensified rioting both in Lahore and Amritsar. Muslims were already adding to the pile of Hindus and Sikhs killed and Hindu and Sikh houses burnt. Now, both in Lahore and Amritsar, Hindus and Sikhs too began reprisals. The Daimganj brutality anyway could not be forgotten. The comments of the Chief Secretary to the Punjab Government of those days, Mr. Akhtar Hussain; are significant:

�Some of the acts committed were shocking in their stark brutality and an attack on a funeral party of a child in which six Sikhs and one Hindu were killed has added to an already overlong list of Muslim atrocities. As a result of these happenings in Amritsar, the situation in Lahore deteriorated a few days later, on the 13th of May, and much damage has been done to life and property. In Amritsar the casualties since communal trouble started in March have been over two hundred killed and twice that number seriously injured. In Lahore over the same period, one hundred and ten persons have lost their, lives and three hundred and seventeen have suffered grave hurt. For the province the death roll exceeds three thousand three hundred while the injured number fourteen hundred.�

The over-all report of the above-named Chief Secretary to the Punjab Government for the month of April and May is:-

�In Amritsar, since a recredescence of trouble took place on the 11th of April, more than four hundred and sixty persons have either been killed or injured, and in Lahore since the 9th day of May, the day on which the new outbreak commenced, there have been three hundred and twenty-five victims of communal strife. The two cities have shown some distinctive features in their disorders and in Lahore stabbings had the place in favour taken by crude bombs in Amritsar. However, both have points in common, the most important of which have been arson and the signs of better organization and greater determination which have emerged. In respect of arson Muslims have been the main culprits and there have been numerous acts of incendiarism in both places resulting in conflagrations which have taxed the available army and civil resources to their utmost limit.�3

The high-ups of the Muslim League were fully alive to the needs of keeping up the �morale� of the Muslims of Amritsar in their fight against Hindus and Sikhs of Amritsar. They constantly visited the city to plan, advise and guide this fight. Sheikh Sadiq Hassan, President of the City Muslim League was directing this entire fight and was maintaining efficient liaison. On the 17th March Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, later a Minister in the Pakistan Government,4 Begum Shah Nawaz, prominent lady in the Punjab League circles, Sardar Shaukat Hyat Khan, till recently Minister in the West Punjab and Siddiq Ali Khan, Salar-i-Ala of the Muslim National Guards came to Amritsar. On the 25th March Mian Mumtaz Daultana, now President of the West Punjab Muslim League, Mian Iftikharuddin, his predecessor in that office, Maulana Daud Ghaznavi and Mian Amiruddin, League Mayor of Lahore also visited Amritsar. These visits were made ostensibly for the purpose of collecting funds for the relief of such Muslims as might have suffered in the wide-spread campaign of arson which sometimes also involved Muslim houses, but were in reality �pep� things to plan and direct intensification of the Muslim League War. Sheikh Sadiq Hassan, who has been mentioned earlier, visited Tarn Taran, a fairly large town near Amritsar and distributed two bags of steel helmets among members of the Muslim National Guards. On the 26th of April, Dr. Ziaul Islam and Ahmed Said, President and Organizing Secretary respectively of the Punjab Muslim Students� Federation visited Amritsar. This organization contained zealous League workers, and rowdy elements. It took leading part in the war on Hindus and Sikhs, especially from its headquarters in the M. A.-O. College.

Mian Nasrullah Khan, a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, visited several villages of Amritsar District on the 17th May. So far there had been no attacks in the rural areas, but now under the instigation of Mian Nasrullah Khan, such attacks started. On the 22nd May this gentleman again visited several more villages and inspired an abortive Muslim attempt to demolish the Hansali, the water channel which serves as a conduit for the water which is supplied to the sacred tank of Sri Darbar Sahib at Amritsar.

The tempo of the war against Hindus and Sikhs grew very fast as the fateful day of June 3, on which the British Government�s award on the future government of India was to be announced, approached.

While the Punjab Government was endeavouring to take some steps for the maintenance of peace, these efforts were rendered more or less ineffective by the communally biased attitude of the Muslim personnel of the Army, which got infected with this evil by association with the Muslim police. Muslim soldiers on duty invariably acted as the Muslim police had so far done. They connived at Muslim mobs setting fire to the city and murdering Hindus and Sikhs, while they were very prompt to arrest any Hindu or Sikh found in any public place, any pretext serving for such action. Cases of arson which had so far been isolated after the first March days, now began to be widespread; and whole localities, comprising hundreds of houses and shops began to be burnt. Two of the most persistently burnt localities were Chil Mandi and Katra Karam Singh, the former not more than a hundred yards from the headquarters of the city Police and fire-brigade.

Khaiwali Gali, Sattowali Gali and Gali Kandharian were some of those localities which were surrounded by large Muslim populations. In these localities repeated attacks on Hindus and Sikhs were made, and looting and burning on a large scale done. In Katra Karam Singh, which continued to burn for three days, more than two hundred residential houses, sheltering several thousand human beings, were destroyed by fire.

Here is a brief and by no means complete list of Hindu and Sikh property burned near and after June 3, when it might be expected that in view of their Pakistan demand being conceded, the Muslims would give up aggression and settle down to have peaceful relations with Hindus and Sikhs. But no such thing happened. On the 2nd June there was widespread burning of Hindu and Sikh localities. Katra Karam Singh, Kucha Beli Ram, Kucha Khotian, Katra Sher Sinoh and Tunda Talab etc. were some of the localities which were burned extensively.

On the 7th June, a Sikh�s house in Katra Bhabrian was burned, and also a Hindu�s house in Chuhar Beri.

On the 8th a Hindu textile factory situated inside Lohgarh Gate was burned, and on the 11th, the Parkash textile factory, which was situated near the M. A.-O. College. The Cinema house situated in this locality had been burned previously.

On the 13th, a Hindu�s textile factory near the Power House was burned, and fire was set to the D.A.-V. Middle School in Toba Bhai Salo on the 14th June.

On the 24th, 26th, 27th, 28th and 30th June large-scale arson in Hindu and Sikh houses occurred in Katra Sher Singh Kohna, Chauk Telian, Ghee Mandi, Katra Karam Singh, Bazar Bakarwanan and in Chauk Jaura.

On the 24th June on a search these arms were recovered from a mosque in Katra Bagh Singh in Amritsar:-

9 spears, 3 hatchets, 4 gallons of incendiary spirit, 2 gallons of kerosene oil, 1 gallon of methylated spirit and some helmets. This was by no means an isolated instance of Muslims keeping weapons and means of fire-raising in large quantities or of their using places of worship as arsenals.

On the 1st July a Hindu�s textile factory inside Lahori Gate was burned, and a bomb was thrown into a Hindu�s house.

On the 3rd July Hindus� houses in Katra Bagh Singh were burned with kerosene oil.

On the 7th July a Hindu�s textile factory on the Batala Road was set on fire.

On the 31st July the Eduljee Ice Factory situated on the Grand Trunk Road, off a Muslim locality was set on fire.

Right into August, till only a few days before the establishment of free India and free Pakistan the Muslims continued to be aggressors in Amritsar. Bomb-throwing on Hindus and Sikhs was frequently indulged into by Muslims.

On the 23rd July a bomb was thrown on Hindu-Sikh houses on Hukam Singh Road. On the next day 3 Sikhs were attacked by Muslims near cattle-fair ground, and 2 of these were killed.

On the 27th July, several. Sikhs were murdered on the Sultanwind Road.

On the 31st July a bomb was thrown in the Hall Bazar on a tonga carrying Hindus and Sikhs. On the next day another tonga was destroyed by a bomb, and its Hindu occupants killed. On the same day one Hindu was killed in Katra Bagh Singh, one Sikh was murdered in Hall Bazar and Hindus and Sikhs were stabbed inside Sikandar Gali and Lohgarh Gate.

On the 4th August a Hindu was shot dead inside Lohgarh Gate, two Sikhs were shot dead near Burj Phula Singh, off a heavily populated Muslim area, and another in Hall Bazar, in Chauk Ghulam Hussain.

The war was getting intensified. 1,000 Muslims attacked the village of Dhapai near Amritsar. A Sikh was injured by a bomb near Khasa.

On the 9th August the police arrested a Pathan, named Mohammad Saeed, near the Railway Tonga Stand, when he was lying in ambush to murder any stray Hindu or Sikh.

On the 11th August, one Sikh and 2 Hindu were injured near Khuh Bombaywala; one Sikh was shot dead by a Muslim constable. 12 Muslims were arrested while assembling for an attack on Hindus and Sikhs. One gun and several spears were recovered from these.

On the 14th August, the Muslims celebrated establishment of Pakistan by setting fire to Hindu and Sikh buildings in Chauk Fawara, Chil Mandi, Kot Atma Singh, Chauk Phullanwala, and handloom factories on the Grand Trunk Road and in Chauk Fawara. Attacks on trains by Muslims outside Bhagtanwala Gate, their stronghold, frequently occurred.

As a result of the Muslim campaign of arson, from the 5th March onwards, more than one-fourth of the city of Amritsar has been laid in ruins-the worst sufferer in this respect among the cities of the Punjab.


1One Hindu chemist�s shop is said to have been spared, as he agreed to pay a blackmail of ten thousand rupees to the Muslim League, through some Muslim friend of his.

2The Police would simply refuse to trace Muslim goondas whose parentage was not received. As the name of a man�s father might not be known to his victim, this was a convenient excuse for not interfering with any Muslim. Sometimes several men of the same name were taken into custody and then let off.

3Emphasis by the present writer.

4Now Governor of West Punjab.