Every winter in India, agonising memories of 1947 are invoked and commemorated by people from Pakistan-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. Something similar happens in Pakistani Punjab.
Binary assumptions often mark the discourse on the conflict-ridden [now former] state of Jammu and Kashmir. One such example in the popular, or even scholarly literature, relates to the prevalence of communal harmony in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. In this connection, Mahatma Gandhi’s remark that if he saw a ray of hope anywhere, it was in Kashmir, is often cited.
He was right that the Kashmir valley defied North India’s communal carnage by upholding communal peace. However, the multi-dimensional societal tragedy, similar to Punjab, that unfolded to the south of the mighty Pir Panjal got largely eclipsed from the popular imagination and policy discourse on Jammu and Kashmir. This has left a vacuum in the understanding of the various vectors that impact regional peace on both sides.
A part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was not immune to the Partition carnage, particularly in the populous and religiously-heterogenous Jammu province. Jammu’s population was 1.9 million [19 lakh], whereas the Valley’s population was 1.7 million [17 lakh] in the 1941 Census. In the last quarter of 1947, a total of 31,619 Hindu and Sikh families migrated from across the Line of Control, of which 26,319 families opted to settle down within the state. A part of the community took refuge in various parts of the country, including the Pathankot area of Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur district, the Yol area of Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, Agra town of Uttar Pradesh and in the Lajpat Nagar colony of New Delhi. Their migration took place in the midst of mob violence, arson and brutalities against women, including abductions whose victims were later forcibly made to change their religion and marry. Every year, 25 November is observed as Mirpur Day, as on that day, the administration of Jammu and Kashmir lost its control over Mirpur, one of the main towns across the LoC.
Mirroring the 1947 memories of Sikhs and Hindus, 6 November is observed as a day of remembrance by the Muslim refugees and their families, in memory of those who had died in Jammu. On 5 and 6 November, many trucks and lorries carrying Muslim migrants from Jammu who were on their way to Punjab province were attacked and massacred. This year, on 28 October, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) leader Khawaja Asif, who is a member of Pakistan’s Legislative Assembly from Sialkot, where the maximum number of Jammu Muslims had settled, raked up memories of 1947 in the national Parliament. He cited the familial tragedy of Pakistani anchor-journalist Hamid Mir, which resonated in the Pakistani social media space. In October 1947, Mir’s maternal grandmother Ghulam Fatima, who was from Jammu, was abducted in the communal frenzy as her bus ferrying Sialkot-bound migrants was ambushed near the border. According to Mir, she was never found.
There was near-complete migration of non-Muslims from across the Line of Control. Some Hindu and Sikh families that had stayed on changed their religion to Islam. In January 2006, this author met formerly Hindu families in Kotli district across the Line of Control who had converted to Islam. They are locally referred to as “Sheikhs”.
However, in 1947, there was also a massive outflow of Muslims from the plains of Jammu and Kashmir, where they were a numerical minority. The extent of that migration can be gauged from the changes recorded in the Census data. Jammu district’s Muslim population, which was 37% in 1941, came down to about 10% in 1961. The decrease in the Muslim population in Jammu district alone was by over 1,00,000.
According to the 1948 West Punjab Refugees Census, the number of Muslims who migrated from Jammu and Kashmir—most of them from Jammu—was 2,02,600, the highest outside east Punjab. Muslims from the Jammu plains mostly settled in Sialkot and Lahore, though a number of families settled in other Punjabi cities such as Gujranwala and Faisalabad as well. The number of persons in Pakistani Punjab, including the succeeding generations of the 1947 migrants who have a linkage with Jammu and Kashmir, is estimated to be around 1.5 million [15 lakh].
While the popular discourse on Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side is largely predicated on 1947 developments in the Kashmir valley, including the Pashtoon raids, directed largely from the North West Frontier Province, on Baramulla district; the Partition trauma of Jammu Muslim families weighs heavily on Pakistani Punjab’s societal understanding of Jammu and Kashmir. This selective sifting and internalisation of historical facts, which disregards what happened in Pakistan-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, have led to a unidimensional discourse in Pakistani Punjab, the most significant political unit of the country. This has had wider political, societal and security ramifications for the region.
The events of 1947, with particular reference to Jammu Muslims, are selectively interpreted by Punjab-based, J&K-centric terrorist outfits to gain social legitimacy. Propaganda material of Punjab-based terrorist outfits have often invoked the Partition riots in Jammu and Kashmir, including the tragedy that impacted Muslims, to raise funds and boost recruitment. In the last thirty years, Lashkar-e-Taiba, claiming to be fighting on behalf of Jammu and Kashmir, has mostly drawn recruits from eastern and central areas of Pakistani Punjab, where the bulk of Jammu migrants and their families are settled. The Mumbai attack terrorist Ajmal Kasab was from Okara district near the India-Pakistan border.
Year after year, the month of November reinforces the need for an objective and fuller understanding of the events of 1947 in both countries. Otherwise, the Partition trauma is becoming progressively institutionalised within these societies, where a skewed lens is turning oblivious to the multi-layered tragedy that befell all communities at the time. This societal sensitisation and exposure to a nuanced reality is one of the many required building blocks for any concrete and sustainable conflict resolution model between the two countries.
The writer is author of Across the Line of Control, published by Columbia University Press. The views are personal.