35 days of Mirpur holocaust

Dr Kulvir Gupta
TIK-DUM-TIK-DUM was the dreaded sound which shattered peace and tranquility of Mirpur Town during the last few weeks before its fall on 25 Nov 1947. It may not be possible to give the exact date when we heard the first shot, but it was a week or two before ‘The Black Day’, 22 Oct 1947, when Pakistan launched a major attack on Muzafarabad and Baramulla. Pathans and Razakars sponsored by Pakistan had positioned themselves around Mirpur and opened incessant firing on the town during the third week of Oct 1947. Hindus from the villages around Mirpur had withdrawn to the town while Muslim population from the town, migrated to the villages for reasons of safety. The infiltrators had forced themselves on the local Muslims for food and shelter while they carried huge supplies of arms and ammunition provided to them by Pakistan army.
Many a time they tried to enter the town at night but were repelled by the eight hundred strong garrison of the Maharaja’s army. On one occasion two Pathans were killed by our soldiers, which discouraged them from making further attempts for next few days. But soon we could make out that more reinforcement had arrived for them as frequency of firing increased by the day. The houses which formed the front line had their walls pock marked with the lead, ours was one such house. No help could reach from the state forces though few sorties of Dakotas were made to drop supplies, arms and ammunition for our garrison.
Population of Mirpur town was becoming restless and in panic when we learned about Pakistani attack on Muzafarabad and Baramulla on 22 Oct 1947. Fearing capture of Srinagar by the advancing forces of Pakistan, Maharaja Hari Singh too was in panic and rushed his Prime Minister with the signed Instrument of Accession with the dominion of India, to New Delhi, on 26 Oct 1947, and sought military help to defend Srinagar. Alas the precious time had been lost and with it Muzafarabad and Baramulla towns had been lost to Pakistani forces. Carnage, loot, plunder, massacre and rapes were unleashed on the hapless citizens of Muzafarabad, Baramulla and the surrounding villages. Even the Muslims, men and women were not spared. Their houses were plundered and women raped. Towns of Rajouri and Noushera, too were lost to the Pakistani forces, with the accompanying death and destruction, while Poonch town was held under siege by the infiltrators and Pakistani soldiers. Brilliant leadership of Brig Pritam Singh, who mobilized the youth of Poonch to repair and restore the Air Strip and fortify defences of the town helped. Poonch was thus saved from falling to Pakistan and the senior citizens, women and children of town were safely evacuated by air to Jammu. After recapture of Rajouri from Pakistan by the advancing Indian Army he could establish road link with Jammu and remaining population was evacuated to Jammu.
It seems, nobody who mattered, knew what was Mirpur going through during those ‘Paintees Din’ from 22 Oct to 25 Nov 1947. (Thirty-five days from Black Day to Mirpur Day) Mirpur had become an oasis for refugees from neighboring areas of Punjab, where the communal riots had taken a turn for the worst. The state of Jammu and Kashmir with a Hindu ruler reassured them of safety and their future with India. This added to the population of Mirpur by about five thousand since the first week of Oct 1947. We, the residents of Mirpur (this is the first hand account – being a survivor of the holocaust) were cut off from all sides and were surrounded by Pak sponsored guerillas. There was no supply of fresh vegetables for over six weeks from the neighboring villages. Fortunately there were adequate stocks of food grains in the town and almost every household had a milch animal which made up for supply of milk for the children. We had a very cohesive society and cared for each other including the refugees. Volunteers sprang up overnight, organized themselves into a civil defense force, and ensured that no one went without food or basic amenities. Gurudwaras and Temples opened up their reserves to feed and accommodate the refugees.
City depended for its water supply on a network of wells along the periphery of the town at the base of slope, on which it was located, but owing to TIK-DUM-TIK-DUM no one ventured to go to those wells. Thankfully we had few wells and a water tank in the town which provided the nectar of life during the last few weeks. Luckily for us there were no fatal casualties because of continuous firing, though many of the citizens were wounded. The local youth volunteer force ensured smooth supply of water and essentials, youth from the refugees also joined as volunteers. They even helped the soldiers in transporting their supplies to the pickets around the town.
When Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India on 26 Oct 1947 Mirpur got showers of bullets instead of intermittent firing. It is not understood till date that why no concern was shown for the deplorable situation and security threat to Mirpur. There was utter confusion at the centre, Nehru’s Government was more concerned about installing Sheikh Mohd Abdullah as Prime Minister of the state and undermining the authority of Maharaja Hari Singh. At times I wonder if Jawahar Lal Nehru knew anything about Mirpur, Bhimber or Poonch which were also under siege during those 35 days, between Black Day and Mirpur Day ( 22 Oct 1947 to 25 Nov 1947.) He had gone further to humiliate the savior of Poonch, Brig Pritam Singh, a great son of India, just to keep Sheikh Mohd Abdullah in good humor. But for Brig. Pritam Singh Poonch would have been lost to Pakistan like Mirpur and Bhimber and its population doomed. After 26 Oct 1947 it was the responsibility of the government of India to protect Mirpur and its population, Maharaja had no role to play, though he had faulted us by not acceding to India well in time.
A leader like Brig Pritam Singh could have saved Mirpur but our fate was sealed as we had the most incompetent and cowardly person, Rao Ratan Singh as our Vazir-e-Wazarat (equivalent to a District Commissioner) who happened to be a kin of Maharaja Hari Singh. With garrison of eight hundred strong men, fully armed and having a back up of para-droppings of supplies, arms and ammunition any military commander, if given a free hand, could have held on and defended Mirpur and its people and got help from the Government of India. Even paratroopers too could have been dropped at Mirpur. But that was not to be because Rao Rattan Singh stabbed the people of Mirpur in their back by stealing away half of the army to escort him safely to Jammu, in middle of night between 24 Nov and 25 Nov 1947 without informing anyone. Even the military personnel stationed at various pickets around the city were clueless and were abandoned without any instructions from their superiors. Hardly anyone could sleep during the night as the raiders were closing in, we could hear the machine gun fire in close vicinity. By the first light, the marauders entered the city from southern end of the town and raised havoc, killing anyone who come on their way and setting the houses and shops on fire. The soldiers who were left abandoned and were leaderless fought bravely till the last bullet killing many intruders but to their own peril falling down at the end. They were the unsung heroes who laid down their lives for Mirpur.
By midday the town had become a haunted place, inhabitants had abandoned their homes and were desperately running away from the place where they were born and had lived all their lives. Barring few old and sick men and women or those who refused to leave their homes met their end in the streets and bazaars or within the four walls of their homes until not a single soul was left. I am sure even the marauders must have paused in panic seeing the ghostly town. But soon they must have resumed loot and arson, thus bringing down the prosperous town to ashes. Mirpur sank into the oblivion of history on 25th Day of November of the year nineteen hundred and forty seven.
(The author is ex-Capt)