Day 2 After the fall of Mirpur

Kulvir Gupta
It must have been 03.30 am or 04.00 am on 26 Nov 1947 when there was a lot of commotion all around. There were around three thousand people, young and old, women and children, who had harboured here for the night. I wonder if anybody barring a few children or sick people had a wink of sleep during that cold wintry night without anything to cover their bodies. Escape and safety was the only thing on everyone’s mind but nobody knew where to go for refuge and shelter. However the crowd split into many sub-groups and each of those sub-groups followed their own intuition and destiny, some of us followed the mule tracks while others took goat tracks or pugdandies. Many people had separated from their dear ones in the hustle and bustle and everyone was for himself or herself. The town was still ablaze with tall flames vying against each other to reach the sky. The previous day had been very exhausting without food and water throughout and with miles to cover. One had to simply rise and start walking as there was nothing to carry along except their children and the sick. My mother, who had delivered a baby boy last evening under the open sky upon a grassy patch, was one such liability. My father carried her on his back like a gunny bag while my eldest brother took charge of the newborn. We trudged along behind the main column for obvious reasons but after covering a short distance my mother insisted that she will walk on her own though she leaned on my father’s shoulder while doing so. We were climbing a very gradual slope a midst of pines as the predawn sky started showing up, very few stars were left and the East lit up a little more than the rest of it. Dried pine needles under our feet and the breathing pines took me back to the family’s summer holiday during the previous year. But this was not the time to indulge in dreams, pangs of thirst and hunger were up again with us after the night’s broken sleep. Our family was the last one to join the crowd which had reached a comparative level ground.
A gunshot broke the tranquility of the place stunning everybody, another shot and then another gunshot brought the crowd to a halt. We all looked around to locate the source of the gunshots but before long we heard a loud voice ordering us not to move any further. By now we could locate two human figures moving towards us from the pine-covered slope on the opposing hillock. As they neared us we could see them distinctly as two fully armed young men in civilian dress carrying guns on their shoulders and heavy belts of bullets across their shoulders. They were 20 -25 meters away from us uphill when one of them shouted that they were not there to kill us and ordered us to part with all our valuables, cash and jewelry and place the same on a piece of cloth in the center. One of them held onto his position pointing his gun toward the crowd while the other one descended the slope with a pistol in his hand and a rifle on his shoulder. I clung to my father’s legs with a pounding heart probably all of us were going through a similar experience. In the meanwhile, an elderly person from among us took off his turban and spread it on the ground, and asked everyone to take out all the cash and jewellry and place it on it. Everybody abided by his bidding, ladies in particular were eager to part with jewelry and I saw my mother struggling to remove her heavy Kadas (My mother would boast of those Kadas – thick and heavy gold bangles, that each to the two weighed ten tolas and were gifted to her by my father on the birth of my eldest brother and their first child) and bangles lest the marauders touch her and force remove those ornaments, so did all other women in the crowd, bundles of currency notes and an assortment of ornaments made up an impressive heap on the piece of fabric which was spread for the purpose. The marauder, without wasting much of his time collected the bounty and tied the corners of the cloth to make a Potly (A loosely tied bundle in cloth) and hung it on his shoulder, the other one joined him soon and turned around to depart but spotted a middle-aged person lying on the ground and groaning with pain. Shall we shoot him to deliver him from his agony inquired one of them from the crowd, everyone sang ‘yes’ in unison even before the person lying on the ground meekly nodded his head in affirmative. He placed his pistol on his forehead and pulled the trigger, a fountain of blood erupted from the victim’s forehead which splashed all over the apparel of the thug. For me, this incident was a replay of the assassination of Babu, a poor farmer at Mirpur a few days earlier. The duo decamped following the path we had left behind in the morning. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief but it took us some time to recompose ourselves and resume our journey unto the unknown.
The caravan consisting of about three hundred people moved on very silently. I wonder if anybody thought of the material loss. By the time rays of the morning sun filtered through the pines and reached us, we had covered a distance of about two more miles and the journey of another hour brought us to the edge of a cliff with a vertical fall of about fifty meters, we had nowhere to go but to retreat and take a diversion. In front of us was a very wide valley with many villages some of which were burning, mostly the Hindu villages, while smoke was emerging from the hearths of some other houses. We could also see the soldiers in Pakistani uniform crossing the valley as they were being chased by the Indian soldiers from across the valley. Gunshots could also be heard as the fleeing Pakistani soldiers were firing as they passed through the villages. Large columns of civilians could be seen on the ridge line across the valley, probably they were the lucky ones from among us who had reached the safety of the Indian army. Even before we could make up our minds on what to do next, we were surrounded by a bunch of uniformed Pakistani soldiers. A burly sergeant fired a shot from his service revolver to draw our attention and announced that no harm shall come to us if did as per his bidding. Much relieved one of the elders from our crowd approached him with folded hands and requested that some water and food could be arranged for the children and the sick on a priority basis. He assured him that he will do whatever is possible within his means and ordered his men to share little water from their hip bottles with the very small children. My baby brother and I too got a drought of water each. Then he ordered us to retrace our steps and we were led to a downhill path on our right side after covering about one hundred meters. It was quite a steep slope and was covered with loose gravel people grabbed the shrubs to prevent skidding. As we climbed down the slope the vale narrowed down and we reached a pond of water when he asked everyone to quench their thirst and move on. Seeing water after about thirty-six hours we all had our fill splashed all over soaked Dupttas and turbans to carry some of it along with.
We were to climb the opposite side which was equally steep. It must have taken us almost one hour to cover the steep climb of about three hundred meters after which there was a level ground spread over a vast area comprised of many fields after the harvest. Starved and dehydrated we moved at a languid speed and were held back in our steps when we spotted a dead body with his throat slit with a sword, blood was still oozing from the wounds. He was recognized by many as Sohan Lal a prominent businessman of the town, a few yards ahead there was another body and then another and yet another some of them were axed while others were butchered with swords and bayonets. There was no doubt that we were nearing our end as we spotted a group of fifteen to twenty armed civilians ahead of us, they were sitting guard over their recent achievement. Twenty to thirty dead bodies were heaped up one above the other, some of them were still breathing and writhing, probably they must have clumped up together to ward off the blows when the marauders were hitting them with swords spears, and axes. We stopped moving when we spotted a bunch of about fifteen marauders armed with swords, spears, axes, iron rods and harvesting sickles, and wearing clothes soaked in fresh blood, waited for the worst but soon some Pakistani soldiers overtook us and ordered us to move on with the assurance that nobody is going to be killed. As we passed by the dead and not so dead many of them were dear ones. One of my mother’s aunts with a wide gash across her shoulder called out my mother by her name and very meekly requested her for a drought of water, we moved on without any response but heard her calling out to her killer (Prava ek aour phat mar te miki mukti dey) to deliver another blow to finish her life. My mother’s eyes were soaked in tears as she muttered Mammi ji. (Wife of her mother’s brother)
The mid-day sun was adding to our discomfiture when we reached a wide recently harvested field we heard the sound of hoofs advancing towards us from behind. Soon we were encircled by ten to fifteen armed riders on their horses. Their leader Fazal Ellahi was a prosperous farmer from a neighboring village and was a well-known face in Mirpur as he frequented the place for trade and commerce. He addressed the crowd and expressed sorrow for the fall of Mirpur and added that he was there to punish one Vipin Kumar who was a journalist and brought out a weekly paper by the name ‘Sadakat’ wherein he had written against the Muslim League and creation of Pakistan. He asked his men to look for Vipin Kumar in the crowd but before that the latter walked out of the crowd to face him. Vipin Kumar’s wife and children clung to him but Eiiahi’s men held them back. He was asked to stand in the field a little away from the crowd while Fazal Ellahi got down from the horse and aimed his rifle at him from a distance of about five meters. The first shot hit him on his stomach but he kept on standing with white turban still on his head, two more bullets pierced through his head and chest and he collapsed on the ground. Women in the crowd shrieked loudly while Ellahi and his men vanished.
We were ordered to move on even Vipin Kumar’s wife and children were not allowed to go near his body. Thirst and hunger had taken us backstage as we had walked through the valley of death since the morning. We reached the village by the name of Akalgarh and were taken to a school building and were pushed into the empty classrooms and packed like sardines with nothing to spread on the floor or cover our bodies. The room was bolted from the outside. There was pin-drop silence in our room barring cries of some infants, my kid brother was clinging to my mother’s breast though there was nothing for him. After about an hour or so the door opened with a bang and in came about five or six soldiers with torches in their hands throwing light on everyone’s face. The young girls and women were pulled out anyone who resisted or protested and held the hands of their daughters, wives or sisters were mercilessly beaten up with the military boots or rifle butts. They must have picked up six or seven women and taken them away and bolted the room once again. Everyone in the room started crying and kept groaning for the rest of the night. I was too young to know why the ladies were taken away.
Recounting the 2nd day’s happenings I feel as if I have traversed a journey through thousands of years of history of mankind, which has not quenched the thirst for the blood of fellow human beings, the greed of the wealth of others and lust for the women of the vanquished. When shall human beings learn to be human, it has been a long wait indeed!
Great civilizations, the Egyptian, the Greek, the Persian, the Chinese, and the Indian, have impacted the course of man’s life on the planet earth for the past five thousand years or more. Huge temples and places of worship have been created to guide and train the human mind to lead a purposeful social life. So also have tread, many a Rishis, Saints, and Seers the surface of Mother Earth to show the path of righteousness to the ever-renewing generations of man. Different faiths and religions emerged to bring about order and purpose to human life. Our generation must contribute to the onward march of humanity.
(The author is former Captain)