Genocide in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir

Bal K. Gupta
I am a survivor of long forgotten above Genocide of 1947 and was held prisoner in Alibeg, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) from 1947-48.In 1947, around 150,000 Hindus and Sikhs lived in POK (Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Bhimber, Kotli, Bagh, Rawalakot etc.) along with 1.0 million Muslims. During Pathan and Pakistani army invasion in October-November, 1947,majority of Hindus and Sikhs were killed and women kidnapped, including my uncles and aunts. POKwas ethnically cleansed of Hindus and Sikhs. 25,000 of those Hindus and Sikhs were from Mirpur who were almost wiped out from Mirpur on November 25, 1947. Following are edited excerpts from my book “Forgotten Atrocities: Memoirs of a Survivor of the 1947 Partition of India”.
“The blood dripping from head, skin started to peel off from the wrists for hands tied in ropes, the bent of the lifeless neck signaled unconsciousness, feet with cuts and torn skin, having no ounce of energy to balance so were hanging in a way as if would never walk again, face scarred with injuries, lips dried and requesting for water, with the visible red marks left by the Pathans and Pakistan army. These were the scenes I saw on the way to Alibeg Prison. The windows in prison were broken of all rooms, that let the chilling Himalayan winds cut through the wounds. It was such pitiful condition but there were hundreds of youngsters and men bearing the same or even worse torture in the prison of Alibeg. Where death seemed merciful, but the man had forgotten everything about it.
Every night I used to think it to be the last one. I would pray for death to come and put an end to my miseries, but the lines of my hands had a long life written in them and to bear witness to something more… Even the tears in my eyes had dried for crying so long for many… But every time I closed my eyes, the only thing I would see was Mirpur; my beautiful home and my blissful life with my mother and cousins. The cool mountain breeze and beautiful snow-capped peaks presenting the most mesmerising Sunsets and Sunrises in the world. The calm stillness in the surroundings was there in the people too. And under the reign of Maharaja Hari Singh, its people were living happily. My maternal family was wealthier than my paternal family. My maternal grandfather was a Tax Collector of the Maharaja and owned a double storey house with 6 bed rooms, a big compound at the back where the delicious Tandoori Rotis were cooked in the Tandoor placed there. We had a big family of 15 people including my maternal and paternal family including grandparents, siblings, cousins, uncles and Aunts. Mirpur had a high school, college and a middle school for girls. I completed my education till grade 5.Up to grade 4, I stayed in my paternal house and the 5th grade I moved to my maternal grandparents’ house as my school was closer from their home.The chimes of bells with the Aarti of the Hindu Temple, occasional country side trips, the hustle and bustle of fairs of Eid,Dussehra,the tableaus and processions at Krishna Janmashtami, Muharram and Gurupurab.
But all this seemed to be a beautiful dream when the eyes were opened to the reality seen out of those prison bars of the windows and the smelly ragged blanket, with the stinking smell of blood and flesh everywhere, walls filled with screams and cries of the ‘prisoners’ who were then imprisoned on the name of Allah (God)and were being punished for not being one of them. Around 15 to 20 young Hindu/Sikh men were being killed every single day on the nearby Upper Jhelum canal. Some were waiting for their turn to come and some were still praying for help from heavens. Old folks and children were spared by some from their swords or gunshots, so did the women, but women were spared only to live the worst!
I still get goose bumps just by thinking about that part of my life where witnessing death was an everyday scenario, and to my helplessness, I couldn’t change it then; neither for me nor for anyone else. Who could have ever thought of a Hindu-majority city being invaded in such a brutal way as if the Angel of Death has led rage all by himself?Maharaja of state ofJammu and Kashmir was still in dilemma for taking a decision what was best for the people. The schools and colleges were running like normal days, people were going to work like usual and things were as smooth as they were.
October 1947, Pathan mercenaries backed by the Pak Armed Forces attacked J & K state which made the cordial relations among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs took a nose dive and suffocated soon. Till November 25, 1947 the city remained surrounded by the Pathans and was turned into a fortress. Nothing could go in or out. Firing could be heard round the clock. As starvation struck in, understanding went out. The destituteHindu refugees from Gujrat and Jhelum (Pakistan) sought shelter in Arya Samaj and other temple buildings of Mirpur to live off the depleted food items, offered in charity. My family too was starving and fearing for its safety. On November 25, 1947 Pathans and Pakistani army took a victory lap and we all (including J&K army) were defeated. There were around 25,000 Hindus and Sikhs in the city then but as soon as the battle was lost, approximately 2500 were killed in the infernos because of the Pakistan artillery fire. Another 2500 escaped with the J & K Army which was retreating after defeat. Due to shelling and cross-firing, a major part of the city was burning in flames, causing a major migration in the middle of the night. Houses were burning, streets were engulfed in smoke, there was blood everywhere; it was all very horrific. The house of my paternal grandparents was burnt to the ground. My grandparents and a paternal uncle all turned into ashes. The disabled took shelter in an old judicial building and my mother who could not walk was left in those 1000 people in that Court House. I was a 10-year-old boy who was forced to leave my mother at an unknown environment which was filled with anxiety and all kinds of terrifying thoughts. She hugged me, kissed me and we left her… With a really heavy heart and teary eyes, I bade her good-bye, wishing in my heart to see her soon and praying to God, for keep her safe.
Our caravan was very large, the refugee count was in thousands. This many homeless, hopeless people who had left their homes and loved ones were making way to Jammu. But unfortunately, the massacre had just begun. Pathans and Pakistani army attacked us on our way and many people lost their life in the firing in dark. By the dawn, it was 20,000 people, all Hindu and Sikh prisoners, were made to march towards Alibeg prison. Out of 20,000 prisoners, half of them; were killed on the way and over 5,000 of young girls and women were abducted including my two maternal aunts and some distant cousins.Only around 5,000 people could make it to the Alibeg prison alive just to be tortured like animals for an unknown time. I saw Hindu and Sikh men being cut with swords or were shot to death; some were my uncles… On seeing what was ahead, a large number of women consumed poison to commit mass suicide as they could not bear a sight of a man disgracing their body like they saw being done to others before. It took us 3 long days to reach Alibeg and it was 3 days of hell but hell was yet to come.
Alibeg prison (an abandoned Gurudwara), a broken-old building with a large dome like structure in the centre and some small ones along on its sides. It was winters and there was a deadly chill in the winds which made that place looked scarier. On its main entrance there was some space which looked like a foot cleaning pool and we realised that the Alibeg prison was actually a Sikh Gurudwara which was destroyed during invasion and then used as a prison. A Sikh holy shrine was converted into a slaughter house. We were kept in rooms which were used as prison cells and were given 0.5 oz of wheat flour/person/day. By the end of December, about 2000 people had lost their lives at the hands of the prison guards, more than 1000 were sick including children and elderly dying of sickness, malnutrition and food poisoning. Men were randomly killed, and women kept on being kidnapped. No Sikh men were left alive. I had to watch my two cousins dying due to starvation after my aunt was kidnapped. No end to these atrocities seemed coming near but the end of our lives was just around the corner.
January 1948, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) arrived at Alibeg prison to spoil the celebrations of its hunting party (Pathans and Pakistanis). Red Cross firstly made sure that the killings stopped and, then started the process of rescue mission to get the people out of there. By April 1948, the said ‘prisoners’ from this concentration camp were taken to India in refugee camp set up in Kurukshetra via train through Wagah border. Out of all only 1600 refugees mostly children, widows and old survived. I and my brother, Ramesh, were some of those rescued by Red Cross. My father died when I was 3 years old and I used to miss him a lot. But after seeing all this, I am glad he was not there; imagining him dying in front of me like the other people would have been much more painful.
In 2006, one of maternal Uncles who was 80 years of age at that time, visited Mirpur again. And what he told is heartbreaking. He said that the whole area has now been submerged into the 7th largest dam of the world:Mangala Dam. And a new Mirpur with new infrastructure and new people has been established which is now the largest city of POK. A few other Hindus have also visited submerged Mirpur but nobody has visited ruined Alibeg Gurudwara. But recently after reading my book, a decedent of Kashmiri Sikh from Singapore visited Alibeg Gurudwara. He sent me a small video of ruins of Alibeg Gurudwara along with a heart rendering song from a Pakistani singer.”
I have seen deaths, been through atrocities and have seen people killing one another. Yet here I stand to say that the youth of both countries must forget the sufferings of their forefathers and stop sowing hatred for the generations to come. Their forefathers who lived in their time if they were here, would never be able to recognize the place they ever called ‘home’. Nor they would have ever wanted the life they lived to perish like this. Both India and Pakistan are neighbors and, good neighbors take care of each other. This is what their culture and religion teach them. On November 18, 2021, India and Pakistan opened Kartarpur corridor between two Sikh Gurudwaras, one in India and other in Pakistan. Why India and Pakistan don’t resolve Kashmir issue and remove the miseries of the 1947?
(The author presently resides at Atlanta, Georgia, USA)