The year 1947 marked a pivotal moment in the history of the Indian subcontinent as British colonizers were compelled to depart. However, before their exit, they partitioned the land, leading to the creation of the independent Islamic nation of Pakistan from what was once part of India. This transition also involved the integration of 525 autonomous princely states, each with its own ruler, into the newly formed nations. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, with its diverse population, posed a unique challenge to the integration process. Maharaja Hari Singh, the Hindu ruler, navigated this complexity by signing a Standstill Agreement with both India and Pakistan, striving to maintain the region’s independence.
However, Pakistan sought to annex Jammu and Kashmir, citing its Muslim majority. In October 1947, the Pakistani Army, in conjunction with the Pathan marauders, launched an invasion, resulting in widespread atrocities and the tragic deaths of around 100,000 Hindus and Sikhs. Despite Jammu and Kashmir’s formal accession to India on October 26, 1947, significant territorial losses had already occurred. Pakistani forces strategically seized entry and exit points, escalating the dire situation. The defection of Muslim soldiers and officers weakened the region’s defense, further complicating the conflict. An economic blockade worsened conditions, paralyzing essential supplies, postal services, and banking, deepening the suffering of the population.
In the face of such formidable challenges, the Indian army successfully halted the advance of the invaders and started regaining territory. Regrettably, the misguided decisions made by India’s inept political leaders, particularly its first prime minister, Nehru, resulted in the inadvertent cession of almost one-fifth of the Jammu and Kashmir territory to Pakistan without any resistance. Read our article “How India is Paying the Price for Nehru’s Strategic Blunders” to understand the significant strategic damage he managed to inflict on India during his 17-year tenure in the highest leadership position.
The plight of Hindu and Sikh refugees fleeing Pakistani violence highlighted the human toll of such bad political decisions. Initially protected by local communities, refugees faced hostility from some local Muslims. Retaliatory violence, including the killing of 20,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Mirpur around November 25, 1947, left an indelible mark on the region’s history.
The tragic chapter of 1947 remains etched in the collective memory as a poignant reminder of the human cost of political upheaval and conflict. This is where this author’s personal story begins.
First-Person Account of the 1947 Tragedy
I am a survivor of the long-forgotten genocide of 1947, having been held captive in Alibeg, Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) from 1947 to 1948. At that time, approximately 150,000 Hindus and Sikhs resided in POK alongside a Muslim population of one million. The invasion by Pathan and Pakistani forces in October-November 1947 resulted in the tragic deaths of the majority of Hindus and Sikhs, with women being kidnapped, including my uncles and aunts. POK underwent a brutal ethnic cleansing of its Hindu and Sikh inhabitants.
Mirpur, in particular, saw the virtual extinction of 25,000 Hindus and Sikhs on November 25, 1947. The following excerpts have been edited from my book, “Forgotten Atrocities: Memoirs of a Survivor of the 1947 Partition of India,” chronicling the harrowing experiences during that tumultuous period.
“As we were made to walk on foot in a caravan to Alibeg Prison, the gruesome aftermath of the Pathan and Pakistani army onslaught was evident. Blood dripped from heads, skin peeled off wrists bound in ropes, lifeless necks hung in unconsciousness, feet bore cuts and torn skin, and faces were scarred with injuries. Lips parched and pleading for water, the visible red marks left by the attackers were apparent. The scenes were heart-wrenching. Upon reaching the prison, broken windows in all rooms allowed the chilling Himalayan winds to cut through the wounds. It was a pitiful sight, with hundreds of youngsters and men enduring similar or even worse torture in the confines of Alibeg. Death would have seemed merciful, but these men had forgotten everything, including the concept of mercy.”
Mirpur: Memories of better days
Every night, I used to believe it would be my last. I prayed for death to end my suffering, but my fate, it seemed, promised a long life. My tears, worn out from countless cries, seemed to have dried up. Yet, whenever I closed my eyes, all I could envision was Mirpur—the place I once called home. The memories of my idyllic life with my mother and cousins, the refreshing mountain breeze, and the breathtaking snow-capped peaks with the most enchanting sunsets and sunrises lingered in my mind. The serene stillness that enveloped both the surroundings and its people persisted.
During the reign of Maharaja Hari Singh – the last king of Jammu & Kashmir – the people of Mirpur lived contentedly. My maternal family was wealthier compared to my paternal family. My maternal grandfather held the position of a Tax Collector under the Maharaja and owned a spacious two-story house with six bedrooms. The back compound housed a tandoor where delectable tandoori rotis were prepared. Our extended family comprised 15 members, including both maternal and paternal branches, grandparents, siblings, cousins, uncles, and aunts.
Mirpur boasted educational institutions such as a high school, college, and a girls’ middle school. I received my education there until the fifth grade. Until grade 4, I lived in my paternal home, and in the 5th grade, I moved to my maternal grandparents’ residence, as it was closer to my school.
The atmosphere in Mirpur was vibrant with the ringing of temple bells during Hindu Aarti, occasional countryside excursions, the lively festivities of Eid and Dussehra, as well as the vibrant tableaus and processions during Krishna Janmashtami, Muharram, and Gurupurab.
Back to the grim reality
The air was thick with the nauseating odor of blood and flesh, and the walls echoed with the anguished screams and cries of the ‘prisoners’ who found themselves imprisoned in the name of Allah (God), being punished for not being one of them.
However, this idyllic scene transformed into a haunting nightmare as soon as one’s eyes opened to the harsh reality beyond those prison bars of the windows and the foul-smelling, tattered blanket. The air was thick with the nauseating odor of blood and flesh, and the walls echoed with the anguished screams and cries of the ‘prisoners’ who found themselves imprisoned in the name of Allah (God), being punished for not being one of them.
Nearby, by the Upper Jhelum canal, approximately 15 to 20 young Hindu/Sikh men were being killed each day. Some awaited their inevitable fate, while others desperately prayed for divine intervention. The elderly and children were occasionally spared from the swords or gunshots, as were the women, but only to be subject to worse suffering than death.
Reflecting on that chapter of my life, where death was an everyday occurrence, still sends shivers down my spine. The helplessness I felt at that time remains etched in my memory—I couldn’t change the situation, neither for myself nor for anyone else. It was unimaginable that a city with a Hindu majority would be subjected to such a brutal invasion as if the Angel of Death himself had unleashed his wrath.
How did it all happen?
During this period, the Maharaja of the state of Jammu and Kashmir grappled with the dilemma of making decisions that would be in the best interest of the people. Despite the turmoil, schools and colleges continued to operate as usual, people went about their daily work, and life seemed to proceed smoothly, contrasting sharply with the grim reality that unfolded in the backdrop.
In October 1947, Pathan mercenaries, supported by the Pakistani Armed Forces, launched an attack on the state of Jammu and Kashmir. By November 25, 1947, the city was besieged by Pathans, turning it into a fortress with constant round-the-clock gunfire. As starvation set in, the once-prevailing goodwill among communities dissipated.
Desperate Hindu refugees from Gujrat and Jhelum in Pakistan sought shelter in Arya Samaj and other temple buildings in Mirpur, surviving on meager food donations. On November 25, 1947, Pathans and the Pakistani army claimed victory, resulting in the defeat of all, including the Jammu and Kashmir army. With around 25,000 Hindus and Sikhs in the city, approximately 2,500 were tragically killed in infernos caused by Pakistani artillery fire after the battle was lost. Another 2,500 escaped with the retreating Jammu and Kashmir Army.
The city engulfed in shelling and crossfire, witnessed widespread flames, prompting a mass migration in the middle of the night. Homes burned, streets were obscured by smoke, and bloodshed was rampant—a horrifying scene. My paternal grandparents’ house was reduced to ashes, with my grandparents and a paternal uncle perishing in the flames. The disabled sought refuge in an old judicial building, and my mother, unable to walk, was left among a thousand people in that courthouse.
At the age of ten, I was forced to leave my mother in an unfamiliar and anxiety-filled environment. She hugged and kissed me as we parted ways, leaving her with a heavy heart, teary eyes, and fervent prayers for her safety, hoping to see her again soon.
Our caravan, comprising thousands of refugees, embarked on a journey toward Jammu, seeking refuge from the widespread devastation. However, tragedy struck as Pathans and the Pakistani army attacked us along the way, resulting in many lives lost in the darkness of gunfire. By dawn, the 20,000 remaining Hindu and Sikh survivors were compelled to march towards Alibeg prison.
The harrowing journey claimed the lives of half the prisoners, and over 5,000 young girls and women, including my two maternal aunts and some distant cousins, were brutally abducted. Only around 5,000 people reached Alibeg prison alive, only to face further torment akin to animals. Witnessing Hindu and Sikh men, including some of my uncles, being mutilated with swords or shot to death was a gruesome reality.
Anticipating the horrors that lay ahead, a significant number of women opted for mass suicide rather than endure the indignity they witnessed inflicted upon others.
Anticipating the horrors that lay ahead, a significant number of women opted for mass suicide rather than endure the indignity they witnessed inflicted upon others. The journey to Alibeg took three agonizing days, each marked by hellish conditions, yet the true depths of horror were still to be revealed.
Alibeg prison, once a Gurudwara, now stood as a dilapidated structure with a central large dome and smaller ones along its sides. The winter winds brought a deadly chill, adding to the eerie atmosphere of the place. As we approached, we noticed what seemed like a foot-cleaning pool at the main entrance, revealing that Alibeg prison was originally a Sikh Gurudwara, repurposed as a prison after being destroyed during an invasion. The desecration of a Sikh holy shrine was disheartening.
Inside, we were confined to rooms that had now served as prison cells. Each person received a meager half an ounce of wheat flour per day. By the end of December, the toll was devastating—around 2000 lives were lost at the hands of prison guards, and over 1000 people, including children and the elderly, were ailing from sickness, malnutrition, and food poisoning. Random killings of men continued, and the abduction of women persisted. The male Sikh population was virtually wiped out. I had to witness the slow demise of my two cousins due to starvation after my aunt was abducted. The brutalities showed no sign of abating, and the end of our lives seemed ominously close.
Random killings of men continued, and the abduction of women persisted. The male Sikh population was virtually wiped out. I had to witness the slow demise of my two cousins due to starvation after my aunt was abducted.
In January 1948, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) arrived at Alibeg prison, disrupting the celebratory atmosphere of the hunting party comprised of Pathans and Pakistanis. The Red Cross took immediate action, ensuring that the killings ceased, and then initiated a rescue mission to evacuate the people from the prison. By April 1948, the so-called ‘prisoners’ from this concentration camp were transported to India, crossing the Wagah border and reaching a refugee camp in Kurukshetra by train.
Out of a large number of refugees, only 1600, mainly consisting of children, widows, and the elderly, survived. My brother, Ramesh, and I were among those rescued by the Red Cross. Reflecting on the ordeal, I recalled missing my father, who had passed away when I was just three years old. However, witnessing the atrocities at Alibeg, I felt a strange sense of relief that he was not present, as imagining him dying in front of me, like so many others, would have been even more unbearable.
Mirpur of my dreams is gone forever!
In 2006, one of my maternal uncles, then 80 years old, revisited Mirpur, and what he shared was truly heartbreaking. He recounted that the entire area had been submerged by the Mangala Dam, now ranked as the seventh-largest dam in the world. In its place, a new Mirpur had emerged with modern infrastructure and a new population, becoming the largest city in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK). While a few other Hindus had also visited the submerged Mirpur, no one had ventured to the ruined Alibeg Gurudwara. However, after reading my book, I learned that a descendant of a Kashmiri Sikh from Singapore visited Alibeg Gurudwara. He shared a poignant video capturing the ruins and accompanied it with a soul-stirring song by a Pakistani singer.
Can we just get along?
Having witnessed death and endured unspeakable atrocities, I stand here to advocate that the youth of both countries must let go of the sufferings endured by their forefathers and cease sowing seeds of hatred for the generations to come. The places our forefathers once called ‘home’ would be unrecognizable to them today, and they surely wouldn’t have wished for the lives they led to end in such tragedy. India and Pakistan, as neighbors, should adhere to the notion that good neighbors take care of each other, a principle embedded in their cultures and religions.
On November 18, 2021, a positive step was taken as India and Pakistan opened the Kartarpur corridor between two Sikh Gurudwaras, one in India and the other in Pakistan. This event prompts the question: Why can’t India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir issue and alleviate the enduring miseries from 1947? It’s a call to reflection on the possibility of fostering peace and cooperation for the benefit of both nations and their people.
We recently came across this short YouTube video of Mr. Amardeep Singh, a Singapore resident, who visited the Alibeg prison (or, more appropriately, the Sikh Gurudwara, which was converted to Alibeg Prison by the Pakistani invaders in 1947). The date of Mr. Singh’s visit is not known, but the video is dated May 20, 2020. In this short video, Mr. Singh shares his perspectives on desecrating his place of worship and converting it into, literally, a house of torture and murder.