November 25 is blackest of black day in Mirpur: When Hindus paid the price of not joining Pakistan

24th November 2020

24th November 2020

The attacks by tribal lashkars led by Pakistani soldiers on Jammu and Kashmir ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh began on October 22. A lot had been done by Pakistan in the run-up to this D day, like softening of the state's defences by an economic blockade. Muzaffarabad was the first large town to bear the brunt of the marauders, as Hindus and Sikhs were butchered here.

As the initial objective of the raiders was Kashmir valley, their main column planned to move towards Uri, Baramulla and beyond. On October 27, 1947, the first Indian troops landed in Srinagar. From thereon, the tribals did not have it easy as they met stiff resistance and were beaten back.

Far away from Baramulla, Rajouri town also fell to the marauders who looted and killed in a wanton manner. Hundreds of women there consumed poison to save themselves from falling into the hands of men in the lashkars. A stage was reached when there was no poison left and the family members of many women put them to sword. Many men, fathers and brothers, killed their wives, daughters, and sisters.

On the road from Jammu to Rajouri lies Jhangar from which the Mirpur town is barely 20 kms. Even today, there are a couple of milestones by the roadside in Jhangar area which show the distance up to Mirpur. Incidentally, Jhangar had a contingent of state forces which were holding a defensive posture. Some Indian Army troops had also reached there when the hostilities broke out in in late October.

November 25 is blackest of black day for Mirpuri Hindus and Sikhs who were saved by International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) from Alibeg later. They shudder to talk of that day when large scale killings of Hindus and Sikhs began and the dance of death lasted several days. No official figures are available but some accounts put the number of those who died in the Mirpur massacres at 30,000.

More than seven decades later, details are sketchy about what horrors the prosperous Hindus and Sikhs went through here. It is a subject on which more research is needed so that the crimes against unarmed civilians get documented. Between mid-October and November 25, thousands of Hindus and Sikhs trudged to Mirpur town, from nearby Punjab plains. Refugees had also come to Mirpur from many villages and towns of Maharaja's nearby territories.

They organised defence of the town by becoming volunteers carrying muzzle loaders and the small garrison of state forces got strengthened. Raiders targeted the town many times but we're rebuffed firmly by the garrison soldiers and volunteers. However, as they came under siege, ammunition started running out with every passing day. This was alarming and messages were passed on to Srinagar, Jammu and Delhi to organise airdropping of bullets and some other items.

In October, most Muslim residents of the town moved out to Pakistan and some of them provided inputs as to how Mirpur could be vanquished. The Pakistan government sent a bagful of pamphlets in Urdu to Mirpur town saying it was ready to consider taking special care of the residents. The pamphlets said that if the residents were willing to become a part of Pakistan, they should put green flags on their houses.

The residents, loyal to the Maharaja, instead, put red flags atop most houses after a meeting where the Pak proposal was discussed. It was then that the Pakistan government entered into a "Zen and Zar Agreement" with the lashkars. It was agreed that when Mirpur fell, the captured women (zen) would be sex slaves of the attackers. The town itself and the looted cash, jewellery etc would be the share of Pakistan government.

Things went from bad to worse with every passing day as ammunition stocks got depleted steadily. However, the administration had cohesion as state officials carried on discharging their duties and there was a strong contingent of 800 armed men available. Wazir Wazarat (akin to Deputy Commissioner of today) Rao Rattan Singh suddenly left the town on November 24 night, taking along with him 400 soldiers for providing him escort.

That dreadful day of long knives

Administration collapsed and the next morning, a strong contingent of Pakistani Army, and Pathan raiders attacked the town from the southern side. Thousands died that day, and at least 5,000 Hindu and Sikh women were captured by them. Indiscriminate firing, burning of houses, shops that started at 8 am continued till late evening as dark descended. Thousands ran helter-skelter in all directions and were mercilessly killed, some shot and others stabbed with swords and butcher's knives the raiders carried.

Over the next few days, Alibeg gurudwara nearby became a prison for thousands of Hindus and Sikhs. Every day, 50 to 100 young men were randomly picked up and killed by the captors. The terror that it created among the captives was such that 15 to 20 elderly started dying due to shock, severe cold and malnutrition. Many soldiers recited kalima as they killed the Hindus and Sikhs saying they were just following orders.

Somewhere in mid-January, ICRC teams reached Alibeg and took charge of the prisoners that had survived. Food, medicines, clothes were provided and on March 18, 1948, the ICRC managed to captives liberated in exchange of Muslims who wanted to move from India to Pakistan.

Those liberated were only about 1,600 and once a prosperous town where Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims lived together became a ghost town for some time. The Jammu Development Authority (JDA) has constructed a memorial near Maheshpura Chowk to remember the fallen Mirpuris. Those who survived and settled in Jammu gather on November 25 every year to pay tributes to those who could not make it.

This still remains an unanswered question till date as to why Mirpur could not be saved by the Indian forces? What had prevented airdropping of ammunition, and paratroopers to bolster defences of the town? After October 26, 1947, Mirpur had become Indian territory and saving those stranded there was its responsibility. Who is responsible for the massacre of thousands of Hindus and Sikhs that took place? These are questions we don't need to brush aside as inconvenient, or irrelevant just because they are being raised after seven decades and more.

Sant Kumar Sharma, a seasoned journalist, is an authority on Jammu and Kashmir. Two of his books on Article 370 and Delimitation are already out. The third one on Indus Waters Treaty is now out and could be bought here.

Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000.

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