Remembering the Jammu Genocide of 1947

Time heals all wounds is a common idiom for those who want to forget. Some wounds can never heal, and genocide should never be forgotten.

November 5th, 2022 commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Jammu Massacre. In 75 years, there has been no justice for those killed. No truth and reconciliation committee. No attempt at uncovering the truth and redress for the families of the victims.

237,000 people are thought to have been killed. Though the number is disputed with both higher and lower numbers proposed, this is the most accepted number.

Indeed, the world overlooks this bloody time in the subcontinent’s history as either inconvenient or as a footnote in the parade of atrocities that bookended the Second World War. The Indian government might hide, but it could not have forgotten. Sadly, for many of them it is a blueprint for the future. This is a reminder that mass death and murder can be overlooked by the world and that can be a service to the state.

An Eye for an Eye

As British India hurled toward independence – civil strife exploded throughout the country, when it became clear the country would be divided along religious and ethnic lines. The violence began in March of 1947 when Sikhs escaping sectarian violence and extremist Hindus belonging to RSS rushed into Jammu to participate in the anti-Muslim pogroms with full support of Maharaj Hari Singh’s militias. This account is reported by Anuradha Jamwal, editor of Kashmir Times and daughter of the famous editor-in-chief of the paper, late Ved Basin, a highly respected journalist who personally witnessed the events.

After this, a familiar pattern emerged. Wherever people fled they brought their stories of violence. Those stories were printed in inflammatory brochures and pamphlets, and soon a reign of terror was launched against the Muslim population in Jammu for the crimes that had been perpetrated in West Punjab.

This pattern soon repeated itself throughout India. The violence that was inflicted in one part of the country was justified in committing violence in another.

State-backed genocide

Before the genocide, Jammu was a Muslim-majority region, however, the Dogra Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh preferred the Jammu and Kashmir region to remain independent and he offered to enter into the so called Stand Still Agreement. More relevantly, Pakistan signed the Agreement, but India ignored it. That was a clue to what Indian intentions were. The Maharaja was under pressure from the freedom movement within Kashmir, and India took advantage of it and intervened militarily. In his personal predicament, he sided with minority Hindu subjects against the Muslim majority of Jammu and Kashmir. He took steps to prepare for wide scale repression to wipe out the Muslim population.

Muslim army officers were dismissed, and he launched a campaign against those he perceived to be radical dissenters. The Dogra regime also distributed weapons to non-Muslims, including paramilitaries such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS], in anticipation of what was coming.

By August, Muslims fled west to escape the violence committed upon them by supporters of the
Dogra. Images and stories of the violence spurred calls for Jihad to end Mahraja’s dynastic tyranny. A full-scale revolt was launched, supported by more the brotherly neighbors from across the border since Punjabi Indians had participated in the genocide of Muslims in Jammu and Poonch.

They succeeded in displacing Maharaja Singh, but in Jammu – the risk of violence was growing by the hour. Societal cohesion collapsed, and a Hindu paper at the time boldly declared, “a Dogra can kill 200 Muslims.”

The genocide began on October 19th, 1947, when houses in Bhimber Tehsil were set ablaze, but it accelerated over the next week. Massacres occurred at Akhnoor Bridge, Kathua, Sambha, and Sahob. Each of these massacres featured death tolls in the thousands. India formally invaded Kashmir on October 27th, 1947.

Remember the fifth of November

On November 5th, Dogra forces declared that all Muslims were to leave Jammu. They were also promised safe harbor and transport to Pakistan. Instead, they were rounded up wholesale and executed in the Forrest hills of the Rajouri districts of Jammu.

“To be honest, that was a mad period. There was no humanity shown at that time,” said Israr Ahmad Khan. A retired police officer gave his family’s account in a report by Al Jazeera. “My father was young then and other immediate family members were in Kashmir at that time. But many of my relatives were brutally killed.”

Ved Bhasin documented his firsthand account of the massacres.

“They [Muslims] were shifted to the police lines at Jogi gate, where now Delhi Public School is situated. Instead of providing them with security, the administration encouraged them to go to Pakistan for safety. The first batch of several thousand of these Muslims were loaded in about sixty lorries to take them to Sialkot. Unaware of what is going to happen to them, these families boarded the buses. The vehicles were escorted by troops. But when they reached near Chattha on the Jammu-Sialkot road, on the outskirts of the city, a large number of armed RSS men and Sikh refugees were positioned there.

They were pulled out of the vehicles and killed mercilessly with the soldiers either joining [in] or looking [on] as idle spectators. The news about the massacre was kept a closely guarded secret. next day another batch of these Muslim families were similarly boarded in the vehicles and met the same fate. [T]hose who somehow managed to escape the wrath of killers reached Sialkot to narrate their tale of woe…”

Similar roundups and massacres continued unabated until the ninth.

When it was all over at least 237,000 people were dead. The scar of the massacre still runs deep. It fundamentally changed the demographics of the region. Before the massacres, Muslims made up 61 percent of the Jammu region. After the killings, Muslims were a minority.

Maharaja Singh achieved his goal. His actions saw ethnically cleansing of Muslims in Jammu and it became no longer a Muslim-majority state.

Final thoughts – We cannot forget

“Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it,” is often heard ad nauseam, to the point of it becoming cliché.

But the world can not forget what happened in October – November 1947. Survivors of Nazi Germany’s holocaust are becoming fewer with each passing year. With each year, there is one less survivor’s firsthand account of the brutality, and it becomes easier to forget when there are no living memories to remind us of the evil men can do.

It is the same with genocide in Jammu.

Those who survived those dark days are fewer with each passing year, and with India actively re-writing history and the rest of the world inclined to look the other way, the stage is set for another tragedy.

We have written throughout the year that the risk of another genocide is alarmingly high. With Kashmir still in occupation, the machinery of the state engaging in widespread discrimination and cultural assassination, and the dehumanization of Muslims at an all-time high, it may only take a single incident to kick off another bloody massacre.

As November closes, we ask our readers to say a prayer for the lost and stand for the rights and humanity of those who still suffer.