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Sunday, May 28, 2023

1947 Qabaili Attack: An eye witness version

This write-up is based on the testimony given by one hardcore activist of 1947 in Kashmir valley, named Shri Triloki Nath Bhan, who later got settled in Memphis, Tennesee USA. It was in 2016 that he left all of us; may the Almighty bless his pious soul.

I reproduce here his whole testimony about the Qabaili Raid of 1947 for the information and knowledge of our current and future generations.

“My name is Triloki Nath Bhan and I was 18 years old young boy living in Sehyar, Srinagar when Pakistani Army along with Kabailies from North West Frontier Province launched a series of surprise attacks across Jammu and Kashmir on October 24, 1947. As is well known, the Pakistani invaders quickly overwhelmed the forces of Maharaja Hari Singh.

Most of the Muslim units of J&K Army comprising deserted-Mirpuris joined the invaders after killing their Hindu and Sikh officers. Muzzafarabd fell within a few hours of the attack and the invaders proceeded towards Baramula, Sopore and Srinagar. At the Uri bridge, Brigadier Rajinder Singh lost his life putting up a valiant fight. He held the invaders for two days which gave time to the Maharajah to leave the valley and the Indian Army to intervene.

The Pakistani invaders entered Baramula on October 26, 1947 and proceeded to indulge in rape, murder, loot and arson, especially targeting Sikhs and Kashmiri Pandit community. By the morning of October 27th October, some raiders had reached the outskirts of Srinagar. Hari Singh’s exit had totally broken the morale of the government and security establishment. Police stations were empty, anything could happen at any time.

Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference organized a voluntary force of young men known as ‘Salamati Fauj’ in the city with specific direction to maintain communal harmony at all costs. This worked, Halka Committees became the police stations. I remember I also joined this force to patrol the streets to ensure nobody disturbed communal harmony. Most of the Hindu leadership had left the valley for Jammu. As the Kashmiri Pandits trickled in from the countryside due to Pakistan’s orchestrated raid, we began to hear the tales of atrocities, plunder, rape and murder of innocent Hindus and Sikhs by the Pakistani invaders.

Although Kashmir’s Pandits were leaderless at that point of time as even our RSS leaders such as Jagdish Abrol and Balraj Madhok had left the city. We, the grassroot RSS Swyamsewaks, began to organise ourselves to defend and protect Pandit honour. I belonged to Putli Dharamshalla Shakha. We decided to go out of Srinagar to visit other cities and villages and see for ourselves the condition of our Kashmiri Pandit brothers and sisters so that help could be arranged for the needy.

I was accompanied by other Swyamsewaks such as Maharaj Krishan Mirza, Amar Nath Ganju, Manohar Nath Bagati, Lakshmi Narain Kaul, Bhaskar Nath Ganjoo, Durga Nath Dhar, Trilokinath Dhar, Prithvinath Dhar, Naranjan Kaul, Brijnath Moza and others. These volunteers hailed from Sehyar, Rehbaba Sahib and Rishipeer in Downtown-Srinagar.

We began our journey on 26th October 1947. In the meantime, we were asked first to march towards the temporary technical airport in Srinagar on 26th October 1947 in the evening hours. It was an “aavshak-suchna” and once we reached the airport, we saw that a temporary runway was under process of construction. There were a handful of army and policemen alongwith certain community elders who told us to help the organisers as Indian forces are going to land the next morning at the airport.

We got thrilled and worked for the whole night along with the army and policemen. Some more young men joined us at 1.00 am. We were asked to maintain calm during the work in progress so that the project remained a secret. In the early hours, the IAF planes landed and went into immediate action.

We, the RSS swayamsevaks, started on foot in the early morning and left for Baramulla. We first straightaway reached Shalteing, about four miles down the road from Chhatabal Custom Post. Here we went inside the enclosed Chinar Grove and found two dead bodies of the Kabali-invaders who had been strafed by the Indian Air Force aircraft.

Onwards, we reached Poshbugg, a village near Pattan, where kabailies had executed 14 Kashmiri Pandits as they were performing fire veneration “Hawan”. The fire was still smoldering. Luckily all fourteen had already been cremated by the Pandits of the neighbouring villages who had escaped the onslaught of these savages. All Pandit houses were looted. We tried to enter the town of Pattan but were not allowed to enter. We could only guess the gruesome condition of Pandits in the town.

After Pattan, we continued our journey to Sangarama-detour to Sopore.There is a thick willow grove on the right side of the main road. A Muslim boy told us that we should go and see what had happened there. Visiting the Grove was most horrendous and traumatizing experience as we saw pieces of Indian currency notes and human skeletons scattered in the area. The boy told us that Sikh adults had killed their women and children here to ensure that ‘they did not fall in the hands of these heartless and treacherous Pakistanis.

Dazed we turned and left towards Sopore. We had walked about 200 yards that we found a Kacha road to the left leading us to a Seer (Hindu Shrine). There we found that a Mullah was teaching Quran to two Pandit women who were dressed in a Burka.

As the Mullah saw us, he took to his heels as we began chanting “Har Har Mahadev”, the women retracted and threw their Burkas. The shrine in Seer was reduced to heap of rubble and two Muslim men were pulling out the nails from the burnt wooden planks. The worse was still to come.

We saw couple of KP men and women coming towards us, all in tears, and crying. They told us that the local Muslims had invited two Pakistani Kabailies from Baramula and all our brethren had been asked to assemble in the ground near a mosque where a calf was slaughtered in their presence. Pieces of raw beef were forced down their throat and abuses were heaped. Their houses were looted-clean sweep, even the door and window frames were pulled out. We spent the night with them, the bedding was the hay of rice. Of course, we recited the bhajans the whole night.

On the dawn of next day, we began our journey towards Sopore. In this town, not much damage was done. The leader of the Kashmir Pandits was JatKak Zutshi father of Jeevan Zutshi of California. Zutshi had worked with Muslim elders in the city to protect the KPs. Unfortunately, JatKak had become a target of the Kabailies and he hid under the hay in the house of a Muslim friend on the condition that he converted to Islam. JatKak Zutshi’s family was later my neighbour in Jamalatoo in Srinagar.

The next day, we proceeded to Bomai Village which is a couple of miles far from Sopore on way to Handwara. Here the first assassination of a Pandit had taken place a few days before the Pakistani invasion. The Martyr was Pandit Sarwanand Kaul,  an honest and diligent Intelligence officer in the State Government. He was kidnapped and butchered a couple of kilometers far from his house. We comforted the family. Bumai Pandits were but safer. No damage, except they were terribly shaken and fearful. We had lunch with them and assured them that the whole of Indian nation was with them.

On Reaching Handwara, we witnessed six kucha earthen mounds burying six Kashmiri Pandits belonging to one family. It was a mass suicide committed by the family. Then, we witnessed the same thing as we had seen earlier in Seer. Houses had been looted, KP residents were helter skelter seeking shelter to save their lives. We stayed in Handwara for the night sleeping on the bran (kuchh). In the morning, we started to dig the bodies but the Commander of the area prevented us and said that Army would do it. It was a very tense night for us as firing from both the sides was still going on. Taking the kuchha route to Baramula via Langet, we continued our journey.

At Langet, we found two dead bodies which were cremated by us. Langet had special significance for me as it was close to Trihagam where my maternal uncle Zindalal Raina of Rainawari, residing near Hari Singh High School, was assassinated in 1931 when Sheikh Abdullah as a Muslim communalist had aroused the Hindu-Muslim strife in the valley.

We reached Baramula in the evening and came across a young Kashmiri Pandit who was a lecturer of English in the Govt. College there. He offered us to stay overnight which we did. His house was also looted. He told us how his beautiful wife and other young KP ladies had been locked in a house and gang raped by the Muslim invaders.

Next day, he showed us the house from which these women had jumped to death from the fourth story. During the talk, he told us that one respectable couple in the town was dragged through the streets. We were told about a heart-tormenting tale of a Barat of Kuchroo family of Rajghat, Baramulla. Eleven of the baraties were massacred by the Qabailies in a village where the marriage was going to be ceremonised.

We saw every KP house was looted-clean sweep even the doors and windows were removed. Streets were deserted. KP houses were like skeletons and the inhabitants had either gone into hiding or were killed. Many had committed suicide by jumping into the Jhelum river. Crossing the bridge to the other side where market and government offices were housed, we were shown a spot in the middle of the bridge from where young Hindu-Pandit, Sikh and Khatri ladies plunged to their death by drowning into the river.

Those who did not have a chance to kill themselves were herded into Tehsil compound and gang raped. All Hindu shops were looted in totality. We finally went to the Christian St. Joseph School and found that even the nuns were not spared. Many had been raped before being murdered.

Out of respect, we went to the spot where Maqbool Sherwani was hanged for misdirecting the invaders. At that point, the Army Commander advised us to return to Srinagar as Baramula was still not safe for Hindus and Sikhs. It was clear that 30,000 Hindus, men and women (Pandit, Sikh and Khatri) had either lost their lives or were taken as sex slaves by the Pakistani invaders.

Returning to Srinagar was a traumatic experience as if living hell was waiting for us. All of us were arrested and imprisoned in the Halqa Committee, manned by National Conference cadres, denied food and beaten mercilessly for several days. By the skin of our teeth, we managed our freedom with the condition that we would be under surveillance and roll-call twice a day. It was clear to us that one way or the other these National Conference Halqa Committee goons were going to get rid of us. We tried our best to find a way to get out of Srinagar.

My quest to find someone who could get us out led me to Kashi Nath Fotedar who was an important officer in the Indian Army in Badami Bagh. He was of immense help to many older Kashmiri Pandits and children whom he sent out in Army trucks. Another great KP was Flt. Lt. J. N. Dhar from Vicharnagh who was the only Kashmiri speaking Pilot at that time whom Nehru had deputed to Srinagar. He too rendered great service to the community by flying out beleaguered KPs in Airforce planes.

I need to introduce Pandit Kashi Nath Fotedar first as he is the industrious father of Hira Fotedar and is the father of my wife Dulari Bhan as well. J. N. Dhar is the maternal uncle of Hira and paternal uncle of Vijay Dhar of Union City, California.

My escape from Srinagar was possible only on April 6, 1948. I along with Manohar Bagati, Lakshmi Narain Kaul and Amar Nath Ganjoo walked all the way to Pathankot on foot for 22 days. I finally settled at Saharanpur, UP where I lived for 54 years.

Now, I would like to pay my homage to all the KP Martyrs of 1931, 1947 and 1990. My compliments to all those who by their courage, resilience and focus rebuilt their lives from scratch without government aid under very difficult circumstances. I wish to thank many old Kashmiri Pandits who offered our group (all four of us) help in Kanpur and helped us settle down. My companions Bagati, Kaul and Ganjoo sahib eventually returned to Srinagar where Mr. Amar Nath Ganjoo became an important RSS functionary.

My thanks to B. K. Kaul ICS, Iron and Steel Controller, H. N. Sapru, Dy Director of Industries UP and S.N. Shivpuri, GM Cement Corporation for their help and outstanding role. I am sure that these great men have left us but I did want to recognise their help to many KP refugees in 1947 and after that. It gives me pleasure to convey that I am a proud Swayamsewak, and will continue to be so till my death. It is because of RSS sanskars that I was able to render my services to the people in the toughest period of our history.

Kindly share my story and experiences with the next generations to make them learn hard lessons of history and life.”

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Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo
Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo
In-charge Dept. of Political Affairs & Feedback, J&K BJP. Can be reached on [email protected]


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