Those 15 Days - National Scenario During Independence - 5 (English)

Those 15 days
Prashant Pole

Today is the fifth day in the month of August... The sky was dotted with clouds but still some chillness could be felt. While travelling from Jammu to Lahore, the Rawalpindi route seemed good and so Gandhiji's convoy was travelling towards Lahore on the Pindi route.

On the way there was a refugee camp named 'Waah'. Gandhiji wanted to visit this camp, but the workers who were with him did not wish for him to go there. It was because the refugee camp at Waah was a temporary shelter for the Hindu-Sikhs who had survived the riots. The painful autobiography of these Hindus-Sikhs was heart-wrenching. All these refugees who were millionaires yesterday had left their household belongings and possessions and had come to take refuge in this camp today. Many of their family members were killed by Muslim goons. Many others' sisters, daughters and wives were raped in front of them, which they had to witness, swallowing their anger. So quite naturally the anger of these families towards Gandhiji and Congress was palpable in these refugee camps. 

Congress workers thought it was unsafe for Gandhiji to go there. But Gandhiji's definitive thought was "I will go to the Waah refugee camp and meet the refugee families". So finally it was decided that Gandhiji will go there and his convoy reached the camp in the afternoon. 

The Waah camp was, on one side, a live example of a bloody history. Till last month the refugee count in these camps had reached about 15,000, but as 15th August was drawing close, the refugee count had started to decrease. It was because, it came to be known that the place was going to go into the hands of Pakistan. The Hindu and Sikh families understood that they wouldn't be safe in Pakistan and hence these nomads were running towards Eastern Punjab whenever they could.

When Gandhiji reached the camp it had about 9000 people. Majority of them were men, few very old and elderly ladies were also there. There was not even a single young female in the entire camp as they were captured and molested or killed by the workers of the Muslim National Guard before they could reach the camp. The camp resembled a torture camp rather than a refugee camp. It had rained and on all sides there was sludge and slush. Many a tents were dripping and in many places long queues to get rationed water had formed.

After Gandhiji reached the camp, a small gathering in a place where the sludge was minimum, was arranged. Out of 9000 people about 1000-1500 people had gathered to listen to Gandhiji. In this place surrounded by dirty water and its unbearable smell, Gandhiji started with a prayer and then proceeded to start conversing with the campers. From the crowd two Sikhs stood up and said, "This camp should temporarily be made as part of East Punjab because after 15th Aug this will come under Pakistan's rule - which is Muslim League's rule and these Muslims have killed and molested so many people under British rule that we cannot even imagine what they would do under their rule.

On hearing this Gandhiji smiled a little and in his soft voice said "you people are scared of the riots that might ensue after 15th August, but I am not. Muslims wanted Pakistan and now that they have got it, I don't think they will start riots. In addition to this, Jinnah and many leaders in the Muslim League have promised peace and friendship. They have assured me that in Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs will be safe. We have to believe in their assurance. I don't understand the need to shift this refugee camp to East Punjab. You people will be safe here. Remove the fear of riots from your hearts. If I hadn't accepted to got to Noahkali earlier, I would have been with you on 15th August. So please don't worry". (Mahatma Vol 8, Life of Mohandas K Gandhi - D G Tendulkar)

When Gandhiji was talking about all these things in the camp, anger, irritation and hopelessness could be clearly seen on the faces of the people. Even then he could not understand the anger and fear in the minds of these campers towards the Muslims. Gandhiji then asked, Dr. Sushila Nair to stay in the same refugee camp as his representative.
There, on an afternoon in Lahore,

Lahore-the city that was founded in the name of the son of lord Ramachandra, 'Lava'; the center of punjabi culture; the city of Shalimar Gardens; The city housing the tombs of Noorjahan and Jahangir; The city of maharaja Ranjith Singh; city of many temples, mosques and Gurudhwaras; city of Kamini Koushal. A city adorned with Punjabi colours and enthusiasm is the city of Lahore. 

But the afternoon of 5 August 1947 was very dull and was an afternoon filled with sorrow because all the Hindu and Sikh traders had called for a city wide bandh on that day. This bandh was called to protest against the repeated attacks and atrocities against these communities. Prior to this the Hindu-Sikh representative committees had strongly presented their situation at various levels. About three to three and half months prior to this, that is in april itself, in Lahore, Rawalpindi and nearby areas, the attacks by Muslims and its impact was still fresh in their memories and the extent of these attacks showed no sign whatsoever of getting reduced.

The level of atrocities by the Muslim national guards was on the rise. The threats and violence by them kept increasing day by day. while it appeared that the Muslim National Guard had no connection whatsoever with the Muslim League, it was just a pretense. The Muslim National Guard was in fact using the flag of the Muslim League. The reality was that the Muslim National Guard was in fact the hidden violent arm of the Muslim league. Its main purpose was to forcibly evict the Hindu and Sikh traders from pakistan and abduct the young womenfolk.

But on the sad afternoon of 5th August, Tuesday, the governor house showed no sign of lethargy. Governor Sir Ivan Jenkins was working in his office with a lot of tension. Jenkins is a British servant who has become totally immersed in the Punjabi culture. His knowledge on Punjab was totally complete and accurate. That’s why heart of heart he wanted for the partition to not happen. He had a special vigilance on the events of Lahore on that day . He was worried about the trade strikes turning into a riot. He had received intelligence that the Muslim National Guards were planning to start many riots. Amidst all this commotion, he received a message," Gandhiji is arriving at Lahore tomorrow on a short trip'. This increased his tension manifold.

The trade strike was a success in the Hindu resident areas like Gomti nagar, Kishan nagar, Raam gali, Raajgad etc. Even on the streets only a few people could be seen. All these were localities abundant with Hindus and Sikhs. There was a strong network of shakhas of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevakh Sangh in these areas. Every evening at least 100 to 300 Hindu and Sikh youngsters would attend the shakhas convened at various grounds. In March, The number of such shakhas had exceeded about 150. After the march-april riots, the Hindus attending these shakhas had scattered and the shakhas in these regions had been closed. Out of 3 lakh Hindu-Sikhs, more than 1 lakh had migrated towards East-punjab (that is India), within the last 3 months.
Amidst all these riots, arson, molestations and restlessness, in Sindh, about three quarters of 800 miles away from Lahore, a new type of precipitation could be seen. The normally quiet airport in Karachi saw an unusual increase in the number of people thus forming a crowd there. At exactly 12:55, the chief of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, Shri Golebalkar Guruji was arriving at Karachi from Mumbai through TATA air services flight. The plane had started at 8:00 from the Juhu Airport from Mumbai. There was a short break at Allahabad and now the plane was about to reach. Dr.Aabhaji Thathe was also travelling along with Guruji on this plane. 

In this very situation of unrest due to the making of Pakistan, the volunteers had taken up matters pertaining to the safety of Guruji in their own hands. There were volunteers assembled in a large scale at the airport. The assistant secretary of Karachi, Lalkrishna Aadvani was also present amidst the volunteers. A group of motorcyclists were at the ready to travel along with Guruji’s car. The Karachi airport was not very big. So the volunteers’ gathering looked like a huge one. Guruji and Aabhaji descended the steps of the plane right at one ‘O’clock. There was no confusion, rushing or running of any kind in the volunteers gathered. All the volunteers were doing their work as per their orders. Three of the volunteers had come wearing bhurkha and through the small opening in it, were overseeing the airport premises with their sharp eyes.when Guruji reached the main building along with Aabhaji, there was a sudden chorus of ‘Bharath mata ki jai’. Along with Guruji, a big group of sangh workers proceeded towards Karachi. There was a huge parade planned for the evening in full sangh uniform and in one of the main four-lane junctions, a big meeting of Guruji had been planned.

In the place which is going to become part of Pakistan in about 9 or ten days, and in the Karachi city, which is the current political capital of pakistan, it was not a easy task to undertake a march and to organise a meeting for Guruji. To give a crude message to the rioting Muslims and to develop self-confidence in the minds of the Hindu-Sikhs, the sangh had decided to undertake such a display of bravery.

In the evening the procession started. And for the safety of the procession, special arrangements had been made. The procession of 10000 volunteers was so powerful and forceful that no Muslim dared approach them or attack.
A long distance away from the riots between Hindu-Muslims on the eastern and western borders of india, from the anger, sadness, and melancholy of the refugee camps, at Delhi’s 17, York street, that is, at the residence of the first Prime Minister of free India, Shree Jawaharlal Nehru, discussions were going on about the duties of the ministries and the duties of the government. The afternoon of 5th August was dipping towards evening and Nehru was involved in dictating responses to the letters he had received. 

In front of Nehru, was a letter written by Lord Mountbatten dated 1st August. In his letter he had wanted to know if the current Auditor General, Lord Burti Stag would be allowed to continue in his current position in free India and his service period would be extended or not. He had also written that, ‘If his service period will be extended, sir burti stag personally wishes to continue as he is interested in working here’. 

Keeping this letter in front of him, Nehru made his secretary write a reply which said, ‘Sir Burti Stag is the advisor for the Ministry of Finance and is also the Auditor General of India. As you very well know, we have a rule by which we will extend the service of the English officers who want to continue in their service in independent India. But for the positions in which we have already got capable Indians, we will only appoint them. For the time being, the rule which allows the officers to continue in their current station if they wish to do so, is in effect. I don’t have any objection towards Sir Burti Stag continuing as the Auditor General.

The other letter in front of Nehru was also from Lord Mountbatten, but was dated a little earlier, that is 14th of July. Lord mountbatten had written about two things in this letter. The first one was about the future of his staff and what to do with them. The second thing was that he would leave his current spacious Viceroy house and move to any small bangalow, if the new government wishes for him to do so.

Before giving an answer to this letter, Nehru was consumed by his thoughts for some time and then slowly, he started dictating this letter to his secretary.

“Dear Lord Mountbatten,

You had put forward two issues in your letter dated 14 July regarding your staff and future residence. Out of these, regarding your staff, it is you who has to take the decision. Based on your requirements, howmanyever staff are needed by you, you can maintain them and they will remain in your service in independent India from its side. Felt happy knowing that the lord will stay with us during this. In comparison to your position, your idea about a small bungalow is praiseworthy. But it is difficult to find a bungalow fit for your dignity in office in the current situation. . Anyhow, the Viceroy house is not in need by us or the current Bharath sarkar. So we wish for you, husband and wife, to continue residing at the Viceroy house for the time being.”
Preparations had begun for the common assembly of the chief, in a ground near the major four-way lane in Karachi. A small stage was set with 3 chairs on top. A table was set in front of the chairs on which glasses and jug had been placed for water. There was just a single mike set on the stage. In front of the stage all the volunteers sat at their designated places. On both sides of the stage arrangements had been made for the common people to sit. On the right hand side, the secretary of today’s assembly, Sadhu T.L.Vaasvani Ji was sitting. Sadhu Vaasvani was a guru in the Sindhi community and commanded a great respect among the Sindh folks. On the left hand side the chief of the Sindh province was seated. A humongous audience had gathered to listen to Guruji. Sadhu Vaasvani spoke first giving introduction. He said,’ This moment, this hour will go down as important moment in history as this is the moment the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh has stood firm like a strong mountain in support of the Sindhi Hindus.”

After this Guruji Golvalankar’s main speech commenced. With a slow but solemn and strong voice, clear pronunciation and with an anxiousness filled with love in his heart towards the wellbeing of the people in Sindh, he said, “A great adversity has dawned on our motherland. The division of our country is a manifestation of the ‘ divide and rule’ policy of the Britishers. Pakistan that the Muslim League has taken, has been taken by means of violence and atrocity. It’s our misfortune that Congress has knelt down before the Muslim League. Muslims and their leaders have been misled in the wrong direction. It has been said that since they are following Islam, they need a new nation. But if one sees closely, their customs, their culture is basically Indian... And not Arabian… It is difficult to even imagine that we are getting our severed motherland without the Indus River. This province is the seven Sindh province. It is the province that was under the wise rule of Raja Dahir. The area sanctified by the existence of Hingalaj Devi has been sacrificed by us. In this occasion of misfortune and trouble, all the Hindus have to be friendly with each other and take care of one another. I have a belief that these days of misery will be over.” on listening to this historic speech by Guruji the listeners were thrilled. The Hindus got a new feeling of enthusiasm. 

After the speech a tea party had been arranged for few important people of Karachi to meet the Guruji. Many amongst these leaders were already known to him as he had the habit of meeting all of them during his journey. Amongst these people were eminent personalities like Ranganaathanand, doctor Choethram, Professor Ganashyam, Professor Malkhani, Lalji Mahrothra, Shivrathan Mohra, Bhai Prathap Rai, Nishchal Das Vajirani, Doctor Hemanthdas Bhagvaani Mukhi Govindham and many others.

In this tea party was present, a respected individual and the editor of daily ‘Sindh Observer’ of Karachi, K.Punaiya. He asked Guruji,” What is the difficulty for us in accepting the partition with happiness? If one of our legs is dysfunctional, what is the harm in cutting it off? At least the person will be alive”. Guruji gave him a temporary answer, “yes.. You are right.. Even if we give a human being a nose-cut, he will still live no?”

The brothers of Hindu province had a lot of things to say to the guru about their pain and sadness. They were looking at a very gloomy future and in their extreme suffering they got very disappointed about their sad state. They wanted to discuss a lot of things with Guruji. But the time was less and much was needed to be done. Guruji had to also attend a meeting of the pracharaks and secretaries of that province. There were also other matters that required his attention.

On the night of 5th august, when the National capital of Delhi was sleeping peacefully, Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Bengal saw the next round of fierce riots. And here, sitting in Karachi, this Thapasvi was pondering over the future of Hindus, after looking at the devastating picture painted by the partition...

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