NB - The outstanding feature of this report is that is written not from a communal standpoint, as in Hindu, Muslim or Sikh; but solely from the standpoint of common humanity: DS
Scanned copy of Communist Party of India's pamphlet by Dhanwantri & PC Joshi: (File CPI/108 - 1947). The document is part of the PC Joshi Archive in JNU, New Delhi
Download Bleeding Punjab Warns: Dhanwantri & P.C. Joshi; September 1947
By way of an introduction to this important archival resource, here are some extracts from my essay The Law of killing: a brief history of Indian fascism
In September 1947, the Communist Party of India published a report entitled Bleeding Punjab Warns. This began as follows:
What happened in the Punjab cannot be called a riot. It was
a regular war of extermination of the minorities, of the Sikhs and Hindus in
Western Punjab and of Muslims in East Punjab. It cannot be compared to Calcutta
or Noakhali, Bihar, or even to Rawalpindi for in all these cases it was mobs of
one community that took leading part in killing, looting and burning the
minority in the area, their communal passions being roused to a pitch of frenzy
and savagery.. In the Punjab, however, in the recent biggest killing ever seen,
it was the trained bands equipped with firearms and modern weapons that were
the main killers, looters and rapers. These were the storm troops of various
communal parties such as National Guards of the Muslim League in the Western
Punjab, and the Shahidi Dal of the Akalis and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
of the Mahasabha in the Eastern Punjab. They were actively aided and often actually
led by the police and the military in committing the worst atrocities.. in
violence and in brutality, in the numbers killed (which Syt Shri Prakasha,
India’s Ambassador to Pakistan places at 1 ½ lakhs) in the use of plenty of
modern deadly weapons, in the devastation spread over 14 districts of the
Punjab and in the way in which the police, the military and the entire
administration was geared not to stop the riots but to spread it – the Punjab
tragedy is without parallel..
The report describes numerous instances of atrocities carried out by the militias of various parties, as well as the extensive material support (including rifles, hand grenades, sten-guns, mortars and jeeps) given to them by the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh princely states of Punjab, including Patiala, Jhind, Nabha, Faridkot, Malakotla, Bahawalpur and Kapurthala. It describes these states as ‘the hotbeds…of cold deadly preparations for a war of extermination.’ Whereas the Congress ‘became more and more tongue-tied as it moved nearer and nearer acceptance of division,’ it reported the RSS as having taken over the towns, ‘and roused the spirit of retaliation on the communal slogan of Akhand Hindustan by force’..
The activity of armed militias during this period shows the extent to which communal fantasies acquired substance during the violence. Slogans of ‘Hindu Rashtra’, ‘Akhand Hindustan’ and ‘Khalistan’ were raised and Pakistan visualised as the new Madina. Dhanwantri’s Report mentions frantic efforts by the Sikhs in western Punjab to get the Akali leaders like Master Tara Singh to stop violence against Muslims in East Punjab. ‘But the Akali leadership was following a policy not based on the interests of the Sikh people but which expressed the expansionist aims of the Sikh princes. The Akali leaders ignored the entreaties of their own people.. and kept on giving the boastful slogan of re-establishing the empire of Ranjit Singh.’ They issued leaflets in the name of the Government of Khalistan, one of which declared: ‘Khalistan is the Empire of Khalsa as left by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sher-i-Punjab. Every Khalsa must pledge himself to this and nothing else.’ Meanwhile the RSS was denouncing Gandhi and Nehru, and there was talk of Nehru meeting the fate of the Burmese left-nationalist leader Aung San, who had just been assassinated in July 1947. The RSS-Mahasabha press called for their own leaders to be appointed to the positions of Governor and Premier of East Punjab.
The criminalisation of the polity
A significant aspect of the situation as reported by Dhanwantri and P. C. Joshi (both members of the Communist Party of India, the former a leading Punjab Communist), was the collapse of state institutions, primarily the police and military. Their report makes visible the impact of communal ideology on the ordinary personnel of these armed bodies of the state; and the gruesome consequences of the realisation that their officers were no longer neutral. The state was now transforming itself into the instrument of the nation, which meant the community. The situation had begun deteriorating in March 1947, with the resignation of the Unionist-Congress-Akali coalition government, and the outbreak of mass rioting in Rawalpindi. As Governor Jenkins wrote to the viceroy in April 1947, ‘We feel now that we are dealing with people who are out to destroy themselves and that in the absence of some reasonable agreement between them the average official will have to spend his life in a communal civil war. The Punjab is not in a constitutional situation but in a revolutionary situation’.
As the date of the Radcliffe Award (demarcating the boundary) came closer, uncertainty gripped the entire Punjabi population, not least the armed units of the colonial state. Policemen caught in areas expected to go ‘the other way’ were asked to disarm and proceed across the (as yet) imaginary lines demarcating Pakistan and India. With this implosion the chain of authority and legitimacy collapsed. Moreover, as new recruits were being absorbed into the police force to fill vacancies formed due to the migration of Muslims to Western Punjab, ‘the RSS and the Akali bands are burrowing into these services. The RSS wants its own men to hold dominating positions in the east Punjab government.’
The communal militias were now free to indulge their most bloody fantasies. The events are a case study in fascist violence. Children were butchered, women raped and dismembered, people were murdered in the most hateful ways possible by ‘armed bands, fully drunk with liquor and with the lust for blood.. roaming and falling on the poor victims actively assisted by the Hindu and Sikh police and units of the Boundary Force. Similar scenes were enacted in Lahore.’
Dhanwantri and Joshi give details of police and military involvement in massacres, manifesting the seamless connection between formal and informal armed formations during a time when state power melted away. The militias were aided by volunteers from the princely states as well as ex-servicemen. The deadliest danger to villagers was from attacks engineered by forces and militias from outside their villages. The Report states as ‘a fact that everyone who was in Lahore and Amritsar during the months of April to August would testify that the biggest arson was committed during curfew hours with the police actively assisting or passively looking on. Respectable citizens or shop-keepers who came out to put out the fire were shot down by the police, not the gangs who went about committing arson’.
It speaks scathingly about Mountbatten’s Boundary Force that was meant to keep the peace in August. ‘Unchecked devastation’ went on in 14 districts, in an area ‘wholly under the Boundary Force’. On 13-14 August between 3000 and 4000 Hindu and Sikh refugees were shot down by men of the Baluchi regiment in the Lahore railway station, ‘or they looked on while the Muslim National Guards massacred these refugees…In the same station the Dogra regiment also of the Boundary Force was shooting down Muslim refugees from Amritsar who were arriving in Lahore thinking it would be safe.’ ‘The fact is’, said the Report, ‘if the Boundary Force had not been sent to the Punjab at all, probably we would have had less people killed and less devastation. As it was it acted as the greatest single force that spread the destruction.’
The Report went on to say ‘the young TU movement lies shattered’, for despite many workers refusing to submit to communal animus, they were selectively dismissed by factory owners. It reports railway officials trying to foment violence amongst railway workers. One communist worker named Siri Chand, a leader of the North Western Railway Workers Trade Union, worked tirelessly for peace and to shelter refugees during the riots in Lahore. Not only did the police refuse assistance, but he was arrested, and upon release, was shot dead outside the police station along with members of his family by two constables..
Download Bleeding Punjab Warns by Dhanwantri & P.C. Joshi: