Excerpt from The partition of India and retributive genocide in the Punjab, 1946–47: means, methods, and purposes by Paul R. Brass
It is itself a matter of great interest that, in the circumstances prevailing in the Punjab in the months before and after partition, there was a great variety of types of violent and other appalling actions that cannot easily be summed up under any single rubric. In such circumstances, precise and accurate information becomes difficult for the authorities to obtain and, in most cases, is not available at all. Any summary description of them, therefore, is bound to simplify events and diffuse responsibility.
Is there any progression in a situation of violent displacement of peoples of the type under discussion in this article? Jenkins thought there was in the Punjab. In an August 4 memorandum to Mountbatten, he divided the violence that had occurred since March into “three main phases.” In the first phase, as he saw it, from March 4 to March 20, the violence began with rioting in Lahore City, extended then to several of the other cities in West Punjab, was followed by “rural massacres” in several districts involving heavy casualties and “much burning.” By March 21, he reported “that order had been restored everywhere.”
In the second phase, between March 21 and May 9, the progression was from “minor incidents in many districts” to “serious rioting and burning in Amritsar 11–13 April with some repercussion in Lahore,” then undefined “trouble” in “a small town in Gurgaon district, followed by the first outbreak along the Mewat in the same district.” Thus, a breather in which order is restored followed by “minor incidents” then “serious rioting and burning” then an “outbreak” of the widespread violence mentioned before between the Muslim Meos and Hindus. In both phases, it should be noted that the disorders extended over a very wide area.
Moreover, it is impossible that they were all coordinated, but neither is it possible to believe that they were either spontaneous or mere expressions of mass frenzy. It yet remains for serious research to be done on these incidents to uncover what happened and how in each case on which such information might be found in archives and retrospective interviews.21
Now to turn to Jenkins’ third phase, from “10 May onwards.” Here Jenkins uses a summary term to describe what is now happening, namely, “the commu- nal ‘war of succession’.” Once again, it all begins in the most precious, contested, central Punjab cities of Lahore and Amritsar with “incendiarism, stabbing, and bombing.” Then come “serious incidents reported from various districts, particularly Gujranwal and Hoshiarpur.” Then “village raiding begins, especially in the central Punjab districts of Amritsar, Lahore, Ferozepore, Jullundur, and Hoshiarpur.” Finally, a “revival” of the “disturbances in Gurgaon with 140 villages burnt and very heavy casualties.” In this final phase, Jenkins also notes that “urban rioting” was “almost unknown.” Why?
Urban collective violence that takes the form called rioting is normal, “peacetime” violence that presumes the existence of relatively stable, recognized authority. A riot takes place either between two groups—religious, racial, or other—or between one group and the police. When the police, acting on their own or with the complicity of higher authority, act against one group a riot becomes a pogrom or a massacre. In either case, authority continues to exist, whether it acts effectively or ineffectively, restores order impartially or restores order after acting on behalf of one group and against another. In a communal war of succession, there is no authority, though there may be a government, as there was in both parts of Punjab before and after the British left. There being no authority, there is no need for mere rioting.