The following accounts indicate what was happening simultaneously in Amritsar city and district. Hansen has noted that the rioting in Amritsar (city) in March 1947 that followed the resignation of the Punjab coalition government was begun by Hindus and Sikhs.
By Paul R.Brass
The July 1947 Fortnightly Report of the Governor of Punjab ‘expressed concern that the Sikh community appeared to be preparing for a potential showdown with the Muslims’, the strength of their jathas at that point being esti- mated at ‘around 19,000’; moreover, Muslims were being killed in ‘the rural areas of Amritsar’ where, according to Jenkins, ‘Sikhs were the prime aggressors’. On 30 July, Jenkins reported to Governor-General Mountbatten that there had ‘been a string of rural outrages’ in Amritsar district in which ‘Muslims have been murdered in various ways’, that ‘the aggressors’ in all cases ‘seem to be the Sikhs’, and that, in his estimation, Sikhs were making ‘certain preparations’, notably including the pro- duction of bombs and the collection of firearms. Further, they had been responsible for ‘the shooting up of a train at Ganga Railway Station between Amritsar and Beas’.
As the date for the announcement of the Boundary Commission Award drew closer, so did Sikh preparations and attacks against Muslims. A telephone message from Mr. Abbott on 1 August 1947 reported as follows:
. . . raids on Muslim villages have begun in Amritsar and Lahore district and along the Jullundur Hoshiarpur border, and there have been four attacks on, or attempts to interfere with, trains in the past two or three days. Muslim casualties in Amritsar Rural area alone since night of 30th – 31st July are 23 killed, includ- ing 3 women and 2 children, and 30 wounded.
A week later, the situation had become even more serious, as Jenkins reported to Mountbatten: ‘In rural areas of Amritsar, Hoshiarpur and Jullundur we have for some days had both casual attacks and organised raids in most of which Sikhs are aggressors and Moslems the victims’. On 12 August, Jenkins reported again to Mountbatten about ‘continued’ outrages perpetrated by ‘Sikhs in Amritsar District and elsewhere’. He also reported that the Muslim policemen in Amritsar had been disarmed under the ‘verbal instructions of Superintendent of Police designate’, a Hindu.
Ian Talbot also accepts that ‘the Sikhs were the aggressors in East Punjab’. He notes further that, after the publication of the Boundary Award, attacks were perpetrated on ‘the Muslim villagers of Amritsar’ and other East Punjab districts as well as upon ‘the Muslim refugees packing the trains from Delhi to Lahore. Jathas operating from the Sikh princely States preyed mercilessly on the trains travelling west’.
That there was a Sikh plan to ethnically cleanse eastern Punjab of its Muslim popu- lations, whose leaders were known, has been increasingly acknowledged. Jenkins was of two minds on the subject. Kushwant Singh, though he did not like the term ‘Sikh Conspiracy’, identified the main leaders with, of course, Master Tara Singh and Gyani Kartar Singh at the forefront, Giani Harbans Singh as the organizer of the first ‘Sikh bands’, ‘General’ Mohan Singh and Colonel N. S. Gill as the principal ex-Indian National Army (INA) leaders operating from Majithia house in Amritsar, and several others.
Finally, Aiyar has noted that the attacks by Sikhs on Muslims, including the infamous Refugee Specials, amounting to ‘wholesale slaugh- ter’, continued relentlessly into September, petering out only ‘by the middle of October’. These attacks were marked by ‘savage brutality’, were ‘methodical and systematic’ in character, displaying ‘a high degree of planning and organisation’, and ‘were organised often with military precision’. The members of the killing squads, that is, the jathas, were trained, ‘(frequently ex-servicemen), armed and skilled in the use of modern lethal weapons’. Aiyar notes further that ‘[a]lthough the Muslim gangs were equally well armed and worked in the same ways as did the Sikh jathas – a hard core [of] gangs out on the warpath – in the early stages, they did not achieve the same degree of organisation as the Sikhs’. In other words, in this stage of the mutual killings, it was the Muslims who were at a clear disadvantage. Moreover, in the rural areas of Amritsar, ‘raids’ were carried out ‘on Muslim majority villages at the rate of three or four each night’, in which ‘all the inhabitants presumably the Muslim inhabitants would be massacred’ and the village then set on fire.
In other words, the Sikhs did in Amritsar district and other parts of eastern Punjab exactly what Muslims did to Sikhs and Hindus in western Punjab. Finally, Aiyar implies that preparations, in the form of collection of ‘arms and ammunition’ in Punjab villages, had been detected as early as January 1944.
It cannot be said, therefore, that Sikhs were only victims during the partition massacres. While it may be true that many Sikhs fought heroically wherever and whenever they could against all odds, it is not true that the odds were always against them. Further, it has to be acknowledged that Sikhs themselves were aggres- sors in the eastern Punjab, where their leaders deliberately sought to turn the Muslims out, and a great number of local jathas were formed throughout the eastern part of the province to carry that task out, not failing to include women and children, for the project was, indubitably, one of ‘ethnic cleansing’.