Krishen Dev Sethi, a witness to the communal frenzy that swept the Jammu Province in 1947, recounts those days of horror
Born in Mirpur (now in Pakistan Administered Kashmir) on November 15, 1927, Krishen Dev Sethi is a prominent political activist, author, editor and a regular columnist. He got involved with political activities when he was barely 15 and still at school. He took part in the fight against the oppressive Dogra dispensation and the callous feudalism then prevalent in Jammu & Kashmir, especially in Mirpur. Sethi actively participated in the Quit Kashmir Movement and was imprisoned. He has a Masters degree in Persian, the examination of which he took as a prisoner of the Dogra regime in the Mirpur Jail. In all, he has served four years in jail and also remained underground for eight years during 1960s when the Government was looking out for him for the ‘crime’ of propagating peace with China.
Known among his friends and admirers as Comrade Sethi and Sethi Sahab, the 88-year-old living encyclopedia of J&K’s political history lives in Mohalla Dalpatian in Jammu. Initially, he was associated with the National Conference and worked closely with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and other top leadership of the party including Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, Raja Akbar Khan, Sardar Budh Singh, Maulana Syed Masoodi et el. He participated in the first annual session of the National Conference at Baramulla in 1940. Later, he served as Member of the J&K Constituent Assembly. Ideologically, he is close to communism and has met with many prominent communist leaders within India and outside. In 1953, he parted ways with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and later became one of the active members of the newly floated Democratic National Conference (DNC) which was allegedly formed to downsize Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. However, when others like Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq and Durga Prashad Dhar returned to the fold of the National Conference, Sethi stayed put in the DNC.
Currently, Comrade Sethi is the General Secretary, Democratic Conference and edits a daily newspaper, Jidd-o-jihad (The Struggle). He has penned a book, Yaad-e-Rafta (Old Memories) and two volumes of his articles based on his political commentaries have also been published. He has visited Soviet Union, China, Japan, Vietnam, Czechoslovakia, Poland, England, France and Pakistan. He is a regular contributor to the daily Kashmir Uzma. Earlier, he served at important positions in the National Conference but always distanced himself from power. In 1975, when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was reinstalled as the Chief Minister after what his close confidante, Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg, termed as ‘20 years of wandering in the wilderness’, he asked Sethi to join him but the political recluse politely declined by invoking the famous saying of the Prophet of Islam that a believer would not be bitten twice at the same place.
For his impeccable integrity and political views, Sethi Sahab is admired by a large section of the people on both sides of the LoC. Personally, he favours independence for Jammu & Kashmir as a geographical unit as it existed before 1947. However, he believes that people of all the regions of the erstwhile princely state will have to arrive at a consensus on the future of Jammu & Kashmir. A close watcher of developments in Jammu & Kashmir since 1940s, he is witness to the communal frenzy that swept the Jammu Province in 1947 and claimed tens of thousands of Muslims.
In 2011, when I was researching on the communal violence in Jammu and interviewing witnesses and survivors of the carnage, I met Krishen Dev Sethi at his Dalpatian residence on December 6 to know firsthand about those horrible days. He candidly spoke about the developments and the characters involved. On November 3, 2015, I again spoke with him on phone and asked few more questions which he replied with his usual courtesy. Here is the full text of the interview:
On causes of communal violence in Jammu:
There were both external and internal factors responsible for what happened in Jammu. In the external factors, the communal politics in the United India was at its peak during 1940s. At the time of the Partition, the country was engulfed by communal frenzy. Jammu being contagious to the United India could not remain unaffected. As a result, communal riots erupted in the province both in Muslim majority and Hindu majority areas. Non-Muslims in Mirpur and Poonch met the same fate that was meted out to Muslims in Jammu. There was large scale migration of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs from the areas where they were in minority.
So far as internal factors are concerned, in the Jammu city the Maharaja and his administration played an important role in flaring up communal riots after Hari Singh arrived from Srinagar in the wake of the Tribal Attack. Muslims in Jammu city were under the influence of the Muslim Conference.
On actors responsible for violence against Muslims:
Maharaja Hari Singh played a significant role in promoting and pampering the RSS. Important RSS leaders like Balraj Madhok, Kedar Nath Sahni, Vijay Malhotra and Madan Lal Khurana remained stationed in Jammu as in-charge of RSS during 1940s. Violence against Muslims could not have taken place if the Maharaja and his wife had not actively supported it. The anti-Muslim violence was organized. Governor Chet Ram Chopra and DIG Police, Bakhshi Udhay Chand, also played vital role. The Administration too participated in the massacre. Organized armed Hindu jathas (groups) went as far as to Bhimbhar. The Muslims there resisted the attacks. The resistance groups included Colonel Habibur Rehman, second in command of Subhash Chander Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), who had accompanied him in the ill fated plane but, unlike Bose, survived the crash.
On situation in Jammu city:
In Jammu city, Muslims resisted the onslaught of Hindu rioters in areas like Talab Khatikan and Dalpatian. In Ustad Mohalla, the local Hindus repulsed the attackers and saved their Muslim neighbours. The Praja Parishad leader, Prem Nath Dogra, himself lived in the area and did not want the situation there to get out of hand. The government ultimately ensured ceasefire between the warring communities in the city and told Muslims that they will be escorted to safety. The batches of Muslims who left the city on this promise were attacked at Digiana, Kunjwani and Miran Sahab and many were killed.
On incidents outside Jammu city:
The lower areas of Jammu like R.S. Pura had Muslim majority population that migrated en-masse. Similarly, from areas like Akhnoor, where they represented half of the population, and Samba tehsil with substantial number of Muslims, the migration was on a major scale. In the upper areas like Reasi, there was huge destruction. A major massacre of Muslims took place there. Rishi Kumar Kaushal, who was later a favourite of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, was among the killers. At Ram Nagar, the Tehsildar, Chander Udhay Singh, son of Maharaja’s ADC, Brigadier Faqir Singh, on directions from Hari Singh, supervised a large massacre of Muslims. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah later placed him under suspension but he was subsequently reinstated by Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad on the post of Tehsildar.
On Muslim retaliation in Mirpur
In Jammu, there were many Muslim officers from Mirpur who were killed. One of them was Raja Sarwar Khan who was Wazir-i-Wazarat of Udhampur which then included areas of Ramban, Doda, Kishtwar and Bhaderwah also. He was a rajput and secular by outlook. He had good relations with Hindu rajputs and even participated in inter-community dining which could not be even thought of then. There was one Amarnath Sharma who later became a minister in the Bakhshi Government. He told Raja Sarwar Khan that the Rajput raja of Chenahni had sent a word for him to shift there for safety. When he left for Chenahni, his car was ambushed a mile away from Udhampur and he was killed.
In another incident, Raja Sohbat Ali Khan, Station House Officer Gumat (now Nawabad) Police Station, was killed when he went to rescue Gujjar families who were being harassed across River Tawi. These killings in Jammu adversely affected the atmosphere in Mirpur. Raja Sarwar Khan’s brother, Murawwat Khan, in fact, shouted at Hindus, “Kafiro Raja Sarwar Khan ne tumhara kya bigada tha jo usko qatal kiya?” (You apostates! What had Raja Sarwar Khan done to you that you killed him?) There were some miscreants in Mirpur whose presence made me to migrate from there to Jammu.
On Sheikh Abdullah’s indifference towards victims:
Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah could have arrested the migration of Muslims from Jammu but he did not. Apparently, he tried for it but not as much as he should have. I and Moti Ram Begra, who was later Member of the Indian Constituent Assembly, went to him and requested him to stop the migration of Muslims. We told him that if this was not done the demography of Jammu will be changed. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah retorted, “Jammu ke musalmanu ne mujhay kab leader mana hai”? (Muslims of Jammu never recognized me as their leader).The migration of Muslims continued and, in fact, the major migration took place after the Sheikh came to power.
On Chowdhary Abbas and Allah Rakha Sagar:
Chowdhary Abbas Sahab ke saath to alaik salaik thi. (With Chowdhary Abbas I was only formally acquainted). I felt more close to Allah Rakha Sagar. Ideologically, he was a socialist. He was a great man and orator. If the two had stayed put in Jammu and not been deported, it would have generated confidence among Muslims to stay back. I discussed the idea with Sagar while he was lodged in Kathua jail along with Abbas. He did not give a clear answer but warned me against discussing the matter with Sheikh Abdullah. However, when I met Abdullah I somehow touched the subject. Soon after, Sagar and Abbas were dispatched to Pakistan in exchange of Brigadier Gansara Singh, Thakur Sehdev Singh, Colonel Majid Durrani and Molvi Ghulam Mustafa, a relative of Maulana Muhammad Syed Masoodi. From there, Sagar sent me a letter through Molvi Muhammad Alam, Imam and Khateeb of Darhal Jama Masjid, who was one of the many people who returned to their homes from across the border, in which he had written, “Akhir kaar saabit hogaya ki Mirpur ki sarzameen put comradun ke liye raas hai (At last, it is proved that the land of Mirpur is suitable for ordinary comrades)”, referring to my speaking to Sheikh Abdullah and the latter deporting him.
On Colonel Adalat Khan:
Colonel Adalat Khan was ADC to Maharaja Hari Singh. I had also requested him not to leave Jammu as there was lot of destruction here. He said that he was ideologically a Pakistani but if I want him to stay put he will. I suggested Sheikh Abdullah to send him as Administrator to Bhaderwah where there was communal tension. The Kashmir Militia had been set up recently. The Colonel asked for Apurab Somnath Bakhri to be sent with him. Adalat Khan soon restored peace there but a year later went to Pakistan.
On silence on massacre in autobiographies of Karan Singh and Chowdhary Abbas:
As regards writing about the Jammu massacre, Chowdhary Abbas was in jail when the carnage took place and was deported to Pakistan. So far as Dr. Karan Singh keeping silence over the subject is concerned, what would he write? His father was involved in the violence.
On Hari Singh’s relations with his son:
Initially, Hari Singh had good relations with his son but when the latter became Sadr-i-Riyasat he felt Karan Singh had joined hands with his enemies and that his mother was also supporting him. From then onwards, he would not even talk with him and lived in Bombay, away from his family, where he eventually died.
On Jammu’s contribution to the freedom struggle:
Kashmir has suffered a lot but the role of Jammu in the freedom struggle has not been acknowledged. Writers from Kashmir have overlooked this role which in many ways has been bigger than that of Kashmir. Mirpur was the only place in the State where martial law was imposed by the Maharaja for the people rising against his rule. The Burma Act was imposed there. The role of Majlis-e-Ahrar is unforgettable. Its members were martyred at Suchetgarh and Mirpur. During the Maalia Agitation of 1931, Sadiq Shah and Baata Khan of Mirpur were hanged in Jammu Jail. Raja Sultan Khan of Bhimbhar was arrested by Gulab Singh and his eyes gouged. His body was stuffed with bhoosa (husk) and kept hanging for serving as deterrence to others. During the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971, people in Rajouri, Buddhal etc. suffered more than people of Kashmir. The role of Raja Akbar Khan and Molvi Ghulam Haider of Mirpur cannot be forgotten.
On Sheikh’s invitation to join government in 1975:
When Sheikh Abdullah returned to power in 1975, he invited me to join him but I declined. I was never interested in power and have always been comfortable being away from it. In fact, when the Sheikh called me and extended his invitation, I told him, “Aap to musalman hain. Aap ko pata hoga ki aap ke paighambar ne kaha hai ki aik mumin do baar aik hi jagah se dasa nahi jaata (As a Muslim you should be knowing that your Prophet has said that “a believer is not bitten twice from the same spot.”)
On RSS’ recent activities in Jammu:
Throughout my life, I have fought communal forces. Communalism, whether Hindu communalism or Muslim communalism, is a curse. Jammu has suffered worst communalism in 1947. As long as there is communalism, there is danger to peace. The Hindu communalists have tried to vitiate the atmosphere in Jammu but on the basis of their experience in 1947, I think the people have turned wiser and would not allow the repeat of those horrible times.