Massacre of Gujrat: The forgotten tragedy of Partition | Faridabad News

FARIDABAD: The ecstasy of India’s Independence came with the horrors of Partition, which still haunt those who survived them. As word of the country being divided spread, riots broke out, sending people near the Radcliffe Line in Punjab and Bengal migrating to what they felt was safer territory. However, in some regions, violence was not easily triggered.
The North–West Frontier Province (NWFP) was one such region. Flanked by Afghanistan to its West and Punjab Province to its East, this hilly area had always been a sensitive one. Still, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims of the Frontier had been living in harmony. The Hindus and Sikhs here spoke Saraiki, a dialect of Punjabi influenced by Pashto. Many were rich traders and farmers who had never left their cities. It wasn’t until January 1948 that the minorities of NWFP were asked to leave their ancestral homes forever.
Stranded by train driver
Two trains were scheduled for Hindus and Sikhs of NWFP for January 10 and 12, 1948, from the walled city of Bannu to India with no return journey. Refugees squeezed inside the trains as they crossed Wagah-Attari border, making them hunting grounds for rioters. The train that left from Bannu on the evening of January 10, 1948 with almost 3,000 refugees aboard was no exception.
According to news reports from the time, 60 Gorkha regiment soldiers were on board for passengers’ safety. The train was scheduled to reach Attari the next day via Mari Indus and Lahore but was diverted to Lalamusa at Khushab junction near Sargodha. The train driver told the passengers that they were being taken to Rawalpindi as the route was not safe. However, it was diverted in the wrong direction at Lalamusa and was left at Gujrat railway station. Gujrat city in West Punjab was one of the worst affected by violence. When the soldiers went to inquire about the unexpected stoppage, they found out that the driver had run away with the engine, leaving the carriages behind. On request of water from a few passengers, two soldiers disembarked from the train and their rifles were snatched by some pathans waiting on the station, a survivor recalled.

The first shot

Try as she might, Parvati Devi, now 85, has not been able to forget the nightmare that followed the firing of the first shot.
“I was almost 12 years old when I boarded the train that evening. It was the dead of the night when the train suddenly stopped. My four-year-old brother was crying for milk. We had no milk or water. My mother was sleeping in the sleeper seat above us. Suddenly, a shot was fired. In the dark, something started dripping on us. My brother thought it was water and cupped it in his hands. In the moonlight, he realised that it was not water but blood. My mother had been killed and we were drenched in her blood. My brother was almost going to drink it,” she said, her voice choking. Parvati Devi now resides in the New Industrial Township (NIT) of Faridabad, which was founded in 1950 by the then ministry of relief and rehabilitation. It was built by the government as well as Frontier refugees collaboratively. She still speaks in Saraiki.
A narrow escape
In the same train, an eight-year-old boy, Chunnu, was cowering under a seat. Now 84, Faridabad resident Chunni Lal Bhatia recalls the fear and violence he endured at midnight and dawn of January 11, 1948.
“I was travelling with my father and grandmother. I did not have a mother. All of a sudden, the train stopped at Gujrat station. We hid under the seats when firing started. By the break of dawn, the Gorkha regiment had exhausted their weapons. Realising this, the pathans entered the train and went on a rampage. I saw some military men hurriedly removing their uniforms and changing into civilian clothing. From my hiding spot, I saw a woman’s body on the floor across me. She had a gold earring in her ear. A man was trying to remove it but couldn’t, so he took out a farm sickle (sharp blade) and cut off her ear,” he said. Eventually, someone abducted him. “I was taken by a man around daybreak. Luckily for me, there was an Army camp nearby and they started firing at the rioters. I slipped out of the man’s grasp and ran to my father,” he said.

Five bullets and a lease of life

While Parvati Devi and Chunni Lal Bhatia managed to evade gunshots, four-year-old Surinder Singh was struck by five bullets, which turned out to the best camouflage he could have hoped for. Taken for dead, he was ignored in the orgy of violence.

Post-Partition violence survivor Parvati Devi

“I was shot five times and had fainted in the train. My left index finger and thumb were cut off by a bullet and two more bullets hit my hand. One bullet hit me in the lower lip, tearing it off. One bullet hit me near the eye, rendering it blind for months. Seeing me passed out in a pile of dead bodies, my father thought I was dead. Luckily, my aunt noticed me move my leg. I was taken out of the pile of bodies and taken to Gujranwala hospital by the Army. They attached my lip and treated my eye. My index finger and thumb could not be restored,” he said. His two-year-old brother Harbans Singh was shot dead by the rioters.


The 79-year-old still yearns to visit his childhood home. He currently lives in NIT 5, adjacent to Gurdwara Shaheedan Gujrat Train, which was built in memory of those claimed by the massacres. A board inside the gurdwara complex says that about 2,500 refugees from the Frontier cities were massacred on a single night between January 10 and 11, 1948.

Second train lucky

Luckily, the second train that left on January 12, reached Attari safely. My grandfather Jagat Singh, who boarded the second train, told me that an Army man aboard put his rifle to the driver’s head, stopping him from diverting the second train. Upon arriving at Attari, he saw people wailing while waiting for their loved ones.
Today, the people from the NWFP live in places like Faridabad, Rampur, Bareilly, Alwar and Kanpur. They have not only lost their childhood homes but also their culture. Their descendents don’t speak the Saraiki dialects like Bannuwali, Kohati, Dehrewali or Parachinari. Even present day residents of NWFP don’t speak the dialect, preferring Urdu and Pashto over Saraiki.
The walled city of Bannu is still present and so is the railway station and the 12 gates.

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