Lahore @ Partition — Violence, Cross-Migration, and Regeneration 1947-1961
By Adnan Tariq
Vanguard Books
ISBN: 978-9-6940-2666-4
256pp.

How do people behave when they are faced with grave danger and insecurity? Do they become violent or do they try to escape?

According to Adnan Tariq, author of Lahore @ Partition, it is to answer questions such as these that he has undertaken to write this book. The dangerous times he refers to are the months shortly before and after Partition and the place is Lahore, as the title makes clear.

The author is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Archives Studies, Institute of Global Historical Studies at Government College University in Lahore. He has attended many educational institutions of Lahore and attained his PhD in History and Pakistan Studies from the University of Punjab.

The book, Lahore @ Partition, contains many known, little known and even generally unknown historical facts. Using archival material, eyewitness accounts, interview transcripts, police records and other such materials, the author has delineated the behaviour of Muslims and non-Muslims during the crisis of Partition and tried to assign motives to both communities.

The book is divided into four chapters and each one is furnished with copious footnotes. The first chapter, ‘Mayhem and the City’, opens with riots erupting in Lahore in March, 1947. The walled city is the epicentre of the disturbances. The Hindus and Sikhs, who have different political aspirations than the Muslims, clash with the latter. Hindu areas are well-barricaded. Muslims do not have the expertise or arms to attack them, so random stabbings and petty arson become their policy.

Chapter Two, ‘Great Fire of Shah Almi Bazaar and the Real Exodus’, notes that there was no possibility of compromise between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslims could see no solution to the problem other than persecuting the Sikhs and Hindus and forcing them to leave Lahore. This was after the colonial government’s announcement that the province of Punjab was to be divided at Partition, but the fate of Lahore was not revealed.

News of Muslim victimisation in Amritsar also riled the already highly volatile public and led to calls for retaliation. All this culminated in a fire being set to Shah Almi Bazaar by Muslims. This was the hub of Hindu trade and commerce and very heavily guarded. It was considered unassailable by the non-Muslims. But kerosene and matches are cheap weapons, and 80 percent of the bazaar was burned down.

The fire in the bastion of their businesses and fortified enclave frightened many non-Muslims into leaving Lahore or at least sending away their families. The militant Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) now took their revenge by bombing the movie theatre Crown Talkies on a day when film tickets were sold only to Muslims, and the toll was 56 Muslim movie-goers. As the news spread, a huge wave of vengeful Muslim fury was let loose and non-Muslims started fleeing from Lahore.

People leaving New Delhi for Lahore in 1947 | AP
People leaving New Delhi for Lahore in 1947 | AP

A further escalation in violence was wrought on Aug 11, 1947, when the first Pakistan Special train carrying a hundred dead bodies reached Lahore. The troops at Lahore Railway Station, of the Dogra and Baloch regiments, fired at each other along communal lines, instead of attempting to maintain order. The author presents evidence that even the mayor of Lahore, and several other Muslim notables of the city, worked hand in glove to harass non-Muslims.

‘City in Transit’, Chapter 3, depicts communal violence at its peak. Trains going in both directions were regularly attacked, especially in reaction to the slaying of fellow religionists. The strikes were vicious in nature.

For example, on September 22, 1947, a train which should have been carrying 4,500 Muslims, arrived in Lahore with only about a thousand passengers, all wounded. The rest had been slaughtered. The British officer in charge and all eight Muslim soldiers were also murdered. The 13 non-Muslim soldiers were reported to have surrendered to the RSS attackers.

The facts and figures that are quoted in Lahore @ Partition are new to many of us. That Partition and communal riots went hand in hand is recognised, but the specifics are neither universally known nor readily available. It is Tariq’s meticulous research, using primary and secondary sources, that familiarises us with the finer details, the exact numbers and the precise events. The author is to be applauded for his painstaking study of the past.

According to the author, the influx of Muslim refugees into Lahore was much greater than anticipated. On a single day, September 12, 1947, 125,000 Muslims crossed the border into Pakistan.

There were three main refugee transit camps for the refugees. Once they filled up, the camps were set up in open spaces. It is an interesting tidbit of information that, in the camp on the grounds of Ganga Ram High School, student volunteers from Kinnaird College came to the aid of the displaced people.

In ‘The Story of City with Change’, the last chapter of the book, we learn that the incoming Muslim refugees were easily absorbed into the fabric of the city. This is primarily because evacuee properties were plentiful — 235,000 Hindus and Sikhs, almost all well-to-do, left Lahore and 261,000 Muslims refugees took their place. The ethnic similarity of the newcomers also made their rehabilitation trouble-free.

Lahore @ Partition is a good way to discover the Partition experience of Lahore. However the book is difficult to read because it is written in poor English. A thorough and ruthless round of editing is needed for it to attract readers. As it is, the book is replete with mistakes of grammar and syntax, thoughtless repetition and fragmentary and incomplete sentences.

It is a shame that neither the author nor the publisher has taken the time to catch and correct these mistakes. If the same diligence and hard work that has been spent in collecting the data is also used in couching it in correct English, Lahore @ Partition can be an excellent addition to reference literature on Lahore.

Despite the shortcomings, the book is a compelling read. The information about Lahore during the highly explosive period of Partition keeps the reader turning the pages in a quest for more.

By the time the book ends, our knowledge has not only increased but we are also provided with ample food for thought.

The reviewer is a freelance writer, author of the novel The Tea Trolley and translator of Toofan Se Pehlay: Safar-i-Europe Ki Diary

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 17th, 2024

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