The following excerpt is taken from the chapter, “Partition, Violence and Migration in Gujranwala”

The most chilling killings of Hindus and Sikhs in Gujranwala were perpetrated by the members of Lohar community of Nizamabad. Gurpal Singh’s qasbah, Mansoorwali, was raided on August 24 and the hamlahawars took away har cheej (everything) belong to its non-Muslim residents. Singh reported that the following items had been stolen from his house, and he suspected that the hamlahawars were the Nizamabad men.

‘Four big silver pans, four silver glasses, 11 round silver pateelay (pans), four deep silver parataw (pans), four knitted manjaya (cotes), five knitted pirhee (sitting cotes), six razaeea (quilts), seven bedspreads/sheets, 14 kash, three steel trunks, one sandook (wooden big box), one steel baltee (bucket), one dapra (a round bucket), six tola gold necklace, a four masha gold ring, and a 10 tola bracelet.

Gurpal Singh’s suspicion apart, the stories of the killings of Hindus and Sikhs, and attacks on their trains by the Nizamabad Lohars in August-September, 1947 are common even now in the region. Their actions received little official and press attention. They could thus be revealed in full only by ethnographic fieldwork research. Many of the accounts and narratives that I have collected from Nizamabad and its surrounding areas which are reproduced here were not represented in the press and have thus not entered the historical narrative.

The popular image of Nizamabad people is brave, brutal, and enterprising. A former resident of Nizamabad, now living in Gujranwala’s Gill Road, provided me with the following information during the course of an interview:

‘Have you heard about ‘Nizamabad Lohars’? They are famous for their ironworks expertise. They manufactured cutlery and arms... They were the people who mainly killed the Hindus and Sikhs and looted their properties... The tales of the killings of Hindus and Sikhs in the area are well-known from Gujranwala to Wazirabad...

As a native of Gujranwala, I had heard similar stories of non-Muslim massacres since my childhood. It was only during the course of fieldwork for this study that I followed up on these popular stories. I utilised local knowledge to track down respondents, and in doing so, discovered hidden stories of Partition that have not found their way into any written accounts.

Khosla, in his work Stern Reckoning, has briefly mentioned the brutality of Nizamabad Lohars on the Hindu and Sikh population, and has pointed out their involvement in the derailment of a refugee train near Wazirabad. This apart, the material on the hamlahawars in Gujranwala represent an important advance in historical knowledge by uncovering the actual perpetrators of the violence.

The firsthand accounts deliver a graphic account of the violence unleashed upon the Hindus and the Sikhs. They provide evidence of the existence of organisation and well-planned raids on trains, and the systematic slaughter of non-Muslim passengers and the general loot of their processions afterwards. One of the most striking elements uncovered in the eye-witness account was that there was, in fact, connivance between the individual railway-drivers and the local Lohar perpetrators to stop the trains for ambush at a ‘marked point’.

Before pursuing this untold story, it is important to point out that Nizamabad was an important centre of the cutlery cottage industry, where hundreds of blacksmith families plied their craft in about 30 iron-workshops and large quantities of knives, barchees, daggers, and swords were made and sent to different places in India. Many blacksmiths, with military training during the wartime, had manufactured and reproduced modern weaponry such as carbines. Apart from large defence orders from the colonial state during the war, Nizamabad-forged well-known ‘carbines’ were accessibly available in the region. There was thus a stockpile of weapons for those who were prepared to use them in the trouble conditions of 1947.

Moreover, many Lohars, because of their ironwork expertise, were employed in the local railways as drivers, railway-masons and railwaysmiths. Nizamabad’s strategic location, on both the Wazirabad-Gujranwala and Wazirabad-Sialkot-Jammu main railway lines was also an important factor in attacks on the refugee trains. All the trains on their way to East Punjab as well as to Jammu, arriving from the north, passed through Nizamabad. The qasbah and its inhabitants earned notoriety for such attacks on the minorities.

One of the worst train massacres occurred in the outskirts of Nizamabad on the Wazirabad-Jammu railway track on August 15, 1947. Field Marshal Sir Auchinleck reported in his memorandum to a meeting of the Joint Defence Council that, “On morning 15th August train held up three miles from Wazirabad, casualties estimate 100 killed and 200 wounded by stabbing”. In the same memorandum, he further reported that, ‘Fifteen passengers killed in another train near Wazirabad. The story of this systematic massacre of Hindu and Sikh passengers is well-known in the region, especially in Nizamabad. This was, however, never reported in the press and is not part of the historical narratives. There are eyewitness accounts of the train carnage in Nizamabad itself.

Excerpted with permission from Partition and Locality: Violence, Migration, and Development in Gujranwala and Sialkot, 1947-1961 (HISTORY) By Ilyas Chattha Oxford University Press, Karachi ISBN 978-0-19-906172-3 304pp. Rs825