The horror unleashed during the partition of India still haunts the collective memory of millions of people across the new divide. Historians have attempted to encapsulate the violence and terror with the help of facts and figures, but to no avail. Saadat Hasan Manto is rightfully credited with chronicling the gory aftereffects of partition in his short stories. In the book, “The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide”, Ayesha Jalal mentioned what Manto thought about partition. He wrote, “In this land, once called India, such rivers of blood have flowed over the past few months that even the heavens are bewildered. Blood and steel, war and musket, are not new to human history. Adam’s children have always taken an interest in these games. But there is no example anywhere in the colourful stories of mankind of the game that was played out recently.”

An aspect of disturbances surrounding partition that is often overlooked in the Pakistani version of events involves the violence unleashed against non-Muslims in Northern Punjab and NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in March, 1947. A report titled “Muslim League Attack on Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab 1947” was compiled and released in 1991, detailing the massacres. Communal riots had erupted in 1946 when the All India Muslim League decided to celebrate `Direct Action Day` in Calcutta. After the riots, Muslim soldiers originally belonging to the Rawalpindi district stationed near Calcutta and riot-infested areas, were sent on temporary leave.

On 2nd March 1947, the Unionist Party government in Punjab was dismissed and the All India Muslim League failed to declare a parliamentary majority, leading to the imposition of Governor Rule. On 4th and 5th March 1947, the first attacks against non-Muslims occurred in Lahore and Amritsar. On the same dates, Muslim League-led mobs fell with determination and full preparations on the helpless Hindus and Sikhs scattered in the villages of Multan, Rawalpindi, Campbellpur, Jhelum and Sargodha. The murderous mobs were well supplied with arms, such as daggers, swords, spears and fire-arms. (A former civil servant mentioned in his autobiography that weapon supplies had been sent from NWFP and money was supplied by Delhi-based politicians.) They had bands of stabbers and their auxiliaries, who covered the assailant, ambushed the victim and if necessary disposed of his body. These bands were subsidized monetarily by the Muslim League, and cash payments were made to individual assassins based on the numbers of Hindus and Sikhs killed. There were also regular patrolling parties in jeeps which went about sniping and picking off any stray Hindu or Sikh.

On 5th March, Hindu and Sikh students of Rawalpindi took out a procession protesting against the Muslim attempt at the formation of a communal (Muslim League) Ministry in the Punjab, and the police firing on the non-violent procession of Hindu and Sikh students. This procession was also attacked by the Muslim Leaguers. There was a free fight in which the Muslims got the worst of it. Then a huge Muslim mob from the countryside, incited for attack on Hindu and Sikhs by the Pir of Golra, a Muslim religious head and a leader of this area, fell upon the town.

The attack in Rawalpindi villages began on the 7th of March, 1947, and continued non-stop for weeks, involving village after village, wherever any Hindus and Sikhs were to be found. When one area was rid of its Hindu and Sikh inhabitants, the war on Hindus and Sikhs spread to another area, and so on, till by the end of March, the surviving Hindu and Sikh populations of Rawalpindi, Campbellpur and Jhelum Districts had all been transferred in a destitute state into refugee camps, which were established all over the Punjab and Sikh princely states.

Atrocities against non-Muslims in the Hazara division had started in December, 1946. The report mentioned above details the murder and arson committed by gangs of Muslims in Bafa, Shinkiari, Balakot and Mansehra (all of which are situated in Hazara division), during the month of December. Thousands of non-combatants including women and children were killed or injured by mobs, supported by the All India Muslim League. Bonds of friendship, a sense of community and communal harmony were the first casualties of this terrible war.

Leaders of Sikhs resorted to threats of violence before partition because of their experience with the Muslim League-backed hoodlums. Violence is more often than not reciprocated in the form of violence. What transpired in West Punjab was repeated in East Punjab during July and August 1947. To quote Manto again, “Now before our eyes lie dried tracks of blood, cut up human parts, charred faces, mangled necks, terrified people, looted houses, burned fields, mountains of rubble, and overflowing hospitals. We are free. Hindustan is free. Pakistan is free, and we are walking the desolate streets naked without any possessions in utter distress.”

The violent streak and formation of mobs to attack people deemed to have deviated from a specific religious interpretation in Pakistan is a direct continuation of pre-independence massacres. The popular narrative that only Muslims were the victims of communal violence, propagated in Pakistan’s textbooks and popular culture, are nothing but hogwash. It is imperative upon policymakers to present a balanced picture for future generations and attempt to promote peace studies. There is no other way for violence to recede in our society.

 The writer is a freelance columnist. Follow him on Twitter