Rare Survivor

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Barely eight and he lost his family in 1947 riots with Hari Singh in town. Not knowing why they were killing each other, he was the only male guiding his sisters and sister-in-law to the Udhampur forests where they were hiding for a fortnight. Twenty years after his retirement from government service, Mohammad Aslam Sadiq tells his survival story to Masood Hussain

In 1975, I was quite young and I was so keen to perform Hajj. After the Hajj was over and I had many days left for the return, I would spend my day within the Kaaba premises, the Harm-e-Paak. One day, a hefty man, sitting beside me, started asking me, about my residence.

I said I am from India, from Jammu and Kashmir.

He asked: “Which Kashmir, Occupied Kashmir or Free Kashmir.”

I told him I have no concept about free or occupied. I told him had not there been partition, position of Muslims of erstwhile India would have been better. He disagreed. I said I am not interested in politics but I do have an opinion.

I still do not know if it is right or wrong but the fact is that the division has given people so serious wounds that people who have no idea about it, do not know the costs of the partition.

We lived in Nagrota, a small village, barely one and a half kilometres from Udhampur town. Normally for all the major occasions, we would go to the town, even for prayers. Udhampur had a major mosque where the prayers were being led by my grandfather Syed Hakim Shah.

It was October 1947 and it was the day of Eid (October 26, 1947). I was almost seven to eight years old. I remember that all the Muslims from the village went to Udhampur for prayers. My father Syed Akbar Ali and my two elder brothers’ Maqsood and Syeed had also gone for prayers.

When they came back home after prayers, they were unnerved. They said something is going to happen. I was a kid at that time and did not understand much. I had no concept of the division. Even my parents had no idea about partition. There was lack of media awareness. News would travel and would take a long time. They were saying clashes were going to erupt and there can be killings as well.

Quickly, they decided that we must move towards the town and we migrated. Clashes erupted much faster than they anticipated. These were communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims. There was fierce sloganeering and within minutes, it was like a war. We kids watched it without understanding much. What I remember clearly, however, is the Muslims and the Hindus, fighting each other, were not local. I remember people saying they were Jan Sangh.

Soon, we got the message that our houses have gone up in smoke. Our house had 16-17 rooms and everything was destroyed. As the news of the conflagration came, our female family members started crying. It was one of my brothers, Maqsood Hussain who started sympathizing with the ladies, promising them reconstructed homes in a fortnight only if we are able to save our lives.

Soon, we got the message that our houses have gone up in smoke. Our house had 16-17 rooms and everything was destroyed. As the news of the conflagration came, our female family members started crying. It was one of my brothers, Maqsood Hussain who started sympathizing with the ladies, promising them reconstructed homes in a fortnight only if we are able to save our lives.

Then, the groups were visible. Hindus had gone to one side and taken the control of the mosque and the Muslims took refuge in the huge house of Colonel Abdul Rehman. He is the same man whose grandson recently retired as DIG in JKP. All of a sudden, the two groups started firing at each other. But there were no killings.

After two days, when some people from government approached the Muslim camp, they said Maharaja has come and wants to have a conversation to sort out issues of animosity. They asked for three-four people to talk to the king and explain the situation to him. On their invitation, 8-9 people went with them to see Maharaja. It was like the Peace Committees that are being constituted when there are such tensions.

Tara Devi with Maharaja Hari Singh

It led to tragedy. As they moved away from the camp, the opposition group fired upon them. Unfortunately, they all were killed barring Colonel Rehman and another person, who also was an army officer. Using fauji tactics, they escaped.  The Deputy Commissioner, who was a resident of Muzzafarabad, was killed in the firing.

Soon after, the Colonel’s house was surrounded by Jan Sanghis and weapons were taken away. It was a sort of hysteria. I remember elders telling us that they were not from Udhampur. My entire family was trapped there. All Muslims were made to surrender. Males were herded to the DFO’s official hut and the women and children were locked in the Colonel’s Haveli. They were not provided food for eight days.

It was in the midst of that hunger that a Divisional Forest Officer, Ram Ratan, somehow came in and managed to take us to his home. He was from our village and he had made a promise to my father that he will save us. So it was after eight days, that we had food. But to our bad luck, the Jan Sanghi’s came knocking at his door: “We have got information that you have hidden some people.” The DFO refused and they went back.

But the knocks had made that gentleman completely insecure. Later that day, he told us, he cannot put his own family in danger because of us. So we all had to flee: It was me, my two sisters in the age group of 12-13, my sister-in-law, Batool Begum, and her child. We had nowhere to go. We moved to the forests.

I believe, we remained wandering in the forests for almost 15 days. We had nothing to eat except the forest fruits.  Much later, we came to know that all people who were in the siege had been killed. They had taken the timber from our houses and burnt the slain on the pyres. These included my father and my two brothers.

After 15 days, Laghroo, a person who was a Chowkidar in Udhampur, came to us and broke the news that Muslim rule is flourishing in the Jammu and Kashmir. The new rulers, he said, are asking to find Muslim women and girls. But my sisters refused to believe him.

A few days later, we felt extremely hungry and I and two of my sisters came out of the forests. We found our house burnt to ashes. We found the goat-heads scattered around without their trunks. We saw a neighbour there and went to his house. We asked him for food. He said we will have to wait till night for food. We saw our buffaloes and cow grazing in his courtyard. So we asked him for the milk. But he refused. We moved away and started back to the forests.

On the way, some drunkards stopped us and took us for killings us. They were carrying swords with them. Then we reached a water pool and they told us to drink water. They told each other: let them drink water before dying. We quenched our thirst and fled back to forests only to find the gang missing.

When we reached in the forests and told our story, our ladies said they will not let us move out of the woods and whatever is destiny, we will face it jointly.

Almost three days after, Laghroo came again. This time, he accompanied three persons. They said they were volunteers and they were Kashmiris. They said they had come to take them home. My sister was well read; she asked them why she should trust them. They all recited the Kalima. And my family trusted them. They brought us to Udhampur town.

We were taken to a building which now houses the Higher Secondary School. We saw it stuffed with Muslim women and children. It was well guarded but we did not know who was guarding it. After 15 days, we got a meal which contained some rice, khichdi, some daal, and salt. But this was a great feast for us.

After two days, buses were arranged and we all were driven to Jammu, to Ustad Mohalla. It was a huge refugee camp being run under Colonel Pir Mohammad, a former minister. It was the first time, we felt somewhat safe. It was there, that I came to know about Sheikh Abdullah is the new Raja. We did not know it before.

Group of Kashmiri people fleeing to Pakistan through mountains in order to save their lives from the mayhem.

After seven days, an English lady came to the camp. She said she will take care of kids who had the decent family background. Accordingly, two groups were made. The decent families were shifted upstairs and rest were kept on the ground floor. She gave us blankets and started teaching the children. She also engaged the educated ladies in the process. The food, however, remained the same, though it was slightly more.

Suraiya, my sister was having only one earring and she told me to sell it. I sold it for Rs 17. I bought a big plate and 17 Laddu (Maize) for Rs 1 and started selling it at one paisa each. I started earning an eight paisa profit for an investment of Re 1 and my daily earnings gradually rose to Rs 1.50. The first thing I purchased from my earnings was dupatta for my sisters.

Since we had come from a well to do background where we had plenty to eat, we felt it difficult to sustain on little meals. Suraiya, my sister was having only one earring and she told me to sell it. I sold it for Rs 17. I bought a big plate and 17 Laddu (Maize) for Rs 1 and started selling it at one paisa each. I started earning an eight paisa profit for an investment of Re 1 and my daily earnings gradually rose to Rs 1.50. The first thing I purchased from my earnings was dupatta for my sisters. While escaping and in forests, they had damaged their headscarves. Then, I purchased cooking utensils and the items. We spent almost two months in this camp.

The females present in the camp used to cry a lot. When a particular woman used to cry Hayee Meara Veera, the camp would get into instant mourning. You cannot imagine what was happening in the camp when women were getting into collective mourning. One day, the English lady told them that she will show them the other side of the picture. She took them to the other camp where women from Pakistan had come. When these women came back, they said they have faced little; these women who have come from Pakistan had suffered more. The fact is that brutality was not one-sided.

One morning, camp officials asked us if anybody had any relative in Pakistan. We had a relative in Sialkot but we had no clear idea. But they decided to send us to Pakistan on Thursday. On the day on the eve of our possible departure to Pakistan, a deputation headed by Asadullah Mir of Banihall – who later became the minister – reached the camp. That changed everything.

We were under the impression that our family has died completely because 97 percent of the Muslim male population in Udhampur town and villages annihilated. We did not know that our elder brother Syed Mahmood Hussain was living here. A forester, he was posted in Kantawada wherefrom he had been transferred to Anantnag (Islamabad) in 1947. In Islamabad, he reported to the camp, registered as a refugee, and sought further posting. Meanwhile, the names and addresses of the people living in the Ustad Mohalla camp were published in some newspaper. Haji Shamsuddin, the father of Akhtar Nizami and Umar Nizami, had read it somewhere and he contacted our bother and informed him that some of his relatives have survived. He contacted Mirza Afzal Beig and sought a transfer to Munda forest division and finally to Banihal. There, he requested Amin Sahab, who was popular by the name Amin Danday – the then administrator of Doda, and sought his posting to Jammu so that he can claim his family. Amin Sahab told him that anybody who goes to Jammu does not return and it included the Tonga Wallas who were killed, he should wait and the government will send its own men.

It was this deputation that broke this news to us and we quickly approached the camp officials, suggested cancellation of the travel plans because we have our brother who has survived. The deputation had actually come to take us to Banihal.

So, we started for Banihal quickly. Somehow, we reached Ramban and the road was blocked. We were cashless. We had not a penny in our pockets. The problem was that some ladies who had relatives in Srinagar had requested Assadulah Mir to take them along. These included the mother of writer Khalid Hussain, and Manzoor Aapa, mother of Dr Anwar. So, we were too many. We had a family get together as our brother had come to Ramban. But the roadblock created a new crisis. But humanity prevails. There was the person named Kishen Lal Bhasin who met on the road and he felt we were in crisis.  He gave us a room where we lived for 22 days. My brother’s son Mubarak Hussain got ill. He got so ill that his teeth fell on the ground. We had nothing to take care of him. My brother took a loan of Rs 35 from his forester colleague and it helped us to survive.

I am still terrified by the idea of Udhampur. If somehow I have no option to have a night halt on the highway, I prefer a place that is 15 km away from this town. The idea of Udhampur still gives me goosebumps. But I do go to my village to offer prayers at the grave of my mother and other relatives.

After those horrific days, I went to Udhampur in 1955, for the first time, because the examination centre for matriculation was there.

Later, the Deputy Commissioner of Udhampur, Aga Muzzafar – he was a distant relative – wrote a letter to my brother that our family was having a lot of property in the town and asked him to reclaim it. My brother told him that he will not go back there, even if it means billions. Even I asked my brother several times to go there and recollect the property but he refused. We did not claim the inheritance, the lands, the home. People who had occupied those lands including the two kanals land where our house used to be are still with them. As many as 10 shops were left without any care. My brother repeatedly asked me against mentioning those places because it was hurting him badly.

I am still terrified by the idea of Udhampur. If somehow I have no option to have a night halt on the highway, I prefer a place that is 15 km away from this town. The idea of Udhampur still gives me goosebumps. But I do go to my village to offer prayers at the grave of my mother and other relatives.

Dr Naseer was our relative. Our mothers were cousins. I used to tell my brother to seek help from them but he refused. His argument was that when we were in such a huge crisis, they never enquired about us, so I will never go to them. I used to go and see them but not my brother. My brother retired as a forest officer. When he was promoted as Ranger and posted to Lakhanpur, he refused to work. He never reconciled with what had happened.

Not many residents of those haunted villages returned back even though the village is now part of the town. A few families, however, have gone back. One of our relatives Zahida, who married Rashid Khan, has constructed a house.

It was in Banihal that my life took a new turn. I started schooling. Gradually the life came on track. With God’s grace, we settled in Banihal. I married in a Syed family and I inherited a lot of lands as well. I became a teacher in 1955

A United Nations photograph showing refugees from Kashmir at Mansar in Pakistan on September 1, 1948.

Mehmooda (Ahmad Ali Shah) Ji asked the then Deputy Director Mahinder Sing that I was her relative and needs a job. He immediately issued a job letter. I was too young but I taught in a school for five years.

Then, I did my graduation and joined Cooperative Department as Assistant Register. Later, I worked in Rural Development Department as Assistant Development Commissioner. Then I got selection grade KAS. I retired in December 1997.

Later, the Deputy Commissioner of Udhampur, Aga Muzzafar – he was a distant relative – wrote a letter to my brother that our family was having a lot of property in the town and asked him to reclaim it. My brother told him that he will not go back there, even if it means billions. Even I asked my brother several times to go there and recollect the property but he refused. We did not claim the inheritance, the lands, the home. People who had occupied those lands including the two kanals land where our house used to be are still with them.

One of my sisters later died. The elder one was educated and became a teacher and settled in Banihal. Another sister is the mother of Shakeel Beigh, DIG. I am only one who is alive, all my brothers and sisters are dead.

What happened in Udhampur was personally supervised by Maharaja. It happened everywhere, in Reasi, in Bhaderwah and other places. In Jammu, almost eighty percent of Muslims crossed over to Pakistan. But some people returned home.

Noor Mohammad Toor was Deputy Director Animal Husbandry in RS Pora. He went to Pakistan and later returned to Kashmir. I asked him why you crossed back. He said the treatment was inhuman.

When Ehsan Bhat was Deputy Commissioner Rajouri, I was also posted there. There I saw a person who was wearing a long beard but was talking against Pakistan very loudly. Curious, I asked him, why he was doing so. He said when he crossed to Pakistan in 1965, he got land and house and everything. One day, he along with two locals was moving around when they found a funeral going. The man said he told them to let us join the funeral and they responded by saying: “come on, it is the funeral of a refugee!”

It had pinched the man so much that he left everything there and returned home, was jailed for three months and was freed to settle.

Home is where your heart is.

Nahid Hassan and Istiyak Magrey helped in processing the data for this report

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