Tuesday 20 March, 2018

Death of Mahatma Gandhi and Alibeg Prisoners

By Bal K. Gupta

On January 30, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi (India).  On that horrible day, I was 10 years old and held prisoner in Alibeg Prison (Pakistan).  Following are excerpts from my book “Forgotten Atrocities: Memoirs of a Survivor of 1947 Partition of India”.  Hope that those senseless killings are not repeated again.

“On November 25, 1947, there were nearly twenty five thousand Hindus and Sikhs living in Mirpur (Kashmir). During the city’s capture by Pakistanis, close to twenty five hundred were killed in the infernos that erupted due to Pakistani artillery fire. Another twenty five hundred escaped with the retreating Jammu and Kashmir army. The remaining twenty thousand were arrested by the invading Pakistani army and the Pathans, and marched in a procession towards  Alibeg. Along the way, the Pakistanis and Pathans killed about ten thousand of the captured Hindu and Sikh men and kidnapped over five thousand girls and young women. About five thousand Hindus and Sikhs who survived the twenty-mile trek by foot  were quickly imprisoned.

The Alibeg Prison (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) was located about two miles from Pakistan’s border. It was originally a large Sikh temple (Gurudwara) that was converted into a prison by the Pakistani army to detain Hindu and Sikhs prisoners. It was outrageous that a Sikh holy shrine was converted into a human slaughterhouse. By the end of December, the Pakistani soldiers had murdered about two thousand Hindu and Sikh young men. More than one thousand sick prisoners, particularly children and the elderly died of illness, food poisoning, or malnutrition. On average, the death rate was between fifteen to twenty prisoners per day  until January 1948, when the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) arrived at the Alibeg Prison and helped stop the killing.

Back in New Delhi (India), Mahatma Gandhi was trying to stop the massacre of Muslims by Hindu and Sikh refugees who had arrived in India from Pakistan. These refugees were retaliating at the senseless killing and rapes, which they had suffered at the hands of Pakistani Muslims. Mahatma Gandhi had gone on a fast until death if the Hindus and Sikhs did not stop killing Indian Muslims. Hindu and Sikh leaders and refugees listened to the Mahatma’s call and stopped killing Muslims in India. Consequently, Mahatma Gandhi broke his fast. On January, 27, 1948 a delegation of Mirpur refugees in Delhi met Mahatma Gandhi to liberate Hindu prisoners from Alibeg. This delegation was led by Sardar Lal Singh Kakkar along with many refugees from Mirpur.  Pandit Nehru, Indian Prime Minister, was also present in this meeting. They told Mahatma Gandhi about the killing of Hindus and Sikhs in Mirpur and Alibeg and asked them to send army to liberate Alibeg prisoners.  But Mahatma Gandhi told them that it was difficult for Indian army to go forward in those areas because of snow covered roads.  Sardar Kakkar explained to the Mahatma that it never snowed in Alibeg and areas around Mirpur.   Pandit Nehru only listened and did not make any comment.  In the evening prayer meeting, Mahatma Gandhi made an appeal to Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent in to stop killing of Hindus (in Pakistan) and Muslims (in India). This meeting did not bring any military action to liberate Alibeg prisoners.  The delegation did not get a second chance for a follow up meetings with the Mahatma to press Alibeg prisoners’ case more forcefully. Unfortunately, on January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.

In Alibeg Prison, Pakistani soldiers and prison guards broke the news of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination to the Hindu and Sikh prisoners. We felt sorrow on the tragic death of the Mahatma but did not have the liberty for a condolence meeting. We did not know the full details of Mahatma Gandhi’s death because we had been cut off from the rest of the outside world. The Pakistani soldiers placed the entire blame of the assassination on the RSS, a Hindu nationalist organization. The Hindus and Sikhs in the prison were very sad to know that the killer of Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu. The only news we ever got was from the discarded Pakistani Urdu newspapers that we picked up from the Muslim grocery stores of Alibeg.”

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