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Memories which haunt Kashmiris forever: When Pakistan unleashed its tribal militia on Baramula

Memories which haunt Kashmiris forever: When Pakistan unleashed its tribal militia on Baramula

Having planned the ‘Operation Gulmarg’, Pakistan unleashed its tribal militia on Jammu and Kashmir on October 22, 1947. Overwhelming Muzaffarabad, Domel and Uri, the tribal Lashkars led by Pakistan army personnel reached Baramula on October 26. The havoc they wreaked on Baramula is not very well known. A despatch by Robert Trumbull of New York Times of November 10 described what had happened in Baramula.

Baramula had been stripped of its wealth and young women before the tribesmen fled in face of the advancing Indian troops. Surviving residents estimated that 3000 of their fellow townsmen, including four Europeans and a retired British Army Officer, Colonel Dykes, and his pregnant wife, were slain. When the raiders rushed into town on October 26, one party of Mahsud tribesmen scaled the walls of Saint Joseph's Franciscan Convent compound and stormed the Convent Hospital and the Church. Four Nuns, Colonel Dykes and his wife were shot. The raiders forced 350 local Hindus into a building, with the intention of burning it down. 24 hours after the Indian Army entered Baramula, only 1000 were left of a normal population of about 14000.

Max Despott, an Associated Press photographer, described on November 2 that he saw more than 20 villages in flames while flying over a section of Kashmir Valley extending within 20 miles of Srinagar. The villages had been set fire to by the invaders who were scouring the valley and moving in the direction of Srinagar.

Sydney Smith of Daily Express of London had lived in the Baramula Hospital for those fateful 10 days. He too had filed a report on the raiders attack on the convent.

The raiders had come shooting their way down from the hills on both sides of the town. They climbed over the hospital walls from all sides. The first group burst into a ward firing at the patients. A 20-year-old Indian nurse, Philomena, tried to protect a Muslim patient whose baby had just born. She was shot dead first. The patient was next. Mother Superior Aldetrude rushed into the ward, knelt over Philomena and was at once attacked and robbed. The Assistant Mother, Teresalina, saw a tribesman point a rifle at Mother Aldetrude and jumped in front of her. A bullet went through Teresalina’s heart. At that moment Colonel Dykes. raced from his room to get the Mother Superior out of danger, shouting at the tribesman as he ran. But the Mother Superior fell shot, and Colonel Dykes collapsed beside her, with a bullet in the stomach. Mrs. Dykes ran from her husband’s room to help him. She too, was shot dead. While this went on, Mr. Gee Boretto, an Anglo-Indian, was killed in the garden before nine nuns. Then the nuns were lined up before a firing squad. We did not find Mrs. Dykes until the following day. She had been thrown down a well. Reports had come that the chief of another Evangelical Mission, Major Ronald Davis, a Welshman, and one of his two English women assistants, had been shot dead. The other assistant was said to have been taken to the hills.

Abdul Rahman of Baramula also recorded his observations on the atrocities. The raiders, with all their ferocity, looted the Hindus to begin with, burnt the houses of the Sikhs and also killed them. As a result of this arson and loot, the Sikhs and the Hindus fled Baramula leaving their houses burning, and most of their women raped and kidnapped. The raiders did not touch the Muslims to begin with – perhaps they wanted to win their sympathy. After a few days when they found that they were about to be forced out of the Valley, they turned on everybody that came their way. They started wholesale loot, arson and orgy. They burnt the property of the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims without any discrimination. They killed whoever came in their way. They killed children, old men and women, and committed rape on every young woman, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh alike. The raiders also took all the valuable ornaments of silver and gold, shawls etc. when they left.

According to the Wazir-i-Wazarat of Baramula, Chaudury Faizullah, the raiders entered in groups of 30 to 40. About 5,000 of them were concentrated in Baramula at one time. They were mostly tribesmen with a few Punjabi Muslims, all well armed and led by Pirs, Pakistan Army and Frontier Constabulary officers. The local Muslim Conference men joined the raiders and acted as guides. From the day the raiders entered Baramula they started killing non-Muslims and looting and burning houses of all local inhabitants, irrespective of religion and raping their women. They used to break into houses of local inhabitants in groups of 10 or 12, search the house and carry away valuables, clothes and food. 280 lorries were used to carry away loot taken from Baramula towards Uri.

The raiders left Baramula on the night of November 7. There was not a single house left that was not looted by the raiders. The inhabitants suffered terrible hardships in meeting the demands of the raiders. It was a great relief to the local inhabitants when the Indian Army recaptured Baramula. The Times of London reported on November 11 that the Baramula residents seemed delighted to welcome the Indian troops. The despatch also bore testimony to the fact that the Convent and hospital were not shot by the Indian aerial attacks as alleged by Pakistan wireless statements.

(The author is a former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Government of India)