Communal tensions reached a crescendo sometime before August 15, 1947, after thousands of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan arrived in Rupar with their sad tales of loss of homes, lives, and honor.
From the roof of my family’s apartment, I could see fire and smoke rising from Muslim homes in the neighboring villages. They were being set on fire by Hindu and Sikh militants. Muslim residents were forced to flee to the Muslim-majority areas of Rupar.
Around the same time, concerned about their safety, Muslims from other areas of Rupar started moving to the Muslim-majority area of town. In this process, a couple of Muslim men got caught and killed on our street.
There were rumors about the possibility of an attack on Hindu homes. Along with our neighbors, we filled glass bottles with nails and lime. The bottles could be filled with water and hurled at Muslim attackers.
The Unwilling Departure
One morning, the sub-division officer of our city went the Muslim area to warn the residents against an imminent attack on them by a large horde of Hindu and Sikh militants. He told them he would not be able to protect them any longer. If they left their homes, he assured them safe passage to Sirhind Railway Junction where they could board trains to Lahore, Pakistan. Muslims started leaving their homes soon after.
We lived in a second-floor apartment, close to the Muslim-majority area of Rupar. From our rooftop, we watched thousands of them walking along the southern bank of the Sirhind Canal. They were headed to a temporary camp on the outskirts of Rupar, north of the canal.
A mob of Hindu and Sikh men started raiding their homes, which had just been abandoned. Out of curiosity, my older brother Prem and I followed the crowd.
It seemed that some of the Muslims had had to leave in the middle of their morning meal. We found things cooking on the clay stoves and dough kneaded and ready to be rolled into chappatis (flat bread).
People made away with whatever they could grab. I saw two persons holding one leg each of a shalwar (baggy pants for women). As each one pulled the leg he held, the shalwar tore in two pieces! The looting continued all day.
The Great Massacre
A few days later, on a rainy morning, Muslims started their trek to Sirhind, about 30 miles away. For their protection, a small band of soldiers followed. A group of Hindus and Sikhs followed the soldiers. Prem and I tagged along.
Just a short distance away, the soldiers disappeared. Hindu and Sikh militants attacked the caravan of Muslims, causing them to run. In the process, they lost their belongings. Some of their girls and women were abducted.
At a turn in the road, the fleeing crowd split into two groups. One group continued running along the road. The other group followed a dirt path.
The latter group got surrounded in a muddy field. Trying to avoid their attackers, they backed into a pile of living bodies. The attackers pulled the victims, one by one from the pile and murdered them.
It was the first time I had seen such a heinous crime being carried out by a group of humans on another group of humans, just because of their religion. It left a lasting impression on my 11-year-old mind.