How I lived under occupation forces
By Pt. Bishambar Nath Sapru
Kalu was my Saviour
In 1946 I appeared in B.Ed. examination as a student of Prince of Wales College, Jammu. Earlier, I had served for a brief while in Cooperative Bank. Soon after I cleared B.Ed examination I was selected as a teacher and posted to Kargil. However, the order was modified at my request. New posting was to Muzaffarabad.
In July 1947 I joined Govt. High School, Muzaffarabad. Many Kashmiri Pandits were already serving as teachers in this school. They included-Sham Lal Labroo (Head Master), Prem Nath Nehru (IInd Master), Kashi Nath Jalali of Rainawari (Drawing Teacher), Kashi Nath Rangroo (Science Teacher), Janki Nath Wangnoo, Shamboo Nath Dhar of Chattabal etc. Pt. Dina Nath Dhar was Asstt. Inspector of schools.
Many Kashmiri Pandits served in different departments of State government in Muzaffarabad. They included Gulab Ram of Baramulla (Electricity), Dina Nath of Rohama, Sarvanand Thalchoor (compounder) and his two nephews-Sukhdev Kaul (ran a medical shop) and Kashi Nath Kaul, Shamboo Nath Thalchoor of Fatehkadal (Sanitary Inspector), Tarachand ‘BA’ alias Wagam (Asstt. Wazir Wazarat), Sona Lal Warikoo (Revenue). Shyam Lal Bandhu, brother of Pt. Kashyap Bandhu was Mushir Mal, while Hriday Nath worked in Singer Company as Manager.
I took up a room on rent on 1st floor. In the same house Gulab Ram, a Kashmiri Pandit who was 10-15 years older to me, lived on Ground Floor. I was 28 years and had married recently. On the intervening night of 21st/22nd October I was woken up from sleep by the sound of ‘tin tin’. Rumours were already rife in the town about an imminent Pakistani invasion. I went down to tell Gulab Ram that ‘firing is going on’. He was obese, his huge frame covered almost the whole Cot.
Gulab had great sense of humour and loved to cut jokes with me. He tried to reassure me, “probably shogas (wild crows) have entered the town to feed themselves on the fruit which is available here in plenty. I have been telling you to get your wife here. Your hallucinations of ‘bullet firing’ would be over”.
I went back to sleep. Soon ‘tin-tin’ sound grew louder and two bullets hit my door. I opened the door and picked up the hot casings of the cartridges. When I showed these to Gulab Ram he turned pale with fear. It was 1:30 AM.
The previous day Pt. Prem Nath Nehru and other Kashmiri Pandits had met Col. Narain Singh, the Commander of Dogra Garrison at Muzaffarabad and conveyed to him that Pakistan had already purchased loyalties of a section of his troops. They impressed upon him the inadvisability of putting these troops at the front. The colonel had laughed away their apprehensions, saying, “They have fought with me in Egypt. The will never betray me”.
On 21th October itself, Prithvi Nath Mazari, a Kashmiri Pandit teacher posted at Danakcheli, (20 kms from Muzaffarabad) had ran away to Muzaffarabad after seeing tribal lashkar at Danakcheli. Mazari immediately after his arrival went to see Col. Narain Singh and Wazir Wazarat, Mehta Duni Chand. He informed them that Tribal lashkar was moving ahead towards Muzaffarabad. The two officials put him off saying that he was spreading panic. We heard he was punished by tying him to a tree. Mazari was later taken captive by the raiders. He did not return to India and used to correspond with his relations in Habbakadal, Kashmir till 1960s. We learnt that he had married a local there.
A view of Muzaffarabad Town.
A section of troops were already in touch with raiders. We had no concept of war and took rumours about impending invasion lightly.
While I was showing the cartridge casings to Pt. Gulab Ram we heard loud cries of ‘Gopal Ka Chowk Me Bago’ (Run to Gopal Square). People (Hindus) were running in the adjoining street to assemble at ‘Gopal Ka Chowk’. It was a big compound, surrounded by two-storeyed houses on all sides.
We too reached the chowk and saw other Kashmiri Pandits there. Shamboo Nath Dhar came along with his old mother suffering from enteric fever. Tarachand Wagam, his children, Sarvanand Thalchoor, his nephews had already reached the venue. In Muzaffarabad, the two communities lived in separate mohallas. Nearly 3 thousand Hindus and Sikhs had assembled at the Chowk. Firing stopped in the morning. No sooner it stopped one row of houses lining the Chowk was set ablaze. People started fleeing the Chowk for safety. Now everybody was unto himself, thinking about his survival alone.
I too came out on the street to enter the house of a purohit. The house was locked from outside. I scaled the compound wall to enter the premises and hid myself under a heap of firewood. An hour passed when shouting was heard from an adjoining street. It said, ‘come out, you have accepted Pakistan. You are our brothers now’. I came out of hiding and rested on the compound wall. A big line of raiders, laced with. 303 rifles and garlands of cartridges, was in front of me. A raider asked me to join the crowd of non-Muslims, saying ‘come down, you are our brother now’. He helped me to come down from the wall and pushed me into the crowd. He tied a piece of green cloth around my neck. The raiders were dragging the non-Muslims of the town in a procession, asking the latter to raise loud cries of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. The raiders and the non-Muslims in the procession numbered about ten thousand.
We were in dark about the destination to which we were being dragged. Meanwhile, a teacher colleague of mine, who was of same age as me, saw me. He was Shabir, a new appointee and my friend here. He was a local and seemed desperate to convey something important to me. In view of menacing watch of raiders it looked difficult. I, however, managed to reach to him and asked, Shabir, where are we being dragged? Shabir confided, “Masterji, the intentions of these people (the raiders) are not good. Somehow you try to come out of the crowd”.
The entire non-Muslim Community of the town was in the procession. Kashi Nath Jalali, my colleague, was sick and was standing besides me. He told me, “My knees have given up , I can’t move and want to leave”. I replied, “The attackers are maintaining strict vigil on us from all sides and could kill us in case we defy the diktat”. Around 125 raiders were escorting the crowd. Kashi Nath Jalali had married recently. As he attempted to run away, the raiders felled him down in a field.
Even after this incident Shabir’s advice was rankling in my mind. After moving another 400 yards I looked around and felt that nobody was watching me. I slipped out of the crowd and began running away. I was fired upon but the bullet just hit my coat. I was saved. A big house with an imposing gate stood before me. Its doors were open. I hid myself behind the door. The raider following me entered the house but failed to locate me.
I was on the horns of a dilemma whether to leave the house or try my luck by entering the house. Danger lurked on both the counts. The house belonged to a Muslim goldsmith. Thinking discretion to be better part of valour I decided to enter the house on the presumption that ladies of the house would take pity on me and save my life. There was nobody on the ground floor. At the first floor I found the doors of a room wide open. 7 Kashmiris belonging to the majority community were sitting in it and enjoying roasted meat. They were eating clumsily, chopping the meat with a big knife and then eating with both the hands. The room had wooden floor. To my surprise among the seven Kashmiris was my friend and collegemate of SP College-Ghulam Din Wani of Khanpur, Baramulla. After graduation he had gone to Aligarh for LLB while I went for B.Ed. Before the attack also I had seen him in Muzaffarabad. He had received me warmly. After confirming my identity as ‘Vishnath’ he had embraced me. We used to meet almost daily thereafter in Muzaffarabad. The other person whom I knew among these seven Kashmiris was Gaffar Kala. He was in Police.
On seeing Ghulam Din Wani in the room I felt somewhat relieved. I told him, “The raiders almost killed me”. Wani started hurling abuses on me. I thought he did not recognise me. Then I tried to introduce myself formally, telling him, “I am Vishnath Saproo”. He countered, “you have sucked our blood”. I begged him to save me.
The seven Kashmiris were wearing army boots (supplied to police those days) with long stockings. Ghulam Din started kicking me with his shoes. Then he dragged me to the verandah and gave me a few blows on the head. I do not know anything after that. It was 2 PM. At 5 PM when I regained consciousness I found that seven Kashmiris had left. Ghulam Din had presumed me to be dead after I loss consciousness. I was too scared to leave the house despite this incident. I feared the raiders would spot me out and kill me. So I decided to move to the next floor-the attic. There was a heap of firewood on one side. A big door led me into a space, which opened into a room through a small door. The room had a single window, which commanded a full view of Kishen Ganga bridge.
I moved towards the window with a twin purpose-to see what was happening outside and secondly to jump down to death in case of any eventuality. I was too scared to face a bullet injury. I could see the procession moving towards the Kishenganga bridge. Across this long bridge was Ramkot and Brarkot. It was a major highway. The procession was made to cross the bridge.
Raiders now tried to play deception. They asked males among Sikhs to come out, telling them, “We have nothing to do with Sikhs”. The latter felt relieved but as they ran back towards the bridge they found the gate on the other side of the bridge closed. The raiders began firing on them, and killed them mercilessly. Then they began pushing the dead bodies down the railing of the bridge with shoes into Kishenganga river. The bridge was clear again. Muzaffarabad town is perched on a hillock and the bridge is 300 ft. down. Pt. RC Kak had built this bridge during his premiership.
The raiders then asked ladies to segregate themselves from the main crowd. All the ladies in the age group of 11-45 years were huddled into 30-35 buses, waiting on Kohala side and were taken to Wazirstan etc. Small children in the lap of their mothers were thrown on to the road, where they fell victim to starvation or dogs. The children of once rich people were now at the mercy of dogs. Some ladies, including Pandit ladies had painted their faces with mud to escape the lustful eyes of the raiders.
After the attack began Shamboo Nath Thalchoor had given Strychnine (poison used for killing dogs) to his daughter and two Sikh ladies-Prem Singh’s mother Ranjit Kaur and daughter Milapkaur. These Sikh ladies then jumped into Kishen Ganga. Pt. Shamboo Nath Dhar’s mother took poison when they were held captive in jail. Almost all Pandit ladies, 10-12 in number and many Sikh ladies had managed to keep themselves away from being huddled into buses. Some of the ladies who escaped jumped down to death in Kishenganga flowing below. The ‘captives’ were then ordered by the raiders to move into the prison, located close to the Kishenganga bridge on the other side. Inmates of prison who numbered around 2500 includes males, old ladies and Kashmiri Pandits. The big businessmen of the town-Pt Kanshi Ram, Dipti Ram and Hari Chand Naswari were also among the captives. I was watching the entire scene from the attic window.
The goldsmith’s house serving as my hideout had a wooden staircase. Suddenly I heard noise of ‘Thud Thud’. Fearing that attackers were coming closer to me I moved towards the window. Soon a person, who did not look like a raider, entered my room through the small door. He was servant of the house owner Wali Mohammad. He was Kalu Khan. I moved towards him and begged him to save my life. He was amazed to see me in the attic. I began weeping bitterly. He asked me, ‘Areh Baba Tusi Daso Tusi Kaun Ho’ (O’man reveal your identity, who are you?”) It turned out that Kalu had served in State Cavalry and had been discharged from service. He was 35 years of age, illiterate and had been to Kashmir. He had been engaged as casual servant by Pt. Srikanth of Ali Kadal on the occasion of the marriage ceremony of his two daughters-Tulsi and Gouri. The Pandit family had treated him very well. I told Kalu, “I am a Kashmiri Pandit. I am a teacher here’. He replied, ‘Kashmiri Pandits are nice people. Do you know Tulsi, Gouri? I feigned close acquaintance with the family. Gouri’s mother-in-law had given Rs 5/- and some old clothes to wear to Kalu. He went on to praise Pandit community lavishly. With tears rolling down his eyes, Kalu reassured me, “First I will die, only then you. You must not have taken anything. I know Kashmiri Pandits do not take beef”. I mustered enough courage to ask Kalu ‘who lived in the room on the first floor’. He said, ‘The raiders, who go to Kashmir do not know the routes in Kashmir. The Kashmiri guides direct them.’ I asked, “where from these people have come?” He replied, ‘they have come from Banu, Kohat, Razmak, Wazirstan etc. The Kashmiris who live in the room have been enlisted as guides’.
The place which was my hideout turned out to be the main transit camp of the raiders. Groups of raiders would come everyday and take Kashmiris as guides with them. Kalu said, ‘the owner of this house Wali Mohammad was a Goldsmith. He knew about the invasion and sent his whole family to Peshawar. He has entrusted this house to my care”. Kalu went down to fetch three chappatis along with little salt from langar (community kitchen) for me. At my request Kalu also brought a smoking pipe (chilm) and little tobacco and a matchstick. He could not find cigarettes. Kalu brought water in a small earthern pot (wari). It was first time since the attack that I took water. I begged Kalu not to forget me. He swore by the holy book that he would never betray me.
Kalu had to come to attic of and on to fetch wood for the langar. The following morning (23rd October he got three Chappatis again. For ten days I watched how the raiders would get Sikhs from villages around Muzaffarabad and then shoot them on Kishenganga bridge. Their corpses would be then thrown into the river below.
During the day I would not venture to come out lest somebody see me. I would answer calls of the nature in the room itself and then lift the excreta with hands to throw it off from the window when darkness would fall. It was living hell (Zindaya Narukh). For ten days Kalu would get me daily a pot of water and 3 chappatis. All the time I would hear the noise produced by the raiders movement-coming and going and eating at Langar. The looted cattle of non-Muslims had been brought here for slaughter.
After 10 days, one evening Kalu came to me and said, “Sir, now Hindus are roaming around in the town. Killings have come to halt. Kashmir has been conquered. The Maharaja has fled away. His family has been held captive and taken to Pakistan”. Uptil now I had thought my family was safe. Now my thoughts turned towards my family. I asked Kalu, “what has been the fate of our Kashmiri Pandits?” He replied quite casually, “They all are fleeing this place”. I took his comments non-seriously. Meanwhile, Kalu said he knew where Kashmiri Pandits were in hiding in Muzaffarabad and added that he would turn up the following morning to take me there. A total of 56 Kashmiri Pandits were in town that time. I had developed full faith in Kalu. He was my saviour.
The following morning Kalu turned up at my hideout. I had put on Jawahar Jacket, Pant, Coat and Cap. Kalu picked up my shoes in his hand to avoid any noise on wooden floor. He held me by wrist by the other hand and directed me down, whispering ‘move, move’. On climbing down the staircase I saw tall, gigantic raiders, wearing boot on one foot and grasshoe (Pulhour) on the other. There were asleep and had occupied even corridors. They looked like leeches. Langar was in the compound.
We were soon at the place where Kashmiri Pandits were putting up. Kalu knocked at the main door. Pandits were too scared to open the door. When Kalu knocked again somebody replied from inside, “Who are you?” I said, ‘I am Vishnath Sapur. O’, I am alive’. Sona Lal Warikoo opened the door and embraced me. He said, ‘we thought you have been killed in firing’. I told them that the victim was Kashi Nath Jalali. I was led into the house but on seeing Kalu they got panicky and asked, ‘what strange creature you have brought with you’? I informed them, ‘He is protector like Lord Krishna to me. He is my brother. He saved me’. Kalu ordered them, ‘Don’t make him labour much?’ I again made request to Kalu not to forget me. He would drop often to enquire about my welfare. Kashmiri Pandits would tease me, saying ‘what hypnotic spell you have done to him?
We were 56 Pandits at this house. They included males, females and children. The house belonged to Pala Ram, a lawyer. He had been killed alongwith his daughter-in-law.
Raiders had moved ahead after looting Muzaffarabad. Total anarchy prevailed. Schools, Hospitals did not function. We survived on begging. On one occasion we broke open a government godown and brought a big bag of rice to our place.
One day when all the Pandits used to live jointly there was a knock at the door at 9 PM. We had sat for dinner. Sham Lal Labroo had just kept aside a morsel for the dog. I got up to open the door. Three raiders faced up to me to ask if the Headmaster was there. They ordered him to accompany them. Sham Lal muttered ‘Hari Har’ and felt sure his day of doom had arrived. As Sham Lal came out he recognized Yaqoob, a goonda element in the company of 3 raiders. We left our dinner and awaited the sound of firing shot. An hour passed with no sound of firing shot being heard. Sham Lal returned alongwith a big bag of rice on his back. We hugged him. He narrated that Yaqoob had failed repeatedly in Matric exams. But now had an offer of job in the Forest Department. For this he required a certificate. Sham Lal said, “I gave him a certificate that he had passed Matric in first Division”. In lieu of that Yaqoob gave him a bag of rice.
After sometime we (56 Kashmiri Pandits) were ordered to move to prison, where other members of the minority community were held as captives. 40 of us obeyed the orders. Those who obeyed the orders included Prem Nath Nehru, Shamboo Nath Thalchoor, Tarachand (BA) Wagam etc. Kalu Khan my saviour took seven of us – Sarvanand Thalchoor, Sukhdev, Kashi Nath, Jia Lal Misri (Medical Asstt.), Jagar Nath Misri (Customs), Dina Bhat of Rohama and myself to a small house of a Goldsmith, where there used to be a Girls Primary School.
A view of Muzaffarabad Town from the Fort.
Last time when the members of the minority community had been put in jail soon after the invasion it had been a horrible experience for them. They had remained there for 10 days. Raiders were all the time looking for young ladies. The father-in-law of a lady had been shot dead when he tried to resist attempts of raiders to abduct his daughter-in-law. She never came back. Outside the jail groups of raiders would rape women in full public view. At times there would be gang-rape. Only few ladies returned to their families after abduction and rape. There were instances where ladies were killed after rape.
Kacho Ali Mohammad (who later rose to be a Minister in J&K cabinet) was Asst. Commissioner in Muzaffarabad. He had his family with him. He had reports that Indian Army had pushed back raiders and had a feeling that Maharaja will rule over Muzaffarabad again. One night at 4 AM he reached out to Kashmiri Pandits in prison and informed that Raiders were retreating from Kashmir. He cautioned them the raiders on reaching Muzaffarabad would treat Pandits in general and their women folk in particular badly. He suggested that all Pandit ladies (who numbered 10-12) could take shelter with his family till the danger was over. He asked them to move immediately under the cover of darkness. It was Kacho’s foresight and compassion for fellow human beings that saved Pandit ladies from lustful eyes of raiders.
Kacho’s message had reached us also since we lived quite near to the prison. In the morning we had gone to get turnips. While we were returning we heard firing. All the houses of minority community were open, unlocked. We entered the compound of a house which probably belonged to a Vakil. Besides us 30 other males and females (of minority community), had taken shelter here. A raider came and asked me to hand over ‘Zar’ (money). I replied that I had nothing. Pointing towards my coat he ordered me to hand it over to him. Groups of raiders in turns took away my shirt and pant also, leaving me in trousers, underwear and shoes. Three ladies were gang-raped infront of us, while other 5-6 who resisted were dragged out. They were let of after being raped.
Raiders got a good booty of cash and gold here. Another raider thrashed me when I told him I had no money. I was forced to part with my pay-Rs 52. Out of this I had spent 1 anna on Revenue stamps, another 4 annas on cigarettes. After handing over this the raider asked me to pull down my trousers. He wanted to check if I had anything more anywhere. The raiders subjected the people to such indignities following an incident. A lady had concealed some gold but the raiders had found it out. We were subjected to humiliation throughout the day. Another raider snatched away my shoes. It did not fit him well. He pulled out a dagger and loosened the heel. Shoes were of Flex quality. The raider felt happy now. As reward he offered me roasted moong, with the other hand he thumped my back so hard that virtually my breath stopped. People in prison were also looted.
By evening there was some relief. Ladies who had taken shelter in Kachoo Ali Mohammad’s house returned to their families the following day. That day raiders were not seen anywhere in Muzaffarabad. A sort of calm’ prevailed. Master Abdul Aziz, who had gone into hiding at the time of attack, resurfaced. He asked people to assemble in maidaan, raising slogans of ‘Sher-i-Kashmir Ka Kya Irshad, Hindu-Muslim-Sikh Itihad’. All members of the minority community including Kanshi Ram, Dipti Ram, leading traders of the town came out. A special Langar (community kitchen) was organized. There was no idea that raiders would re-enter Muzaffarabad. For the first time since attack we had a good meal. Langar had prepared rice, turnip and potato. Master Abdul Aziz and Abdul Salam had organized the function.
2-3 days later one night we were woken up with the sound of ‘crich-crich thak thak’. 552 heavy armoured vehicles carrying raiders and Pak armymen were moving towards other side of Kishenganga-Ramkot-Brarkot. We lost all hope of returning to our homes. Shortly before the attack I had written a letter to my family, saying, “A frontier onslaught is expected. But you need not worry. Our Dogra army is fully prepared to give them a befitting reply’. My elder brother, Pt. Sham Lal Sapru would show this letter of and on to people and express regrets over my not leaving the town well in time. After the attack also many Kashmiri Pandits, including Pt. Kashi Nath Rangaroo had fled to Kashmir. Rangaroo had asked me to run away. I had refused, telling him,” What will be the fate of Master Shamboo Nath Dhar and two handicapped children”.
The raiders after re-entry into Muzaffarabad were specifically enquiring about people who were associated with National Conference and Sheikh Abdullah. Pak army men made searches and said people like Master Abdul Aziz, Dipti Ram and Kanshi Ram were engaged in propaganda against Pakistan. Regular Pak soldiers killed many members of the minority community around this time.
Tarachand Wagam was appointed as new ‘Wazir Wazarat’ (Deputy Commissioner). Little rations was also supplied. All this was a propaganda ploy. Radio Pakistan was broadcasting repeatedly ‘Kashmiri Pandit Ko Wazir Wazarat Banaya Gaya Hai, Ek Aur Kashmiri Ko Judge’. (A Kashmiri Pandit has been appointed Wazir Wazarat, while another Kashmiri has been made judge). Ashiq Hussain, a Shia from Safakadal, who already was a Sub-Judge in Kashmir had come to Muzaffarabad. He was appointed as Judge.
Prem Nath Nehru:
Prem Nath Nehru, who had one child with him, was playing with pebbles (raintfali) with his child on the roof terrace. The shine of pebbles caught the attention of a raider. The raider abused Nehru, accusing him of ‘showing direction to Indian aeroplanes to attack raiders. Indian Army was regularly bombarding Pak army positions in Muzaffarabad, The Raider took PN Nehru to the Judge Ashiq Hussain. Nehru had been his teacher in school days. The raider told the Judge, ‘Yeh Jenab Ishara Hindustan Ke Jahazon Ko Dikhata Hai’ (Sir, the man is giving direction to Indian planes’. The judge virtually woke up from his seat to say to the raider, ‘Acha Ishara Karta Hai. Mein Isko Sazah De Doonga. Tum Jav (‘O’ he is showing direction. You go. I will punish him). After the raider left the Judge tendered his apology to his teacher and added, ‘I have landed in hell. I was under the impression that Pakistan would be a good country. This temptation had brought me here’. Ashiq Hussain asked Nehru if his family was with him and whether he had enough rations. Nehru told him that he had his wife with him and survived on begging. The Judge asked his teacher to take a big bag of rice. Nehru carried it to his place on head.
All the ‘captives’ would spent the day going for begging to the neighbouring villages. Some villagers moved by our plight would display kindness, while others would abuse. One day the ‘Captives’ ransacked a Hospital. Sarvanand asked me to pick up a big bottle of Pot. Permangnate and mercurochrome. When it became a burden to carry he suggested that I put the mercurochrome bottle concealed in a ditch so that it could be carried later on.
The place where we lived now had plenty of looted cattle of the minority community. All doctors of the town had either fled or had been killed. Sarvanand was the only available medical practitioner. Local people had been complaining of palpitations due to Taeniasis. Sarvanand after examining the patients would direct them to me. He was ‘Doctor’, I was his compounder. While directing them he would say, ‘this patient is my own man’, to flatter them. I would put 2 crystals of Pot. Permanganate in water and serve it as ‘Mixture’. We would advise them to keep fast and take only pre-boiled water. The patients would get relief. Fasting otherwise also helps. My additional charge as ‘cook’ helped me, better diet was now available. It was our good luck that we did not fall ill.
One day while I had gone for begging with Janki Nath Wangnu and Jagdish, a local from Muzaffarabad a group of 10-12 raiders accosted us. They demanded ‘Zar’. The raiders had received information about our ‘hideout’. 3 of the Raiders remained here. They lined us up. The other raiders went to a house, located somewhat higherup. The raiders broke open the door of that house. 3 raiders who were with us thought that other raiders had looted the house and carried the booty. To join the looting spree they left us and ran away to join other raiders’ group. The sound of the collapsing door had produced such a crackling noise that we stood confused as to what had happened. Janki Nath virtually froze at the place he was standing. Jagdish got a nightmare that a bullet had hit his chest. He showed his chest to me.
After this incident Janki Nath Wangnu, Prem Nath Nehru and his sick wife went to stay at Kuhoodi, 12 kms. Away. Sham Lal Labroo was still in Muzaffarabad.
70 days had elapsed since the attack. Sarvanand was fed up with the difficult life we lived every day. He said that he knew the way to Kashmir. We left one day quite early in the morning, taking roasted maize along with us. All seven of us passed through numerous hills, at times descending and then ascending. After walking for 1½ day we reached a place where one Usman met us. He had been suffering from Venereal Disease and Sarvanand had cured him successfully. On seeing Sarvanand Usman wished him warmly. He asked Sarvanand, “Are you fleeing. This way does not lead to Kashmir, it goes to Banu (Pakistan)”. We felt heart-broken. Trying to win his trust Sarvanand said, “But, you are here. Everytime I remember you and remain worried about your health”. Sarvanand took Usman to one side to examine his penis and exclaimed ‘God has been kind’.
Usman was a criminal. He asked us to stay with him. He had looted 5 buffaloes belonging to Sikhs. He took us to his house located on a hill meadow. Usman lived there with his sister. She would keep on looking at me. Usman would feel irritated. He would keep me all the time busy fetching water for his buffaloes.
6 days passed. Hospitality was now becoming a burden for him. One day he told us, ‘winter has set in. Our rations are depleting. Now Muzafarabad is quiet. A Kashmiri brethren of yours has been appointed as Ration Officer to supply rations to you. It is quite cold here. It is better you go back to Muzaffarbad”. We had little clothing with us. It was bitter cold here.
Usman’s house was quite close to Banu-Kohat. It took us 2 days and one night to reach back to Muzaffarabad. He accompanied us for half of the journey and had given us maize bread and salt to tide over the journey. While bidding us fare well he was courteous enough to give us detailed instructions about the path we had to take to reach Muzaffarabad.
At 11 AM we reached Muzaffarabad. We decided to meet Pt. Tara Chand Wagam first. On seeing us he broke down, saying, “Now I am officer here”. He was living in Isfandyar’s house and shared food from their kitchen. One day Isfandyar made a proposal to him, suggesting marriage of his (Tarachand’s) daughter with Ismail Shah, son of Isfandyar. This weighed heavily on Pt. Tara Chand’s mind. All the time Tara Chand worried about how to save his 17-year old daughter from this forcible marriage. Tara Chand made a proposal to me. I told him I was married and had a daughter.
We shifted back to the school lodge where we had stayed earlier. I resumed my twin job as cooking master plus compounder. We had little peddling to protect ourselves from bitter cold. A single tarpaulin served as quilt for seven of us. We would shiver in cold. One day I overheard one of my colleagues complaining to Sarvanand about me that “Vishnath did not go for begging and does not come out of kitchen”. I felt bad. There was a Muslim baker, Ismail nearby. He was a Kashmiri who had settled in the town. Without cigarettes I was feeling out of place. These were not available. I used to go to baker’s shop to smoke chilm (pipe). He was quite friendly and would not object. He made an offer, “O’ Sheikh you work with me. You will not have to pay anything for food and smoking tobacco here”. This whole mohalla was of Kashmir-speaking Muslims.
The day I overheard a colleague complaining about me the same morning I went to Ismail. He asked me again if I would like to serve him. I replied in the affirmative. As my clothes had been taken away, a jute bag served as my shirt. This was true of all of us. The baker offered me an old shirt, probably his personal one or that of his son. My job was to prepare dough for the bakery. I lived with Ismail’s family. After two days Ismail hesitatingly told me, “O” Sheikh I want to tell you something. The people have come to know that an infidel was rinsing the flour in the shop”. Ismail’s sales had been affected. He however, told me that whenever I needed anything-bread/smoking chilm I could rely on him.
Two days absence had perturbed my colleagues. They had made searches for me. When Sarvanand met me on roadside he burst out “where were you?” I replied firmly, “I will no more stay with you’. He said, “What face I will show to your mother when we will reach Srinagar?” Sarvanand was my neighbour in Kashmir. I narrated the whole story to him. He felt sorry and said the complainant was a child who could hardly understand what misery we are passing through here. I was back at my job-cooking food and dispensing Pt. Permanganate crystals for Taeniasis. As cooking master my job included fetching water from Kishanganga flowing nearby. Our residence was near its bank. To reach the river bank I had to make way by pushing corpses to one side. One evening while I was going to the stream with Gagar (Pitcher) an incident horrified me. Two raiders had caught a member of the minority community. After asking him something they shot him dead. Since I was too scared to pass via that way till 9 PM I was still on the river bank. My colleagues had tense moments.
I was terribly scared of bullet injury. I had watched Pala Ram and others being shot dead. The bullet injuries left ugly wounds, with fat protruding out of the wound.
I reached my residence at 10 PM. Wali Mohd. Mir, the Goldsmith had returned from Peshawar. He spoke Kashmiri and suggested to us that we should follow other members of the minority community who had changed their religion.
Next day all seven of us went to the nearby mosque. On its gate we saw Master Abdul Rehman. He was an Arabic teacher in my school., He had a sword with him. When I expressed desire to change my religion he asked if I was doing it under compulsion. I replied in negative and added, “Maulana Sab, we get everything, rations and live without any difficulty. So the question of compulsion does not arise. I am changing my faith willingly”. There were two Moulvis sitting around a table. Master Rehman introduced me to one of the Moulvis as his teacher colleague. Rehman once again asked me if my decision was under compulsion. I reaffirmed that there was no compulsion.
Under my serial number was written – Bishamber Nath Sapru Sabika Naam. Then new name was asked for me. I suggested Gh. Nabi. Address too was added. Same day Tara Chand also underwent conversion. 10-15 locals were watching. We were served yellow rice, sweet meat (sheerin), dates and surnai-bugle was blown. Raiders had already removed my sacred thread when they searched me for ‘Zar’. Almost everybody was living in Muzaffarabad with changed faith. I also erased my tattoed name from right forearm and drew crescent on Left hand with ink.
Pt. Tara Chand Wagam’s new name was Mohammad Tariq. One day he developed fever. Medicines were not available. Sarvanand would treat him with boiled water. All the while Tara Chand was muttering ‘Durgiyay. 15 days later he passed away. We buried him near a mosque. A Moulvi came to read Jenaza. His daughter and son Srikrishan came with Red Cross.
Deal with Mohd. Mir:
Dina Nath of Rohama was son-in-law of a family in Batapora, Magam (Kupwara). One afternoon (2 PM) while we were roaming in bazar in search of cigarettes we saw a group of 14 Kashmiris walking on the road. Dina Nath drew my attention towards a person sporting white beard and said, ‘His name is Mohd. Mir. He has been sent by my in-laws. I am sure’. Dina Nath’s in-laws had close ties with Mohd. Mir. Whenever this Pandit family had some function Mohd. Mir was a permanent invitee. So Dina Nath knew Mir well. This Kashmiri group had come to Muzaffarabad to purchase rock-salt. The Kashmir valley was reeling under acute shortage of salt. Subsequently, it transpired that Dina Nath’s in-laws had settled a deal with Mohd. Mir. The latter had to receive one Khirwar of land as ‘reward’ in case he brought Dina Nath safely to Kashmir. Partly temptation for land and partly sympathy due to close ties with Dina Nath’s in-laws made Mohd. Mir accept this request.
Dina Nath asked me to go to Mohd. Mir and enquire if he knew Dina Nath. Meanwhile, Dina Nath left for lodge. I went to Mir and wished him ‘Aslam Alai Kum’. He wished me back. Then I asked him if he knew Dina Nath of Rohama. Elated Mohd. Mir shot back, “Is he alive? I beg you to take me to him”. Then I revealed that Dina Nath had seen him and sent me to establish contact. I told him that it was risky since he had a big group with him. Mir replied, “I will ask them to wait at Jamia Mosque”. The same day landlord Wali Mir had got a barber to home for haircut of his two sons. The barber too was Kashmiri. Wali Mir asked the barber to prepare my beard without moustache (alah). The landlord, after I had trimmed the beard, said I looked like a spiritually elevated person. I had no mirror to check this. I observed it when I came to stream and saw reflection of my face in water.
I had carried Mohd. Mir along with me. He could not recognise Dina Nath since latter had grown a big beard. When I showed him Dina Nath and their eyes made contact they sobbed bitterly. We tried to calm them down, cautioning them that since house stood on the busy street it could land us in trouble.
Dina Nath asked Mohd. Mir about the welfare of his in-laws and home people. Mohd. Mir told him frankly, “I have specifically come to take you back”. I stared at Dina Nath and said that I would also like to go with him. Mohd. Mir told me, “How can I take you along? I have got special socks (namidaji) and grass chappals for him. Tangdhar is under heavy snow”. Dina Nath began singing my paeans before Mohd Mir but the latter would not yield.
Suddenly, Dina Nath’s thought went to those unfortunate 63 victims who after stabbing had been pushed down the hillock by raiders. The incident had taken place when I was in attic. The victims had been brought from surrounding villages – Nalochi, Saran, Chatan and assembled at the hillock. The hillock was on the other side, away from Kishanganga. Dina Nath told me that if we went to the place we could find some clothes of the victims and it could facilitate my journey.
2½ months had passed. Sarvanand advised me not to leave for two reasons. One, there were inherent dangers on the way. Secondly, the Red Cross would soon take us back. I did not agree. During day time we went to the Kassi. Dogs and vultures were swarming all around. Corpses of the killed had remained undisposed. There was stink all around. None of the victims had shoes. Either these had been taken away by raiders or by dogs. A warm coat, torn but with buttons intact was found. I went to meet Mir again alongwith this coat. He was still not satisfied with my clothing. Mohd. Mir gave pheran, pulhour (grass shoes) and namidaji (woollen socks) to Dina Nath. Sarvanand again begged me not to leave. I told him, “I am dying by inches. I want to end this ordeal by going home”. He gave me Rs 2 for the journey.
Next day we-Dina Nath and myself went to the mosque. Mohd. Mir had instructed us that during prayer time we should sit in the last row. He introduced us as ‘two Kashmiri Muslim businessmen who had been looted by Sikhs and now wanted to go back to their homes in Srinagar. He gave out our names as Din Mohd. and Gh. Nabi.
Muzaffarabad town is perched on a hillock. 150 steps lead down to Domel from where the town people could board a bus.
During the day Mohd. Mir had purchased 20 seers of salt. The dealer had given him a slip ‘Namak 6 manh bapati chodan admi’. It served as ‘passport’.
There was heavy presence of Pak regular army personnel in the whole area. We had hardly walked 20 steps when Pak soldiers signalled us to stop. The soldiers asked us about our identity. We replied ‘Kashmiri namakwala’. Some army men shouted (Isme Koi Congressi Toh Nah Hai’) (We hope there is no Congress activist amongst you). The poor peasants did not know what Congress meant and presumed soldiers were asking about Kangris (firepot). The Kashmiris replied ‘Haan Haan Sab Kangri Hai’ (yes, all have Kangris’). The soldiers thrashed all the 14 people with rifle butts. We escaped thrashing as we stood at the last. It was too late when soldiers realised that peasants had mistaken Kangris for Congress. Every now and then we continued to face Pak soldiers. One group of soldiers on knowing our identity as ‘Kashmiri namakwala’ said ‘Inshallah, we will soon conquer Kashmir and salt would be sold at the rate of 10 seers per rupee’. The Namakwalas had purchased salt at the rate of 5 seers per rupee.
Kuhadi Check Post:
Kashmiri namakwalas had by now realised that Pak soldiers were strict while Indian soldiers were quite lax. In the wee hours we reached Kuhadi bridge, 5-6 miles below Kishenganga. A single Pak soldier was guarding the bridge. It was still dark. The soldier enquired if we had ‘pass’. We asked ‘which pass’. He replied ‘Jis seh namak laya hai” (salt permit). I had seen that pass. It was for 14 people but we were 16. The soldier did not have a lantern at the bridge but the camp housed in a tent nearby did have a lantern.
Richhmar Gali near Tithwal, in this picture
‘A’ is Pakistani picket while ‘B’ is the Indian picket.
The soldier told us, ‘It is still dark. Soon the sun will rise. I will check the number of people in the permit’. I whispered to Mohd. Mir that death was now hovering over me and Dina Nath. Mohd. Mir too was perturbed since the permit issued was only for 14 people and not 16. He walked to the soldier to plead, “our children and cattle are dying for want of salt. We are the same number as mentioned in the permit. There is no non-muslim or stranger amongst us”. The soldier signalled us to leave hurriedly. All 16 of us crossed the bridge.
We had been walking for 2-3 days and were heading towards Tanghdar. The Namakwalas prepared maize bread and also offered us. Mohd. Mir was quite cautious that they should not know our real identity. At this point Mohd. Mir and his men cautioned us that ‘now the hardest journey-uphill over snow, with no trees around, lay ahead of us. We had two pieces of maize bread for the journey. I had put on 5-10 kgs of salt on my back to pass as a namakwala. Our whole journey from Kohadi bridge onwards had been over snow.
I was feeling sleepy and was unable to walk. Others waited for me, goading me ‘Naba Naba Pakh Sah’ (Gh. Nabi, move on). I was walking virtually barefeet over snow and was too under-clothed for the hard journey. On the way I would pick up torn pulhours, use them. After half an hour walk these too would give away. The namakwalas would converse amongst themselves ‘Gh. Nabiyas Aya Maya Yih Marih Bicharah’ (Snow sickness has overwhelmed Gh. Nabi. The poor chap would die). Now we were coming down from the Alpine range, the pine trees were beginning to be seen. The ‘namakwalas’ went to collect ‘Shang’ which had fallen over snow. They lit fire with these and took me near the fire. This warmed me up. Till then my eyes could see only a hazy white sheet. Now my vision returned to normal. It was early morning. After some time sun too came out. We had still to walk 26 miles to reach Nastachan Gali. At Nastachun gali I saw hundreds of corpses of raiders with rusted rifles on their shoulders. Now we had to walk downhill. At the top of the pass Pak soldiers shouted at us asking about our identity. As we moved on they repeated ‘Inshallah, we will come soon’. I asked them for a cigarette packet. They obliged.
We reached Salamatwari. Mohd. Mir’s aunt (mossy) lived here. She was quite hospitable and felt happy on seeing Mohd. Mir return safely. She offered us meat soup and two big maize breads. We did not take soup. At this spot Mohd. Mir and his 13 men got separated from us as we could not walk at their pace. They had better footwear and were clothed well.
Our next halt was at Gushi. The matamal of Dina Nath’s wife was here. We saw 4-5 elderly ladies of the family in Qasabas. They wished ‘orjan’ to us. Dina Nath told them ‘I am not ‘orjan’. I am son-in-law of Magam Pandits’. Ladies whispered amongst themselves that the person was husband of Durgi (Durga) who was held up in Muzaffarabad. They brought a gabba for us. We did not muster courage to sit on it as we were heavily infested with lice. For the first time in many months we had a sumptuous meal of rice, monji (knol khol) and potato. In the evening the male folk returned to the home. I told them, “you are staying here in this dangerous situation. Be cautious lest raiders come and kill all of you”. The ladies and the men folk replied ‘The village Muslims are our brothers. Last time when the raiders came here the villagers took us to their homes’. Though ladies were in Qasabas but the males were in their usual Pandit dress. I suggested to Gushi family not to stay any longer in the village. They brushed aside my warning. 20 days later we learnt about massacre in Gushi.
Outskirts of Gushi Village.
We stayed at Gushi for 2 days. On the 3rd day we left for Batapora on horses provided by the Gushi relations of Dina Nath. Personal safety had been my sole concern till now. I had virtually no orientation about my family, home etc. On the way Dina Nath had suggested to me to stay with him at his Rohama home at least for a month. I had consented.
Dina Nath’s mother and elder brother had already reached Batapora. The entire village had turned up to receive him. On embracing Dina Nath (in his beard), his mother fainted. His wife too fainted. For a moment it seemed the two ladies had lost their voice. The ladies belonging to the other community had also come to share Pandit family’s joy at reunion. They were whispering to one another ‘Yi gayas mauj osh travan’ (The lady with tears rolling down her eyes is his mother). It was at this juncture while watching the family reunion I was jolted and got reorientation about my family, home etc. The villagers and the relations of Dina Nath asked us details about our days in captivity.
Next morning I told Dina Nath that I will go home. He laughed, saying, “Till yesterday you were saying that you will stay with me at least for a month. What made you change the decision?” During the night we spent at Batapora I had seen a dream-all my home people were standing in front of me. The villagers also advised Dina Nath to send me to Srinagar to meet home people. When I assured Dina Nath that I would return soon he yielded. In-laws of Dina Nath gave me an old coat of pathu, shirt of Handora and pulhours made of pattu plus Rs 5 for the onward journey.
In Handwara I went to see Gopi Nath who worked as Forester. He had been neighbour of my in-laws and used to be present on all important functions in their house. Gopi Nath was amazed to see me. It took him time to recognise me. I looked like a Muslim, with beard and alla. He hugged me. Soon the news about my arrival reached to other Pandits of Handwara. Pandit employees came to me to ask about the whereabouts of other Pandits who were caught up in Muzaffarabad during the raid. They made particular enquiries about Niranjan Nath Warikoo.
Meanwhile, a 25 years old Muslim youth turned up to ask me, ‘Have you any idea about Vishamber Nath Sapru if he was alive or dead’. I was a little perplexed and asked, ‘Do you know him?’. The youth replied, “I do not know him. His maternal cousin is at Sopore. He had told me to seek information about VN Sapru from people returning from Muzaffarabad”. When I said ‘Niranjan’ he nodded his head in agreement. I told him that I was Vishnath. He asked me to ring up my cousin immediately.
Niranjan Nath Pahalwan was in the Telephone Department. He was on the line. When he asked about killings in Muzaffarabad I feigned ignorance. I boarded a tonga with three other passengers. The Tonga Driver was kind enough to offer me rebate of 8 annas. I paid Rs 1½ as the fare to Sopore. When I reached Sopore Telegraph office my cousin, wearing pheran with Kangri inside, was waiting on the Verandah. When Tonga halted and all the 4 passengers with beard got down Niranjan looked at us but failed to recognise me. Then I shouted at him ‘Nera Varay Shuka’ (Niranjan, are you OK?” He stood dazed. His officer was a young man from Poonch. My feet had swollen due to frostbite.
Niranjan took me inside his quarter. Other people also rushed inside to ask details from me. I felt a little refreshed with tea. At 11 PM there was a call from Srinagar. Niranjan’s junior said ‘Chogtu Sahib is on line’. I requested this junior employee to allow me to talk to Chogtu Sahib since I knew him. The employee told Chogtu, ‘A man has come here from Muzaffarabad and wants to talk you. He says you are known to him’. Chogtu felt excited. I wished Chogtu Sahib very warmly and introduced myself. I told him, “My aunt (Mossy) – Mirzas are your neighbours….Jagar Nath, Kashi Nath…Whenever our mossy would visit us she would tell us all great things about you…How much dowry you had given to your daughter. I humbly request you to send a word to my family at Drabiyar that I was alive and had reached Sopore”. While he was still on line I heard him shouting ‘Hyoh Java, Hyoh Java, Hyoh Nesar Piyava, Devmali hund gasiv, Temis Vaniv Keliji dedi suh schuh nera kakas nish’ (Of’ Jawahir have you gone to sleep? Go to Dev Mali’s house to convey to Kelij Dedi that he (VN Sapru) was with Nera Kak (Niranjan). Chogtu asked me about Niranjan Nath Warikoo and other details e.g. the torture we underwent. Chogtus lived at Tankipora. Jawahar went to Drabiyar to convey the message to my home people.
After night’s good rest, Niranjan got a barbar to give me a haircut and shave off my beard. I was reluctant. He protested that my mother would feel shocked on seeing my beard. I took the bus for Srinagar. The bus driver out of compassion for a refugee charged only Rs 2 instead of Rs 3. At Pattan I saw Sham Lal (my brother) and Badri Nath Mattu (my wife’s brother) coming in Tonga. They asked our driver to stop. It was a 9-seater bus. We all boarded the bus.
At Chattabal Deputy Inspector Police Pt. Harishwar Kaul had arranged tea for us. He was our neighbour. My home people were eagerly waiting for me. Minister DP Dhar and NC leader Maulana Saeed Masoodi came to my home 2-3 days later and sought details about the conditions and deployment of Pak troops en route. On an average 400-500 people visited our home daily – some came to know details, others came to wish us mubarak (greetings). We were also visited by many Punjabis. They anxiously asked about their relations who were holed up in Muzaffarabad. I was also taken to Badami Bagh cantonment. The Army General, a Sikh asked me about location of Pak pickets in Muzaffarabad.
After I left a Kashmiri Pandit who returned with Red Cross informed me that somebody was looking for me, saying ‘where is BN Sapru because he had disrespected Jinnah’s photograph’. An incident had taken place before the invasion. Sham Lal Labroo was Headmaster. I was Farm Master of 10th class. There was going to be an inspection. Mr Labroo had asked me to decorate the classroom. I asked students to get photographs. One student got photograph of Nehru. The following day a student belonging to majority community got photograph of Jinnah. Since Jinnah faced opposition in the state I was reluctant to keep his photograph. I informed Labroo. He came to the class room and asked for removal of photographs of all political personalities. Both the photographs–those of Nehru and Jinnah were brought down. I handed over the photograph of Jinnah back to the student. There might have been resentment over this.
Those Kashmiri Pandits/non-Muslims who could not escape came later with Red Cross. One Sudershan Zutshi of Bijbehara, who was probably a Patwari lived with a Gujar family. He did not come with Red Cross. He is said to have returned 20-25 years later. Niranjan Nath Warikoo, son of Pt. Anand Ram Warikoo also came with Red Cross. He used to live with us in Pala Ram’s house. He and his brother, Prithvi Nath had gone to attend Chak (estate), when raiders killed Prithvi Nath and took Niranjan as hostage to Muzaffarabad.
I joined High School, Amirakadal, Old Hospital on 17th March, 1948. No pay was given for 4 months when I was a captive. The state government even did not condone the service break. My initial appointment was on 10th April, 1944.
It was the day of Ashtami. During the night at Kani (IInd Floor) I saw a strange dream. I saw lot of sand falling from the ceiling. Then an old man appeared. I asked him ‘What was this falling from the ceiling.’ He replied, “Kurih ath vanan Kal Gata” (Dear Daughter, It is an event of evil). He then started running on Bugs. I tried to chase him. For two hours he kept running.
In the morning I was a little confused on what I had seen during the night. I related the sequence of the dream to my mother-in-law. She tried to brush off my fears by saying, ‘Khabar Kya Asih Vuchmut’ (God knows better what you might have seen). On the day of Navmi somebody visited our house to check roll number of my husband who had appeared in B.Ed. examination. The results had been out. When I went to my parents’ house to enquire about the roll number I saw my father sitting in a corner, with a gloomy face. In the evening I watched low-tone conversation going on between my father and brothers. I went to kitchen to ask my Bhabi what was the matter. She informed that an attack had taken place in Muzaffarabad. We remained awake throughout night, quite perturbed over the fate of my husband. At 4 AM the following day father and brothers went somewhere to make enquiries. I returned to my-in-laws’s house. My husband’s brother, Pt. Sham Lal went to Ganpatyar to meet somebody in this connection. After 5-6 days I was taken to Bohri Kadal to meet Guruji who practiced the art of Brhaskatha (Fortune telling).