“We are small men serving great causes, but because the cause is great, sometimes that greatness falls on us.” Jawaharlal Nehru

The calamity of partition was unprecedented in the history of the world. Immigrations have taken place in various times and ages caused by national tragedies, wars, epidemics, floods, changes in climate or other reasons. This particular migration was because of our inability to live with each other for religious reasons and the migration was on a scale which is even difficult to imagine today.

I saw people leaving their homes and hearths with little or no belongings except the clothes they were wearing. They left with no clear destination to go to. They all feared death. Anyone could come from behind with a dagger and stab you or just shoot you from a distance. Both the victims and the killers had the same colour of skin. They looked like each other. They spoke each other’s language. They wore similar clothes. They sang the same songs and danced to the tunes of the same Bhangra or Giddha!. However, overnight, they became enemies. They became two nations – arch foes and sworn enemies.

The exodus of Hindu population from the North-West had started from winter of 1946 when the agitation for Pakistan was at its peak. The Muslim League tried to consolidate the hold of Muslims on land owned by Hindus and Sikhs as well as the vast property they owned. It started from Hazara district in NWFP where Hindus and Sikhs were only 5% of the population and later extended to Attoc and Rawalpindi and the rest of Punjab. Most Muslim wanted to grab Hindu property by forcing them to leave. That was the initial motive, which led to mass murders of Hindus and Sikhs in the Punjab that became Pakistan.

The Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten broadcast on the night of June 3, 1947, after the decision to partition India was taken. Later, Lord Mountbatten was asked in a Press Conference whether in drawing up the boundaries the only factor would be religion or whether other considerations such as property and economic viability, would be included in the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission. Mountbatten replied that it could hardly be expected that a Labour Government would subscribe to partition on the principle of property.

Lahore’s Hindu and Sikh leaders had been pinning their hopes on getting Lahore for India on the basis that 75% of the property, business and industry in the capital of Punjab was in the hands of the Hindus and Sikhs and Lahore could be be be legitimately included in India.

As a pressman, when I heard this announcement of Lord Mountbatten, I told my parents and other family members that we must leave Lahore well before the partition – even if temporarily. I had come to the conclusion after hearing Lord Mountbatten’s reply which clearly showed me that Lahore would not to remain with India. And, before the Muslims of Lahore kicked us out, we may as well move to the other side.

My family managed to do that.

The Boundary Commission was set up on June 30, 1947, only three weeks later; the Partition Plan was unfolded. The Commission consisted of two Muslim members (Justice Din Mohammad and Justice Mohammad Munir), one Hindu Justice (Mehr Chand Mahajan) and one Sikh Justice (Teja Singh). It was chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliff. Radcliff, a brilliant lawyer from England, who was said to be a “man of great legal abilities, right personality and wide administrative experience.” However, he was given very little time to do this stupendous job. He arrived in India on July 8, 1947 and the verdict was announced on August 16, 1947.

The task of Boundary Commission was to demarcate the boundaries of India and Pakistan on the basis of maintaining the contiguous majority areas of Muslims and Non-Muslims and “on doing so, to take into account other factors.” It was not made clear what ‘other factors’ meant. This created hopes among Hindus and Sikhs of getting a better deal on the basis of property. The Hindu and Sikh judges of the Boundary Commission interpreted the ‘other factors’ to mean that mere focus on population and religion was not enough. Since the Indian judges were equally divided on communal lines, Radcliff had the veto power to give the final verdict. Radcliff’s job was not easy. It was his first visit to the Indian sub-continent. He was not familiar with the land or the people of Punjab or Bengal. The census figures were also outdated, old and not very reliable.

Representatives of Muslims on the Boundary Commission claimed not only Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi Divisions but also a number of Tehsils in Jalandhar and Ambala Division. The most sacred shrine of the Sikhs,– Nankhana Sahib, lay deep within the Muslim heartland. Sikhs owned most fertile and canal irrigated lands in the Punjab which was to go to Pakistan. The Sikhs wanted the dividing line to be drawn along the Chenab River which, with some modifications, could keep 90 % of the Sikhs in a compact unit in East Punjab which was not accepted by Radcliff . Instead he awarded the divisions of Ambala and Jalandhar, the district of Amritsar and some tehsils of Lahore and Gurdaspur. He also gave the upper reaches of Sutlej, Beas and Ravi to East Punjab. The rest of Punjab comprising 62 % of total area of the province and 55 percent of population was given to Pakistan!

Radcliff tried to be fair to both Hindu-Sikhs and the Muslims of Punjab, but, he satisfied no one. The Sikhs were the worst affected. Their richest lands, 150 historical shrines and half of their population were now part of Pakistan. The Muslim ire against all non-Muslims and especially against the Sikhs was so strong that no Sikh (who did not agree to convert to Islam) was left alive in Pakistan’s Punjab. Radcliff knew he had not made himself popular. He wrote to his nephew in England that he would never go back to India, “Nobody in India will love me for the accord about Punjab and Bengal and there will be roughly eighty million people with grievances who will begin looking for me.”

The statistics give an idea of what followed as a result of his decisions. Twelve million people crossed the border in both directions between August and November 1947. As many as 675 refugee trains moved approximately 2,800,000 refugees within India and across the border in two months. In a brief period of one month, the Military Evacuation Organization (MEO) used over a million gallons of petrol to evacuate refugees from East Punjab. Planes also were deployed though air travel was mainly limited to public servants and the rich. An average of 7 to 8 planes flew everyday between India and Pakistan carrying refugees from Layallpur, Multan, Sargodha and Rawalpindi. This was, in addition to, existing flights between Delhi, Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Rawalpindi. Everybody was running in one direction or the other - frightened of the people who were once their friends and neighbours. By November end, about 35,000 refugees had been flown between two directions. The evacuation by sea was limited. The sea route was used to ferry refugees from Sind but the Karachi Port could handle no more than 2000 passengers a day.

The very poor and those who could not afford trains or other kinds of transport, moved in misery in massive human convoys (kafilas) – on foot carrying their basic belongings. They included the old, women and children. The ‘kalifas’ were supposedly protected by the police who were at times, themselves, hostile to these hapless trekkers whom they were supposed to protect. The women and girls were especially vulnerable. Local hostile groups lay in wait to abduct rape or kill them.

Convoys started moving immediately after partition, initially composed of around 30 to 40,000 people. Their numbers grew up to 40-50,000 as they moved forward and acquired new migrants along the way. Between September and October 20, twenty-five convoys of Hindus and Sikhs had moved from Montgomery and Layallpur Districts alone to enter India. The number of people who moved to India from Pakistan on foot exceeded one million by end October.

Nature added to the misery of these convoys. From September onwards, the rains flooded the rivers, disrupted rail traffic and submerged roads while bridges collapsed. It became difficult to travel even by road in large convoys. The rains led to the spread of illness and disease among the refugees. The army had to be called in to help and protect the convoys and to build bridges cross rivers. The Pakistani Army, especially the Baluch regiments, caused fear among the Hindus and Sikh refugees. They were blatantly hostile to the Hindu and Sikh refugee migrants The only trusted Force were the Gurkhas, who were acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims. Though they were from a Hindu kingdom, they never took sides.1

There were numerous heart-rending tales of Muslim girls marrying Sikhs or Hindus and Hindu girls taking Muslim husbands and having children and living in peace. But when normalcy was restored between the two nations, both the governments decided to restore such girls to their original families bringing misery in the lives of the now well -settled but inter-religious couples with children .

Perhaps this is what stirred Amrita Pritam to write one of her most memorable poems. Even today, I read this poem with misty eyes. She addressed her poem to Warris Shah, another great poet of Punjab, who authored the story of two great lovers of Punjab, Heer Ranjah. Addressing Warris Shah, who lived five hundred years ago, she said:

“Oh, comforter of the sorrowing, rise from your grave and behold thy Punjab,

Its fields are strewn with corpses, blood runs in the Chenab river,

One daughter of Punjab had cried :

And, you wrote so much about her distress,

Now lakhs of daughters of Punjab are crying and telling you,

Oh, comforter of the sorrowing, rise from your grave....”

No one had anticipated the scale of the tragedy or migration. No one was even sure if the migration was permanent or if the refugees would ultimately go back to their respective homes. Gandhi and the Congress leaders continued to be optimistic. Gandhi assured the Hindus that he will not rest till the refugee Hindus and Sikhs were resettled in their homes. He had plans to go back to Pakistan. The Congress leaders continued their peace appeals at all levels. They slowed down the exodus of Muslims from India but Hindu Sikh exodus continued unabated . lot more Muslims stayed in India than the Indian Muslims who left for Pakistan.

However, let it be said to the credit of the East Punjab Government that they were well organised and ready to face the calamity. The Indian Government organised camps for the incoming refugees. The largest of such camps was located in Kurukshetra the site of the historic battle-field of Lord Krishna directing Arjun. By October 1947, the refugee population from West Pakistan in the Refugee Camps alone was over 720,000. And, more were coming and expecting assistance from the State.

A Resettlement Plan was drawn up with a Department of Resettlement based in Jalandhar in by 1947. It employed 8000 Patwaris (petty officials who who maintained land records of the villages) to implement the Plan. It's principal task was to tackle the problem of rehabilitation before the displaced and angry refugees were let loose to manage on their own. The refugees from Pakistan, though angry, were orderly and followed the advice and Plan of the new East Punjab Government.

The new Department of Resettlement was headed by two of India's most talented ICS Officers, Sardar Trilok Singh and Mohinder Singh Randhawa. A few months after the Department was established, in May 1949, I was deputed by the Public Relations Department of the Punjab Government from Shimla to Jalandhar. My job was to explain to the people through press communiques how the Government was dispersing the refugee population to different parts of Punjab and India. The process of working under Sardar Trilok Singh and M.S. Randhawa was a great education in itself for me- a young officer. Here were two dignified men who had an open mind and an open door policy towards all the refugees who came to see them. There were no security checks, no policemen at the door, no searching and no waiting for the already tormented refugees. The Department had no security guards on its doors. These ICS officers were more polite and caring than the clerks in their office. I saw Trilok Singh walking the visitors to the door. In my subsequent long career in the government, I never met an officer so modest, dedicated and so efficient. He allotted lands worth crores of rupees and yet I never heard from anyone that Trilok Singh was unfair, corrupt or favoured his relatives.

Sardar Trilok Singh drew up a Land Resettlement Manual which outlined the immediate policy of dispersing the peasantry in the Indian part of Punjab. The Government took over the houses and the lands of Muslim refugees who had left for Pakistan. Hindu and Sikh refugees crossing the frontier into India and those still in refugee Camps were directed to specified villages and towns. A whole village of peasant refugees was moved to a new village vacated by Muslims.

Each family, irrespective of what it owned or left behind was allotted what was then called a 'plough unit' of ten acres of land and given loans to buy seeds and agricultural equipment. The work was done very efficiently with little or no corruption. Government employees understood the agony of other refugees and were ready to settle them in the new environments without fuss. The refugees were happy that they had a roof over their head. This enabled East Punjab to have a winter harvest with no food riots and famine. By that time, the Government had realised and came to the conclusion that the migration was not a temporary phenomenon. It was final settlement.

How to distribute land evenly and fairly on a permanent basis was the complex task before Sardar Trilok Singh. The number of Hindus and Sikhs who had come out of NWFP and Punjab was much larger than the Muslims who had left. The agricultural land left by Muslims was qualitatively inferior to the irrigated land left behind by Hindu and Sikh peasantry. Hindus and Sikhs left behind 67 lakh acres of best quality land while the Muslim evacuee land was around 47 lakh acres. In addition, in districts like Karnal, Muslim land was cultivated by Hindu peasants who were not willing to vacate it. Trilok Singh’s answer was the concept of the 'standard acre'.

Since the productive capacity of the land varied on the Indian side, a 'standard acre' was the land which could produce ten plus maunds (400 kilos) of wheat. The 'standard' acre was equated with one rupee and land was assessed in terms of ‘annas’ or fractions of the standard acre.

The Hindu and Sikh landlords in West Punjab had left behind over 4,000,000 units of agricultural land, while the Muslim landholders in East Punjab had left behind only 2,500,000 units. India had to equitably distribute 2,500,000 units of land to its farmers to compensate for the 4,000,000 units left behind. That was the challenge and the challenge was turned into an opportunity to achieve revolutionary changes and greater equality in Punjabi society. Thus, people from West Punjab with small holdings were compensated with larger holdings while the share of big landlords from the West was proportionately reduced to bring about greater equality in the new society. The big Sikh landlords of West Punjab were brought down to the level of the landlords on the eastern side. Those in the eastern Punjab, were levelled further by fixing through legislation the upper limit of land-holdings to 30 acres. A similar logic was applied to urban refugees – the traders and other property holders of the cities.

The net result was that today East Punjab has hardly any big landholders. Due to the reduction in landholdings, the East Punjabi farmers were forced to cultivate their lands with their own hands, virtually eliminating the absentee land lordism common in Pakistan Punjab. In Pakistan, the feudal lords still survive. The peasants in East Punjab invested in tractors, sinking of tube wells, improved seeds as well as usage of fertilisers. Agriculture was diversified, as poultry and dairy farming became lucrative. In a few years, East Punjab turned from food deficit into a surplus and is now the granary of the nation.

After completing the land settlement work in Punjab Sardar Trilok Singh became the Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Randhawa, remained as the Commissioner of Rehabilitation in Punjab for seven years, and later became the first Lieutenant Governor of Chandigarh. He was a great writer on art, miniature paintings, and cared about the environment before it became fashionable as it is today. He made Chandigarh what it is today, a city of plants, fruit trees and gardens, including the famous Rose Garden. I used to meet him occasionally as a junior officer of the Punjab Government. He was man who loved friends and recognised talent and I became friendly with him.

manded a cup of tea. Tea with him, in my life, never tasted better!

Recalling the past, I am amazed at how the whole process of rehabilitation of six million refugees from Pakistan was managed so smoothly and resolutely by the East Punjab Government with the help of the Central Government. The first Chief Minister of Punjab, Dr Gopichand Bhargava, was a very simple, honest dedicated Gandhian, dressed always in pure Khadi spun usually by his own hands. He was too straight forward a man to be a wily politician and thus his government did not last very long. In his pre-partition early years in Lahore, he was a medical practitioner. He charged no fees from patients for a visit to his clinic. The charge for home visits was only Rs 2. In the case of poor patients, there was no charge for home visits also. I was once his patient as a child and have never forgotten his charm. He was known to my father and did not charge us for his visits!

In the early days of Indian democracy, our Ministers and Chief Ministers were more accessible than even the minor bureaucrats are today. If you wanted to see the Chief Minister of Punjab, Dr. Bhargava when he was in Shimla, all you had to do was accost him while he was strolling (without security) on the Mall in the evening- not even one policeman with him. He smiled at everyone and at least a dozen people followed him at any one time. He never objected and seemed to relish company. Even, at his home, at dinner time, all visitors were welcome to eat. The menu was usually a Dal with a vegetable curry – followed by ‘gur’ (jaggery) as dessert. He ate the same food as all of us.

I had joined the Punjab Government in December, l948. At times, I accompanied the Chief Minister, Dr. Bhargava as he travelled from Shimla to the districts on official tours. Initially, I tried to sit next to the car driver in the front seat, while he sat in the back of the car on his own. He would persuade me to come and sit with him on the back seat and we would talk freely on all sorts of subjects. One of his pet subjects was Khadi and village industries. He could talk on this subject for hours. I tried to argue, as a student of economics, that the greater need was to focus on the India’s industrialisation. I also tried to tell him that the focus of his speeches should be less on Khadi and village industries and more on the modernisation of agriculture and industry. Considering my age and status, I am sure I at times must have over- stepped the boundaries of what was acceptable. However, the Chief Minister was never offended and continued treating me like a son. A Gandhian to the core, I never saw him, getting angry with anyone.

It was during one of these trips sitting beside him, in the back seat of the car, I dozed off. Dr. Bhargava woke me up: “Son, you are a young man, sleeping during the day time while this old man is alert.” I immediately woke up and apologised but also added: “Sir, you have to remain alert always because every two miles or more, policemen on seeing your car stand to attention to salute you and you have to salute back ... not me.” The Chief Minister laughed loudly!

Not just Dr. Bhargava, but most leaders at that time lived spartan lives. During Dr. Bhargava’s Chief Ministership, I recall visiting the home of Shri Jagat Narain who was the Minister of Education in Punjab. I was distantly related to Shri Jagat Narain and found his wife washing clothes in the bathroom. I asked her, “Auntie, why do you have to wash the clothes yourself these days while your husband is a Minister ?” Her answer was, “Your Uncle says – I have become the Minister, not you. Continue doing what you have been doing. Who knows, tomorrow I may not be a Minister.”

Just as well, as a few months later, Lala Jagat Narain quit the ministry.

It was in Dr. Bhargava’s time that the idea of a new capital in the plains for Punjab was first mooted. The idea matured during Bhimsen Sacher's(another scrupulously honest Chief Ministers’) tenure. He also walked unescorted on the Mall but generally alone. He was a loner and an aristocrat. He seldom took a Public Relations Officer on his tours for press coverage. He seemed to shun publicity and wanted to do lot of good to the people.

After the two Hindu Chief Ministers of East Punjab, a U.S. educated Jat, Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon, became the Chief Minister of Punjab. I recall my first meeting with him as Chief Minister. I had known him earlier as a newsman. Now as a government official, I addressed him as Sir. He was sitting on a charpoy and made me sit on the same cot with him and asked me in Punjabi, “Since when have I become a Sir?” “Since this morning when you took over as CM.” I answered.

The Sardar found it funny and laughed.

I left Punjab Government to join the Central Government soon after S.Pratap Singh took charge, but never forgot his warm affection. I saw him as a great patriot, a strong administrator and an honest politician. In course of time, he was charged with corruption though the charges were related more to the actions of his head-strong relatives. I never believed that Sardar Partap Singh could ever be corrupt or be bought. My old colleagues always related stories of the great Sardar's magnanimous nature and quick decisions. From Khadi politics, Punjab entered into the tractor age during Partap Singh Kairon's time. This Chief Minister changed the face of East Punjab with the best educational and medical facilities. He brought new industries to Punjab.

East Punjab after partition consisted of the present Punjab, Haryana and some districts of Himachal Pradesh including Shimla. It was reduced to its present size 20,254 square miles in 1966. As the Hindus and Sikhs settled down, bickering started on a two language formula. The Sikhs demanded that Punjabi with its Gurumukhi script should be the only official language of the state. This later changed into the a demand for a Punjabi Suba (Province) which was in essence a demand for a Sikh-majority state. Eventually it led to the establishment of what is now called Punjab minus the present Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. In the Punjab as it exists today, the Sikhs are almost 60 % of the population of the state. The present Punjab has Punjabi as its official language. Chandigarh, the capital developed for the new Punjab was made into a Union Territory and is the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana states . Chandigarh is now the pride of India.

  • 1The Gurkhas formed 7% of the undivided Indian Army. Through an interim arrangement between India, Britain and Nepal, six of the ten regiments which formed part of the undivided Indian Army remained with India while four went over to the British Army. The Britain agreed to keep them and pay their salaries.