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Safar 11, 1440

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4,000,000 People Cross the Punjab to Seek New Homes

Guardian Newspapers - September 25, 1947

The mass migration and exchange of populations in the Punjab - Moslems moving west into Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs trekking east into India - have now reached a scale unprecedented in history. Accurate statistics are impossible to obtain, but it is reasonable to estimate that no fewer than four million people are now on the move both ways.

What this means in terms of human misery and hardship can be neither imagined nor described. Within the past few weeks the conditions over a wide area of Northern India, including the whole of the Indus Valley and part of the Gangetic Plain, have deteriorated steadily. It is no exaggeration to say that throughout the North-west Frontier Provinces, in the West Punjab, the East Punjab, and the Western part of the United Provinces the minority communities live in a state of insecurity often amounting to panic.

Farther afield in the eastern parts of the United Provinces and to a less extent in Bihar and Bengal, much tension and friction prevail but there has hitherto been little movement of population.

Tension In The Cities

To an observer the atmosphere is appalling. In the capital itself order has been restored after the grave riots of a fortnight ago, in which perhaps 2,000 people were killed and tens of thousands driven into refugee camps. Even so communal feelings run high and there appears to be no prospect whatsoever of Moslems being able to return to their lawful vocations. But Delhi, disturbed and tense as it is, does not reflect the deplorable conditions prevailing in the surrounding countryside.

Whatever official communiqués may say of attempts to create confidence and restore peace, it is plain that neither exists over vast areas inhabited by perhaps 100,000,000 people, whose main preoccupation is to rid themselves at all costs of a potential fifth column consisting of persons of opposing faiths.

The extent and intensity of this vast conflict amounting to undeclared civil war is such that it is difficult for any observer to form a conspectus or assess all its implications. But three questions may be posed and the answers are anybody's guess.

First, has mob frenzy reached its zenith, or will fanaticism continue to exact its toll of human lives on an increasing scale? Secondly, has mass migration represented by the scores of convoys containing anything up to 50,000 souls and stretching for perhaps 50 miles along the roads, and by dozens of evacuee trains, exhausted itself, or will many millions more wish to move to areas inhabited by their co-religionists within the coming weeks? Thirdly, will the tremendous dislocation of economic life and agricultural production entailed in these movements result in widespread famine, possibly on the scale of the Bengal famine of 1943, in which more than 1,000,000 died?

The Worst To Come

No one can pretend to answer these questions, but in my view conditions will almost certainly get worse before they can begin to improve. In other words, the news from India will continue to horrify the world for some time to come.

On the first question of mob frenzy it must be recorded that there is no indication that the blood lust of either side is satiated. On the contrary, and in spite of isolated reports of returning confidence, attacks by each community on defenceless villages inhabited by the opposite community continue to occur. What is worse is the persistence of organised attacks on the road convoys of refugees, however well guarded they are, and increasing ambushes of trains carrying evacuees in spite of the presence of strong military escorts.

For instance, according to an Indian military spokesman to-day, seven attacks by armed gangs were made on special trains running between Delhi and Lahore in both directions and carrying members of minority communities within the four days September 19 to 22. In some of these attacks heavy casualties were inflicted upon refugees of both communities.

DISCLAIMER: The public material presented here is taken from various sources as it becomes available. It is presented without any bias to, or interpretation of, the contents whatsoever. We would be grateful for any help anyone can provide in obtaining other such public material of national importance to Pakistan in order to aid intellectual discourse and debate.

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