MonJul242017

Khaksar Massacre on March 19, 1940:Call for U.K. Apology

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By Nasim Yousaf

 Last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron became the first serving Head of the Government of United Kingdom to “pay his respects at the scene of one of the bloodiest massacres in British history…The prime minister laid a wreath at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial [Amritsar, India], bowing his head and standing in silence” (BBC February 20, 2013). This news was encouraging to read and I appreciated the positive gesture by the Prime Minister. Seventy-three years ago (on March 19, 1940), there was another tragedy in India that underscored the brutality of the British Raj: hundreds of members of the Khaksar Movement (Khaksar Tehrik) were brutally attacked by police in British India.

Allama Mashriqi founded the Khaksar Movement in 1930 to bring freedom to India. The Movement was established on the principles of non-communalism and non-sectarianism and sought to unite both Muslims and non-Muslims. With this aim, the Movement inculcated a sense of brotherhood and discipline among its members and provided daily social service to all. As part of their training to liberate the Indian sub-continent from colonial rule, the members also acquired military training, but they never engaged in any violent activities (such as killing people or burning public property).

The Movement’s aims and philosophy greatly appealed to the masses and its membership and activities grew rapidly throughout the 1930s under Allama Mashriqi’s charismatic leadership. By 1940, the Movement had amassed millions of members and supporters and posed a potent threat to British rule. The Government recognized the growing threat and tried to suppress the Movement by falsely branding its members as terrorists and banning the Movement. On February 28, 1940, the Punjab Government (headed by the Governor, Sir Henry Duffield Craik) announced in a Gazette Extraordinary that the activities of certain organizations were banned. The Hindustan Times (Feb. 29, 1940) wrote, “It is understood that the Punjab Government’s orders are directed against the Khaksar organization.”

 Mashriqi and the Khaksars felt that the ban on their organization was completely unjustified. On March 19, 1940, in protest of the Government’s order, 313 uniformed Khaksars began a peaceful and nonviolent march in Lahore. The authorities were unaccustomed to any resistance or objections from citizens and were determined to stop the march. The Deputy Inspector General of Police (Wace), Senior Superintendent of Police (D. Gainsford), and the District Magistrate (F.C. Bourne) all arrived at the scene (The Indian Express [Ind. Ex.], Apr. 13, 1940), and Gainsford ordered the Khaksars to halt the march. But the Khaksars kept moving towards Badshahi Mosque (Lahore), where they were to offer prayers.

 To stop the Khaksar march, Gainsford immediately “…ran to the Tibbi police station to make adequate police arrangements and also to summon armed police…” (Ind. Ex., Apr. 13, 1940) He also phoned the Superintendent of Police P.R.J. Morgan (Ind. Ex., Apr. 19, 1940) for help. Seasoned journalist Muhammad Saeed wrote in his book entitled Lahore: A Memoir (p. 153) that Gainsford (upon his return) “slapped Inayat Shah [a Khaksar] in the face.” Gainsford’s haughty attitude is not surprising, given the way the rulers at the time were accustomed to treating the natives. Meanwhile, 355 additional armed and lathi policemen – 200 (Ind. Ex., Apr. 13, 1940) with Superintendent of Police P.R.J. Morgan and 155 (Ind. Ex., Apr. 19, 1940) with Deputy Superintendent P.C.D. Beaty and Inspector R.A. Disney - arrived at the site. Beaty ordered the policemen to open “fire” (Ind. Ex., Apr. 13, 1940) (“Maro, fire karo” per another newspaper [Ind. Ex., Apr. 19, 1940]) and a scene of sheer brutality unfolded.

The armed police indiscriminately opened fire on the unarmed Khaksars. Khaksar bodies began falling everywhere and the area was spattered with blood. The policemen who were mounted on horses tried to run over the fallen Khaksars, inflicting additional injuries or killing them. In an attempt to save the lives of his fellow Khaksars, the Khaksar leader ordered them to disperse immediately. The Khaksars (who were trained to obey orders) submitted and went into nearby streets or houses in the neighborhood. Police chased after the Khaksars and riddled their bodies with bullets. For those showing signs of life, policemen inflicted hard blows with lathis (a 6 to 8 foot long stick with a steel head) to finish them off. Furthermore, the cops broke open doors to houses and either arrested, injured, or killed Khaksars and threw them off the balconies. Eyewitnesses would later recount how the police treated the injured and dead Khaksars. According to The Tribune of May 10, 1940, one witness stated, “The dead body was besmeared with blood. One policeman whistled to strike the Khaksar who was showing signs of life…some policemen swinging two Khaksars, whose hands were bound, over the balcony of an adjoining house…these Khaksars were swung down over the railings …A constable gave a ‘lathi’ blow on the head of the unhurt Khaksar with the result that his brain was fractured” (The Tribune, May 10, 1940). The intense police brutality left a gruesome scene in its wake.

 In the aftermath of the massacre, the authorities acted quickly to try and cover up the incident. The dead bodies and injured Khaksars were dragged and dumped in police trucks, whisked away and buried in the darkness of the night. Police and military also raided Allama Mashriqi’s house (adjacent to the Khaksar headquarters) and fired tear-gas grenades, fatally injuring Mashriqi’s son, Ehsanullah Khan Aslam (who passed away on May 31, 1940). Later in the same night, Senior Superintendent of Police D. Kilburn arrested Allama Mashriqi, who had been in Delhi to meet with the Viceroy of India (Lord Linlithgow) to seek the removal of restrictions on the Khaksars.

 Police did not inform Khaksar families of the tragedy and censored the Press to conceal the facts. Officially, the authorities reported a figure of approximately 30 killed Khaksars, but according to eyewitnesses, the actual number of Khaksars killed in the firing was over 200. Indeed, Dr. Khalifa Shujauddin later informed an inquiry commission (see below) that, according to a list supplied to him, 377 cartridges were fired (The Tribune, Apr. 18, 1940). There were also other major inaccuracies in the official version of events. In the “official” reporting of events, the British tried to shift blame to the Khaksars. British police officer R.A. Disney later told an inquiry commission: “We certainly fired. They had attacked us” (Ind. Exp., Apr. 19, 1940). But this explanation made no sense, as the unarmed Khaksars had no reason to attack the police unprovoked. The large number of policemen called by Gainsford also speaks to the disproportionate response by the police.

 On March 28, 1940, the Punjab Government issued a Gazette Extraordinary announcing the appointment of a High Court Inquiry Committee to conduct an investigation into the incident on March 19th. The inquiry committee was comprised of Sir Douglas Young (Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court) and Chaudhri Niamat Ullah (former Judge of the Allahabad High Court). Statements by eyewitnesses before the said commission provided additional harrowing details regarding the police cruelty. Feroze-ud-Din, an eyewitness, told the inquiry commission:

 “[translation]…Policemen were chasing them [Khaksars] and firing at them. Nearly half a dozen Khaksars were shot and they fell near a water-tap close to my house. Six or seven fell in the middle of the street at the intersection of Said Mitha Bazaar and Hira Mandi. Three of them fell in the nali [dirty water drain]. Some Khaksars entered the shop of Jay Kishan Khand-wallay. I saw police firing at the shop…15 to 20 minutes later, the firing stopped and police brought out 5 to 6 dead bodies from Jay Kishan’s shop. The police kneeled down and fired at them [the dead bodies]. Towards Said Mitha, a large crowd had gathered, which was dispersed by the use of tear-gas. Near the tap, the injured Khaksars asked for water, but they were denied water, rather they were beaten with rifle butts…” (Ahsan, May 11, 1940).

 Another witness, Doctor Rishi, stated, “[translation] I saw thirteen dead bodies [at Hira Mandi]. At this time, I also heard a gun shot. Near the tonga stand, I saw five Khaksars laying, three of them had already been martyred [passed away]. They had gunshot wounds on their chests” (Ahsan, May 11, 1940). And yet another witness, Hafiz Miraj-ud-Din, said, “[translation] I was headed by bicycle towards the Tibbi police station. I saw that near the first entrance of the police station a constable was dragging a Khaksar. He [the constable] had tied the Khaksar’s feet with his [the Khaksar’s] turban and was pulling him mercilessly…Near the second door of the police station, two constables were dragging a Khaksar by his legs. Both Khaksars [near the first and second entrances] were unconscious and injured. They may have even already been martyred [passed away]. Near the King cinema, police constables were beating two Khaksars with lathis. I went to Shahi Mohalla Road. There were Khaksars inside a shop there. The Khaksars were beaten by 3 to 4 policemen with lathis. Then I proceeded towards Minto Park [now Iqbal Park]. Around 11 o’clock, in the distance, I heard sounds of firing. Four or five sounds of firing could be heard at periodic intervals…”  (Ahsan, May 11, 1940).

 There were also additional statements in Ahsan and Zamindar (Lahore, May 11, 1940) narrating the dreadful treatment of the Khaksars. K. L. Gauba (Member Punjab Legislative Assembly) wrote, “According to eye witnesses the dead were more than 200” (Friends and Foes by K.L. Gauba, p. 204). All in all, the evidence against the Government was overwhelming. The commission’s final report was never published, which speaks of the high-handedness of the Government in concealing the facts.

 The brutal killing of Khaksars on March 19th was a horrific event. It is equally tragic that the incident was only one part of the Government’s broader efforts to suppress Mashriqi and the Khaksar Movement. The Government not only arrested Mashriqi, but also seized his bank accounts and confiscated his property. Almost no one was allowed to see Mashriqi while he was imprisoned, and intelligence men were posted around his house to watch the movements of his family. Mashriqi was even denied permission to attend the funeral of his son, who had died from injuries sustained during the police raid on Mashriqi’s house following the massacre on March 19th. Mashriqi rotted in Vellore Jail for nearly two years without trial He ultimately began a fast that lasted for 80 days to protest his and other Khaksars’ unjust imprisonment and obtain their release. The fast took a severe toll on Mashriqi’s health. The Indian Express of December 05, 1941 reported, “He [Mashriqi] was taken to Katpadi railway station in an ambulance car, with a strong police guard. It is also stated that he was taken to the ambulance in a stretcher. It is said that he was taking only orange juice since October 15 last..."

 When Mashriqi was finally released on January 19, 1942 (though his movements were still kept restricted until December of 1942), Mashriqi stated: “In the 32nd day started my serious afflictions. Telegrams were arranged from many persons asking me to give up fast. On the fiftieth day I was taken on stretcher from the Vallore Jail to a damp dingy cell in Madras. The purpose was to frighten me either to give up fast or die. For the first time I received a communication from the Government on the 51st day, that is on December 05, 1941, asking me to disband the Khaksar Movement and that there was no other way of release…I sent back the reply that Khaksar Movement was not my property that I could do with it whatever I liked, nor can it be discontinued.”

 Indeed, the British Government’s brutality against Mashriqi and the Khaksar Movement continued all the way up to India’s independence. The incident on March 19th, 1940 serves as a stark reminder of one of the blackest days in the history of the British Raj. From the police brutality demonstrated on that dark day to their reprehensible treatment of Mashriqi and his family (including depriving Mashriqi of nearly three years of his life while he was imprisoned without a trial or had his movements restricted), the British Government’s actions against Mashriqi and the Khaksars were wholly unjustified. But there are some steps the British Government can take today to help right these wrongs. First, the Government of U.K. should publish the inquiry commission’s report and extend a formal apology to the people of the Indian subcontinent. Additionally, the U.K. Government should sponsor two monuments, one at Karol Bagh (Delhi) where Allama Mashriqi was arrested and the second in Lahore, where Mashriqi’s innocent son died and the Khaksar massacre took place. Prime Minister David Cameron’s gesture at Jallianwala Bagh was commendable. Surely the aforementioned steps would go a long way towards mending old wounds remaining from the British Government’s brutal treatment of Mashriqi and the Khaksars, which was no less than the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy.

 

 Nasim Yousaf, a scholar and historian, is a grandson of Allama Mashriqi. Thus far, he has authored ten books along with many articles. His works are a valuable contribution to the historiography of the Indian sub-continent and have provided new dimensions to India’s partition episode.

© Copyright Nasim Yousaf - 2013

 

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