Even as we celebrated our 73rd Independence Day this year, it is time to not only remember the sacrifices made by our freedom fighters but also a time to recall the sufferings of a huge part of our population due to partition of the country.
Millions of families lost their land, money and relations. Punjab, one of the richest province at that time, witnessed some of the most gruesome killings and immeasurable destruction of life and property
Lahore used to be one of the prominent cities of north India then. Most of the businesses were being run by non -Muslims. Major industries, educational institutions, banks and even insurance companies were all being run by largely by Hindus.
In run up to partition a survey was carried out by Punjab government Board of economic activities in the Lahore Municipal area. The results showed total value of all dwelling houses owned owned by non-Muslims within the corporation limits amounted to Rs. 12,27,64,800/-, which meant approximately 60% were owned by non-Muslims. The share of Muslims further reduces if rural areas were excluded from calculation. Lahore also had around 300 registered factories. Iron & steel engineering industry constituted half the total number of factories. The other important large scale industries were hosiery, oil extraction, flour milling, chemicals and printing. Ninety percent of these were owned by non-Muslims. A complete survey of registered factories in Greater Lahore was carried out by the Punjab Government Board of Economic Enquiry and data was collected for the year 1943-44. The survey showed that out of total number of 218 registered factories working in greater Lahore in that year as many as 173 or 80% belonged to non -Muslims. The total capital invested was around Rs. 2.5 crores. It was completely gutted due to partition as Non-Muslims had to leave everything in a huff to come to India with Lahore being given to Pakistan.
Lahore was also an important banking and commercial centre and money market was fairly well developed. The head office of as many as 26 banks were located in Lahore. Of the Indian banks and branches only 3 belonged to Muslims. There were nearly eighty offices of insurance companies. These included the head offices of fifteen insurance companies. Most of these companies dealt in life insurance business. Of insurance companies and their offices only two belonged to Muslims. There were two stock exchanges registered as limited liability companies. Of the members of both of these was there only one Muslim member and all others being non-Muslims(largely Hindus). Around 17 investment trusts operated in Lahore at that time, all run by the non-muslims. There were five chambers of commerce majority of whose members were Hindus.
Lahore was an important educational hub of the province too and the education movement was largely spearheaded by Sanatanis, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, Christians etc. There were 270 educational institutions which were recognised by education department or affiliated to Panjab university. It included 100 institutions devoted to female education 12 art and science colleges 15 professional colleges and out of these only 3 were being run by government and all others by non-Muslims. There were four libraries in Lahore , three being run by non-Muslims. Lahore was also home to 23 daily newspapers 129 weeklies, 32 fortnightlies, 170 monthlies and 24 quarterlies being run in Hindi, English, Urdu and Gurmukhi. Because of the British policy of relegating Bharatiya languages to the background while giving precedence to Urdu, a large number of non-Muslims were compelled to use Urdu.
One can just imagine the amount of money, intellect and efforts invested in these institutions. Had Lahore being a non-Muslim majority area remained with Eastern zone or today s India, it would have continued to play a very important part in the educational uplift of Punjab. Once made part of the Pakistan, the loss suffered by non-Muslims communities was almost irreparable.
This was when non- Muslims were majority in Lahore municipal areas. In August 1939 with an objective to deliberately inflate Muslim population figures in Lahore, several villages around Lahore were included in municipal limits by Unionist government. Many of these villages were purely agriculture habitats. The Hindus vigorously protested against these efforts to artificially inflate the Muslim population of the town for the purpose of civic control. The Hindus boycotted the election held at that time. The Congress members for once sided with the non-Muslims. But later on when the coalition ministry was formed in the province and one Congress leader became minister, the party changed its stand. The government turned a deaf ear to the demands of non-Muslims that either the ration cards be taken as the basis for determining figures of the population or new census be carried out. They kept reassuring the people that Lahore will remain part of Indian dominion.
Sardar Baldev Singh, then a towering leader of congress, who later became the Defence minister of the country, said in an interview to a journalist when asked, whether his next visit to the Lahore after 15th August 1947 will be to the capital of Pakistan or the capital of Punjab, So far as we are concerned , I can assure you that Lahore will never go to Pakistan. Rest what happened is a part of history.
On 15th August millions of Indians were uprooted and thrown out from their native places. People of west Punjab left their homes not because they were anxious to leave their homes, but because their government failed to give them adequate protection. Help came from most unexpected quarter. The volunteers of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) helped people by organising evacuations from the most affected areas, even most of the congress leaders sought their help in saving their families. Night vigils, relief camps and even fire tenders were organised by RSS.
It is time to recall the sacrifices made by these unsung heroes who lost everything and yet played a major role in rebuilding the nation. It is also time to learn lessons from the past as to how the apathy of the Congress leadership at that time led to unnecessary bloodbath.
(Rajiv Tuli is Delhi Prant Prachar Pramukh of the RSS.)