October 22, 1947: The Raid On Baramulla

Having planned Operation Gulmarg, Pakistan unleashed its tribal militia on Jammu and Kashmir on October 22, 1947. Overwhelming Muzzafarabad, Domel and Uri, the tribal lashkars led by Pakistan Army personnel reached Baramulla on October 26.

The havoc they wrecked on Baramulla is not very well-known. A despatch by Robert Trumbull of New York Times of November 10 described what happened in Baramulla.

Baramulla had been stripped of its wealth and young women before the tribesmen fled in face of the advancing Indian troops. Surviving residents estimated that 3,000 of their fellow townsmen, including four Europeans and a retired British Army Officer, Colonel Dykes, and his pregnant wife, were slain.

When the raiders rushed into the town on October 26, one party of Mahsud tribesmen scaled the walls of Saint Joseph’s Franciscan Convent compound and stormed its hospital and church. Four nuns, Colonel Dykes and his wife were shot.

The raiders also forced 350 local Hindus into a building, with the intention of burning it down.

Twenty-four hours after the Indian Army entered Baramulla, only 1,000 were left of a normal population of about 14,000.

Max Despott, an Associated Press photographer, described on November 2 that he saw more than 20 villages in flames while flying over a section of Kashmir Valley extending within 20 miles of Srinagar. The villages had been set afire by the invaders who were scouring the valley and moving in the direction of Srinagar.

Sydney Smith of Daily Express of London had stayed in the Baramulla hospital for those fateful 10 days. He too had filed a report on the raiders’ attack on the convent. The raiders had come shooting their way down from the hills on both sides of the town. They climbed over the hospital walls from all sides. The first group burst into a ward firing at the patients.

“A 20-year-old Indian nurse, Philomena, tried to protect a Muslim patient whose baby had just born. She was shot dead first. The patient was next. Mother Superior Aldetrude rushed into the ward, knelt over Philomena and was at once attacked and robbed. The Assistant Mother, Teresalina, saw a tribesman point a rifle at Mother Aldetrude and jumped in front of her.

“A bullet went through Teresalina’s heart. At that moment Colonel Dykes raced from his room to get the Mother Superior out of danger, shouting at the tribesman as he ran. But the Mother Superior fell, and Colonel Dykes collapsed beside her, with a bullet in the stomach. Mrs Dykes ran from her husband’s room to help him.

“She too was shot dead. While this went on, Mr Gee Boretto, an Anglo-Indian, was killed in the garden before nine nuns. The nuns were lined up before a firing squad. We did not find Mrs Dykes until the following day. She had been thrown down a well. Reports had come that the chief of another Evangelical Mission, Major Ronald Davis, a Welshman, and one of his two English women assistants, had also been shot dead. The other assistant was said to have been taken to the hills.”

Abdul Rahman of Baramulla also recorded his observations on the atrocities. The raiders, with all their ferocity, looted the Hindus to begin with, burnt the houses of the Sikhs and killed them. As a result of this arson and loot, the Sikhs and the Hindus fled Baramulla leaving their houses burning, and most of their women raped and kidnapped.

The raiders did not touch the Muslims, to begin with – perhaps they wanted to win their sympathy. After a few days when they found that they were about to be forced out of the Valley, they turned on everybody that came their way.

They started wholesale loot, arson and orgy. They burnt the property of the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims without any discrimination. They killed children, old men and women, and committed rape on every young woman, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh alike. The raiders also took valuables like silver and gold ornaments, shawls etc. when they left.

According to the Wazir-i-Wazarat of Baramulla, Chaudury Faizullah, the raiders entered in groups of 30 to 40. About 5,000 of them were concentrated in Baramulla at one time. They were mostly tribesmen with a few Punjabi Muslims, all well-armed and led by Pirs, Pakistan Army and Frontier Constabulary officers.

The local Muslim Conference men joined the raiders and acted as guides. From the day the raiders entered Baramulla, they started killing non-Muslims and looting and burning houses of all local inhabitants, irrespective of religion and raping their women. They used to break into houses of local inhabitants in groups of 10 or 12, search the house and carry away valuables, clothes and food. As many as 280 lorries were used to carry away the loot from Baramulla towards Uri.

The raiders left Baramulla on the night of November 7. There was not a single house left that was not looted by the raiders. It was a great relief to the local inhabitants when the Indian Army re-captured Baramulla. The Times of London reported on November 11 that the Baramulla residents seemed delighted to welcome the Indian troops. The despatch also bore testimony to the fact that the convent and hospital were not shot up by the Indian aerial attacks as alleged by Pakistan wireless statements.

(The author is a secretary in the Ministry of Culture, Government of India – ANI)

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