Martyrdom and Sacrifice: Remembering the Sikh Heroes of 1947 in Kashmir

The partition of India in 1947 brought immense turmoil and tragedy to the Sikh communities in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir.

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By Dr Jasbir Singh Sarna | Kashmir |

In 1947, during the partition of India, Jammu and Kashmir, like other princely states, witnessed significant turmoil. The partition was carried out under a bi-national approach. In September 1947, Pakistan organized a tribal attack in the border areas of Kashmir, leading to widespread violence, looting, and abduction. During the turbulent times of the partition of India in 1947, the Sikh communities residing in various villages of the Baramulla district in Jammu and Kashmir found themselves thrust into a harrowing ordeal. These communities faced severe and often fatal attacks orchestrated by tribal Pakistanis and aided by local Muslims. These historical accounts highlight the immense suffering and sacrifices endured by the Kashmiri Sikh community during the tumultuous events of 1947.

On October 31, 1947, tribals launched an attack on Kashmir, resulting in atrocities against Sikhs in various regions, including Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Baramulla, Biru, Hal-Dadiyal, Alibag Sirhal, Bhimber, Devbotala, and Poonch. The Sikh community including Nanak Panthis, and Nanak Naam Leva suffered significant losses during this period, with estimates of 20,000 to 33,000 Sikh men, women, and children martyred. In 1980-82, oral records were collected in Baramulla district, confirming the events of 1947. These records were verified by village elders. For instance, in Khadniyar village, most Sikhs had fled to Ichahama, Srinagar, but some who remained were later martyred when the enemy (tribals) took control of Baramulla. Mayya Singh’s family, for example, sought refuge in a walnut tree forest but were eventually martyred by the attackers. Similarly, in Shalpura, the Sikhs sought safety on Cho’gall  hill but were eventually taken down by the Indian Army, leading to their displacement to places like Srinagar and Baramulla.

Didarpura village also faced attacks and destruction, with local people looting and setting fire to the village. Some Sikhs who tried to protect the Gurdwara were killed and thrown into the fire. The village had a significant Sikh population in 1947, and several Sikhs were martyred. Rawalpura, which is now part of Kupwara district, saw its residents escape to safer areas like Sopur and Balgam Chure when they heard about the tribal attack. A fierce encounter occurred between Sikhs and the attackers in Balgam Chure.About five hundred achieved martyrdom.

In Sialkot (Shalkot) the initial response of the Sikhs was to seek refuge in a forested area, hoping to escape the approaching attackers. However, some courageous Sikhs, driven by a strong sense of devotion, decided to remain behind to protect their cherished Gurdwara. Tragically, these brave individuals paid the ultimate price for their dedication as they were martyred within the Gurdwara premises. The Gurdwara itself was ruthlessly set ablaze. Ultimately, a larger group of Sikhs from the village joined the forest caravan, uniting with those who had initially sought refuge there. This pivotal moment marked the beginning of their journey to safety.

These two neighboring villages Chatusa and Tangmula, before the turmoil of 1947, were home to a thriving Sikh population of over 300 individuals. These villages were situated in an elevated and forested region, approximately 15 kilometers away from Baramulla. On a fateful day, while two Sikhs, Bhai Man Singh and S. Balwant Singh, were on horseback, they encountered an unexpected and tragic event. Balwant Singh was fatally shot by tribal Pakistanis from the nearby Venakhari village. This incident set off a chain of events that would forever change the fate of the Sikhs in these villages. When Bhai Man Singh returned to his village, he rallied all the villagers, including those from Tangamula, and organized them into a caravan. With their families in tow, they embarked on a journey through the forested terrain. As the situation escalated, the attackers looted and torched the homes of the Sikhs left behind. The forest provided refuge to these Sikhs for an extended period, during which they endured hunger and harsh weather conditions. Regrettably, some of them fell ill from consuming certain vegetation. However, the caravan’s resilience and resourcefulness saw them through, and indigenous treatments helped those who had fallen ill. Eventually, this group of Sikhs was rescued by the Indian army, which provided them with essential supplies and support. Tragically, those Sikhs who had stayed behind in Chatusa and Tangamula villages were not as fortunate and faced martyrdom at the hands of the attackers.

On the 12th of Katak, Sammat 2004, by 8 PM, an assembly took place at the village of Satrana. Sikh families from various villages had gathered together, and most of them, including women and children, tragically faced martyrdom in their own villages. The villages represented in this caravan included Chakshatloo, Bhatpura, Wanpora, Patusa, Panzala, Ghundbal, Hamadub, Ghundi, Phagipura, Hachipura, Mandana, Yarabugh, Charalighund, and Harduchanam. More than 3,500 Sikhs, along with their families, were part of this caravan. These families had brought along some possessions, including both small and large items, traditional weapons, and clothing, as they fled their homes in haste. As they embarked on this journey, it was a bitterly cold night in Katak. They performed their prayers and then proceeded towards Srinagar. In the midst of this perilous journey, they could only watch in despair as they saw their villages engulfed in flames from a distance. The journey was not without its challenges. An incident occurred at Hachipora where a youth from Makhan Singh’s family in Yarabugh lost his life. Despite this tragedy, the caravan continued moving forward and eventually halted at the court grounds of Sopur Munsab in morning time. Elders among them consulted with leaders from the Elder National Conference, including individuals like Sufi Akbar and Muhammad Maqbool Sherwani, who advised them to stay. However, the Sikh caravan chose to continue its journey.

While crossing a bridge, their weapons were forcibly confiscated. They decided to leave the main road and turned towards Nursery Sopur. Their respite was brief, as news of the enemy’s approach reached them. The caravan swiftly proceeded towards Bulgam. When they were still about a kilometer away from their destination, they heard enthusiastic cheers of “Bole so nihal.” Believing that the Indian army had arrived, they rejoiced and advanced rapidly, shouting. However, tragedy struck as gunshots were fired at them from half a kilometre away. Sikh families began losing their members, but they bravely pressed forward. Prominent leaders like S. Chhabil Singh Patusa, Bhai Man Singh Tangamula, S. Arjan Singh Chak Gujri, S. Lachman Singh Dutt Wanpora, S. Kapur Singh Patusa, Master Kirpal Singh Bhatpura, and others led the way, urging their fellow Sikhs to fight the enemy and attain martyrdom.

The fierce encounter lasted from 8 AM to 5 PM. Many Sikh families lost their lives in the skirmish, and numerous tribal Pakistani soldiers were also killed. Despite the enemy’s use of firearms, the Sikhs remained steadfast. At 5 PM, the Kanspure front, consisting of the Dogra princely army and tribal Pakistanis, disintegrated. The Dogra forces retreated while the tribal Pakistani army advanced. The tribal Pakistani army unleashed a barrage of bullets, grenades, and machine gun fire on the Sikh caravan, resulting in further casualties. In desperation, Sikh families scattered and sought refuge wherever they could. Many were killed during this chaos, and those who survived returned to Nursery Sopur. Panicked Sikh families, in a desperate bid to prevent their women and children from falling into enemy hands, began jumping into the river Jhelum, tragically sacrificing their own lives. Some members of the caravan headed towards the Hichahama front, some went to Srinagar, and others returned to their respective villages. However, Sikh families who attempted to deliver food to their villages faced martyrdom at the hands of native Muslims on the way. Those who survived this traumatic ordeal did so with the assistance of the Indian Army and eventually relocated to Baramulla and Srinagar.

In the village of Panzala, around 300 Sikhs faced an attack in 1947. They gathered in Satrana village and moved towards Sopur and Balgam, where many were martyred. Notably, a mother named Gopi Kaur sacrificed herself and her two children by immolating in a pyre.Ghundi Hum Dub, with over 200 Sikhs, also suffered casualties in 1947. Some escaped, but about 80 Sikhs lost their lives.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Wanpora, another village in Baramulla district, had a thriving Sikh population of over 200 residents before 1947. Upon receiving word of the imminent attack by tribal Pakistanis, all the Sikhs in the village, accompanied by their families, swiftly departed from their homes. They journeyed to the neighboring village of Satrana in the form of a caravan. From there, the Sikhs continued their journey to Balgam Chure through Sopur.

Bhatpura, a village of about 400 Sikhs, was divided into three parts. When attacked, two-thirds had already left, while the rest sought refuge on a hillock. The village was set on fire, and many Sikhs and women were martyred. Mata Radha Kaur from Bhatpura displayed immense courage but was shot when she refused to abandon her faith. She eventually passed away, and her home was looted and burnt.

Bhatpura lost 65 of its residents during these tragic events.These stories illustrate the harrowing experiences faced by these villages during the tribal attacks of 1947. They also highlight the remarkable bravery and sacrifices made by individuals and communities to uphold their Sikh faith and protect their homes and families in the face of great adversity.

Chak Shatloo, also known as Chak Gujri, was a village with a diverse population of both Sikhs and Muslims before 1947. The tranquility of this village was shattered when tribal attacks occurred in the region . In response, all the Sikhs living in Chak Shatloo left their homes and gathered in the nearby village of Satrana. From there, they formed a caravan to escape further danger, ultimately heading toward Balgam Chura, which was reached via Sopur. As the Sikhs reached Balgam Chura, they encountered fierce opposition from the enemy tribesmen. Many Sikh lives were tragically lost in this confrontation. It was a dire situation for the Sikhs as they were starving, injured, and outnumbered by their armed adversaries.

One harrowing account involves S. Arjan Singh, a Sikh who valiantly held onto his faith even in the face of grave danger. He refused to renounce his religion despite repeated demands from his captors. In an act of unspeakable cruelty, he was buried alive in the sand near an old crude bridge in Baramulla, only to be later beheaded. The oppressors even placed a hot tawa (a flat iron used for cooking) on his severed neck, prolonging his agony. His story stands as a unique testament to the strength of his faith and the brutality he endured.

Moreover, this village witnessed extraordinary courage displayed by Sikh women. When these warrior women were captured by the tribesmen with the intent of taking them to Pakistan, they found themselves walking in the middle of the enemy group on a bridge over the river Jhelum. Seizing an opportunity, one brave woman cheered, prompting the others to leap from the bridge into the river to avoid capture. Tragically, the enemies fired bullets at these women from the riverbanks, resulting in their martyrdom. This chapter in Sikh history showcases the indomitable spirit of women who chose to face martyrdom rather than forsake their faith.The aftermath of these events left Chak Shatloo village entirely deserted. However, the families of some surviving martyrs eventually returned to the village. In total, this village suffered the loss of more than 90 of its residents during these tragic events.

These accounts illustrate the bravery and sacrifices made by Sikhs during the challenging times of 1947 in the Baramulla district, with approximately 80 Sikhs in Ghundi Hamadub, and 65 in Bhatpura, giving their lives for their faith and community.

These tragic events were not isolated incidents. Several other villages, such as Charaligund, Yarabugh, Maidan Cho’gall, and Handwara, experienced similar attacks and hardships. The Sikh communities in these villages, too, had to confront adversity. Gurdwaras were targeted, and Sikh populations suffered grievous losses. During these trying times, the Sikhs displayed immense bravery and resilience. Their devotion to their faith and their commitment to protecting their religious sites were evident. However, they were not spared from the horrors of the partition, and many of them faced unimaginable suffering and loss.

Parmpillan village glorified the martyrdom of 14 Sikh individuals from this village. They were shot and martyred after responding to their attackers with courage. Baramulla is described as a significant town with a historical connection to Sikh Gurus. When the tribal attack occurred, efforts were made to protect Sikhs and Hindus, and some Sikhs left for Srinagar. Many Sikh homes were burned. Salamabad village suffered looting and burning by tribal forces. Bhai Gokal Singh, an Electricity Inspector, was caught but eventually freed. Several Singhs were martyred, and the survivors returned to the village. 

Dardkot village faced a significant impact during the tribal attack. Sikhs fought bravely but eventually went hungry and endured hardships before reaching Jammu. Triboniya, located in the Tithwal mountains, saw a population of around 450 Sikhs in 1947. Two Sikhs, S. Ramaiah Singh and S. Uttam Singh, played a crucial role in relaying information to Maharaja Hari Singh in Srinagar. This location Sopur mentions the challenges faced by Sikhs as they tried to reach Srinagar while being pursued by tribal attackers. Some Sikhs received help from noble Muslims like Muhammad Sultan. In this area, namely Dangiwacha, Sikh families were targeted by tribal forces. Some sought refuge with Pirs (spiritual leaders), but ultimately, a large tribal army attacked them, resulting in many Sikh casualties. Sharakawara is mentioned as a village that successfully reached Srinagar with the help of the Indian Army, ensuring the safety of its Sikh residents. Naupra Jagir, located near Singhpura Kalan, saw many Sikhs join the caravan to Balgam, facing martyrdom and suffering along the route. Singhpura Kalan was known for its progressive Sikh community. When the tribal attack occurred, Sikhs left their homes, and reached Balgam, and many were martyred.

Najibhat Village is Located near Singhpura Kalan, Najibhat was home to around 125 Sikhs in 1947, alongside a Muslim population. Upon hearing of tribal attacks in Baramulla, the Sikh residents of Najibhat initially sought refuge in Dardpora village. However, upon learning that Sikh reinforcements had arrived in Baramulla, they returned home. Tragically, the tribesmen ambushed them from the high hills of Singhpura, resulting in the martyrdom and injury of many Sikhs. The survivors were later brutally martyred by the enemy. The village lost 18 of its residents in these events. Shirakawa Village is situated near a hillock, with both Sikhs and Muslims residing there. When news of the tribal attack on Baramulla reached the village, the thoughtful and intelligent Sikhs, particularly under the leadership of S. Kapur Singh, decided that immediate evacuation to Srinagar was the safest course of action. The entire village successfully reached Srinagar in 1947 without any loss of life.

Dardpora Village was situated not far from Baramulla and had a Sikh population of approximately 325 in 1947. On 12 Katak, the village was subjected to looting and arson by local goons and tribals, forcing the Sikhs to flee as a caravan towards Ichahama. They participated in the Ichahama front and later moved to Srinagar. Unfortunately, those who returned to Dardpora after the conflict were martyred by the assailants.The village mourned the loss of 14 of its residents.

Kanihama Village  located near the Srinagar-Gulmarg road, had around 160 Sikhs in 1947.Hearing of the tribal attack in Baramulla on 11 Katak, the Sikh families gathered and formed a caravan towards Ichahama village. Notably, a brave warrior from Kanahama named Kartar Singh inflicted significant damage on the tribesmen before succumbing to the battle. The village lost 8 residents in these events. Biawa Village situated near the Srinagar-Gulmarg road, was home to Sikhs as well as people from various other backgrounds.In response to the tribal attack, the Sikhs of Biawa joined the caravan heading towards Ichahama, later moving to Srinagar.  A devoted Sikh, Bhai Sevak Singh, refused to leave ‘Sri Guru Granth Sahib’ behind and chose martyrdom along with his son. Their courage is celebrated. The village saw the loss of 6 of its residents.  Upalna, perched on a small hill near Baramulla, saw its Sikh families joining a caravan to Dardpura in response to the tribal attack. Afterward, some Sikhs participated in the Ichahama conflict, while others returned home to face looting and arson by the tribesmen.  A total of 38 residents of Upalna sacrificed their lives in these trying times. Gohan, located 7 km from Baramulla on a high hill, learned of the tribal attack on 11 Katak, Sammat 2004. The villagers formed a caravan, which eventually reached Srinagar via Ichahama and Budgam. Two residents, S. Balwant Singh Nambardar and S. Gyan Singh, witnessed the looting and burning of their village and reached Srinagar on horseback. Gohan lost 17 of its residents in these events.

Chandusa Village Situated on a hilly terrain along the Baramulla-Gulmarg Baba Rishi road, Chandusa was home to a single family. Upon learning of the tribal attack on 11 Katak, the villagers gathered as a caravan but were ambushed close to their village. Among the brave defenders were S. Ramaiah Singh, Mr. Gaja Singh, S. Ujagar Singh, and S. Kapur Singh.S. Ramaiah Singh was martyred while fighting, and upon the caravan’s return, houses were looted and burned. Tragically, 14 residents, known as the Singh Parwanians, were executed by the tribesmen. S. Sucha Singh’s mother, Mata Ghunni Kaur, played a heroic role in preserving their memory. The village marked the martyrdom of 25 residents.

In summary, the partition of India in 1947 brought immense turmoil and tragedy to the Sikh communities in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir. The villages mentioned above bore witness to the indomitable spirit of the Sikh people, who, despite facing grave danger, displayed unwavering devotion to their faith and a profound sense of community. Their stories are a testament to the sacrifices made during this tumultuous period in history. These stories collectively reflect the challenges, sacrifices, and resilience of the Sikh community during the tribal attack in 1947 .

Dr Jasbir Singh Sarna, a native Kashmiri, is a retired Indian agriculture officer. He has authored more than four dozen books, including Sikhs in Kashmir and The Sikh Shrines in Jammu and Kashmir. He can contacted at Jbsingh.801@gmail.com

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