Letter: Massacres at the partition of India

F. B. Manley
Tuesday 19 August 1997 23:02

Massacres at the partition of India

Sir: There have been several estimates mentioned recently of the number of deaths caused by the partition of India 50 years ago - figures of 250,000 to half a million have been put forward.

As a former officer of the Indian Police who was in the very thick of the disturbances in Lahore and Amritsar before the partition, and as Assistant Inspector General in charge of the Indian Punjab railway police, I was interested to hear on the Channel 4 programme "Stones of the Raj" the higher estimate of one million cited.

The pendulum of death and destruction swung, over a period of many months both before and after 15 August 1947, across the whole of northern India from Calcutta to Kabul, and back again. During those months death was everywhere: in the towns and cities, in the thousands of villages, on the trains, on the roads. One of my duties in the railway police was to meet refugee trains, usually at Amritsar, coming in from newly created Pakistan.

The carnage on these trains was beyond belief - to men, women and down to the smallest infants. The trains were packed with thousands upon thousands of dead bodies, and many more were strewn along the track sides. The same thing was happening in the opposite direction, where trains taking refugees out of India were, with the connivance of the railway staff, being deliberately derailed so that the passengers could easily be massacred. There was a madness in the air that was almost tangible.

In addition, nature took a hand that dreadful summer. During the monsoon there were flash floods in some places which swept away untold thousands of refugees along with their bullock carts and all their possessions.

An old Indian Civil Service friend (who stayed on in Pakistan) and I were recently discussing the question of the number of deaths, and he agreed with me that it must have been anything between one and two million, probably closer to two than to one.

It will be many years yet, on both sides of the border, before the bitterness of partition is forgotten.


Richmond, Surrey

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