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Stories of My People

Mianwalli Saved
Mr. M. G. Aneja

On a clear sunny morning in April 1947, The Hindustan Times reported: "Armed mob of 10,000 raid Mianwali. Pathans help repulse attack." Mianwali, a small district town in west Punjab, was where I grew up, and where my parents and other family members still lived. The place had no history of communal tension but times were different now. Almost the whole of west Punjab, now in Pakistan, was in the throes of the worst communal conflagration and Mianwali could not be expected to remain an oasis of peace. Was it true then, that the place had escaped plunder and slaughter by the hordes of armed thugs?

The leadership of Muslim League had came up with a plan for ethnic cleansing. Early in March 1947, communal disturbances, ignited by rioters at the behest of muslim league, began in Lahore - the capital of undivided Punjab - and rapidly spread to other muslim dominated towns and cities. Town after town was engulfed and the administrative machinery simply collapsed. Mianwali's Deputy Commissioner - Khan Sahib, as he was popularly known - foresaw trouble reaching his town. He was determined to maintain peace and protect people under his charge. But the 50 odd policemen at his disposal were hopelessly inadequate and the top brass in Rawalpindi totally ignored his SOS for sending army units. The islamic criminal element who had been indoctrinated and armed to eliminate hindus; had started converging on the town, laying siege on all sides. From their rooftops, the towns-people could see at night, the campfires in the distance and the thugs dancing around them to the beat of drums.

Suddenly the headlights of a motor vehicle were seen heading in the direction of the rioter's camps. The vehicle stopped at each camp for some time and then moved on to the next one. Who was going there, and why? Terrified citizens suspected that the carrier was augmenting the rioters with extra arms and ammunition. In reality, the vehicle carried Khan Sahib on a mission of mercy to personally meet the leaders of these people and to implore them to spare the lives of hapless minority hindus. He was accompanied by the Superintendent of Police and three respected town elders.

The mission failed. At daybreak, the exhausted Khan Sahib, while still pleading with the group leaders said, "I am honor bound to protect my subjects. I beg of you to save my izzat by sparing the lives of innocent people." With that, he removed his turban and placed it at the feet of the group leaders. This selfless gesture of extreme humility from one who was at the helm of the district administration struck a cord with the diehard extremists. After some hesitation, their leaders agreed to spare the town.

Elsewhere, the city witnessed another mission of mercy. At the dead of night there was a frantic knock at the door of Dr. Sushila, the doctor in charge of Zenana (Women's Ward) of the local hospital, by one Allah Baksh. His wife, who had a history of successive mis-carriages, was now in the middle of premature labor and lay bleeding at home. But his house was located beyond the check point set up by the thugs. The good doctor could not ignore the patient's desperate need for medical help and rushed out with Allah Baksh in a tonga; not fearing that she might be executed at the check point. After single handedly laboring for what seemed like an eternity, she carried out the delivery; saving both, the mother and the child.

Khan Sahib and his associates had brought about a miracle and retained Mianwali as an oasis of peace when hindu homes and businesses in cities and villages across the rest of west Punjab were burning. He and his associates stayed on in Pakistan when it was formed. But to this day, they carry the undying gratitude of the tens of thousands of hindus whose lives were saved that day and who now live in India. Dr Sushila, too moved to Delhi with her family where she practiced medicine till her death in 2004.

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