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After the Massacres: Nursing Survivors of Partition Violence in Pakistan Punjab Camps


This article explores the conditions and treatment of the ordinary refugees—survivors of the 1947 partition violence—in the Pakistan Punjab relief camps, in particular the circumstances of women, children and those who arrived with terrible wounds, yet received at best rudimentary medical assistance when the emergent Pakistan state was still working out its responsibilities in the process of transition. A large number of them succumbed to the epidemics which swept refugee camps. The impact of cholera on the camp population will be addressed in a discussion of the episode in Hanfia School Camp. This created the circumstances for the second major theme of this article—the adoption of children. Little if anything has previously been written about the extent of adoption following partition, or on its mixed motivations and social implications. Finally, the article considers the governmental responses to the camp population and state provision to the orphan refugee children. Much of the previously un-used material in this article is both harrowing in its character and disturbing for sanitised nationalist historiography. It is necessary however to address it in order to provide a full appreciation of the ‘lived experience’ of the partition.

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1 United Presbyterian Church Records of Foreign Missions, Ralph Steward and Hladia Porter Papers, Record Group 415, (Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia; henceforth UPHS Archives).

2 See for example, Talbot, I. and Singh, G., The Partition of India (Cambridge, 2009), p. 17 & ff.

3 Pandey, G., Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History (Cambridge, 2001); Butalia, U., The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India (New Delhi, 1998); Talbot, I., Divided Cities: Partition and Its Aftermath in Lahore and Amritsar (Karachi, 2006); Khan, Y., The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (New Haven and London, 2007); Bigelow, A., Sharing the Sacred: Practicing Pluralism in Muslim North India (New York, 2010); Nair, N., Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, (Cambridge, 2011); Zamindar, V., The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia (Karachi, 2007); Virdee, P., ‘Remembering partition: women, oral histories and the Partition of 1947’, Oral History, 41, 2, (2013), pp. 4962 ; Chattha, I., Partition and Locality: Violence, Migration and Development in Gujranwala and Sialkot 1947-1961 (Karachi, 2011); Singh, A., Iyer, N. and Gairola, R. K. (eds.), Revisiting India's Partition: Memory, Culture, and Politics (London, 2016).

4 Mann, M., Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (Cambridge, 2005); Brass, P., ‘The Partition of India and Retributive Genocide in the Punjab, 1946–1947: Means, Methods, and Purposes’, Journal of Genocide Research, 5, 1 (2003), pp. 71101 ; S. Wilkinson and S. Jha, ‘Veterans and Ethnic Cleansing in the Partition of India’ Paper submitted to Workshop Rethinking the Punjab Violence University of Southampton, (15-16 April 2010); Kamtekar, I., ‘The Military Ingredient of Communal Violence in Punjab 1947’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 56, (1995), pp. 568572 ; Aiyar, S., ‘August Anarchy: The Partition Massacres in Punjab 1947’, South Asia, 18, Special Issue, (1995), pp. 1336 ; Ahmed, I., The Punjab Bloodied: Partitioned And Cleansed (New Delhi, 2011); Talbot, I. (ed.), The Independence of India and Pakistan (Karachi, 2012).

5 Kaur, R., Since 1947: Partition Narratives Among Punjabi Migrants of Delhi (New Delhi, 2007).

6 For a survey of partition-related violence casualties, see Pandey, Remembering Partition.

7 ‘Too weak to walk’, Advertise (Adelaide) 19 September 1947, p. 2.

8 ‘Disease and Famine in India’, Argus (Melbourne) 6 October 1947, p. 4.

9 ‘Digging mass graves’, Mercury (Hobart) 9 October 1947, p. 8.

10 Kaur, Since 1947, pp. 99 & ff; 89-91.

11 Zamindar, The Long Partition, p. 34 & ff.

12 Chatterji, J., ‘‘Dispersal’ and the Failure of Rehabilitation: Refugee Camp-dwellers and Squatters in West Bengal’, Modern Asian Studies, 41, 5, (2007), pp. 9951032 ; and also see her seminal work, The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India 1947–1967 (Cambridge, 2007).

13 Talbot, Divided Cities, p. 181.

14 University of Birmingham, Church Mission Society Archive, CMS/ACCZ, Typescripts Annual Reports, 1947-48, Punjab.

15 CMS Archive, CMS/M/YIG/I, Report from Dr H. B. T. Holland on Relief work in the Punjab.

16 NDC, File no 36; 128/CF/48, Pakistan Ministry of Refugees and Rehabilitation.

17 Argus (Melbourne) 8 September 1947.

18 In early October 1947, in Lyallpur there were over 110,000 refugees receiving rations and of these some 60–80,000 were without shelter. In Multan over 90,000 of whom 50–60,000 were with shelter. In Montgomery, there was no proper camp and up to 40,000 were estimated to be scattered by the roadside up and down the district. CMS Archive, CMS/M/YIG/I, Report from Dr H. B. T. Holland on Relief work in the Punjab.

19 NDC, File no. 36; 128/CF/48.

20 CMS Archive, CMS/ACC532 F1, ‘Journal of Partition’ by Katharine J. Cox.

21 NDC, File no. 36; 128/CF/48.

22 British Higher Commissioner, Karachi, ‘Contribution of British Red Cross’, DO142/28, (National Archives, Kew Garden).

23 UPHS Archives, ‘Hajipur Camp, Sialkot, 23 October 1947’, Group Record 47.

24 NDC, File no. b50; 20/CF/49.

25 Ansari, S., Life After Partition: Migration, Community and Strife in Sindh 1947-1962 (Karachi, 2005); Chatterji, The Spoils of Partition; Talbot, Divided Cities; Rahman, D. and Schendel, W. V., ‘I Am Not A Refugee: Rethinking Partition Migration’, Modern Asian Studies, 37, 3 (2003), pp. 551584 .

26 CMS Archive, CMS/ACC532 F2, ‘Journal of Partition’ by Katharine J. Cox.

27 ‘An asset for Pakistan: an introduction to the Mao community’, Inquilab (Lahore) 1 February 1948, p. 4; and also see the daily's 12 February publication. For a study on the mass violence against the Meo tribe, see S. Mayaram, ‘Speech, Silence and the Making of Partition Violence in Mewat’, in S. Amin and Chakrabarty, Subaltern Studies IX, (1997), pp. 132–162.

28 Pakistan Times (Lahore) 30 August 1947.

29 UPHS Archives, ‘Lahore Camp October 1947’, Group Record 47.

30 For the mass violence against the Muslim population in the region, see Copland, I., ‘The Master and the Maharajas: The Sikh Princes and the East Punjab Massacres of 1947’, Modern Asian Studies, 36, (2002), pp. 657704 .

31 Bourke-White, M., Halfway to Freedom: a Report the on New India in the Words and Photos (New York, 1949).

32 NDC, File no. b50; 20/CF/48-49.

33 UPHS Archives, Record Group 415, Hanfia High School by Hladia Porter.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 Pandey, G., Routine Violence: Nations, Fragments, Histories (Palo Alto, 2005), p. 33 . Diana Lary's scholarly inquiry on wartime suffering has observed that “it seems so difficult to say anything meaningful about suffering that it is easier to ignore it or push it aside”. Lary, Diana and MacKinnon, Stephen, The Scars of War (Vancouver, 2001), p. 14

38 Butalia, The Other Side of Silence; R. Menon and K. Bhasin, Borders and Boundaries: Women in India's Partition (New Delhi, 1998); Major, A., ‘“The Chief Sufferers”: Abduction of Women during the Partition of the Punjab’, South Asia, XVIII, Special Issue, (1995), pp. 5772 ; Bagchi, J. and Dasgupta, S. (eds.), The Trauma and the Triumph: Gender and Partition in Eastern India (Kolkatta, 2003); Jalal, A., ‘Nation, Reason and Religion: The Punjab's Role in the Partition of India’, Economic and Political Weekly, 33, 32 (8-14 August 1998), pp. 21832190 ; Virdee, P., ‘Negotiating the Past: Journey through Muslim Women's Experience of Partition and Resettlement in Pakistan’, Cultural and Social History, 6, 4 (December 2009), pp. 467483 ; Das, V, V.. and Nandy, A., ‘Violence, Victimhood and the Language of Silence’ in Das, V., (ed.) The Word and the World: Fantasy, Symbol and Record (New Delhi, 1986).

39 Brass, ‘The Partition of India and Retributive Genocide in the Punjab’.

40 UPHS Archives, Record Group 415, Hanfia High School by Hladia Porter.

41 Ibid.

42 Punjab Police Abstract of Intelligence (PPAI), Week Ending 13 September 1947, p. 377.

43 NDC, File no. b50; 20/CF/49. At the state level, efforts for the recovery of women continued in following months. In 1948, official statistics on the recovery of ‘abducted persons’ revealed out of all 6,000 ‘rescued Muslim women’ recovered from India, 1400 were from the princely states of Patiala and Faridkot, alone.

44 UPHS Archives, Record Group 415, Hanfia High School by Hladia Porter.

45 Ibid.

46 Inquilab (Lahore) 22 February 1948, p. 4.

47 ‘Recovery of abducted women, children and converts’, NDC, File no. 36, 128/CF/48.

48 See for example, Zahra, T., The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families After World War II (New York, 2011); Plum, M. C., ‘Orphans in the Family: Family Reform and Children's Citizenship during the Anti-Japanese War, 1937-45’, in Flath, J. and Smith, N., (eds.) Beyond Suffering: Recounting War in Modern China (Toronto, 2012), pp. 186208 .

49 Butalia, The Other Side of Silence, p. 197.

50 CMS Archive, CMS/ACC532 F2, ‘Journal of Partition’ by Katharine Cox.

51 See for example the proceedings on the Punjab Children Bill in the West Punjab Legislative Assembly Debates (PLAD), 9-12 December 1952, pp. 185-186, 152, 169.

52 Mailk Qadir Bakhsh, a member of the Punjab assembly, concerned that “some people are exploiting the children not only for earn livelihood, but children are sexually abused. . .This is a stigma on the face of nation. . .” See for example, PLAD, 9 December 1952, p. 160.

53 UPHS Archives, Record Group 415, Hanfia High School by Hladia Porter.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid .

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid .

58 Ibid .

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 Ibid .

62 Ibid.

63 Ibid.

64 Butalia, The Other Side of Silence, p. 221.

65 Khan, The Great Partition, p. 163; Banerjee, S., ‘Displacement within Displacement: The Crisis of Old Age in the Refugee Colonies of Calcutta’, Studies in History, 19, 2 (2003), pp. 199220 ; Chakrabarty, P., The Marginal Men: The Refugees and the Left Political Syndrome in West Bengal (Calcutta, 1999); and also see Bapsi Sidhwa's account, Ice- Candy-Man (London, 1988); Bhisham, S., Pali’ Translating Partition (New Delhi, 2001).

66 PLAD, 25 March 1948, pp. 338-339.

67 PLAD, 11 March 1952, pp. 616-617.

68 CMS Archive, CMS/ACC625Z, Typescripts Annual Reports, 1947-48, Punjab. The Lahore Catholic Church's Gosha-e-Aman, situated in the locality of Garhi Shahu, also sheltered some orphan children and unattended persons in 1947.

69 Punjab Secretariat Archives (PSA), Punjab Rural Settlement Scheme, File no. E.33, 19 September 1951.

70 UPHS Archives, Record Group 415, Hanfia High School by Hladia Porter.

71 Pakistan Times (Lahore) 24 December 1947.

72 Ibid.

73 In addition to the well known ‘Refugee Corner’ in the Pakistan Times, the Urdu paper Nawa-i-Waqt ran a regular column entitled, ‘Talash-e-Gumshada (‘search for the missing’) for several months.

74 Das, V., Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary (Berkeley, 2006), pp. 1830 .

75 ‘Refugee Children’, letter to editor Pakistan Times (Lahore) 5 November 1947.

76 PSA, E.33, 19 September 1951.

77 PLAD, 24 March 1948, p. 315; and also see Amroz (Lahore) 17 March 1948, p. 3.

78 PLAD, 9 December 952, p. 163.

79 Inquilab (Lahore) 26 August 1950.

80 PSA, West Punjab Year Book, 1961; E1 (12) p. 85.

81 PLAD, ‘Punjab Children Bill’, 9-12 December 1952, pp, 151-197, 350-356. At the same time, there was also a discussion on the introduction of the Punjab Youthful Offenders Bill and Prostitution Act.

82 National Archive Pakistan (NAP) Islamabad, ‘Establishment of Orphanage and Women's Home in the Punjab’, 9 May 1950, File no. 21/EF/50.

83 PLAD, 8 January 1952, p. 547.

84 NDC, Cabinet File no. b50; 20/CF/49, 9 July 1953.

85 R. Williams, The Psychosocial Consequences for Children of Mass violence, Terrorism and Disasters’, International Review of Psychiatry, (2007), pp. 263-277; Georgiou, V. P., Smith, P. and Vostanis, P., ‘War trauma and Psychopathology in Bosnian Refugee Children’, European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 9, 2, (June 2000), pp. 8490.

86 The medical anthropologist Paul Farmer, who has dealt with suffering firsthand in rural Haiti, suggests that we may agree on what represents suffering, yet the suffering of others has a lesser level of veracity than the suffering of our own. P. Farmer, ‘On Suffering and Structural Violence: The View from Below’, in Kleinman, A., Das, V., and Lock, M., (eds.) Social Suffering (Berkeley, 1997), pp. 261283 . Other essays in this volume shed light on the different representations and themes of suffering and atrocities.

87 Lary and MacKinnon, The Scars of War, pp. 6-8.

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