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A Glimpse into Delhi During 1947 Partition


Thousands gathered at Red Fort on the morning of August 16, 1947 to watch Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru hoist the tricolor above the fort’s Lahore Gate. The ceremony was held on August 16 because the new cabinet was sworn in on August 15. (The Nehru Memorial Library)
Thousands gathered at Red Fort on the morning of August 16, 1947 to watch Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru hoist the tricolor above the fort’s Lahore Gate. The ceremony was held on August 16 because the new cabinet was sworn in on August 15. (The Nehru Memorial Library)

Delhi, being a city rich in culture and history, has witnessed its share of dark times. The partition of India and Pakistan stands as a stark reminder of such a period. Suddenly, people from both sides of the border lost their identities, loved ones, properties, and much more. They found themselves displaced from their own 'homes,' becoming refugees in their own lands. This powerful and unfortunate chapter in history is one that cannot be forgotten or denied due to its profound impact. Its repercussions continue to resonate within societies, affecting every community socially and psychologically. Historian Gyanendra Pandey recounts the story of Khan Sahib Ghulam Nabi, a member of Mountbatten's staff, who, despite being in a secluded first-class coach guarded by security, was killed along with his family. Bloodshed and riots spread everywhere. Delhi, from the 1950s to the 80s, became a 'partition city,' according to him.


My school teacher's grandmother once recounted a horrifying memory—she spoke of their fear and how blood flowed ankle-deep in the place they lived in Bara. Such horrors are unimaginable. Lives were tragically undervalued. People left their homes either out of fear or were forcibly driven out, searching for the unknown. They lost loved ones, and in some cases, ended those lives themselves before others could. Amidst this blood-soaked backdrop, there existed another facet. G.D Khosla, a judge of the Punjab High Court, recounted that many people and politicians gathered at India Gate for a flag hoisting ceremony, a moment of excitement and pride. Just a few months later, Khosla found himself overseeing an inquiry concerning Delhi's refugees gathered at Humayun Tomb and Old Fort. These individuals returned to find their properties destroyed, looted, or simply claimed by others. Old Fort, Jama Masjid, and Humayun Tomb areas became home to large refugee camps. With Delhi's population totalling 9.5 lakhs, over 3 lakhs of Muslims left, and 5 lakhs of non-Muslims arrived.


Reports indicate instances of violence from Delhi's border areas. Soon, even hospitals treating Muslim refugees, like Safdarjang Hospital, came under scrutiny. CID records from the Nehru Memorial Museum mention the formation of militant groups around refugee camps and Sadar Bazar, which threatened those attempting to provide aid. Gyanendra Pandey argues that during this time, being Muslim meant being labelled as either a refugee or Pakistani. People who once lived in grand bungalows now resided in camps, lacking basic amenities such as food, water, and sanitation.


Azad with Jawaharlal Nehru, industrialist Jamnalal Bajaj, Sarojini Naidu and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan at the 1940 Ramgarh Session of the Indian National Congress in which Azad was elected president for the second time.
Azad with Jawaharlal Nehru, industrialist Jamnalal Bajaj, Sarojini Naidu and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan at the 1940 Ramgarh Session of the Indian National Congress in which Azad was elected president for the second time.

Leaders like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Abul Kalam Azad actively opposed partition from the outset, making repeated appeals to their community against it. They referenced Islam in their appeals to the masses. Gandhi's arrival in Delhi on September 13, 1947, marked a significant moment as he visited refugee camps. His presence prompted government and contemporary officials to recognize the refugees as their people—a turning point, as Gyanendra Pandey labels it. A notion of a composite and democratic India began to resonate.


mage: Mahatma Gandhi, draped in his iconic white shawl, sits in front of a microphone during a prayer meeting in New Delhi. This photograph captures the second day of Gandhi's fast on January 14, 1948, dedicated to promoting communal peace. He concluded his fast on January 18, following a pledge of harmony from leaders of various communities.
Mahatma Gandhi, wrapped in his white shawl, sits before a microphone to speak at a prayer meeting in Delhi. He ended his fast on January 18 after being given a pledge of harmony by leaders of different communities.

On November 28, 1947, Gandhi delivered a speech on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti in Chandni Chowk. In an area once predominantly Muslim, not a single Muslim could be seen that day, a fact he criticized. As time passed, Muslims began returning to start anew from the refugee camps. When Gandhi embarked on an unbreakable fast, people from all communities joined him, signing a pledge for peace and for him to break his fast. Tragically, it was his death that would ultimately bring immediate calm to all communities.


Source: Pandey, G. (1997). Partition and Independence in Delhi: 1947-48. Economic and Political Weekly, 32(36), 2261-2272. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4405816

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