Celebrating India's Independence Day
August 15, 1947, the day when the nation rejoiced hoisting of India's tricolor on the ramparts of Red Fort in Delhi by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, I was in Srinagar, Kashmir. I, along with my mother and sister, had come there from Lahore to spend summer vacations with my brother who lived in Srinagar. Perhaps, the primary reason for my father planning to send us to Srinagar was to keep us away from the increasing communal tension between Hindus and Moslems in Lahore. Stray incidents of stabbing and arson were on the increase day by day and it was getting less and less safe to be on the streets of Lahore. Students, especially, enjoying their summer vacations, roaming on the roads or in the main markets, were the more vulnerable victims of the attacks by the fanatic communal forces. So, as soon as the vacations started in July, we were off to Srinagar.
August 15, 1947, when India was declared free and Pandit Nehru was delivering the memorable Dawn of Independence speech, we in Kashmir were clueless whether the State would be part of India or remain under the rule of Maharaja's monarchy. The Maharaja was still sitting tight on the options, thereby creating a very confused situation on the status of Kashmir vis-a-vis India's independence. Sheikh Abdullah, the lion of Kashmir as he was called, had been imprisoned for fighting to make Kashmir part of the mainstream India. The only silver-lining in all this chaotic condition in Kashmir was that there was absolute peace in the State, when the neighboring Punjab was burning in communal hatred. Credit for keeping Kashmir free from communal violence should entirely go to Sheikh Abdullah who did not let his followers, the vast majority of Muslims in the Valley, indulge in any kind of hate crimes.
August 15, 1947, my father was still in Lahore which was now a part of Pakistan. We in Srinagar were worried about his fate, when mobs of fanatic Muslims were roaming on the roads of Lahore, vowing not to let a single Hindu or Sikh live in Lahore. They were on a killing spree and it was a miraculous escape for my father when they forced their entry into our house on learning that he was still living there. Our wonderful Muslim friends living next door helped him escape by crossing over to their house from the terrace and later escorting him across the border to India. Partition was indeed a very big price India had to pay to achieve independence from the British. At least one million men, women and children were killed and over ten million uprooted from their homes on both sides of the border, following the religious divide of the country. It was a holocaust of another kind, in which people killed people, while the administration looked the other way.
August 15, 1947, the day we commemorate every year with pride and joy as India's independence day, also reminds me and my family of the most terrible time, when freedom was a far cry for us. We had to delay our celebrations till my father managed to join us in Kashmir. Even there the joy was short lived as shortly afterwards, sudden full-fledged attack was launched on defenseless Kashmir by tribal invaders – backed by the Pakistan Army – committing rape, arson and pillage in the valley, nearly capturing Srinagar before the Indian Army chased them away. We were a witness to the brave and proud saga of Srinagar. Although within a few miles of the raiders, Srinagar remained far away from their reach. The lion of Kashmir had roared, and waves after waves of his militia challenged the invaders with whatever small weapons they could manage from the fleeing men of the Maharaja, who had already fled the city along with all his officers. The administration had completely collapsed. It was then that the citizens of Srinagar experienced something very strange, a unique power to pull together, irrespective of their religious beliefs, to build a human barrier that the invaders could not break.
Eventually the Indian army helped us in our evacuation, along with hundreds other visitors to the Valley, in their planes returning to bring more battalions, when fighting was taking place only two miles from the airport. And thank God, we soon landed at Palam airport in Delhi for our belated celebration of India's independence on August 15, 1947.