From our special correspondent
Thursday September 25, 1947
The mass migration and exchange of populations
in the Punjab - Moslems moving west into Pakistan and Hindus and
Sikhs trekking east into India - have now reached a scale unprecedented
in history. Accurate statistics are impossible to obtain, but it
is reasonable to estimate that no fewer than four million people
are now on the move both ways.
What this means in terms of human misery and
hardship can be neither imagined nor described. Within the past
few weeks the conditions over a wide area of Northern India, including
the whole of the Indus Valley and part of the Gangetic Plain, have
deteriorated steadily. It is no exaggeration to say that throughout
the North-west Frontier Provinces, in the West Punjab, the East
Punjab, and the Western part of the United Provinces the minority
communities live in a state of insecurity often amounting to panic.
Farther afield in the eastern parts of the United
Provinces and to a less extent in Bihar and Bengal, much tension
and friction prevail but there has hitherto been little movement
Tension In The Cities
To an observer the atmosphere is appalling. In the capital itself
order has been restored after the grave riots of a fortnight ago,
in which perhaps 2,000 people were killed and tens of thousands
driven into refugee camps. Even so communal feelings run high and
there appears to be no prospect whatsoever of Moslems being able
to return to their lawful vocations. But Delhi, disturbed and tense
as it is, does not reflect the deplorable conditions prevailing
in the surrounding countryside.
Whatever official communiqués may say
of attempts to create confidence and restore peace, it is plain
that neither exists over vast areas inhabited by perhaps 100,000,000
people, whose main preoccupation is to rid themselves at all costs
of a potential fifth column consisting of persons of opposing faiths.
The extent and intensity of this vast conflict
amounting to undeclared civil war is such that it is difficult for
any observer to form a conspectus or assess all its implications.
But three questions may be posed and the answers are anybody's guess.
First, has mob frenzy reached its zenith, or
will fanaticism continue to exact its toll of human lives on an
increasing scale? Secondly, has mass migration represented by the
scores of convoys containing anything up to 50,000 souls and stretching
for perhaps 50 miles along the roads, and by dozens of evacuee trains,
exhausted itself, or will many millions more wish to move to areas
inhabited by their co-religionists within the coming weeks? Thirdly,
will the tremendous dislocation of economic life and agricultural
production entailed in these movements result in widespread famine,
possibly on the scale of the Bengal famine of 1943, in which more
than 1,000,000 died?
The Worst To Come
No one can pretend to answer these questions, but in my view conditions
will almost certainly get worse before they can begin to improve.
In other words, the news from India will continue to horrify the world
for some time to come.
On the first question
of mob frenzy it must be recorded that there is no indication that
the blood lust of either side is satiated. On the contrary,
and in spite of isolated reports of returning confidence, attacks
by each community on defenceless villages inhabited by the opposite
community continue to occur. What is worse is the persistence of
organised attacks on the road convoys of refugees, however well
guarded they are, and increasing ambushes of trains carrying evacuees
in spite of the presence of strong military escorts.
For instance, according to an Indian military
spokesman to-day, seven attacks by armed gangs were made on special
trains running between Delhi and Lahore in both directions and carrying
members of minority communities within the four days September 19
to 22. In some of these attacks heavy casualties were inflicted
upon refugees of both communities.