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Home Critical Analysis/Archives Report on Punjab Disturbances of 1953
Report of The Court of Inquiry

SIALKOT

The official account of the course of events at Sialkot is contained in the written statements of Mr. I. U. Khan, Commissioner, Mr. S. N. Alam, Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Deputy Commissioner, and Sayyad Abdur Rauf, Superintendent of Police, and the deposition of Lt.-Col. Khushi Muhammad. We held some sittings at Sialkot and recorded a good deal of non-official evidence after Mr. Ghulam Sarwar Khan, the Deputy Commissioner, against whom there were some complaints by the public, had been transferred.

Since Mr. Mazhar Ali Azhar led a batch of Ahrar volunteers into Jammu in connection with the Kashmir agitation in 1931, Sialkot has always been a directive centre of the Ahrar. It has also been an important Ahmadi centre, being next only to Qadian. The first important incident in the Ahrar-Ahmadiya controversy occurred here when one Ghulam Muhammad Shah made a violent public speech against the Ahmadis for which he was convicted under section 295-A, I. P. C., on 30th November, 1936. The controversy continued in one form or the other till 1949, but no major incident took place during these years. On 26th November, 1949, a Tabligh Conference was convened by the Ahrar with a view to criticising the attitude of the Ahmadis before the Boundary Commission. In reply the Ahmadis held a meeting of their own on 15th January, 1950, to explain their position. While this meeting was in progress, the Ahrar raised a row and a boy was stabbed. The District Magistrate promulgated an order under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, prohibiting meetings for a week. In November 1951 the Ahmadis intended to hold their usual annual session, but in view of the prevailing feeling they were persuaded by the District authorities to put it off. The session was actually held in November 1952 in the Ahmadis’ own jalsagah, but the Ahrar threw brickbats on the audience.

By February, 1952, the Ahrar had succeeded in Consolidating popular opinion against the Ahmadis. The agitation against the Ahmadis now took the form of Tahaffuz-i-khatm-i-nubuwwat and the All Muslim Parties Convention was held in this town on 21st July, 1952. After this convention the Tahaffuz-i-khatm-i-nubuwwat movement became more popular and began to attract religious preachers from all sects. The movement daily gained strength and every Friday sermon in mosques became a diatribe against the Ahmadis, and the three demands began to be vigorously pressed. On 20th July, 1952, the Chief Minister made a speech on the occasion of the District Muslim League Convention at Pasrur in which he declared that he “fully endorsed the khatm-i-nubuwwat movement provided the law and order was not threatened”. In October, 1952, Maulvi Bashir Ahmad Khatib Jami’ Masjid, Pasrur, Karamat Ali Shah and Manzur Ahmad made provocative speeches against the Ahmadis on the occasion of Urs Gullu Shah. Action against them was recommended by the District Magistrate under section 21 of the Punjab Public Safety Act but Government did not agree. In November, 1952, another All Muslim Parties Conference was held in which the three demands were reiterated with added vigour. The Provincial Government had now realised the extent and intensity of the Ahrar-Ahmadiya controversy, and issued a series of general directions in the matter to District Magistrates. The purport of these instructions was that for actionable speeches only prosecutions should be launched and that arrests should not be made in mosques, nor assemblies in the mosques dispersed. Another direction confined action only to Ahrar and Ahmadis. The result, therefore, was that non-Ahrar maulvis felt themselves free to carry on anti-Ahmadi propaganda from the pulpit of every mosque.

An Action Committee was formed in this district on the advice of the Punjab Majlis-i-Amal. This Committee began to enlist razakars and collect funds. An intensive propaganda was carried on by Sahibzada Faiz-ul-Hasan who addressed a series of meetings in the district. On 20th February, 1953, several thousand men gathered for Juma prayers in the Jinnah Park, and were addressed by Maulvi Muhammad Ali Kandhalvi, Professor Khalid Mahmud, Maulvi Muhammad Yaqub and Maulvi Fazal Haq. Pamphlets and booklets against Ahmadi tenets were sold and thousands of rupees collected by the sale of eight-anna tickets.

In accordance with the decisions taken in Karachi on the morning of 27th February, 1953, the Home Secretary sent a wireless message to the District Magistrate directing the arrest of Qazi Manzur Ahmad and Wali Muhammad Jarnail. On 1st March, 1953, the city observed a complete hartal and a mob of about 10,000 people assembled at the railway station to see off the first batch of volunteers leaving for Karachi under the leadership of Maulvi Muhammad Yusuf, to offer their services for direct action. The mob had paraded in the streets, shouting anti-Ahmadi slogans and abusing Government, particularly the Prime Minister. The mob was so unruly that it delayed the train and also damaged windows of some carriages. Some of the men boarded the train with the volunteers and alighted at Narowal. On their return journey they stopped trains, looted station vendors and damaged sugarcane crops along the railway line.

On 2nd March 1953, the District Magistrate received secret D. O. letter No. 2514-29-BDSB, dated 28th February, 1953, conveying the decision of Government that the agitation was to be dealt with firmly. He called a Police-Magistrate meeting and decided:—

(1) to arrest nine ringleaders of the agitation under section 3 of the Punjab Public Safety Act on. the night of 2nd/3rd March (Approval of the Home Secretary to this step was obtained over the telephone);
(2) that persons who offered themselves for arrest should be taken in custody, removed to some far off place and dropped there; and
(3) that the military should be requested to stand by.

On the evening of 2nd March, 1953, a very large meeting was held in Ram Tulai, which was addressed by Maulvi Sultan Mahmud, Professor Khalid Mahmud, Maulvi Habib Ahmad and Maulvi Muhammad Yaqub. The tone of the speeches delivered was plainly anti-Government, and Professor Khalid Mahmud warned Khwaja Nazim-ud-Din that he would meet the same fate as Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan,. It was announced that two batches of volunteers would be sent to Karachi on the following day.

Maulvi Muhammad Husain, Maulvi Muhammad Ali Kandhalvi, Muhammad Sadiq son of Bhola, Maulvi Habib Ahmad, Abdul Ghafur Butt and Bashir Ahmad son of Chiragh Din, were arrested on the night of 2nd/3rd March. On the morning of 3rd March, 1953, small crowds appeared in the streets, though the military and the police were patrolling. The crowds had a defiant attitude, but they were dispersed, some by the army and some by the police under the orders of the Additional District Magistrate. When the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police reached Dar-ush-Shahabia at about 10-15 a.m. they saw a huge crowd collected inside the building and on. the roofs of the surrounding houses, all shouting anti-Government slogans, When asked to disperse, they closed the door of the Shahabia from inside. On this the District Magistrate declared the assembly as unlawful and directed Mr. Khalil-ur-Rahman, Assistant Superintendent of Police, and Khwaja Iqbal Ahmad, Magistrate, to disperse them. Mr. Khalil-ur-Rahman, when he entered the building, discovered that his service revolver bad been removed by someone from the holster. However, he and Khwaja Iqbal Ahmad succeeded in arresting four persons who wore garlands, one of them being Maulvi Muhammad Yaqub who could not be arrested on the night of 2nd/3rd March. After the arrests the crowd again climbed on the roofs of the Dar-ush-Shahabia and the adjoining buildings and began throwing brickbats from behind the parapets, driving the police behind some vehicles that were parked on the road in front of Dar-ush-Shahabia. The shower of brickbats resulted in injuries to the District Magistrate, the Superintendent of Police and the Assistant Superintendent of Police. One Sub-Inspector was stabbed. After a warning was given but not heeded, the District Magistrate ordered the police to open fire. The crowd, however, continued to throw brickbats from behind the parapets.

At this stage another crowd suddenly appeared on the road from behind the Dar-ush-Shahabia and rushed on the police showering brickbats. They were ordered to disperse, but since they continued throwing bricks, the police was ordered to open fire. The crowd then receded and one man was found dead, the number of rounds fired being twenty-one. The dead body was picked up by the police, but the swelling mob overflowed the police and snatched away the dead body and Maulvi Muhammad Yaqub from custody. The situation went completely out of control and was, therefore, handed over to the military under the command of Lt.-Col. Khushi Muhammad of the 8th Punjab Regiment. The mob besieged the civil officers who were driven into a blind lane from where they managed to get on the roof of a house in the lane where shortly afterwards was brought Ghulam Hasan, A. S. I. who had been stabbed in the stomach and deprived of his revolver. In the meantime the mob set fire to two police vehicles and the jeep of the District Magistrate. The Municipal Fire Brigade was requisitioned, but this was also burnt. At this stage information was received that the mob was going to burn the District Courts Building, the Police Office and other public buildings. The District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police managed to get out and take a guard with them from the Police Lines to protect the public buildings, including the State Bank building.

While the Dar-ush-Shahabia incident was in progress, another crowd was encountered by the City Inspector and the City Magistrate near Chowk Sant Singh in Rangpura, which was heading for Dar-ush-Shahabia. The mob was stopped but it became violent and caused injuries to the City Magistrate, the City Inspector, A. S. I. Sana Ullah and a head constable. The military, however, came to their assistance and saved them from further harm.

By midday the crowd had assumed immense proportions and started attacking police constables on traffic duty. It then formed itself into a procession and went on parading the dead body of the man who had been killed at Dar-ush-Shahabia. It went to the City Muslim League office where the library was looted. Khwaja Muhammad Safdar, M.L.A., President of the City Muslim League, was brought out of his office and taken through the streets with a blackened face. He was, however, rescued by Col. Khushi Muhammad. The procession then marched to Jinnah Park where about 50,000 persons offered funeral prayers for the dead man under the leadership of Maulvi Muhammad Yaqub. Of course the Maulvi delivered a suitable funeral oration.

The Commissioner, having been informed of the situation by telephone, arrived the same evening. The District Magistrate had imposed a 24-hour curfew from 1 p. m. on 3rd to 1 p.m. on 4th, but since owing to shortage of police and military force it could not be enforced, the Commissioner modified it by changing the hours from 10 p. m. to 4-30 a.m. The same evening one Abdul Haye Qureshi, who was a non-Ahmadi bat had dissuaded the mob from indulging in violence, was beaten and his house ransacked.

Public meetings and processions were banned on the 4th March by an order under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. On this day the Direct Action Committee shifted its operations from the Dar-ush-Shahabia to the mosque of Maulvi Nur Husain which is situate near the Tehsil and Police Station Sadr. A large mob which was on its way to that mosque, was intercepted and halted. Under the direction of the Commissioner, the District Magistrate ordered the mob to disperse, but it rushed at the officers. The police was ordered to lathi-charge the crowd but this provoked a shower of brickbats from the surrounding houses. Mr. Khalil-ur-Rahman, Assistant Superintendent of Police, sustained a serious head wound and a police van was damaged. The situation was, therefore handed over to the military who opened fire and brought it under control. Shortly afterwards a mob re-assembled in front of the mosque. The military officers argued with them and requested them to disperse, and finding that this had no effect, pulled a tape across the street as a barrier, warning the crowd not to advance beyond it. But somebody snipped the tape and burnt the Army Flag, and some persons flourishing swords and knives began to dance and advance towards the barrier. The military, under the orders of Brigadier A. K. Akbar, opened fire and four persons were killed and ten wounded. There is an amusing episode in the incident just mentioned. Let Lt.-Col. Khushi Muhammad tell it himself:—

“One of the men, who came out dancing with knives, offered his chest to receive a bullet, but I told him that so long as he remained on the other side of the tape, he would get no bullet ; but that the moment he crossed the tape, he would get one. When the firing began, I did not see this man at all. He had disappeared in the crowd. After the first firing a maulvi came up and started abusing the army and the police describing them as kafirs. I told the bugler to blow the bugle. As soon as he heard the bugle, ho rushed back, jumping over the crowd.”

In the afternoon an A. S. I. and a constable were mobbed near the railway station and the revolver of the A. S. I. and the rifle of the constable snatched and their uniforms burnt. Another foot constable, who was carrying some case-property, was assaulted and relieved of the property. Two Ahmadis were stabbed and the houses of three others looted by the mob.

Mr. S. N. Alam, Deputy Inspector-General of Police, arrived in the evening and found that the District Magistrate had handed over the situation to the military. He thought that such handing over was not justified and in consultation with the Commissioner decided to take over from the military. He addressed the police who had become demoralised by the incidents of the 3rd and 4th March and made arrangements for patrolling the city. The military shifted their Brigade Headquarters to the City Kotwali.

On the 5th March the army held a flag march throughout the city and did intensive patrolling. Some processions were dispersed and volunteers arrested.

On 6th March Mr. Daultana’s appeal was broadcast over the radio and also conveyed by a wireless message. This created the impression that the Government had capitulated and put the District officers in an unenviable position. The banned processions and public meetings continued and a large number of persons were arrested daily. Ninety-eight volunteers were arrested on 7th, 121 on 8th and 149 on 9th., showing that the appeal of the Chief Minister had no effect on the public.

On the 7th March, Professor Khalid Mahmud and Fazal Haq made speeches calling upon the police and the army to lay down arms and exhorting public servants to strike their work and join the movement.

The agitation drifted on to 10th March when a wireless message from the Chief Secretary, directing the District authorities to put down all lawlessness with firmness, was received. This made the people realise that thereafter the District officers would not put up with any lawlessness. Section 144 orders, therefore, began to be obeyed. Professor Khalid Mahmud, Fazal Haq, Maulvi Sultan Mahmud and others had shifted to mosques from where they were directing the movement by issuing orders and instructions through loud speaker and secret messages. It was not considered expedient to arrest them in the mosques and proceedings under section 87 and 88 of the Code of Criminal Procedure were taken against them. This produced the desired effect and they came out of the mosques and offered themselves for arrest on 12th March. With their arrest the agitation practically ended, and the city was restored to completely normal conditions on 16th March.

The foregoing narrative has been taken from the written statements and evidence of officers. No contradiction of it is to be found in the evidence of non-official witnesses which we recorded at Sialkot. What has been stressed in that evidence is that the District Magistrate beat or caused to be beaten some persons who had been arrested and confined in, jail, that he himself had his jeep set on fire by a police constable, and that he himself encouraged the procession that marched to the railway station on the 1st of March. With the first allegation we are not concerned though there is considerable evidence in support of it; the second is an insult to anyone’s common sense; while the third is denied by Maulvi Muhammad Ali Kandhalvi himself. It is our considered finding that in handing over the situation to the military more than once, the District Magistrate acted wisely and courageously and thus saved the law and the power behind it from public humiliation and ridicule. The responsibility for the consequent bloodshed, if it does not lie on the men concerned, does not lie on the police or the military; it lies elsewhere.

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