When Jammu was painted red with Muslim blood, a Hindu lawyer played saviour

Survivor account

SRINAGAR: When the city of temples and other areas of Jammu region were reddened with blood in October-November 1947, a Hindu lawyer, Advocate Lala Jagan Nath played savior and saved hundreds of lives. A survivor who narrated his daring escape from Katra paid rich tributes to the memory of the lawyer.
Mohammad Shafi Malik was in the 9th standard when his father Husain Baksh of Katra told him to get ready to say good bye to their native land. Malik said: “We lived in total harmony with our Hindu brethren till October 1947. One night people suddenly started beating drums. They urged the people to get ready to fight the invaders who had entered Muzaffarabad. Amid this drum beating and provocative sloganeering, the age old bonds of love and friendship broke. People started hating each other.”
Malik’s relatives from Udhampur were also in trouble. “The entire family was wiped out. Two minor girls, Rehmat Begum and Iqbal Begum, survived the onslaught,” he said.
He (Malik) is all praise for Advocate Lala Jagar Nath who took the minor girls into his custody and travelled all the way to Srinagar to ensure their safety. In Srinagar, the girls were handed over to their relatives. Iqbal Begum died a few years ago.
Paying rich tributes to the memory of Lala Jagar Nath, Malik said: “The noble lawyer saved hundreds of Muslims during those fateful days.”
Before leaving Katra, Malik’s father gathered the valuables and dumped them in a room. “The house was then rented to a police officer and our family comprising 40 persons ran away for our lives. We reached Batote and sought refuge in a relative’s house. But, my father did not feel secure at Batote. He wanted to reach the Muslim majority area of Banihal. One day when he arranged a few tongas (horse driven carts), the trouble started. Some miscreants opened fire in the market and we ran towards the forest. We reached Gool where we stayed with my uncle for a while. But, as ill luck would have it, we were forced to run away from there as well. We somehow wanted to reach Banihal but the roaring Chenab proved a big stumbling block. There was only one Rope Bridge in the area and a Hindu guarded it all the time. We could not cross the river without his help”, said Malik.
Husain Baksh pulled himself together in this critical moment. He wanted to go to a nearby Hindu village for help. But, nobody was ready to accompany him. Finally, a few persons agreed to go with him. “The entire village was deserted. My father looked for the Numberdaar (village head). He was sitting in his room with a revenue official and a local Hindu with their naked swords lying nearby. The moment my father entered, they stood up and wanted to attack them. But, my father managed to speak. He convinced them that he was unarmed and had come to seek their help. He was allowed in. After half an hour, the Numberdaar agreed to help him in lieu of a handsome consideration. My father had 400 rupees in his pocket. He gave them to the Numberdaar”, he said.
The ill fated family saw the Numberdaar and Husain Baksh coming towards them and heaved a sigh of relief. But, when they came closer, they saw the Numberdaar and his associates walking with naked swords behind Husain Baksh. They got scared and ran away. However, after listening to Husain Baksh they came out. The Numberdaar eyed the ornaments the women were wearing. In a jiffy, the women handed over their ornaments to him. Pleased with the kitty, the Numberdaar smiled for the first time. But, he wanted someone from the family to accompany him to other side of the bridge to talk to the Hindus there.
“A man went with him. They took more than an hour to return. The delay frightened the family once again. All of them ran away. This time my father also ran away but did not forget to take me along. We waited in the forest till the Numberdaar returned. One by one he took us to other side of the bridge. The person guarding the bridge cut its ropes when the last person crossed the bridge”, Malik said.
The family finally entered the valley from Kulgam. Husain Baksh’s family settled in Srinagar. Malik later completed his education and sought employment in the revenue department. He has now retired and lives with his family at Humhama. A few years ago his sister passed away and was laid to rest at Magarmal Bagh graveyard. She always remembered her native village, friends and relatives.