Muhammad Iqbal, Greenhead Park, Huddersfield, August 1964
Life before Partition
Muhammad Iqbal was born in West Punjab (Gujrat) in 1928. He lived in the village with his mother, two brothers and sister. His father died when he was three years old; he was an army officer (subedar) stationed in Roorkee cantonment and was killed in the Second World War. Muhammad remembers that time, during the Second World War, from 1938-45; there were a lot of Royal air force, bomber jets flying over the villages, Japan bombarded Calcutta and India was declared a war zone.
After his father’s death Muhammad’s family went from being the richest family in the village to being the poorest. His elder brothers were not able to have a good education, because they didn’t have much money but Muhammad’s brother supported him to get a good education through school, college and university, although he also received many scholarships too. Mohammad went to school in the village primary school and then travelled three miles each way to go to high school in a bigger neighbouring village. He eventually went to university and gained a first-class Masters in Chemistry.
Muhammad’s village was predominantly Muslim, he remembers a Goldsmith in his village who was a Hindu, he was rich and influential according to Muhammad. There was also one other Hindu family in the village, says Muhammad, but he remembers there being no Sikhs there. Generally, however, according to Muhammad, most of the Hindus were in towns, there were more Sikhs in the villages. A couple of villages away from his village, in the north, in the south, and in the east, there were a lot of Sikhs – who were mostly shopkeepers. There were also a lot of Sikh farmers.
Everyone lived amicably as friends. Muhammad remembers a Ganda Singh who held a ration depot dealing in sugar, which, along with kerosene, was in scarcity during World War 2.
Muhammad was nine years old when Partition happened. According to him, apart from a few school teachers, people in his village were not well informed about what was happening at that time. Muhammad didn’t have to cross the border himself, but he shares the story of his brother’s journey across the border. Muhammad’s brother enrolled in the army in 1945, in the boys battalion, and in 1947 he was still in India (in Roorkee cantonment, where their father had been stationed until he was killed).
His brother later shared with Muhammad the story of his train journey from Roorkee, across the border, to Pakistan. In Ludhiana, the Hindu driver claimed that he had dropped all the water in the train – so there was no water. The idea was to stop the train and gather round the Jathas (Hindus and Sikhs) to kill the Muslims on the train. But the Muslims on the train were all soldiers, many carrying rifles, they guarded the train. It was monsoon time so they pulled the water from the puddles, into the engine and told the driver to keep driving until they got to the Wagah border. Otherwise, says Muhammad, his brother would have been one of the people killed.
Muhammad remembers a general feeling of fear and anxiety at that time, that there were big jatahs (crowds) of Sikhs, with ammunition, rifles, weapons, coming to attack this or that village. It was fear mongering – but due to the rumours, the locals would guard the village day and night. Through rumours and radio broadcasts, they heard stories about tens of thousands of Muslims being killed in east Punjab.
A large number of Muslims coming into Pakistan were waylaid, raided and massacred in large numbers on the way says Muhammad. There were no such killings in west Punjab. According to him, many more Muslims were killed than Hindus and Sikhs, since Pakistan was a smaller country and India was a larger, more powerful country. There was a smaller number of Sikhs and Hindus moving out of the country. Muhammad does not recall any Hindus and Sikhs being killed or injured in his area during Partition; indeed, he remembers the Muslims escorting them across the borders.
Muhammad doesn’t remember seeing any casualties in his area until 1947 when the state of Jammu and Kashmir was occupied by Indian forces. The Indian army used to come and bombard the villages, he recalls. His own village was close to the Jammu and Kashmir border – they could constantly hear the bombardment, firing, violence.
While the Hindus left his area, he says, only a few odd Muslim refugees from India, for example UP, came into his area. Most of the refugees coming into his area were from Jammu and Kashmir (now Azad Kashmir); Muslims defending themselves against the violent onslaught of the Indian army in Jammu and Kashmir. For example, refugees from the nearby town Bhimber, which had been occupied by the Dogra army, trickled out into nearby villages like Muhammad’s, where they had a connection. There were many women in the village next to theirs Muhammad recalls, who were married to men from Bhimbher or who were from Bhimber themselves, and many refugees went to those villages. Muhammad remembers his mother, who was the only person in their village from Bhimber, feeding these refugees, distributing their spare quilts. His family had built a room in their courtyard for cows and buffaloes, but, being poor, they didn’t have any animals, they let this room out to a family that was related to them and generally helped to take care of refugees.
According to Muhammad, the feeling towards the refugees was that of Muslim brotherhood, they were welcomed by the villagers, who shared whatever they had. He doesn’t recall any of the refugees going without food or warm clothes. They also started earning their own living quickly, working as carpenters, joiners, builders.
Talking a little about the history of the region, Muhammad tells us that the rulers of Jammu and Kashmir were Hindus – the state had been sold to them four generations earlier by the British for very little money – since they needed someone to rule it. It was a history of exploitation by these Rajas. In August 1947, after the spate of killings of Muslims in the area, in fear of the Mujahideen taking over, under pressure from Lord Mountbatten, Maharaja Hari Singh annexed the state to India – although, says Muhammad, 80% of the population was Muslim. After that, the Indian army was sent in and the killings continued. Muhammad also shares the experience of his wife’s family (who are also from Bhimber). Her great grandfather was the Chief Constable of Maharaja Hari Singh in Srinagar and had a big four storey house – this was occupied at that time by the Hindu/Indian army. Muhammad attributes the massacres that continue today in the Indian occupied Kashmir, to Maharaja Hari Singh’s actions at that time.
Eventually, the Hindu Army was ousted from Bhimber by the Mujahideen (Pathans from Afghanstan), with the help of pensioned solders in the nearby villages and younger men in these villages, who were given some informal training to fight back, from older retired soldiers– Mohammad remembers seeing the young men learning how to fight with bamboo sticks and a few rifles. Muhammad recalls seeing only one non-Muslim casualty in his life at that time; he had just started his high school in 1947, when the Hindu Dogras surrendered in Bhimber, to the Mujahideen and other trained people who were resisting. There was a wooded area by the Bhimber Road, which was turned into a POW camp – all those from the area who had been arrested were kept there. Muhammad and his school friends found someone lying in the wood, who had perhaps escaped the camp, and was hardly breathing. They reported it. When they returned after school, he was gone – the Mujahideen must have taken him says Muhammad. This was, says Muhammad, the only non-Muslim casualty he saw in his life.
After the victory, some of the families trickled back to Bhimber, but many settled in Guarat, Rawalpindi, Jhelum – since they could take the properties of the Hindu refugees that had left to go to India. Many, such as Muhammad’s father-in-law, who never returned to Bhimber but got work in the education ministry and settled in Lahore, got professional jobs in Punjab and didn’t go back for this reason.
Coming to the UK
Muhammad came from Lahore to Halifax in the UK on 23rd November 1963. He stayed in Halifax for two weeks, then came to Huddersfield. His first impression of the town was that of blackness; due to the industrial smoke, all the buildings were black. It was winter so it was very cold.
Muhammad found a job at Huddersfield Railway Station as a porter. It was a traumatic experience for Muhammad, since he was not used to hard labour. After four weeks as a casual worker at the railway station, Muhammad was offered a permanent job as a porter but with his degrees, he didn’t feel that he should continue. He managed to find a job as a research chemist where he worked for a year as a researcher, and invented a new blue dye for the company. He left the company however, since there were no health and safety precautions and Muhammad found himself having nasal problems and constant colds and flus.
He found an opening for a job of a teacher at Spring Road School; he applied, was interviewed and got the job, which he started on January 1st 1965. His work mostly involved working with the newly arrived immigrant Hindu, Muslim and Sikh children, from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, who had recently come to Huddersfield. He would receive them in the Spring School Reception Centre, teach them for 2-3 months as they started to understand the language and then disperse them in different schools across the borough. At the same time, he also taught Chemistry at King James’ Grammar School and he joined Huddersfield Polytechnic to do his research work; he had come to the UK with the intention to do his PhD. He started with and Mphil and was eventually offered a scholarship to do his PhD, which he completed by 1972. He was offered a job at Huddersfield University, with the additional responsibility of being International Students advisor – looking after the welfare of international students and recruiting more. Muhammad worked in this role for 33 years and eventually retired in 2003.
During this time, Muhammad was also active in the community, in race relations. He was a co-writer of books published by the Commission of Racial Equality and was a founder member of the Huddersfield Liaison Committee, as the first vice chairman.
Muhammad’s attempts to visit India, for work purposes, or in order to visit Roorkee (a place that is associated with his family history) in order to give lectures at the university, have been frustrated due to visa restrictions. It is very difficult for Pakistanis to go to India to visit religious sites – for example Sufi shrines, says Muhammad. In his opinion, the younger generation is not doing enough, for example to liberate occupied Kashmir.