Violence against women during the partition of India

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During the Partition of India, violence against women was an extensive issue.[1] It is estimated that during the partition between 75,000[2] and 100,000 women were kidnapped and raped.[3] The rape of women by males during this period is well documented,[4] with women also being complicit in these attacks.[4][5]

It has been estimated that twice as many Muslim women were abducted compared to Hindu and Sikh women, due to the actions of organised Sikh jathas.[6]

India and Pakistan later worked to repatriate the abducted women. Muslim women were to be sent to Pakistan and Hindu and Sikh women to India.[6]


During partition Punjabi society was affected at all levels by murder, displacement and assault. Rival communities targeted women to humiliate them and actions against women included rape, abduction and forcible conversions. Violence against women also occurred in Jammu and Kashmir and the Rajputana states.[7]


In November 1946 Muslim women were subjected to stripping, nude processions and rape by Hindu mobs in the town of Garhmukteshwar.[8]

Systematic violence against women started in March 1947 in Rawalpindi district where Sikh women were targeted by Muslim mobs.[9] Numerous Hindu and Sikh villages were wiped out. Huge number of Hindu and Sikh were killed,[10] forcibly converted, children were kidnapped and women were abducted and raped publicly.[11][12] The official figure of death in Rawalpindi stood at 2,263.[12] Before further attacks many Sikh women committed suicide by jumping in water wells to save honour and avoid conversion.[13][14]

Violence was also perpetrated on an organized basis, with Pathans taking Hindu and Sikh women from refugee trains while one observer witnessed armed Sikhs periodically dragging Muslim women from their refugee column and killing any men who resisted, while the military sepoys guarding the columns did nothing.[15]

Both Sikh and Muslim communities also cited revenge as a reason for their attacks. The scholar Andrew Major notes that the large-scale abduction and rape of girls seemed to have been a part of systematic 'ethnic cleansing' in the Gurgaon region on the outskirts of Delhi.[16]

Although many influential men such as deputy commissioners and police officials tried to prevent abductions or rescue the victims many other men abused their positions of authority such as the Maharaja of Patiala who was holding a Muslim girl from a reputable family. Known perpetrators included police officials, landed magnates and Muslim League members as well as criminal elements. Armed Pathans in particular were considered the worst offenders, particularly in the Rawalpindi district. The Pathans abducted a large number of non-Muslim women from Kashmir and sold them in West Punjab and these sold women often ended up as 'slave girls' in factories. By early 1948, Pathans started abducting even Muslim women.[17]

In East Punjab, local police and the Indian military frequently engaged in the abduction and distribution of Muslim women besides the Sikh jathas and refugees from West Punjab. According to Anis Kidwai, the 'better stuff' would be distributed among the police and army while the remaining were distributed among the rest of the attackers.[18] In the villages around Delhi, police and army soldiers participated in the rape of Muslim women.[19]

Estimates of abductions[edit]

The exact figures of abducted women are unknown and estimates vary. Leonard Mosley wrote that in total 100,000 girls were abducted on all sides. The Indian government estimated that there were 33,000 Hindu and Sikh women in Pakistan and the Pakistani government estimated that there were 50,000 Muslim women abducted in India.[20] Andrew Major estimates that 40-45,000 women in total were abducted during the Partition riots, with approximately twice as many Muslim women as Hindu and Sikh women having been abducted.[21] Masroor estimates that 60,000 Muslim women were abducted while Begum Tassaduq Hussain estimated that 90,000 Muslim women were abducted.[22]


In September 1947 both the Indian Prime Minister Nehru and Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan vowed not to recognise the forced marriages and both countries ratified this agreement in the Inter-Dominion Conference in December which established the recovery procedure.[23]

The job of compiling claims for abducted women by their relatives fell on the Central Recovery Offices in both countries.The task of locating abducted women was given to local police who would be assisted with the guidance of the abducted women's relatives. Social workers and District Liaison Officers (DLOs) who were appointed by the Liaison Agency of the opposite Punjab government also provided much assistance. Non-Muslim women recovered from Pakistan were housed in District transit camps, the Central camp being in Lahore. A similar camp was established for Muslim women in Jalandhar. The Indian and Pakistani Military Evacuation Organisations (MEOs) were established to guard and escort women to their respective countries.[23]

Recoveries eventually slowed down with Nehru admitting in January 1948, "Neither side has really tried hard enough to recover them". Because Hindu and Sikh refugees in India mistakenly thought that the number of abducted non-Muslim women exceeded the number of abducted Muslim women they mounted a public campaign and demanded that Muslim women be held up from recoveries as hostages. Eventually the two countries agreed to not publicize the figures of women repatriated. India and Pakistan's rivalry also slowened the pace of recoveries.[24]

Pakistan claimed that the slowening of recoveries was because many Hindus refused to take back their women as they considered them 'defiled', an argument which Nehru accepted while accusing Pakistan of being uncooperative. Heavy rains and flooding also slowened the pace of recoveries in West Punjab and in January 1948 Pakistan prohibited Indian officials from entering those districts of Punjab which bordered Kashmir. [25]

Many women also refused to be recovered, fearing being shamed and rejected by their families and communities while some women had adjusted to their new 'families' and hence refused to return. By 1954 both governments agreed that women should not be forcibly repatriated.[26]

Number of recoveries[edit]

Between December 1947 and December 1949, 6000 females were recovered from Pakistan and 12,000 from India. Most recoveries were made, in order of succession, from East and West Punjab, Jammu, Kashmir and Patiala. Over the eight-year period 30,000 women had been repatriated by both governments. The number of Muslim women recovered was significantly higher; 20,728 against 9,032 non-Muslim women. Most recoveries were made in the period between 1947 and 1952. although some recoveries were made as late as 1956.[27]

Between 6 December 1947 and 31 March 1952, the number of non-Muslim women recovered from Pakistan was 8,326. 5,616 of them were from Punjab, 459 from NWFP, 10 from Balochistan, 56 from Sind and 592 from Bahawalpur. After 21 January 1949, 1,593 non-Muslim women were recovered from Jammu and Kashmir.[28]

In the same time period the number of Muslim women recovered from India had been 16,545. Of them 11,129 were from Punjab, 4,934 from Patiala and East Punjab Union and after 21 January 1949 the number of Muslim women recovered from Jammu and Kashmir was 482.[29] The number of Muslim women recovered from Delhi was 200.[30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Žarkov, Dubravka (2007). The Body of War: Media, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Break-Up of Yugoslavia. Duke University Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0822339663.
  2. ^ Aftab, Tahera (30 November 2007). Inscribing South Asian Muslim Women: An Annotated Bibliography & Research Guide (Annotated ed.). Brill. p. 224. ISBN 978-9004158498.
  3. ^ Butalia, Urvashi. Harsh Dobhal, ed. Writings on Human Rights, Law and Society in India: A Combat Law Anthology. Human Rights Law Network. p. 598. ISBN 81-89479-78-4.
  4. ^ a b Kabir, Ananya Jahanara (25 January 2010). Sorcha Gunne, Zoe Brigley Brigley Thompson, ed. Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives: Violence and Violation (1st ed.). Routledge. p. 149. ISBN 978-0415806084.
  5. ^ Chowdhry, Geeta (2000). Sita Ranchod-Nilsson, Mary Ann Tétreaul, ed. Women, States, and Nationalism: At Home in the Nation? (1st ed.). Routledge. pp. 107–110. ISBN 978-0415221726.
  6. ^ a b Barbara D. Metcalf; Thomas R. Metcalf (24 September 2012). A Concise History of Modern India. p 226, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-53705-6.
  7. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 57-58.
  8. ^ Gyanendra Pandey (22 November 2001). Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India. Cambridge University Press. pp. 104–. ISBN 978-0-521-00250-9.
  9. ^ Shani, Giorgio. Sikh Nationalism and Identity in a Global Age. Routledge. p. 89.
  10. ^ Page, David (2002). The Partition Omnibus. Oxford University. Almost every village in the Rawalpindi District where non- Muslims lived was attacked and plundered in this manner and Hindus and Sikhs were murdered.
  11. ^ Bina D'Costa. Nationbuilding, Gender and War Crimes in South Asia. Routledge. p. 57.
  12. ^ a b Verinder Grover, Ranjana Arora (1998). Partition of India: Indo-Pak Wars and the Uno. Deep and Deep Publications. p. 11.
  13. ^ Anjali Gera Roy, Nandi Bhatia (2008). Partitioned Lives: Narratives of Home, Displacement, and Resettlement. Pearson. p. 189.
  14. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 59.
  15. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 60.
  16. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 61.
  17. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 62.
  18. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 63.
  19. ^ "The Hindu : Do women have a country?". The Hindu. Retrieved 2017-05-09.
  20. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 68-69.
  21. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 69.
  22. ^ Kiran, Violence against Muslim Women 2017, p. 163.
  23. ^ a b Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 64-65.
  24. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 65.
  25. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 66.
  26. ^ Major, Abduction of women during the partition of the Punjab 1995, pp. 67-68.
  27. ^ Bina D'Costa (4 October 2016). Children and Violence: Politics of Conflict in South Asia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 24–. ISBN 978-1-316-67399-7.
  28. ^ Sukeshi Kamra (2002). Bearing Witness: Partition, Independence, End of the Raj. University of Calgary Press. pp. 316–. ISBN 978-1-55238-041-3.
  29. ^ Sukeshi Kamra (2002). Bearing Witness: Partition, Independence, End of the Raj. University of Calgary Press. pp. 316–. ISBN 978-1-55238-041-3.
  30. ^ Anis Kidwai (1 March 2011). In Freedom’s Shade. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 183–. ISBN 978-81-8475-152-9.
  31. ^ Ashraf, Ajaz (2017-08-12). "How Sunil Dutt's uncle and Inzamam-ul-Haq's family were saved during Partition violence". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2017-10-24.



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