The Bali family are a prominent Sikh family in the Kashmiri town of Baramulla - both the town and the Sikh community suffered grievously in the invasion by armed Pakistani tribesmen in October-November 1947. This interview with three members of the family - Anoop Singh Bali, his wife Gunwant Kaur Bali and his brother Randhir Singh Bali - took place in the family home in Baramulla on 1 May 2003. It includes powerful testimony of the abduction of women, looting and violence perpetrated by the invaders and of the response of Kashmiri Sikhs. I have posted below a fairly complete transcript of the interviews, and below that the BBC radio programme for which I conducted the interviews.
From left: Anoop Singh Bali, Gunwant Kaur Bali and Randhir Singh Bali in Baramulla, May 2003
I was delighted to discover, on making contact with the Bali family again, that Anoop Singh Bali has celebrated his one-hundredth birthday. I am posting with the family's permission a photo of the birthday celebrations (Randhir is standing behind Anoop with a blue turban) and another photograph taken in Baramulla in 2019. Sadly, Gunwant Kaur Bali died some years ago.
The Bali family in Baramulla: partial transcript of interviews by Andrew Whitehead, 1 May 2003
The Balis are perhaps the most prominent Sikh family in Baramulla. I spoke to Anoop Singh Bali and his wife Gunwant Kaur Bali, and Mr Bali's younger brother, Randir Singh Bali (who usually lives in Delhi). We met on their home in a hill overlooking Baramulla town. In 1947, the Balis were a prosperous land-owning family which - they say - had donated the land on which St Joseph’s hospital and college was built. They used the word 'kabali' to refer to the armed tribesmen who overran Baramulla in late October 1947.
Anoop Singh Bali
My name is Anoop Singh Bali ... I am 83 ... [in 47] I was actually not in Kashmir, but came here when this raid and evacuation started [[seems to have reached in mid-Nov, had been in air force]] ... we had come to evacuate people, then the kabali had already raided here, that was Nov 1947 ... our houses were also burnt ... that time kabali, that is raiders, were going back, and after some time our Indian Army also started coming in ... the condition was they were frightened and most of the houses were looted, and especially Hindus and Sikhs, their condition was very bad and almost all of them had evacuated, left this place, and they had settled out of Kashmir. Kabalis, they had come to raid, and Pakistan had told them you go, you fight there and loot, and that’s your property; they had two sets, one with guns and another with ... bags; ... filling bags and taking away, looting property ... we could not carry after shoes ... my wife was there and she went barefooted ... people had run away like anything.
From the jungle they went to a place, that is a village near Ichahama, there 3, 4, 5,000 Sikhs had gathered ... and they were raiders, about 30 to 40 kabalis with guns they came, automatic guns, and they started firing on them ... kabalis, actually they are tribals ... I have seen there dead bodies. I had come, seven days after the Pakistanis left this place I have come to Baramulla, and I have seen dead bodies on the roadside of these kabalis ... These Pathans, they are on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan ... short statured ... with beards and all ... and they have looted property from here, girls, young girls, they have taken from here. Any girls they would see, whether it was a Muslim girl, you know what happened here, we had our servant, he had two beautiful girls, kabalis happened to see that girl, he said, no, it’s our girl it’s not a Sardar’s girl, they said: no it’s a kaffir’s girl ... they took her ... THIS WAS YOUR MUSLIM SERVANT’S DAUGHTER ... he took this girl, he knew that it was his girl, but they took he.. They never spared even Muslims here DID SHE EVER COME BACK ... no ... most of the girls taken there, they have not come back ... given to these kabalis, Pakistanis married ... and all looted property has also been taken by [? back to] Pakistan
(6’20) One girl, when kabalis wanted to catch, she jumped from first floor ... when they wanted to catch her... she was frightened and she jumped from first floor and she broke her ... her leg was broken ... Even if she is Muslim, or Hindu or Sikh girl they would take them say saying she’s kaffir’s girl ... they are barbaric in that way ... 20 to 25,000 Sikhs have been killed, my father in law and his whole family have been massacred in ... Sopore. They were asked to gather there, and these kabalis came with vehicles ... and they fired and massacred them, thousands of them
(8’10) LOCAL MUSLIMS ... they never welcomed it[the raiders] but how could they help ... they were helpless, you know ... Kashmir, I tell you, before this partition, was the only state in India - crimeless state ... (10’00) It was nothing but terrorism at that time ... Our Muslim brothers, they were also shot, nobody was happy ... Hindus, kabalis could not recognise them; ... Sikhs ... immediately they can be recognised ... It was not an open raid by Pakistan, it was through those raiders ... and our Kashmir was terrorised by that raid ... terrorism is there still you know, anywhere you know, you don’t know whether there is a mine laid, some grenade maybe come out, innocent people die, it’s not only the uniformed people who die ... anybody can be killed.
(12’50) [re nuns] They were also badly treated. They were also massacred and molested, and they had been taken somewhere and some were killed also, and they were taken out in a procession in a disgraced position, that I did not see but everybody didn’t like that ... some of them were, everything was looted, and they were misbehaved ... that was a very bad thing ... I think they were killed also, one or two were killed
(13’50) [re houses in Baramulla] Only a few, they belonged to Sikhs, were burned, and otherwise buildings were alright, no building was destroyed ... only in this area three or four buildings were burned. Anything they find in houses, they would take, whichever suited them they were taking, and the rest local people were taking ... But when I came to these people [neighbours], they had kept our stuff ... They were our tenants ... and they were also very badly treated ... we were all young in those days, all frightened ... not very peaceful situation this time
Randir Singh Bali
I am Randir Singh [Bali] ... I am now 67 ... I was 11 I think [in 1947] I was in Baramulla ... we had a house here which is demolished now ... There was a big panic in the town, the kabalis have come ... tribals ... It was a raid by Pakistan, no doubt. ... This was the only word, that kabalis are coming and they are not sparing anyone ...
Muzzafarabad ,we had relations; in Uri we had relations - they were mostly transporters, they were coming running and going to Srinagar. On way they informed us: you also run away the kabalis are coming. So what happened, we being simple persons ... we just bolted the outer door of the house, we went into jungle nearby, we stayed there night with gujjars, and we thought we’ll be coming tomorrow morning back ... But we never came back. From there we ran to another village ... and we also ran for life ... on foot we went village after village ... we went to Singhpura. My uncle [[named]] ... he had good rapport with Maharani, so he went there to acquire some weapon ... He brought some ammunition and arm which was distributed to people ... who can use it properly ... Then he went again and he was killed on way ... four or five person, our relations, was also killed
[[went to Ichahama, 30/35 miles from Srin]] (4’10) The main aim of kabalis was to run straight to Srinagar and capture it. Our Maharaja had only a very limited force ... there we went in Ichahama. There we had a little encounter with kabalis ... There was quite forceful resistance, and that was the last resistance where we fought a very great, a very bold battle with them and we inflicted a lot of casualties on them.
(5’20) Everybody was running. We had only one word, run for life, and people we went to the other villages, they said they have come here to bother us ... I have run from 35 kms for my life, from Ichihama to Srinagar on foot, barefooted ... my younger sister was there, my elder brother ... and my parents ... my elder sister, she was in family way
[re raiders] mostly Afghani type turban, kurta and pyjama ... but I have seen bullet coming from this side and from this side, the vibration of bullet ... I could feel ... The biggest fortune for we people, it was the cooperation of locals, they have given us shelter and food. If they had taken arms, we would have perished long time back [[Only few Sikh families in Baramulla - most in villages]] ... We have lost only ten of them, rest all came back
(8’50) there was none from local who could say a word or resisted ... At that time, they were as frightened as we were, the only difference was they have not killed them they have only killed Sikhs ... Ladies they have taken to Pakistan, young ladies. Others they have killed ... Sikh ladies, they have taken a number of them who have never come back ... They were brutal sort of persons ... had they not got involved in this womanising and looting and all these things, they would have reached Srinagar without any problem
Sherwani, he was a true nationalist, he has tried to protect Sikhs to maximum and stop them, these kabalis. He was also killed ...
(11’00) when we reached Srinagar, then Indian forces came (Patiala troops) ... They were not much of army, these tribals, but they were armed and people here was absolutely unarmed
[re St Joseph's convent] My auntie, my mother’s sister, mausi, ... This convent, the entire area has been donated by us to Father Shanks and [?] B.D Reuter ... my uncle ... he was employee of missionaries in the college, [?] Sardar Mutwal Singh, he also ran, his wife was not well, and the sisters, nuns, they knew her, they kept her inside as a patient ... they protected her. In the initial stages, they did some force or nonsense, but there were set free ... I think one nun was killed, we heard, but otherwise they were alright ...
 that was of course the beginning of it ... The trouble started at that time ... locals was so nice ... we could survive because of them ... Kabalis, they wanted to capture the state ... We call them kabalis, tribals ... They came from Pakistan ... that trouble was different at that time
(16’00) [[more details of resistance at Ichihama]] We used telephone poles ... as a gun ... last fight we had, beyond that these kabalis didn’t go ... All the ladies and children were packed in gurdwara ... We killed them, and all of them ran back ... We too had casualties (then ran to Srinagar) ... on way we had to some kaccha rice, some raw rice ... and we used those local made guns (used noise and poles looking like guns to scare them, and had retired soldiers among Sikhs - ¾ tribals killed, came back again next day)
Gunwant Kaur Bali
Wife of Anoop Bali, aged 73/74 (so 16/17 at time of raid), in Baramulla at the time - speaking in Urdu [in 1947] Yes, we were here in our homes. At 7 o/clock in the evening, we left our house. When we found that the tribesmen were coming, we left our homes. That night we spent in the forest. And we stayed there until midday the next morning. We kept looking to see if we could go back to the house. And then the elders came to where we were, and told us not to go back, so we kept going further to another village. For fifteen to twenty days, we kept moving on like this. After that, we stayed at Ichihama – that's what we were told to do so that’s what we did. And from there at 9 o/clock in the evening, a whole group of us Sikhs, quite a few of us, all arrived at Srinagar..
Q: SAW RAIDERS
Yes, I’ve seen them. As we were going, we’d see on our left, on our right, those people, and from this side bullets, from that side bullets, in front of us, so many people, kept falling. In front of us, they looked really little to us.
Well, frightened, at the time everyone was running, so everybody ran. Bullets from this side, bullets from that side – nobody knew anything about anybody else. Who’s where – who’s where. Everyone was for themselves – it was everyone for themselves and you just kept running. Even in your own family, people were separated.
Q: KNOW ANY WOMEN WITH PROBLEMS WITH RAIDERS?
Yes, everybody had problems, everybody had problems. Yes, there was a lot. In the middle of all of this, they were taking away lots of youngsters, young women. Taking them to other villages. Abducting them. The small children and the young women, they were taking them away. (ANY GIRLFRIENDS TAKEN AWAY) Yes, I had lots. Many of them were my friends. (HEAR ALL THIS) No, I didn’t hear this, I saw it with my own eyes (DID YOU SEE THIS IN FRONT OF YOU) Yes, in front of me, my uncle’s (chacha-ji) daughters, they took them. There were three sisters and they took all three. (WHERE WAS THIS FROM) This was from [?] Kumraon side.
Q: THESE ARE YOUR COUSINS – DID THEY EVER COME BACK?
No. To this day, we don’t know anything about them.
Q: GREAT SADNESS
Of course it is. Our father died in those days as well, because of those people. (DID THEY KILL HIM?) Yes. And my mother was struck by three bullets, and my brother. There was bad stuff to everyone. (HOW MANY FAMILY KILLED) My father was killed, and three or four others among relatives.
Q: NAMES OF COUSINS
One’s name was Nasib Kaur. Another was Harbans Kaur. And the third one’s name was Tejinder Kaur. There were three girls. They were my cousins. And all three of them, we don’t know anything about them.
Q: HOW OLD
Just sixteen, seventeen.
Q: BRAVE TO COME BACK
We didn’t come back. We stayed in Delhi. There were all these camps set up there, and we stayed there. After quite a long time, we got together.
Q: ABOUT CONVENT
Which place? Oh yes, this hospital. His [? Husband] masih (aunt), at that time their children were unwell, so they took their children to that hospital. Those nuns (mothers) organised a demonstration, and when these tribesmen were coming they organised this demonstration and they were going in front of them with red flags. Those people wouldn’t listen, and they fired some bullets, and one of the nuns, one of the leading ones, was killed. And so his aunt said they all went straight to the hospital. With their feet they were shaking the beds, they were hitting everyone, they were beating everyone, they were looking to see how everybody is, how is this person, how is that person. And she [the aunt] said, she took the two children into her lap and hid them in a bathroom. I closed the door, she said. Because they didn’t treat everyone very well. They were beating everyone with a lathi and a stick. Everybody was going round and round the hospital. And then they left. (DEMONSTRATION) When these tribesmen were coming, they were going straight to Srinagar but they stopped in Baramulla. They told this – those who were in the hospital, they said they came straight to the hospital when the big nun was killed, when she was hit by a bullet and died, then they came to the hospital, and roamed round it, and they surrounded it. ( RED FLAG) Yes, the red flag. (WHO PUT IT UP?) The ones who lived in the hospital, the nuns. They put it up. They were going ahead of them, saying we people live here, this is our hospital, you people will not harass us. We will organise a demonstration and go forward, and those people will not harass us. Because of this, those four/five/six people organised a demonstration and were going forward carrying the flag, saying these people are coming but they won’t touch us. But those people didn’t even give them a [?] (lehas) they just opened fire. (IT WAS SMALL DEMO) Five/six/eight of those nuns. They did the demonstration. From the hospital. (NOTHING HAPPENED TO AUNT)? No, they said we were in the bathroom with the children.
Q: MET NUNS
No, I hadn’t met them. But they (? Mausi) were with them. A nun took the aunt with them from Baramulla and took her with them. To Ludhiana. [[CORRECTED BY RELATIVE]] To Delhi. After one year we found out that she was with them, then we went and got her. (MAUSI’S NAME) Makhan Kaur.