Francis Rath - 1924-2007 - was a doctor, born in the town of Baramulla in Kashmir where he lived for most of his life. This interview is mainly about Dr Rath's memories of living through the invasion of the town in October 1947 by Pakistani tribal fighters, and the attack on the Catholic mission of St Joseph's. His family were Christians and several family members took refuge at St Joseph's during the turbulent days of October and November 1947.
I interviewed Dr Rath for my book about the inception of the Kashmir crisis, A Mission in Kashmir. A transcript is posted below.
Dr Francis Rath: transcript
Interviewed at his home in Baramulla, 8th September 2006
Short, dapper man, wearing jacket and tie, elderly, very genial and cheerful with a ready smile and chuckle. When we arrived, he was seeing patients on his verandah. His house is perhaps a quarter of a mile out of the centre of Baramulla, with two imposing deodar trees at the gate, and a well kept garden – his pride. One of seven or so Catholic families in the area. Split at partition. Mother, sister and brother stayed in Pakistan. Brother in Karachi and a retired colonel in the Pakistan army, who served in 1965 war, and a ‘fierce Kashmiri’. Has visited Pakistan, going the long way round via Wagah. Rath was a student at St Joseph’s. Describes himself as a ‘pukka Kashmiri’ and in 47 broadly supported independence. Very active in World Pheasant Association and honorary wildlife warden – talked of the bears, leopards and markaz in the nearby forests, and said insurgency, because it had led to a ban on local having firearms, had helped wildlife. 6 members of his family took refuge at the mission – his father was in Srinagar. 9 refugee families later took over his home.
Francis Rath. Born in 1924 – 26th December.
And born in Baramulla?
Tell me what your family were doing.
My father was an engineer, a mechanical engineer. And he was in dredging, the first dredging. Then he retired from here only as an engineer. Then we got settled –actually we have our property in Srinagar, and we were actually settled in Srinagar only. But this place – during the dredging time, father built this house because he was fond of shikar [hunting] and all that and he used to come here with his friends. He used to come up with some English friends he had – he used to come here for weekends to do some partridge shooting, pheasant shooting. So this was built for that purpose only. It was only after 47, just before 47, we moved into this place, because with partition all the property and all went. We had a lot of land in Srinagar, actually in my grandfather’s estate actually what was given to him by Maharaja Ranbit [?] Singh, and that went, so our property in Srinagar, father wanted to get rid of it because he thought whether we would have it or not. He sold the house and the land, where the watch [?] factory is there we had land. All that was sold – just pennied you know.
So in 1947 you were one of the leading families in Baramulla?
Yes – we were the only leading family, actually the only Christian family, in Baramulla. A hundred years we were here. My grandfather was a German. He came from Germany and he was deputed by the East India Company to Maharaja Ranbir Singh as an armourer, to make arms for the state. So he had his factory in Srinagar, in ?? . So he was there, and these boys came up and when the father died then the Maharaja took over these children and he trained them, sent them for engineering, electricity and mechanical engineering, and they were all employed here and there was a bond written that they would be, from generation to generation they would be state subjects. So we stayed on – they stayed on here. Then my father liked this place Baramulla so we came and settled here and since then, then 47, after 47, in the disturbances then we had to run away again. Our family was distributed – they were in the convent then we were all sent to Pakistan with the sisters and from there we made a recovery and came back to – get this property. But unfortunately what happened that these refugees from this Chinari area, they had come and settled here and we could not dislodge them, in spite of all our protest that we have suffered so much, we have lost our house, we lost everything from there, this house. But nobody listened. So we just left and I was in Srinagar working in the mission hospital when I went for my training to Ludhian, medical college, finished off then I came back to hospital again. And from 59 I came to Baramulla to take over this property because with great difficulty managed to get these people out, because we had no other property in Kashmir left. It was all sold and disposed of. So this was the only house that was left. So I thought I’ll take possession and I came here – actually I started my practice thank God and everything went nicely. And now I’m here – from 59, almost 45 years, looking after these people
Thinking back to 1947, you would be 22 then – can you remember how you heard that the lashkar was approaching Baramulla?
We were all aware of it. Because we had some friend who were in St Joseph’s college, some army officers’ children, and they left college at once and went away. So we asked them what is the reason. They told me that some people – some disturbance at Kohala, where these aiders, army, Pakistan people, something was there. So that’s the reason they are going away. But little we knew. After three days, four days, suddenly the lights went off. Mahura power house was taken by those people. Then there was no electricity at all. Then two days after that we heard terrible firing all around, something we had never heard before – although we used to shoot, my father used to shoot, but there never used to be such a bombardment. Hundreds of shots being fired. They were crossing over from all over the place – coming over in their trucks from this side. And there was a big hulla-bulla. So we just had to leave our home and take shelter –and Father Shanks was there and he told us to move to the, to the school. Then afterwards he said no it will not be better, you had better move to the convent. So we all moved – and all the families, there were some decent families who were staying here at that time, just a few selected good families, the Pasrichas were there, this Leela Pasricha’s family was there, then there was – my uncle was there, de Silvas, and some more decent officers who were settled here at Baramulla, it was a very good place to settle. So all had to run and we came to the convent and first of all we were put in separate rooms. Then when the firing started, then everything – they started firing in the compound and all, and everybody was rushed to one ward. So we got into that baby ward, everybody was in – the nuns were there, we were there, the priests were there, everybody was there.
Did you not think of leaving Baramulla before the lashkar arrived?
No, we had no idea at all. Nobody wanted to leave. Nobody left –otherwise we had a whole family, we would have moved to Srinagar. We would have been – never thought it would be such a holocaust. And once they arrived it was terrible. Eveywhere they were firing. Every corner.
Tell me about Father Shanks – what did Father Shanks look like, what sort of man was he?
Father Shanks was a good man, nice-looking man. He was then vice-principal of the school, then he was the principal – of the college also. And he spent a lot of time here as the principal. And he was staying here, but you know he was the type of men who, you know, was not accommodating for everybody. So that was the problem. Then when he got in trouble, then he also ran and came to the convent when he saw those people were just breaking and firing around everywhere. And he also, to save his skin he also came and joined us, and he stayed with us during that time. Then there was acorrespondent – what was his name?
Sydney Smith was there.
What was he like?
Actually Sydney Smith was not exactly with us that time. But somewhere he was in Khanaspura [?] when the advance was coming in or when the Indian army was already coming in. And he was there trying to report. And then these Pathans got hold of him and then with great difficulty – there was one sub-inspector of police, he saw him, these people dragging him around. So he told them he’s a foreigner, why are you troubling him, that he’s army ka spy and all – He managed to get him and he brought him down to stay with us.
What sort of man was he?
Nice man, very – very soft spoken but not only that but a lot of patience and perseverance he had you know. He was just waiting quietly like everybody and ?? was talking. He was just sitting quietly listening to what was happening, how things would go. But they came – when they came to break that ward to get in, that was the worst part of the picture. But luckily what happened that time, see how God arranges things – what happened there was a boy who was a student from St Joseph’s college here, school,he was studying here, only for a couple of years he was here or for a year and a half. He was Major Khurshid [sounds more like Khurfees] – he went and joined the army. He was with them, with that lot. So when he heard this firing in the convent and the school and all that, he came running to see what was happening. So he came and rebuked them and stopped them otherwise they would have killed us, everybody. They would have got in the ward and everyone would have been shot dead.
This was Saurab Hyat Khan? This man? Did you know Mohammed Yusuf Saraf?
Yes, Mohammed Yusuf Saraf I know.
He was a student at -
He was a student with me in college. Yes. Hed was a student with me college. He went to Pakistan afterwards, and retired as a session judge or something there in Azad Kashmir.
He wrote a book and he says that when the lashkar arrived, most townspeople in Baramulla welcomed them.
That’s true. Very true. I told, you even Inayatullah’s house, the langer was there and that pir who was accompanying them, he had his headquarters there only.
Why did local people support the lashkar?
I don’t know what happened but (chuckles) – things are like that. They thought they were coming to liberate them from the Maharaja’s clutches and they will be part and parcel of Pakistan, that was the thing. That was what they were hoping for.
But the lashkar misbehaved with them as well.
With everybody. Even Inayatullah, he was feeding them – there was a cook was there, langar was there and they were getting food and everything. In the long run, afterwards they took away all his stuff also. (Chuckles) They took all his carpets – all his expensive items and jewellery and everything.
Did you see Khurshid Anwar?
Yes, Major Khurshid. I didn’t see him, but he was there. And I saw him outside – from the window panes we saw him rebuking them. And I remember he was a student with us for some time, not a very long time – but I think a year and a half, or two years hardly.
Did you see the Pir of Manki Sharif?
No, I didn’t see him. Because he was with Inayatullah and afterwards he moved somewhere else. We saw nothing from outside, because once we were in, we had no idea what was happening. This house we had to leave everything, everything in tact, I think those days there were very few homes in Baramulla who were really properly furnished and with an English standard of living, you know. And we had everything in the house. And after four days when the thing cool, and when somebody from us –one of my brothers, he came quietly at night and crossed over from this thing wall and came to see, there was not a thing in the house. Everything was taken away. But that was not taken away by the Pathans, it was taken away by the local people, you know. Because heavy furniture, who would take? They took away probably the expensive items, they were mostly after this – anything glittery like brassware, and they were after gold, you know, they though brassware also was gold. So anything they saw in that capacity, they must have taken all that, and probably carpets and things like that. I don’t think the crockery and things like that – we had very expensive crockery, a lot of glassware, I don’t think so they must have taken those things. But might be officers who were accompanying them, they might have taken them afterwards, those things.
Who were these officers?
Pakistan army officers were with them. They had a whole lot of them. They were controlling the whole situation.
Did you see them?
Yes, we saw them afterwards. They were going round – they were the people who were trying to control them otherwise – But they were in a big dilemma, - that man, Sherwani, he fooled them very badly. He kept them pending from one post to the other, here sag [?] ther sag [?], don’t go this way there, the army’s there, here’s the army - So those ?? till the army consolidated, until they moved. And when they came to know that this man was doing this, he had a motorcycle, he was the only man who had a motorcycle at that time, he was going around on his motorbike and coming, giving them information – abhi mut ao. He put them off very badly. So the result was that – then the army came but these people, they just came to know that he was the man that was, who had fooled them. Probably the army officers must have realised that and they got him executed.
Did you know Maqbool Sherwani?
Yes, very well. Because he used to roam around here in the market. We knew him. He was type of – loafer type of man, but happy-go-lucky.
What did he look like?
He was a young man, very young – twenties.
He was not a politician. He was just a National Conference worker. But a very staunch type of worker, you know. He was the man when Jinnah came, they came with a – shoes, you know, they made a garland of shoes. He went to put it round his neck (chuckles) – it was a state. You know that, that time.
He must have got into trouble for that.
He didn’t get into trouble because the state government was happy with it.
So he was a bit of a reckless guy.
Reckless type of man. Otherwise who would take such a risk. All that National Conference people were hiding. Baramulla, people had evacuated. All the decent people had left Baramulla. Only these pandits, poor people, were left, these Hindus. And they were treated very badly by those people.
They were killed – not many of them were killed. They were tortured. Their houses – everything was stolen from the homes. And they were put – afterwards when the government realized – the government was not there but there was a DC here who took over all these people and put them in the cinema hall, all these females and all he put them therefore safety. But still out of that they used to come and pick them out, the women. They had a very bad time.
The women were in the cinema hall for safety?
Hindu and Sikh women?
Not many Sikhs because Sikhs had got away. And any Sikhs who was anywhere around, they killed them. They were just looking for Sikhs only – bal wallah kaffir, they called them. Any Sikh they were killing them. And in the convent we had some patients, there were two ladies there, and when they got into one ward, and they knifed her, you know. But luckily, after that officer’s command, they had to leave everything and go away, and then that woman was brought in and the sisters nursed her and she lived. And they took her to ‘Pindi after things got alright then a few families, the Sikh girls’ ladies were there, they were brought back to Kashmir.
The patient who is buried in the grounds, Motia Devi Kapoor, do you know what happened to her?
She was also in the ward. She was killed. That time – I told you, when they came into the ward, and she was one of the ladies who was killed. They knifed that Sikh girl also but luckily she survived.
When you got to the mission to the ward, had all the killings happened by then?
No, it happened after this. We were just in time, you know, otherwise we would all have got killed. In this house, we would all have got killed.
Did you see any of the killing at the mission?
Mission – yes we saw the nuns when they were shot. We saw them all from the window – we were looking. When they came out. Actually one nurse was there, nurse Philomena, she was going from one ward to the other. And as she came out of the ward – nobody knew that these men were already there – and they fired at her. The moment they fired at her she fell down. And these two sisters came running out to see what had happened. In the meantime they were also – that sister superior was shot and the other was wounded. And Colonel Dykes was in one room. He came out as an army officer – he just came out to see what had happened. So they shot him also. And they went into his room and Mrs Dyke was also shot. And then Mrs Pasricha, they had one room also, by the side – they came out to see and she was also shot, but luckily she got a bullet in the leg.
She was a Britisher?
Ha, she was a Britisher. She was a Britisher. I told you we had some selected families here who were just quite different to the whole – this set up of this place. And there were some state government officers who were retired who wanted to settle in a place like Baramulla, because there was a lot of breeze in the evening, good cool water, and without any this thing – noise. So they used to come and settle here. So everybody had to run away. They got away in time, many of them, but many of them were killed.
What did the attackers look like?
These Pathans? Something tied round their heads, salwar kameez, and waistcoat, and guns hanging, ammunition all over the place. The whole body was packed with three-nought-three, it was – things, I don’t know how many hundred, everybody was carrying, pouches of this ammunition – from the three-nought- rifles. Firing anywhere, even at birds, anything, dogs. These happy-go-lucky people, you know, trigger happy.
Which community were they from? Which Pathan tribe?
There were so – the Mahsoudis were there, the Afridis were there, this – Yusufzais and you know all type of people were there. But we came to know only afterwards about the tribes, because that police officer, he was a Pathan, and his son was a student with us. Actually he was a man who used to come and feed us, bring sometimes some bread or kulchas or something for us to – in the convent. There was nothing else to eat there. So afterwards when they left, he only told us the tribes who were there, who came and joined them n this garbar. Actually all from the alakagair [?] area, you know, the – NWFP, that tribal area. Mostly all from tribal area. There were no proper Pakistanis in that, they were all tribal area people.
What were things like in the baby ward? In the first few hours, the injured were there as well –
Injured came, yes. The sisters were injured. They were there. Then those children – those patients who got killed, you know, the woman who died, and that one Sikh girl was there who was injured. They were all pit in there – everybody was there. It was like a kedgeree. (Chuckles) Everybody was packed into that room and just two bathrooms there, just imagine, there was so many people. There was a big problem – for everybody.
Do you remember the little boys of Colonel and Mrs Dykes?
Yes. We saw them.
How did they cope with what had happened?
They were in a very bad state, poor children. They were just brought in and they were crying all the time. They had a terrible time. And there was hardly anything to eat, that was - the worst part was that. Eating – especially for children it was impossible for them to go on. We were getting something – whatever was there in the convent we had. Then somebody was getting something from outside, some dregs [?] of food was coming in. And that also – they were also scared, because they were killing them also. Where you going? Our servants were all – they never showed up their faces. We never saw a single servant who was serving in our homes. It was odd people who knew us, they only came and brought us food and something to eat – no tea, nothing. A lot of wine was there, church wine, you know, plenty of it was available. So people who wanted to take that, that was the only (chuckles) they had.
Sydney Smith in his news reports, he wrote about a dancing girl called Kaushalya who was also in the baby ward, and was caught up in the thing and took refuge. Do yu remember her?
I don’t remember.
Did the Pathans misbehave with the women in anyway?
They didn’t get in the ward. If they had got in the ward – they would have misbehaved with all the nuns, all the females who were there. They would not have spared anybody. But luckily, I told you, that officer’s intervention stopped them from breaking into the ward. That was just one godsend man who came here to save us, otherwise there would have been no hope. Nobody would have survived. Even the men they would have killed.
So how did you get out?
It was afterwards when they left, when the army came, then only we could have left
This was the Pakistan army or the Indian army?
No, no, the Indian army when they landed. Pakistan had moved with them only because when the Indian army came, they sent in these fighter bombers. So those were real death for those Pathans. On the road – all these big trucks with these big – strafed by those planes. And they were – afterwards when the thing was over, I wanted to go to Srinagar because my father was already there in Srinagar at that time, and I wanted to meet him and see, and they were also worried about what happened to us –The whole road was littered with dead bodies, you know.
Did you see them?
Yes. That’s what I’m telling you, we saw them – dogs were dragging them, kites were, these hawks were after them. And all over the place, right up to Shalateng. The whole place was littered with dead bodies.
So when you got out of the mission you headed to Srinagar rather than to ‘Pindi?
No, no, I didn’t go to Pindi. You know what happened that day – I would have also moved with them, you know, to Pindi. I had come to see the house that day, because things were a little better at that time, the Pathans were running away at that time. I came to the house and then in the meantime we didn’t know that these trucks had come. And when I got there the trucks had already left. So I didn’t know where to go. And I was there alone – In the meantime, the army came, so luckily one local truck from Srinagar, some Sikhs who had run away from here, they heard the army had moved in, they also came to see. Those homes were here, they got burnt and everything. So they were going back so I went with them, in the same truck – I came back to Srinagar. I met my father there – he was very worried. He didn’t know all this had happened.
And how were things in Srinagar?
Srinagar was alright. You know what happened, Srinagar that time, before the raider – because they couldn’t get anywhere near, the nearest was in Shalateng. And to the airport they came very late, it was very late that time when they got there and the army was already there. So Srinagar was quite nicely controlled because these National Conference people, they were patrolling the place – so my father told me. They didn’t allow people to go and molest these Hindus or minorities there, you know. They were giving them protection in every way. So that way Srinagar was saved, but had they got – if Sherwani had only got in friendly with them, if Srinagar had gone, then the airport would have gone, the whole city would have gone. They could never have got out. And they could easily have moved out to even Banihal [?] to capture that area so nothing would come. But luckily – we were lucky that time. I could say lucky only because we are alive to tell the story.
There are suggestions that in Baramulla some of the different Pathan tribes argued – they argued about tactics, they argued about delay, they argued about the looting Did you get any indications –
No. It was only afterwards that we came to know. I told you that one boy, he only told us all these things. We didn’t know anything. Because we were just caught inside, we knew nothing abut what was happening outside. We didn’t even know what had happened at the market. How many people had been killed, what had happened – we knew nothing. It was only after the holocaust was over and the army came in, then only we came to know. Then after four days I came back again – refugees were already occupying the house. No indication of getting anything – nothing was, even the heavy furniture had gone. Nothing.
Was there a hero in terms of Baramulla? Who would you describe as –
Yes, Sherwani. He was the hero. It was all due to his intervention otherwise Kashmir would have had a different picture. You wouldn’t see today – you are talking to me, you would be talking in Pakistan to somebody. That was the picture. It was the Indian army – the Pakistan army was following them you know, as they were moving they were coming in. So they would occupy the whole place.
So that’s how it all started?
How it all started. It was probably the plan that they would do it that way – but it misfired, It misfired in 65 also, because the mujahids they sent – And this time with this militancy, it is worse picture now. We don’t know where we stand.
Why in Srinagar did the National Conference have a militia which was willing to fight the lashkar, but in Baramulla there was no militia?
No militia. The National Conference was here but – actually Baramulla has always been a place of jamaatis, what we call – Jinnah’s group, they are mostly from that group. Baramulla always had a bad reputation, you know – that they belonged to that part. So naturally, they took good opportunity to join hands with those people. Even after that, when Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed became the Prime Minister, Baramulla was always neglected because he thought that we were all traitors, Baramulla people (Chuckles) – faithful to this thing. So we were neglected very badly.
But you came back to Baramulla?
Yes. Only in 59 I came back when the house was vacated, to take up possession and repair it … Every room had a family. …
But looking at what happened in 47, if it hadn’t have been for Sherwani, if Pakistan had got control of Kashmir, because there would be no trouble afterwards?
There would have been no trouble afterwards. Definitely there would have been no trouble because the apple of ??? only is Kashmir. All the trouble is on Kashmir only. So probably things would have been cleared up, they would probably be having better relations also, things would have been quite different. And for us it would not have mattered, you know, we could have got settled here in both sides, it would not matter. Because I had relations in Pakistan also. Some families were staying there. Because we used to go in winter – we used to spend our winter across to Lahore or Rawalpindi or something, every year. For us, it would never have been a problem but for the other people definitely, especially for the minorities they would never have been able to come back. The Sikhs, they had a lot of property here, lot of land, estates – they would have lost everything.
What did you think of the Maharaja?
We always thought very good of the Maharaja, because during his time we had a lot of peace. And then where our family was concerned, we were all employed, government employees. And there was always a thing open for us, all the children, from generation to generation they would be employed and get jobs here. Because the Maharaja was very pleased with my father.
But he was a playboy though,
He was a good man, you know. The Maharaja himself was not a bad man. He never wanted all this drama. He thought he would remain as an independent Maharaja, which didn’t work. And of course Sheik Abdullah was more crazy for power, so he went and joined hands with India. And then the whole thing started. And that shakar ghar [??] – nine miles of that, Sir Cyril Radcliffe’s boundary thing, with that only the whole drama started.
So you didn’t support Sher-e-Kashmir?
No. I still don’t support him. Because my father had – you know, such a man he was, in spite of all we suffered he never went to ask them for anything you know (chuckles). He says I never believe in these people, I’ll never go.