Kerala's Forgotten 'Sardar' That Saved Thousands During Partition (2023)

Although forgotten in the pages of history, 'Sardar' KM Panikkar made a monumental effort to save the lives of thousands of refugees after Partition. Here is his story.

What are the milestones that an individual must reach for their life to be “well lived”? Humans tend to describe a person's life in a few words: she was a scientist, he was a martyr, she was a writer.

We wrote it down on paper, we compiled it into abook and call it history. But history, for the most part, is forgotten. And along with it are the people who shaped our past and, in some ways, our future.

So when I googled Sardar KM Panikkar, I realized that as the pages of history turned, his work had faded over the years. On further investigation, I found that these pages were trying to describe him in a few words: "he was the first president of the Kerala Sahitya Academy". But would he be just another writer and lover of poetry, or are we forgetting something?

a life well lived

Panikkar was born and raised in Travancore, then a princely state in British India, the son of Puthillathu Parameswaran Namboodiri and Chalayil Kunjikutti Kunjamma. Multilingual writer, statesman, educator, diplomat, journalist and India's first independent ambassador to China, Panikkar is one of the best hands on shaping modern India.

After completing his education in Madras andOxford University, he worked as a professor at the Aligarh Muslim University and later at the University of Calcutta. Soon, he found his calling elsewhere and became the editor of theHindustan Timesin 1925.

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Historian at heart, he has written several books such asMalabar and the Portuguese(1929) miMalabar and the Dutch(1931). Jawaharlal Nehru recommended his bookAsia and Western Dominanceand Krishna Menon said, "He can write a history book in half an hour, which I could not write in six years."

He was fond of poetry and languages ​​and was interested in Malayalam poetry from a very young age using the Dravidian meter. He spoke enthusiastically about the importance of the Dravidian languages ​​to Indian culture. In 1956, he became the first president of the Kerala Sahitya Academy.

After India gained independence, Panikkar was one of the members of the first Indian delegation to the UN under the leadership of Vijay Laxmi Pandit. He was appointed the first ambassador of independent India to China and then to Egypt in 1952.

always apatriot Working With The Government,his life seemed to be reaching the point where he strategically saved at least a thousand border-crossing refugees during the Partition.

Kerala's Forgotten 'Sardar' That Saved Thousands During Partition (1)

The 'sardar' that saved thousands of refugees

When India finally gained its independence, there was a lingering hope for freedom, growth, and a better future. But what followed was also a divided country and days of horror.

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in your bookin two Chinese, Panikkar gave a detailed description of his last days in Bikaner as the secretary of the Princes' House, before being called to serve as ambassador. "To the north and east of it (Bikaner) was eastern Punjab, where Hindus and Sikhs united against Muslims and indulged in murder, looting and arson."

“To the west is Bahawalpur, Pakistan, where in a single day five thousand Hindus were massacred,” he wrote, adding that the chaos on both sides had led to a massive influx of Hindu and Sikh refugees fleeing Pakistan and arriving in Bikaner. .

the muslimpopulation living in Bikanerhe too was terrified. "They were not afraid of the refugees, but of the vengeful Sikhs living in neighboring Ganga Nagar."

Panikkar had decided to do something about the situation. In times of great distress, the human brain is capable of unimaginable things. Purely out of humanity, he decided his course of action to save those innocent refugees.

He recalled: "I was well aware that if I did not stop the fire on the Bikaner borders and prevent it from spreading, it would not be able to be stopped and would reach Bombay with consequences that no one could have foreseen."

He was afraid of causing communal misunderstanding in the land of Rajasthan, where history has witnessed numerous attacks on Rajput kingdoms by Muslim invaders trying to save Muslim refugees. But he decided to go ahead.

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Kerala's Forgotten 'Sardar' That Saved Thousands During Partition (2)

Stepping on volatile ground, Panikkar writes: “I was determined at all costs to prevent the issue from spreading in Bikaner, not only out of humanitarian considerations, but because I was well aware of the consequences of stirring up dormant anti-Muslim sentiment among Rajputs. . , and I knew that if there was the slightest weakening on my part, the Rajputana would repeat, perhaps in exaggerated form, the terrible history of the Punjab."

With the support of Maharaja Sadul Singh, he sent the princely army to Ganga Nagar for inspection and issued a warning. The army was ordered to fire on the demonstrators and civil authorities were authorized to impose collective fines on communities that committed acts of violence.

Even with these measures in place, he feared the violence would end as tensions rise in Punjab and New Delhi.

With the center overwhelmed by an influx of refugees, their pleas for help fell on deaf ears. He decided to take matters into his own hands. “I decided to escort the refugees across the state, partly by special trains via the Bikaner State Railway and partly on foot across the Bikaner sands,” he wrote.

The decision did not sit well with the violent crowd, but it had the full support of the Maharaja.

The first convoy reached Pakistan without a single person being injured. "Getting up my nerve, I then ordered a second convoy, this time on foot, with only a police escort, to cross the state," he writes.

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Thousands of women, men and children walked these 350 km and crossed the desert. “When this exhausting procession also reached Pakistan, I breathed a sigh of relief,” Panikkar writes in his book.

The Partition left a deep mark on the diplomat's life. He went to New York as part of the Indian delegation to theUnited Nations General Assembly,who subsequently began his career as a diplomat for India.

Recalling the days of the Partition, he writes: "Inhuman cruelty, deliberate massacres and large-scale relapse into atavistic barbarism, which were on display on both sides."

Panikkar died in 1963, while serving as vice-chancellor at the University of Mysore, due to heart failure. But his courageous act shaped a remarkable legacy.

So the next time we read about him, hopefully history will also remember him as the 'Sardar' who went to great lengths to preserve something precious: fellow humans.

(Edited by Divya Sethu)

kilometers Panikkar, a historian of our time: By Archishman Raju for The Wire, published June 20, 2020.
Sardar K. M. Panikkar: Profile of a Historian (A Study of Modern Indian Historiography): By Banerjee, Tarasankar for Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, published on November 26, 2019.
Greetings to the smaller states: by Ramachandra Guha for The Hindu, published May 9, 2004.
Sardar KM Panikkar: a maritime visionary: By TP Sreenivasan for Chanakya Forum, posted on March 28, 2022.
Sardar KM Panikkar - savior of thousands of Partition refugees: by Ajay Kamalakaran for Onmanorama, published on August 23, 2021.


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