Reverse Migration in 1947: When Muslims left Pakistan for India

There are numerous, though not widely reported, instances of reverse migration from Pakistan to India in 1947.

4 min read

Dignified and self-respecting Ghulam Sarwar was known for taking quick decisions. Those were the days when the date for partition had been announced. And when Ghulam Sarwar was asked by his relatives in faraway Peshawar to leave the then Bombay and return home, he took an important decision of his life.

“No way, we would not leave Bombay. Now, India is our home”, declared Dilip Kumar’s father, Lala Ghulam Sarwar. Dilip Kumar has narrated this incident in his autobiography The Substance and the Shadow. And by 1947, Dilip Kumar was already a star in Bollywood. His film Jwahar Bhata had just released and he was working for Bombay Talkies established by legendary Devika Rani.


Taj Mohammad Chose to Come to India

And in Pathans heartland Peshawar, a young Congress activist Taj Mohammad Khan, along with his several relatives and friends shunned Jinnah’s Pakistan for Gandhi's India in the second week of August,1947.

Taj was Shahrukh Khan’s father and a young Pathan when India was carved out on communal lines in 1947. He was greatly influenced by Gandhi ji, ‘Frontier Gandhi’ Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Pandit Nehru. And when communal riots broke out post partition, Taj Mohammad decided to leave his homeland for a secular India. He came to Delhi and remained a Congress activist.

It goes without saying that it wasn’t an easy task for the likes of Ghulam Sarvar and Taj Mohammad to settle for India.

Shahrukh Khan has said several times that his father, Taj Khan, was a Congress activist and totally opposed to the idea of partition of the country on the basis of religion. He came to Delhi along with his family members.

Taj Khan was a lawyer and died of cancer in 1981.

‘Missing Delhi in Karachi’

If not thousands of Muslims, there were many who shifted to India from newly created Pakistan in 1947 when communal passions were running high. And the number of those who returned from Pakistan after visiting there for couple of weeks or may be months must be thousands. Dozens of Delhi and UP based Punjabi Muslims shifted to Karachi only to return ‘home’ soon.

These Punjabi Muslims have settled in Delhi since long. They have a dedicated burial ground in Delhi as well. M.A. Abdullah, a Punjabi and a classmate of Gen Zia ul Haq at St. Stephen's College, too shifted to Karachi. An uncle of writer Sadia Dehalvi, Abdullah came back with his several cousins soon as they ‘dearly missed the life of Delhi-6’.

Once Mr HC Shourie, who was the Rehabilitation Commissioner of refugees in Delhi, told me that several Muslims families from NWFP (North West Frontier Province) region of Pakistan came to India in 1947. They were not ready to live in Jinnah’s Pakistan.

That region had been spared from the impact of communal violence that engulfed Punjab and Bengal. Locals were close to Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan. Later, many Hindus, Sikhs and even Muslims migrated to Afghanistan.

Also Read: ‘Partition Must Be Seen Minus Misconceptions, in Broader Context’


Biggest Mass Migration

Post partition, massive population exchange occurred between the two countries. Once the borders were ascertained, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was the relative safety of religious majority.

Based on 1951 census of displaced persons, 7,226,000 Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 7,249,000 Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan immediately after partition.

However, the Census failed to identify those Muslims who migrated from Pakistan to India. Returning to the likes of Ghulam Sarvar and Taj Mohammad Khan, it goes without saying they would have taken that conscious decision after much thought. They would have also faced some resistance, perhaps stiff opposition from their close ones as well.

Also Read: Remembering Partition: 70 Years Since the India-Pakistan Divide


Re-Locating to India

Among others, Mohammad Yunus, a close family friend of Nehru-Gandhi family, also came to Delhi along with many Muslims. A close relative of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mohammad Yunus never returned to his native place. For years together, he was heading the Trade Fair Authority of India.

New Delhi-based noted author and theatre activist Dr Shamshul Islam's family came from Rawalpindi to Delhi after violence broke out there. His father, grand-father and other close relatives were not ready to live in Pakistan. Islam, who teaches at Delhi’s Satyawati College, says that no member of his family has ever regretted their decision to live in India.

It is rather surprising that reverse migration, albeit small, but very significant, hardly gets any attention from historians. Unlike the general perception that only Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India in the wake of partition of the country in 1947, many Muslim families too decided to re-locate to India rather than staying in an Islamic country.

And finally, spare a thought what if Ghulam Sarvar had migrated to Peshawar with his family and Taj Mohammad had remained in his hometown? Would Bollywood have got the likes of superstars like Dilip saab and King Khan? Scary thought indeed!


(The writer is former Editor, Somaiya Publications. He can be reached @VivekShukla108. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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