1947 Through The Looking Lens

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan

The displacement of over 15 million people in 1947 after the Partition of the Indian subcontinent, seen here through the lens of the only known local Pakistani photographer, F.E. Chaudhry.

The End of the Raj and the Refugee Crisis
After nearly two centuries of direct rule, the British handed over administration of the Indian subcontinent to the locals. Under British rule, Indians had struggled for independence. Among the most prominent anti-colonial figures were Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Their struggle ended with the British finally deciding to leave and handing over their power. Jinnah and his party, All India Muslim League had rallied for an independent state for Muslims in South Asia. When the British decided to leave, they devised a Partition Plan, which announced the creation of two independent states. Pakistan was to become a homeland for the Muslims of South Asia after independence. A Boundary Commission was set up to demarcate borders, which were formally announced on 17 August 1947. However, Pakistan came into being on the 14 August 1947 and many Muslims from all over India made their way to the new country. Thus, millions of people started leaving their homes before the borders of their final destination were formally announced. Amidst riots, political and social chaos that followed, the world witnessed the biggest displacement in human history to date. The plight of refugees who moved has seeped into the social memory and national consciousness of both nations, Pakistan and India. Their stories have trickled down through personal narratives in families and popular culture. In 1947, their journey and lives were captured by eminent photographers, among them was Margaret Bourke-White. However, she and the others were all Western photographers in South Asia and their images have dominated the popular imagery of Partition. This Exhibit showcases some images from the collection of the photographer, F.E. Chaudhry, a local who witnessed the movement of people around him. His collection is not well known to the world. Thus, this Exhibit offers a unique perspective.
The Great Migration
The summer of 1947 witnessed the biggest mass migration in human history. Those who could afford to, left in planes, ships or special trains. However, spaces were scarce. Hence most took regular trains and the poorest of the poor travelled on foot. The journeys of those who migrated were fraught with challenges and difficulty. People often went hungry for days and diseases were rampant. The riots and violence that they suffered just made it all the more difficult. Trains would often arrive filled with only the dead bodies of the passengers. 

A makeshift refugee camp on the route to Lahore, Pakistan. The set up in the background was typical for those who travelled on foot for all or some part of their journey. They set up camp using the little belongings they had set off with, mostly on bullock carts.

Charpoys (South Asian jute beds) were covered with fabric and fortified with hay. There were no proper arrangements for toilets or washing areas. Hence diseases like cholera and typhus spread rapidly, claiming many lives.

A train filled with refugees arriving at Lahore Station from India. The trains carrying the refugees would be filled more than capacity. There were people inside the train, clinging onto the sides of the carriages and on top.

Thousands of refugees boarding a train for Lahore. Due to the overcrowded nature of the trains, people travelled in appalling conditions.

Migration of some refugees from East Punjab (India) to West Punjab (Pakistan) on a bullock cart. An extended family is seated on a bullock cart with as many belongings as they could bring. Their journey would have lasted days, if not weeks. Both the people and animals bore the brunt of Partition.

A woman with her family, making her way to Lahore. Displaced from her home somewhere in India and very likely to have made it through a rough and challenging journey, the feelings of exhaustion and relief are evident on her and her family members' faces.

Th Refugee Camps
Partition saw the division of the Province of Punjab. During the British Raj, it had a Muslim and non-Muslim ratio of roughly 1:1. Upon the announcement of Partition, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who had been friends and neighbours became some of the fiercest foes. As the independence neared, riots and mass killings ensued. Punjab, thus witnessed the bloodiest and one of the largest migrations of people. Camps were set up at various points along both sides of the border. This section showcases images from 1947 and the conditions of the migrants coming into Pakistan from India.

A group of refugees waiting to settle into their camps. The refugee camps lacked basic arrangements. People used tents, fabric, sticks and charpoys to create shelters for themselves.

Volunteers are standing at Lahore Railway Station. They were helping the incoming refugees. The refugees' luggage has been piled up and they were waiting to be given a space to settle at a camp.

Volunteers distributing water to the refugees at Walton camp. The fact that they are on a horse cart suggests that they were distributing huge volumes of water, indicative of the number of people they were helping. Walton was one of the biggest refugee camps in Lahore.

Some of the encampments at Walton Camp, Lahore. This section of encampments was much more organised than most others.
Inside each tent is a charpoy, which was the sitting space during the day and a bed at night. People lived in camps from days to weeks to months.

A typical set up at a refugee camp. Refugees were given tents and they would use various materials including fabric to construct a shelter for themselves. Their possessions were limited and scattered.
Here the tent is set up whilst the few possessions which the refugees had brought with themselves lie around. Among these are steel trunks, bedding, a charpoy and pots. Firewood is seen lying on the ground. Many people spent winters in these tents.
Behind one of the trunks in the background, a refugee is busy with chores.

Another refugee setup.

A woman is cooking on hay and many of the charpoys are entirely or partly damaged. The shelters were just enough to lie under at night. This camp appears to be set up on a roadside, with farmlands in the background.

A group of refugees amongst a large pile of bricks and rubble. It appears that these people are sitting among the ruins of an older structure. It is unclear what that could have been. They could have been houses vacated recently by their inhabitants or an historic site. The refugees are looking for useful materials among the rubble to aid them during their stay at their makeshift camps.

The camps were not equipped to accommodate thousands of people pouring in after Partition.
In the background, some of the arrivals have neatly piled up bricks to create walls. These walls would have been very unstable, symbolic of the lives of the people residing within them at the time.

A group of refugees sitting on charpoys with their few belongings that they had managed to bring from India. With very few means to set up shelter, any kind of reinforcement was a luxury. Hence the foundations of the ruined structure would have been a great asset and comfort during this challenging phase of their lives.

Batches of chapatis (flat bread) being made for refugees settled in the camps. Food was scarce and diseases like cholera were rampant.

The chapatis were rationed. Each member of the household was entitled to two per day. Each household was given a ration card. Often families who lost loved ones at the camp did not declare their demise fearing a cut in ration. Usually volunteers were drawn from those who could read and write from amongst the refugees to assist with the rationing.

A makeshift hospital with a dispensary where the refugees received medical attention at Walton Camp, Lahore. The hospital appears to have been set up in a verandah of a building with no doors. The open space has been covered with dark fabric and patients are waiting outside.

An improvised manual ambulance system carrying a dead body. When the refugees passed away they were carried to a certain area and buried there.

Here the deceased is wrapped in bedding and laid on an inverted charpoy which is suspended from logs. Four men are carrying these logs on their shoulders.

A large group of refugees waiting to receive clothes being distributed by US Care volunteers visiting the camp. Volunteers and others would often offer donations and other services at various refugee camps.

Silent Warriors: The Women of Partition
Women were among the worst affected victims of Partition. The chaos and displacement made them especially vulnerable. They were molested, tortured and kidnapped. Many of the abducted women were forcefully converted to the abductors' religion, who also often married them against their will. There are several accounts of women and girls giving up their own lives by jumping into wells, choosing death over the fate that may have awaited them otherwise.

Due to the limited resources, they made efficient use of the materials around them. Often they would construct makeshift stoves and use basic pots and pans to cook. Here they have built stoves using bricks and lit fires using wood and twigs available in their surroundings.

The suffering of a mother: a young mother in a destitute state after being unable to feed her child in Boli Camp, Lahore.

Although the reason for the loss is unknown, it was not uncommon for parents to lose their children to disease, violence or abduction. Young children also often lost their parents and loved ones.

Women were frequently mistreated during their journey and often arrived at the camps after being molested. It was not uncommon for perpetrators to mutilate women after molesting them. They would cut them up, often slicing off their breasts or genitalia.

The injured woman lamenting her fate, perhaps rubbing off tears, or trying to hide her face.
Many refugees were in dire need of medical care upon arrival at the camps.

A woman among the refugees exposing her body to show the bruises she has endured.

These women were in a setting where the societal norms looked down upon them exposing their bodies. Thus, these women showing their body parts is suggestive of the pain they went through: they were in a state where those norms ceased to matter.

Young girls, among them some mothers.

Many children were born during the journey. Once in the camps, life did not become easier. Their stay in the camps often varied from a few weeks up to a few years.

A horde of women cordoned off at Boli Camp, Lahore with charpoys and sticks, guarded by uniformed officers. It is unclear why they were cordoned. It could have been an due to a special event or circumstances.

A group of female refugees with their children. Both the women and children are in a bad state with torn or no clothes at all. They seem to have taken shelter in one of the then recently evacuated properties, abandoned by those who left for India.

Faustin Elmer Chaudhry (1909-2013), popularly known as ‘Chacha’ was a photojournalist based in Lahore at the time of Partition. He was born to a Christian Rajput family in Shaharanpur, British India. His hobby of photography turned into a freelance journalism career. In 1934, F.E. Chaudhry was teaching science at St. Anthony’s High School, Lahore, when he started his freelance photography. In 1935, Civil and Military Gazette, Lahore published his first news photography. Following this, he free-lanced for Illustrated Weekly of India, Statesman, Bombay and other papers. In 1949, F.E. Chaudhry joined The Pakistan Times and remained associated with it until his retirement in 1973. During his photography career, he documented important events. Among them were the 1940 Muslim League Session in Lahore where a Resolution for a separate Muslim state was passed. In 1947, he was the only known local Pakistani photographer who captured the events surrounding Partition.

Citizens Archive of Pakistan had the privilege of interviewing F.E. Chaudhry during his later years. This image is a still from the interview.

Here F.E. Chaudhry is showing the Citizens Archive of Pakistan's team his selection of photographs.

In this particular image he is talking about one of the many statues that once stood in Karachi.

F.E Chaudary's camera. He used this to capture the collection featured in this Exhibit.

Credits: Story

Initial Design, Concept and Layout:
Aaliyah Tayyebi

Primary Data collection:
CAP Oral History Project Lahore Team 2011
- Haroon Khalid
- Muhammad Owais Rana

Secondary Research:
Aaliyah Tayyebi
Serena Anthony
Rumman Islam
Saba Halepota

Anum Zahid (Photo Editing and Technical Assistance)
Ariba Zaidi (Photo Editing)
Aleena Mashhood (Text and Layout)
Saba Halepota (Text and Layout)

General Editing, Technical Support and Final Design:
Saba Halepota

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to cultural and historic preservation, operating in Karachi and Lahore. We seek to educate the community, foster an awareness of our nation’s history and instil pride in Pakistani citizens about their heritage.

Copyright © 2017 by Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP).
All rights reserved. No part of this Exhibit may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including copying, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP).
All the images shown here pertaining to the refugees of 1947 Partition were donated to CAP by F.E. Chaudhry.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.