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The Murder of The Mahatma and Other Cases from a Judge's Note-Book
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There were not wanting instances of angry refugees driving Muslims out of their houses, before they had made up their minds to emigrate, for many of them hoped to continue their lives in their old-established homes after the disturbances, which they hoped would be short-lived, had subsided. This was something the Government of India could not countenance. Mr. Nehru had declared in unequivocal terms that India was going to be a secular State, and any Muslims who chose to remain in the country would be given full protection and citizenship rights.

In Delhi, where there were large numbers of Muslim residents, the situation was at its most difficult. The capital was subjected to a much greater influx of refugees than any other town. It seemed at one stage that everyone from West Punjab--doctor, engineer, lawyer, money-lender, industrialist, business man, shopkeeper, hawker, artisan and manual labourer--had been impelled by an irresistible urge to come and live in Delhi. The old cry of Dillo Chalo (let us go to Delhi), which had been no more than a slogan to rally the forces of patriotism, had, at last, been answered. But there just weren''t enough houses to go round.

The Government of India appointed a senior member of the Indian Civil Service the Custodian of Evacuee Property. It was his duty to protect Muslim property and ''administer'' it according to law. But this was easier said than done. A problem of such magnitude and complexity needed a large measure of initiative, resourcefulness, patience, tact and administrative ability. Above all it demanded a knowledge and understanding of the Punjabis. The Custodian selected by the Government of India was a South Indian, and very soon there were loud complaints of incompetence, favouritism, nepotism and corruption, The matter was raised in Parliament, and an immediate sifting enquiry by a High Court Judge was ordered. The judge had to be a Punjabi, conversant with the people of the Punjab and their problems. The choice fell upon me.

In Delhi I called on the Secretary to the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation, and asked for the terms of reference of the enquiry entrusted to me. I was told that the terms were very wide--as wide as I wished. I was to report on the work of the Custodian and ''clean up the mess''. This was a tall order, and I was doubtful about the legality or at any rate the wisdom of embarking on such a vague and limitless venture without something in the form of an order or Government notification. I went to see the Minister. He assured me that the Secretary had acted under his orders, and that there was no need to limit the scope of my assignment. I would have an entirely free hand and the Government had complete confidence in me, etc., etc.


 
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