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Thursday, June 01, 2006
  Excerpts From Bengalvoice.com

Posted by: G.Subramaniam Dec 30 2005, 07:40 PM

I shall soon start posting from various books on atrocities against BD hindus sourced from bengalvoice.com

Posted by: G.Subramaniam Jan 8 2006, 08:16 PM

http://www.bengalvoice.com/uproot_foreword.htm My People, Uprooted "A Saga of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal" Tathagata Roy -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- FOREWORD This book is a forceful exposure of atrocious human rights violations in the erstwhile East Bengal, later known as East Pakistan after the partition of India in 1947 and till later as Bangladesh since its independence in 1971. The author, Tathagata Roy, an engineer by profession with a legal background, thoroughly researched books and written documents supplemented by oral history based on interviews of witnesses. Though based in India he has family roots in East Bengal. However, he has tried to get over the personal factor and present an objective outlook. Hindu-Muslim relationship in India has always been a controversial topic. Anyone speaking on behalf of a particular community is likely to be doubled as communal. Yet, truth demands outspokenness. Knowledge advances on controversies. Anyone who does not like the author’s point of view must come forward with contradiction based on contrary evidence so that truth may ultimately come out in the open. Secularism does not call for the suppression of truth, however unpalatable that may be. With such an attitude of mind one should go through this book. It may be said that the book presents only one side of the picture. But nothing prevents one from presenting the other side. This book gives us the details of Hindu-Muslim relations in East Bengal during the British Rule, followed by the Pakistani Government and finally the Independent Bangladesh. The Hindus being a minority there were always at the receiving end. The nadir was reached during the Noakhali carnage which prompted Mahatma Gandhi to lead a peace mission there. Sir Stafford Cripps had to concede about Gandhiji, “Almost alone he quelled the disturbances in Bengal which but for the force of his character and teaching would undoubtedly have led to disasters as serious as those in Punjab.” (quoted in Dr. Rafiq Zakaria’s Gandhi and the Break-up of India, pp. 26 1-262). Gandhiji’s Noakhali Diary gives us many pathetic details. Gaitdhiji was specially moved by the atrocities committed on women in Noakhali. The present book supplements the existing information with graphic details. Yet Gandhiji’s peace mission did not totally succeed, for there was an exodus of millions of Hindus from that part upon and after partition of India. This book establishes that the process has not yet stopped. In spite of changes in the Governments the gruesome tale still continues. Now fundamentalist forces muffle the saner elements of that country. New exodus of Hindus follows. Strangely enough, there has been a large scale infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh in adjoining States in India largely on economic compulsions creating imbalance in India. The author strongly argues that silence in this behalf is not golden. Secularism, he contends, does not demand suppression of facts. In my view, the author’s marshalling of facts is stimulating and persuasive, Whether one agrees with him or not, one will be impressed by the author’s approach towards truth of this painful situation with penetrating zeal. The book may be controversial but cannot be called communal, This book is a truthful record of the continued human rights violation in our neighbouring country. Without meaning any disrespect the author presses for the remedy of an unbearable situation. This book is recommended for all discerning readers for careful critical study. Pratap Chnndra Chunder Formerly Union Minister of Education, Social Welfare and Culture -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Dedication : Shyama Prasad Mookerjee in the year of centenary of his birth Copyright : © Tathagata Roy : First Published in 2002, ISBN : 81-85709-67-X Publisher : Arun Goswami, Ratna Prakashan, 2/73, Vivek nagar, Kolkata - 700075, India: Ph : 417-3731 Composed & Printed by : D & P Graphics Pvt. Ltd., Ganganagar, North 24 Parganas Ph : 838-8880 Web Design and Hosting : The Dhakeshwari Foundation : Washington D.C. United States of America -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Dhakeshwari Foundation homepage

Posted by: G.Subramaniam Jan 8 2006, 08:18 PM

http://www.bengalvoice.com/uproot_preface.htm My People, Uprooted "A Saga of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal" Tathagata Roy -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- PREFACE As prefaces go, this is rather a long one, but there are reasons for it. I strongly suggest that the prospective reader go through it carefully. It is important for appreciation of certain aspects of the book The topic is already very nearly forgotten. It would be completely so in another twenty years when the people, who saw it all happen, die away. I did not see it happen, but at some stage of my life formed an abiding interest in my roots, and therefore in the subject. The subject is the persecution, partly state-sponsored, qualifying as human rights violation, and the resultant exodus of Hindus from what was once known as Eastern Bengal. This ‘Eastern Bengal’ later came to be known as East Pakistan, and is now known as Bangladesh. This exodus began with the independence and the partition of India and that of the province of Bengal, became a flood during the East Pakistan days and continues, though to a lesser extent, to this day. The stated purpose of this book is to put on record this major case of human rights violation ; and also to trigger further research on the subject ; and further to point out the extent to which it has been concealed. To restate the same on a different plane, the purpose is to tell the post-1960 generation of Bangladeshi Muslims on the one hand and of Indian Bengali Hindus with East Bengali roots on the other, what their ancestors did, the former to the latter, and how the latter swallowed and concealed it. The purpose of the book is not, repeat not, to create disaffection between Hindu and Muslim or between India and Bangladesh. It is my firm belief that telling the truth does not create disaffection, but concealing it may do so, at least in the long run. However, if such disaffection does result then it is again my belief that the same should be taken care of by means other than suppressing the truth. Preferably by facing it, and also facing the fact that the post-independence generation in either country and either religion have not been told the truth, from mala fide motives. Very strangely, in these times when world opinion quickly crystallises to condemn any human rights violation, this is one of the very few cases that has all but escaped the attention of the world, even of most of India. Even people who are vaguely aware of the human rights violations in East Bengal suffer from very basic and serious misconceptions about certain aspects of the matter. This is mainly in relation to the aftermath of the exodus and a comparison of refugees from the two erstwhile wings of Pakistan – in other words a comparison between Punjabi and Bengali refugees. The fundamental difference between the two migrations was that the first was a violent, one-time, but two-way affair while the latter was – and is – a continuing one-way traffic, the result of periodic gentle, and not-so-gentle, squeezes. This difference is not only not appreciated by most people ; it is not even known to them. But, precisely because of this ignorance, the question might be asked, why am I talking about the movement of Hindus alone? What about the reciprocal movement of Muslims from West to East Bengal? The simple reason why I am not talking about any such thing is that there was no such thing, no such reciprocal movement. Muslims have not left West Bengal in any number worth mentioning. This fundamental difference between the human migration in Bengal and that in Punjab simply cannot be overstated. In Punjab, after January 1948, no Muslim was left on the Indian side, and no Hindu or Sikh on the Pakistani side – literally. On the other hand, religious violence in the wake of partition in Bengal, unlike in Punjab, has been strictly a one-way affair. In Punjab there was a Patiala massacre (of Muslims) to match a Sheikhupura (of Sikhs and Hindus), but there is no parallel of the Meghna Bridge or Jagannath Hall massacres in West Bengal. In fact there has been quite the opposite. The Radcliffe award gave Muslim-majority Murshidabad district to India, and in return Hindu-majority Khulna district went to Pakistan. Today the proportion of Muslims in Murshidabad is much more than what it was at the time of partition, while the Hindu population of Khulna has decimated. There is no Jhulan-jatra any more in Dacca, but Idd and Muhurrum are celebrated with all pomp and glory in Calcutta. Infiltration of Bangladeshi Muslims into the border districts of West Bengal and Bihar goes on unabated, and that into Assam has reduced – not stopped – only after a bloody revolt. Strangely, volumes have been written and spoken in India (mostly in Bangla), and rivulets of tears have been shed about the manner in which the Bengali refugees have suffered in India (which was quite horrible), but practically nothing about what made them refugees or what they suffered in East Bengal that drove them to take refuge in India. The reasons of not so writing are quite interesting and intriguing. This book, therefore, addresses itself, to these two aspects : namely, what happened to the Hindus in erstwhile East Pakistan, and why whatever happened has been so carefully kept under wraps – not just by the tormentors (which is understandable) but also by the victims, as also the media, political parties, intellectuals, and the like, barring a few feeble exceptions. Published material on these aspects is therefore scarce, and whatever little exists on either side of the border is almost entirely in the Bangla. It is these sources in Bangla that have largely formed the foundations of my research on the subject. The sources of information in printed form have all been referenced in endnotes. Very little of the contents of this book are based on personal experience. I was born in 1945, and the problem had mostly (though not completely) solved itself – as all human problems do, given time – by the time I was mature enough to attempt any serious observation. A substantial part is based on interviews of persons who have seen it all happen with their own eyes, as also others, in India and Bangladesh, and a few in the United States. The interviews were all conducted during the writing of this book, between 1999 and 2001. Quite a few of the interviewees were in their sixties and seventies, some in their eighties, and the events they were trying to describe had taken place some fifty years ago ; it is therefore possible that some inaccuracies had crept in. There is some hearsay also, kept down to the barest minimum. Wherever possible their names and relevant particulars of the persons interviewed have been given. Some of them have wished anonymity, and such wish has been respected. A complete bibliography, list of interviewees and a set of acknowledgements appears at the end of the book. The questions may well be asked : who is this author, is he qualified to write something like this? And what is the point of writing it anyway, instead of letting bygones be bygones? The last contention is patently puerile – if accepted it would do away with all unpleasant chapters of human history. And it is my duty to answer the rest of the questions too. Also, in the final analysis, for a person like me who does not habitually write books, the provocation to write a book like this must come from something that is intensely personal. It is also my duty to explain this angle. I am, of all things, a Civil Engineer by training, with also a degree in Law, teaching and working professionally in the interface area of the two disciplines. I am also into active politics, in the Bharatiya Janata Party to be specific, where I head the West Bengal state unit. I have had no formal training in historical, political or sociological research. My interest in the subject primarily stems from the fact that I find the contemporary history and politics of Bengal a fascinating subject, and also that I am Hindu, and my parents came from East Bengal, though I have lived most of my life in Kolkata or Calcutta. My grandfather on my father’s side was a Naib, a sort of Zamindar’s manager (the term is explained in the text) in Satgaon, a tiny village near Brahmanbaria, a subdivisional (now a district of Bangladesh) town in the erstwhile district of Tipperah in East Bengal. My father, a physicist by training, and then a foreman in Survey of India’s Mathematical Instruments Office, had been living in Calcutta for many years when I was born, and my immediate family did not suffer in any significant way as a result of the partition of Bengal and the resultant exodus. My only claim to any kind of skill in this subject is that certain aspects of the exodus have been troubling me since my childhood, and I have tried to read up all I could on the subject. As I have said earlier, there is precious little, and quite a bit of it in Bangla, which being my mother tongue I had no difficulty with. As I am not trained or equipped to write History I shall not claim that this book constitutes History. It could perhaps qualify as a political essay. I can however, justifiably contend that it contains an organised presentation of a large number of hitherto unpublished facts, and some published only in Bangla. It also contains inferences from facts, mostly my own, but also of others from published works, interspersed with the facts. And finally, it contains a full chapter on the hiding of history, and why and how this was done. Now, what happened to trigger my interest in the subject was that when I was a child of eight or so, I had an occasion to pass through the Sealdah railway station of Calcutta sometime in 1952 or 1953. The Sealdah railway terminus was the hub of the railway network that then connected Calcutta to East Bengal, and the foyer and the forecourt of station in those days was something that would put even the present-day squalor of my home town to shame. I saw, with those eyes that only a child has, an emaciated family of some six or seven huddled in a space of about forty square feet in which the mother was trying to nurse a howling baby (the udder must have been dry for several days, I realised much later) while at the same time trying to cook some gruel from vegetable peelings on a fuel of semi-combustible garbage and pieces of rubber tyres. The rest of the family (a middle-aged man, a few naked boys and girls) lounged about listlessly, all within the said forty square feet, within a short distance of where they (and others) had relieved themselves. To this day I hold in my olfactory memory the putrid smells of the smoke from the cooking of the rotting vegetable, the stale urine, the smouldering garbage, the pungent burning-rubber smoke, the all-pervasive decay. I was with my father, so I asked him who these people were. He said they were ‘refugees’, and upon some more insistent questioning from a precocious kid, let it be known, in steps and with some irritation (he was what is known in India as a ‘secular’ person) that they had been driven out of East Bengal because they were Hindus in a land of Muslims and had nowhere to go and were therefore here at the station. I then asked him a question that totally discomfited him in a way I found rather strange, and he told me very brusquely to shut up. I was taken aback, for he was normally a very gentle person, and certainly not inclined to speak to his eight-year-old son that way. I did promptly shut up, but the question refused to go away. Now today, well into my fifties, I realise that whatever might have been the answer to the question, one can neither turn the clock back nor try to do what should have been done fifty years ago. On the other hand, it is totally dishonest, stupid, and even downright dangerous, to pretend that such things never happened. And yet that is what the country, including the East Bengali Hindus themselves, have been doing, for the sake of something that passes in India by the names of ‘communal harmony’ and ‘secularism’. I realise that assailing this holy ghost of ‘communal harmony’ and 'secularism' may result immediately in my being dubbed ‘communal’ or ‘anti-Muslim’. Being called ‘communal’ by those who subscribe to the Left-Nehruvian concept of 'secularism' is something that I am prepared to live with, because I do not subscribe to that concept. However, in reply to the second possible charge I have searched my heart and have come up with the answer that I am not anti-Muslim. On the other hand I am decidedly anti-anti-Hindu. If that term did not exist before then I claim full credit for coining it. To these champions of communal harmony I have quite a few questions to put: Can ‘communal harmony’ justify denying mass-scale state-sponsored persecution, ethnic cleansing, arson, rape, murder and mayhem and the pauperisation of some eight million people – in fact denying history? Should communal harmony encourage collective forgetfulness of a sordid chapter in the life of a people? Would anyone, in the name of promoting German-Israeli or Jewish-Gentile goodwill, seriously consider denying that the holocaust took place? Or, in the interest of good relations between Blacks and Whites, hide the stories of slavery and the unimaginable human rights violations against Blacks that took place in the U. S. South in the years of racial segregation and in South Africa during the apartheid era? Is it not infinitely more preferable in such cases to come out with what happened, analyse the reasons (including the reasons for denial, if any), and then say, in the manner of the wall at the former concentration camp at Dachau : “Plus Jamais, Nie Wieder, Nikogda Bolshiy, Never Again”? Is it not one of the purposes of writing History to learn lessons for the future? And is it not possible, if such lessons are not learnt, that History might truly repeat itself, and some future generation of Hindus of West Bengal at some date in the future might find themselves in the same plight, with nowhere further west to go? I think it is quite possible. Some signs are already visible. Hence this book. T. R. “Khoma jetha kheen durbolota He rudro, nishthur jeno hote pari totha Tomar adeshey. Jeno roshonay momo Shottobakko jholi uthe khorokhorgoshomo Tomar ingitey. Jeno raakhi tobo maan Tomar bicharashoney loye nij sthan Onnay je kore ar onnay je shohe Tobo ghrina tare jeno trinoshomo dohe” TRANSLATION (Where forgiveness is but weakness, O Lord, May I have the strength, by your command, to be merciless May the truth flash from my mouth, like a cutlass, at your bidding. May I do you honour by doing justice, as you would have done. Let your divine ire burn those that do wrong and also those that suffer wrongs in silence) Nyaydondo : Noibedyo : Rabindra Nath Tagore Klaivyam masmagamah Partha na etat tvayee upapadyate Kshudram hridayadaurvalyam tyakta uttishthata parantapa (O Partha (Arjuna)! This frailty does not become you! Get rid of your petty weaknesses and stand up to fight) Lord Krishna, Bhagavad Gita, II.3 There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one's native land Euripedes, 431 B.C. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Dedication : Shyama Prasad Mookerjee in the year of centenary of his birth Copyright : © Tathagata Roy : First Published in 2002, ISBN : 81-85709-67-X Publisher : Arun Goswami, Ratna Prakashan, 2/73, Vivek nagar, Kolkata - 700075, India: Ph : 417-3731 Composed & Printed by : D & P Graphics Pvt. Ltd., Ganganagar, North 24 Parganas Ph : 838-8880 Web Design and Hosting : The Dhakeshwari Foundation : Washington D.C. United States of America -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Dhakeshwari Foundation homepage

Posted by: G.Subramaniam Jan 8 2006, 08:23 PM

http://www.bengalvoice.com/uproot_chapter1.htm My People, Uprooted "A Saga of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal" Tathagata Roy -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 1 THE BACKGROUND : PRE-PARTITION BENGALI SOCIETY This is a strange story of persecution, ethnic cleansing based on religion, related politics and en masse delusion, partly self-induced. As stories of persecutions in recent times go, the story is quite horrible, though by no means unparalleled. The Jews had been subject to much worse persecution in Europe through the ages, which reached its climax in Hitler’s Germany ; so had the Blacks in the segregation-era U. S. South and in apartheid-era South Africa, the Armenians in Turkey, Native Americans in the United States, Aborigenes in Australia. What Pol Pot, the Maoist dictator, did to his fellow Cambodians was many times more horrendous. The phrase ‘ethnic cleansing’ was coined during the expulsion of Bosnian or Albanian Muslims from the Serb-dominated areas of Bosnia or Kosovo, in the Nineteen-nineties. That ethnic cleansing was also quite horrible. Politics, mainly of self-aggrandizement of a few petty (and petty-minded) leaders at the cost of a hapless multitude is at the root of all these, and is an unfortunate, though essential, element. Also, not at all unusual. It is in the delusional element that this story takes the cake. Certainly very few times in human history, probably never, have a group of people been subjected to mass destruction, eviction, arson, pillage, murder, bestiality, mayhem and massacre, and especially rape and brutalisation of their womenfolk, and thereafter have been told, partly by some of their own compatriots and leaders but also by others, that all this never happened. That in the interest of something very laudable called ‘communal harmony’, this is best forgotten, the faster the better, so that once the generation that went through it dies away, there would remain no records and no memory, neither smriti nor shruti. Then there is self-created or self-magnified guilt. If it happened at all, it was the victims’ own fault, because the victims (when they were not victims) didn’t talk nicely to the poor rapists and murderers (when they were not rapists and murderers), made them stand outside the house while they talked to them (Musolmandere amra daoay uthte dei nai, niche dara karaiya katha kaitam) ; aren’t rape and murder just punishment for such behaviour? Finally there is transfer of guilt. If there was anyone to blame for this it was not the people who took part in the mayhem and rape, but the people who gave refuge to the victims, because the refuge they gave was not good enough. That the villains were only apparently so, and the victims were damned anyway. That the real blame belonged not to the perpetrators, but to those who had led them astray (namely the British), and taught them to hate people who did not profess the same religion. That copious tears ought to be shed for the people after they were dispossessed and beaten, but looking at who had beaten and dispossessed them, and how, was verboten. All in the name of communal harmony, of course. In short this is a story of standing logic and common sense on its head ; and of hiding the truth, passing off half-truths as the truth, adding a lot of garbage to the truth. The result of all this is that the exodus of Hindus from East Bengal does not figure in the list of great refugee movements of the world, although some eight million moved out – more than the present population of Switzerland. Even an approximate figure is not officially available. On the other hand, much smaller refugee movements such as those of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda and Timor have found a place in the annals of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Yes, there was one phase of movement which has found a place in the records. It is the exodus of Bengali Hindus and Muslims from erstwhile East Pakistan to India (mainly West Bengal) in the wake of Pakistani crackdown during the Bangladesh Liberation War. But not the exodus of the Hindus over the preceding twenty-three years. But let us put first things first and take a look at the protagonists. Bengalis are a people who speak the language Bengali, or Bangla, and had been living in Bengal, a province of the erstwhile British India. Calcutta was the capital of Bengal, and the city also used to double as the capital of British India till 1911 when it lost that honour to New Delhi. They still live there, that is to say in the land mass which once formed Bengal, with some serious redistribution of population with which this book is vitally concerned. The only difference is that there is no longer any place called Bengal. What was once Bengal is now divided principally into two parts, the Indian state of West Bengal and the Sovereign Republic of Bangladesh. It cannot be said that the Bengalis as a people, are not worthy of note. It has been said that they are possessed of considerable intellectual prowess, alertness and openness of mind. It has also been said that they are irritable, indolent, argumentative, and tend to defy authority without any reason at all. Going by quite objective standards however, quite a few Bengalis have made their prominent marks in this world. Of the five ethnic Indians who have so far been awarded the Nobel Prize, namely Rabindra Nath Tagore[1], C.V.Raman[2], Hargobind Khorana[3], S. Chandrasekhar[4] and Amartya Sen[5], (not counting Mother Teresa[6]) two are Bengalis – Bengali Hindus actually, the first and the last. The third and the fourth are full-blooded Indians as well as Indian-born, though they later became U.S. citizens. Apart from these Nobel Laureates, Bengal can boast of such intellectual giants in different walks of life as the monk Swami Vivekananda[7], the novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee[8], the philosopher and mystic Sri Aurobindo[9], the scientists Jagadis Chandra Bose[10] and Satyendra Nath Bose[11], the archaeologist Rakhaldas Banerjee[12], the jurist Radha Binode Pal[13], to name but very few. One feature that distinguishes Bengalis is that they are unusually proud of, and exhibit an extraordinary attachment to their language, Bangla. The Bangla language is one of the several North Indian tongues descended from Prakrit and Sanskrit, and is written in a script that is very close to Devnagri, the script in which Hindi is written. The script is shared by the Assamese and Manipuri languages also. The language had absorbed a large number of Arabic and Persian words along the way, but retains its essential Sanskrit base. The language is a soft and mellifluous one, and its vowels are pronounced through rounded lips. The Bengalis of the province of Bengal were however, not a monolithic lot, but were vertically divided by religion. According to the 1941 census 53.4 per cent of the Bengalis were Muslims and the rest Hindus, with a minuscule proportion of Buddhists and Christians thrown in. The province was divided into five administrative divisions, which were further subdivided into districts, as follows : Presidency division, consisting of the districts of 24-Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad, Jessore and Khulna and the Presidency town of Calcutta ; Burdwan division, with the districts of Howrah, Hooghly, Midnapore, Bankura, Burdwan and Birbhum ; Rajshahi division, with the districts of Rajshahi, Pabna, Malda, Dinajpur, Bogra, Rangpur, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling ; Dacca division, with the districts of Dacca, Faridpur, Barisal and Mymensingh (the largest district in British India) ; and Chittagong division with the districts of Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Noakhali and Tipperah. Apart from these districts of Bengal, the people of Sylhet district of Assam, adjoining the Tipperah and Mymensingh districts of Bengal, those of the princely state of Cooch Behar adjoining Jalpaiguri and Rangpur, and a large number among the people of the princely state of Tripura, and among those of the districts of Manbhum nad Singhbhum in Bihar also largely spoke Bangla, and therefore were Bengalis. A map of the erstwhile province of Bengal, as it existed till the midnight of 14th August 1947 is at Fig. 1. The Bangla-speaking areas outside Bengal are also shown in the same map. M A P - F I G.1 There was a vague and unofficial division of the province into three parts : East, West and North. West included the Presidency and Burdwan divisions ; North, the Rajshahi division ; and East, the Dacca and Chittagong divisions. There were substantial differences in the geography and the culture of the three parts. The West, particularly Burdwan division, had no navigable rivers, and some parts of the division were semi-arid ; however, the division had very large reserves of coal in its Ranigunge coalfields which had sired a large number of heavy industries in the region, including an integrated steel plant at Burnpur. The North was bounded by two great rivers, Padma and Jamuna (different from the Jumna or Yamuna which flows by Delhi and Agra ; this Jamuna is the Bengali incarnation of the mighty Brahmaputra of Assam). The region was criss-crossed by a number of swift-flowing tributaries of the two rivers. The East, as opposed to the two, was a low-lying flood plain, being a delta created by three huge rivers : Ganga, a snow-fed river, rechristened after entering Bengal as Padma; Brahmaputra, ditto, Jamuna ; and Meghna, a short but wide river fed only by rain, but from some of the rainiest places in the world, including Cherrapunjee. Certainly the major rivers, and practically all their tributaries and distributaries were navigable right through the year. In fact the usual means of locomotion in British East Bengal used to be the country boat, the nouka. By some quirk of demography, West Bengal was Hindu-majority while East and North Bengal were Muslim-majority. This is quite paradoxical, if one considers the balance between the two religions in the South Asian subcontinent. If one travelled from West to East along the vast land mass known as Indo-Gangetic plain (Aryavarta) in those pre-partition days, when there were some Hindus and some Muslims in every part of the plain, one would have observed that the proportion of Muslims in the population would go on reducing as one went east. Thus, the North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and Sind were overwhelmingly Muslim ; Punjab was balanced, with a Muslim majority tapering off as one went from Attock to Ambala, west to east within the province ; and the United Provinces and Bihar were overwhelmingly Hindu. Then how is it that suddenly the pattern reversed itself in East and North Bengal, and then again fell into place in the easternmost province of British India, namely Assam? This question had perplexed Syed Mujtabaa Ali[14] who had come to the conclusion that this was due to the arrival of Arab traders in the coastal towns of East Bengal, in the Chittagong-Barisal stretch who had settled down and brought and spread their faith in much the same way as they did in the Malabar region of present-day Kerala, or in Malaysia or Indonesia. Annada Sankar Ray[15] writes in his Jukto Bonger Sriti (Memoirs of United Bengal)[16] that a tradition existed in Chittagong of writing Bangla in Arabic script. He attributes it to maritime trade relations between Chittagong and Arabia from the pre-Islamic period. The theory of Islam being spread by this trade-and-contact route, rather than by the conquest-and-conversion route, is plausible, and also attractive, but is probably not correct. Plausible, because a similar phenomenon was noticed in the case of a number of Portuguese who had settled down in those parts, and had created Roman Catholic pockets. Buddhadeb Bose[17] writes in the first part of his autobiography Amar Chhelebela (Bengali) that he had seen a person of almost pure Portuguese blood in the coastal town of Noakhali in the 1920s who spoke the usual Noakhali dialect. Gopal Haldar, in his reminiscences[18] of pre-partition Noakhali mentions two villages adjoining Noakhali town called Shahebghata (literally, wharf of the Europeans) and Ezbelia (Isabella?), inhabited by ordinary-looking folk but of the Catholic faith, and with names like Gonsalves and Fernandes. This theory, on the other hand, is probably not correct, because firstly, it cannot explain how faraway places in North Bengal, such as Rangpur and Dinajpur became Muslim-majority, while places more accessible on the riverine route, such as Lower Assam, did not ; also why the Portuguese, who were no less proselytizers than the Arabs, could not spread their faith. Finally, the theory is probably not correct because there is a better explanation. That explanation is that this region, along with large parts of the rest of India and places as far west and north as modern-day Afghanistan and Xinjiang, had become entirely Buddhist, and by the sixth century or so this Buddhism had also become adulterated with diverse forms of animism, occult practices, promiscuity, and the like, something in the nature of what is known in Hinduism as vamachara, and had degenerated into a loose faith. The great Acharya Sankara set out on foot from faraway Kerala to set right this state of affairs and in a life of only 32 years got the country firmly back to the Hindu fold. It is possible that the Acharya could not reach the eastern parts of Bengal because of the relative inaccessibility of the delta. In fact the delta of Eastern Bengal was known in legend as Pandavavarjita Desha -- the land that even the Pandavas avoided[19]. The population therefore remained Buddhist-Animist, and easily converted to Islam when the marauders from the west came to Bengal. Extensive ruins of Buddhist monasteries are found at Paharpur and Mahasthangarh in the northern parts of present-day Bangladesh. The Buddhist priest Dipankar Srigyan had set out from a village called Bajrajogini near Dacca to convert the whole of Tibet to Buddhism. Till today Hindu Bengalis, when they choose to be abusive, refer to Muslims by the term Neray (a diminutive of Naraa, meaning shaven-headed). And a lot of Bengali Muslims do tonsure their heads, which is believed to be a custom inherited by them from the Buddhist viharas (monasteries) which their ancestors atttended. All these bear eloquent testimony to the hold of Buddhism in East Bengal. Assam, on the other hand, remained Hindu and did not convert to Islam because of the preachings of the great Vaishnavite guru Shankara Deva (not the same as the sage of the same name from Kerala) who gave a firm faith within the Hindu fold to the Assamese. In fact the Ahoms, who came from Thailand to settle in and rule Upper Assam, embraced Hinduism and remained Hindu. The Muslims of East Bengal are therefore, in all probability, converts mostly from Buddhism-Animism and not from Hinduism. This view is also held by the eminent historian Vincent Smith[20], among others. The argument finds great support from the fact that Buddhism has yielded elsewhere, as it did in East Bengal, much more easily to Islam than Sanatan (Orthodox) Hinduism. Thus once-Buddhist Afghanistan and Xinjiang eventually became totally Muslim, while Hindu India did not. Similarly, Buddhist East Bengal became Muslim-majority, while lands to the west, which had become Hindu under the influence of Sankara remained Hindu. Ashok Mitra[21] of the Indian Civil Service[22] has advanced a very different theory[23] which he attributes to his Gurus in Anthropology and Demography, respectively Jatindra Mohan Datta and Sailendra Nath Sengupta[24]. According to him these two gentlemen worked out the total number of Muslims and Christians that had come to India from outside upto the 17th century. They then extrapolated this figure to 1951 using the prevailing rate of increase in population. Deducting the result from the total number of Muslims in India and Pakistan they came to the conclusion, among others, that ninety-five percent of the Bengali Muslims had been Hindus in the last, that is the nineteenth century. This is very interesting, but leads to a number of total absurdities. First, it is inconceivable that the number of Hindus converting to Islam would be more in the British age than in the Moghul or Nawabi age. There were several incentives to convert during those earlier ages, while there were only disincentives during the British times, at least upto the beginning of this century. Secondly any estimate of the total number of Muslims who entered India might be made, if at all, with some difficulty, but to estimate how many of them entered Bengal seems impossible. How they surmounted this obstacle is not mentioned in Ashok Mitra’s book. Thirdly, this theory does not explain the anomaly of sudden increase in Muslim population in East Bengal as one goes from West to East.. Lastly, it presupposes that the rate of growth of population is the same among Hindus and Muslims whereas in fact it is not so ; the latter was always more than the former. Ashok Mitra does not endorse the conclusions of his Gurus, but cites them without comment. Neither Syed Mujtabaa Ali nor Annada Sankar Ray are confident that their views are correct or even supported by a substantial historical school. M.R.Akhtar Mukul, a prominent present-day Bangladeshi intellectual, has tried an explanation in his book 'Purbapurusher Sandhane' (in Bangla, meaning 'In Search of Our Ancestors') [25]. In this book also he has supported the contention that the Muslims of East and North Bengal are mostly converts from Buddhists. He has commented upon the absence of recorded history of Bengalis in the period between the decline of Buddhism in India and the coming of Sufi[26] saints to Bengal. Finally he has also concluded that the simple appeal of the Sufis, who preached a form of Islam in which Allah, the Muslim God, was looked upon as an object of love rather than fear, proved to be irresistible to the massses of Eastern Bengal. These masses, according to him, were at the lower end of the caste spectrum under the Brahminical hierarchy, and were an oppressed lot. They eagerly embraced the egalitarianism of Islam, and that is how Eastern Bengal became Muslim majority. While the theory is basically in tune with the likely theory postulated earlier, Mukul has not been explicit as to whether the masses first converted from Buddhism to Hinduism, and then to Islam or directly from Buddhism to Islam. His emphasis on the presumed Brahminical oppression suggests the first, while in all probability the second is what had actually happened. In his analysis as well as the interview that this author had with him (see Chapter 10) Mukul had also betrayed a strong dislike for Hinduism, or what he calls the 'Brahminical religion'. From the the annihilation of Buddhism in the plains of India (which has been referred to earlier in connection with the travels of Acharya Sankara) he has conjectured that Buddhists were also annihilated all over India, without revealing any basis for such a presumption, and without taking any account of the fact that ruins of Buddhist shrines, like Mahasthangarh in North Bengal or Nalanda in Bihar, had existed through the Hindu period, to this day without being vandalised. And last of all, his theory does not explain why what happened in Eastern Bengal did not happen in western part of Bengal, Magadh or Mithila regions (now parts of the Indian state of Bihar) or Avadh, Tirhut, or Rohilkhand (now parts of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh) - after all the Sufis could not have reached Eastern Bengal without passing through these regions, and there is no reason why the Sufis would not have tried their proselytisation in these parts. What, then, is the reason why the people responded to the Sufis in Eastern Bengal while they did not do so in such large numbers in Western Bengal, Magadh, Mithila, Avadh or Rohilkhand? The only plausible reason appears to be the extremely tenacious hold of Sanatan Dharma, as opposed to the looseness of the Buddhist-animist faith. It appears that the subject has not been adequately researched. It is doubtless a very interesting topic of demographic research but the results, whatever they may be, may cause trouble, which may explain the reluctance to research. The pattern of population in pre-1947 Bengal was roughly as follows : the province had one huge city and its industrial-commercial hub, its capital Calcutta. The rest of the province was known as moffussil, a region generally looked down upon by the inhabitants of the big city. In this region there were a few minor towns, such as Dacca, Chittagong and Darjeeling, but the rest was predominantly rural. As already said, the western part of the province, including Calcutta, was Hindu-majority while the north and the east were predominantly Muslim. Even here there was an interesting pattern. The towns of even the east and the north, such as Dacca, Mymensingh, Chittagong, and Rajshahi, were all Hindu-dominated. Meghnad Saha[27] in a speech before the Indian Parliament had said “ . . . the city of Dacca, the biggest city in Eastern Pakistan, it had a population of 200,000 before partition. 70 per cent of it were Hindus --- 140,000. They owned 80 percent of the houses there. . . . . I know it because I come from Dacca”. The same position is stated by Annada Sankar Ray. The countryside on the other hand, was overwhelmingly Muslim. Bhabatosh Dutt[28] writes of the vibrant life the Hindus had in the pre-partition East Bengal towns. “In Daulatpur (a small town in Khulna district where he spent a part of his boyhood) a great attraction for us boys was the ‘Boikali’ or ‘Thakurer Shital’, sweets and coconut milk distributed at the temple of Dadhivamana every evening during the month of Baisakh (mid-April to mid-May) . . . . College students used to celebrate Saraswati Puja with great pomp and pageantry, and used to decorate the temple with branches of trees and flowers”. About Dacca, where he used to live in the suburb of Wari, he writes “Durga Puja was not celebrated in Dacca in public pandals as it is now done in Calcutta. We used to go to Moishundi, Sutrapur and the Ramakrishna Mission beyond Tikatuli to see Durga Puja. But the main puja in Vaishnavite Dacca was not Durga Puja but the famed Jhulan and Janmashtami processions taken out from Nawabpur and Islampur. The most memorable part of these two processions were the shong (clowns) that used to be at their heads and used to abuse each other”. When he moved to Burdwan in West Bengal to teach at the Raj College in 1933 he found it a great comedown from the rich and vibrant cultural life of the towns of East Bengal. The Hindus of East Bengal were great promoters of education. Every major town in East Bengal could boast of a school or a college founded by private charity of Hindus. After partition the names of these institutions were not changed, but simply abbreviated, with the result that the names of their founders were virtually lost. Thus, Brajamohan College of Barisal, Anandamohan College of Mymensingh and Murarichand College of Sylhet respectively became faceless, meaningless, B.M. College, A.M. College and M.C. College. The land tenancy system in British Bengal was the familiar Zamindari system established by the ‘Permanent Settlement’ of Lord Cornwallis, whereby land revenue was to be collected from cultivators or ryots by Zamindars or Landlords, and deposited with the district collector by sunset on a particular day, failing which the right to the Zamindari would lapse, and the entire fief of the Zamindar would be put to auction. Later the system was further formalised by enactment of the Bengal Tenancy Act. Most, though by no means all, of the Zamindars even in the east and the north were Hindus, and the major Zamindars, whether Hindu or Muslim, were among the most respected members of their respective communities. Some of these Zamindars, such as those of Dacca or Burdwan, were big enough to be called Nawab or Maharajah, depending on whether they were Muslim or Hindu respectively. In terms of occupation and distribution of wealth there was great imbalance. While there were a substantial number of Muslim Zamindars, the professions and the lower echelons of the civil services were overwhelmingly Hindu (the higher echelons were largely British) and that too confined to three higher castes of Brahmin, Kayastha, and Baidya. The Probashi magazine in the 1930s, a respected Bengali monthly of those days, published a survey which showed that it was in only two occupations out of some twenty-odd that Muslim outnumbered Hindus : the common cultivator and the beggar. Thus there was a distinct middle class among the Hindus, but only the rich and the poor among the Muslims. Now who was responsible for the majority community, namely the Muslims, being so far backward compared to the Hindus? Certainly not the Hindus, although that is an impression cleverly sought to be created by a section of post-partition Hindus as a part of the delusional exercise. The fact of the matter was (here we are talking about the all-India position) that the Muslims, upon being overthrown by the British from the power that they had enjoyed during the last seven hundred years or so, chose to withdraw into a collective cocoon, and doggedly refused to accept western thoughts. The Hindus, on the other hand, with their tradition of plurality of culture, eagerly embraced what was given to them by way of western culture by the British – both the good and the bad. As a result, when the British wanted to recruit Indians to man the lower ranks of the burgeoning bureaucracy, for which a rudimentary knowledge of the English language was essential, only Hindus were available. There were some exceptions to this rule, such as Sir Syed Ahmed’s establishing of the Aligarh Muslim University, but by and large Muslim leaders advocated a retrogressive path and encouraged all believers to shun western thoughts. Was the position in Bengal any different than this all-India picture? It appears that it was, in some respects at least. It appears that the Bengali Muslim was slightly ashamed to be Bengali. The Bengali Muslim spoke Muslim Bangla, which differed slightly (in those days) from standard Bangla in the large number of Arabic and Persian words thrown in. This is not to say that standard Bangla did not have Arabic and Persian words. It had many, but Muslim Bangla had quite a few more, particularly in regard to salutations and familial relationships, and in fields that had anything to do with religion. One tell-tale word is the word for water, which to all Bengali Hindus is Jol, and to all Bengali Muslims is Pani. Both variants of the language was replete with Arabic and Persian words such as Ain-Kanoon (Law), Purdah (Curtain), Munshi (Clerk). A Hindu meeting another would greet him by saying Namoshkar, and would address a younger person in a letter as Kalyanieshu, while a Muslim would say Salaam Alaiqum and Doabareshu under similar situations. To a Hindu one’s mother’s sister would be called Mashi, father’s sister Pishi, and elder sister’s husband Jamaibabu, while to a Muslim they would respectively be called Khala, Fufa and Dulhabhai. However the schism between the two variants of the language was not such that one community could not understand the other. The Bengali Muslim in those days was embarrassed of the fact that he spoke Bangla, and not Urdu which was the written language of all Muslims of the Aryavarta, the entire stretch of North India from Bihar to the Northwest frontier, and the written and spoken language of the Muslims of the United Provinces. Part of the reason for the embarrassment was the fact that Bangla, even the Muslim variant, has its foundations solidly in the Indian classical language Sanskrit, and is written in a typical North Indian script closely related to Devnagri (in which Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi and Nepali are written), and is therefore essentially Hindu. Urdu, on the other hand, is actually Persian words put in Hindi grammar (quite like Yiddish, which is Hebrew words into German grammar, and Afrikaans, Bantu words into Dutch grammar) and written in the Qoranic or Arabic script, and is, therefore, considered essentially Muslim. In his inimitable work of humour in Bangla Birinchi Baba, Rajshekhar Bose[29] writes of a humble Muslim coachman Bachhiraddi, who hailed from Faridpur (a small town in East Bengal in the district of the same name). Bachhiraddi claimed that his real name was “Mredam Khan” (an imposing but improbable name), and he was not really from Faridpur but from “Arabia (also known as Turkh), where everyone wore Lungis[30] and spoke Urdu” (an absurd statement). In this ridiculous, confused and pathetic statement of an illiterate coachman lay the shame of being a Bengali Muslim of those days. This shame was further accentuated by the horizontal division of Bengali Muslim society into Ashraf and Atrap, which has been described later in this chapter. Rafiuddin Ahmed, a Bengali Muslim himself, is even more forthright. In his short but important work ‘The Bengal Muslims 1871-1906 : A Quest for Identity’ he writes “A dominant feature of the nineteenth-century Islamisation was the attempted rejection of virtually all that was Bengali in the life of a Muslim as being incompatible with the ideas and principles of Islam. The preachers’ conception of Islamic polity was based on a vague notion of Middle Eastern values, and it was their dream so to transform the lives of the ordinary Muslims that they conformed exclusively to this trans-Indian pattern”[31]. This is actually in keeping with the conflicts that Islam has engendered among the converted peoples, something observed with astounding clarity by the famous author Sir Vidia S. Naipaul (see Chapter 11 for a complete quotation). The language problem of the Bengali Muslims sometimes gave rise to strange results. Annada Sankar Ray writes of the electoral contest between the patrician Urdu-speaking Khwaja Nazimuddin[32] and the plebian Bangla dialect-speaking Fazlul Haq[33]. Khwaja Nazimuddin, according to Annada Sankar, spoke atrocious Bangla, and just for that reason lost to Fazlul Haq despite having the backing of the powerful governor of Bengal, Sir John Anderson. The two communities stood strictly parallel and separate like the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. There was very limited interaction between the two at the social level . There were said to be some exceptions, notably in Sylhet, probably as a result of higher literacy there among Muslims. This author had heard from her mother that when her family were the tenants of a Muslim houseowner in Sylhet town, one of the wives of the houseowner was a regular visitor to their house. Nirad C. Chaudhuri[34] observed in his ‘Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’ that in his childhood he found Hindu society to be indifferent to Muslims, but as early as in 1907 hostilities developed, and there was talk of attacks by Muslims upon Hindus at Kishorganj and Kalikachchha[35]. Among the economically stronger and the culturally more thriving Hindus, even touching a Muslim was considered sinful, to be washed away with cowdung and holy water from the River Ganga (following the exodus of Hindus from East Bengal, the apologists for the Muslims have tried to explain that mass rape, murder and mayhem was just punishment for such behaviour). To a Muslim a Hindu was an infidel, a non-believer who indulged in the hateful practice of idolatry, and also economically an exploiter and oppressor. Beef, which the Muslims ate with gusto, was the embodiment of everything sinful to the Hindus, because it involved killing of the cow which the Hindus considered to be their mother. Both communities ate goat meat, but the Hindu had to have the goat slaughtered by severing the head from the body in one chop, while the Muslim had to have it Halal, a process in which the throat of the goat is slit and it is left to die bleeding. To the Hindu the Muslim was mlechchha or Jobon (Yavan), Neray, to the Muslim the Hindu was kafer, na-pak, malaun (all derogatory terms, like Nigger, Kike, or Polack in the United States, used to denote Americans of African, Jewish or Polish ancestry)[36]. Chaudhuri further describes[37] his own revelations later in life, when he was surprised to find that he himself, in spite of having come from deep inside Muslim-majority East Bengal, had only limited knowledge of their society. He recalls an encounter with rural Muslim clerics, whom he calls ‘the very set of men who were the most active promoters of Muslim group-consciousness’. This was when he was the secretary to Sarat Chandra Bose[38], elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose[39], and the president of the Congress in Bengal in the late thirties, and the Congress was trying to carry out a ‘Mass Contact Movement’ in order to endear itself to the Muslim masses of Bengal. He describes the encounter thus : “One day I saw a procession of Muslim divines trooping into Sarat babu’s[40] house. I was quite familiar with the modern Muslim dress, but had no idea that these learned Muslims wore different clothes. They did, for they had green gowns on and big turbans on their heads. . . . . . even at Kishorganj in my young days I had never seen such figures. Their faces were grave, even stern. One face struck me very forcibly. It was pinched and peevish, but of an incredible ferocity. The eyes were large, black and burning, and in that emaciated face they looked even blacker and larger. His parrot-green gown, too was more resplendent than the others, but being of very cheap satin looked garish. He looked like an ill-dressed Robespierre, the sea-green Incorruptible. . . .” It almost appeared that whenever the two communities showed any signs of coming closer, somebody or other rose to prise them apart. Titu Meer, a Muslim chieftain who won some fame in the 1830s trying to resist British troops from a fortress built of bamboos, went around teaching Muslims to have Arabic names, grow four-finger-long beards, and wear lungis instead of dhotis so that they would stand apart from the Hindus. Apparently not all Muslims listened to him then – Annada Sankar Ray mentions that as late as in 1937 he had found Muslim gentlemen wearing dhotis in Kushtia, a town in present-day Bangladesh. This is unheard of today in Bangladesh and extremely rare in West Bengal. Moulana Akram Khan, a converted Hindu Brahmin, editor of a Bangla magazine called Mohammadi, tried to doctor standard Bangla spelling so as to give it a Muslim flavour. This is not to say that there was none who tried to bring the two communities together, only that they were too feeble, too few and too far between. It must be said that because of the basic plurality of the Hindu religion such persons were more numerous among the Hindus, although there were quite a few Muslims too. One such person was the poet Rabindranath Tagore who was also a medium-sized Zamindar. Almost all the cultivators in his Zamindaries of Patisar and Shahzadpur were Muslim. It was he who, upon his taking over as Zamindar, abolished segregation in the seating arrangements at official functions. He had said, in his inaugural address to his tenantry, that the Sheikhs (meaning Muslims, which was synonymous in the context with the poor cultivators) have to be saved from the clutches of the Sahas (meaning the Hindu moneylending class). On the political front the Congress party, and Fazlul Haq’s Krishak Proja Party, though generally identified with Hindus and Muslims respectively, tried to preach amity, however half-heartedly or ineffectively, between the communities, while the Muslim League was unabashedly anti-Hindu. The Hindu Mahasabha[41], led by Syama Prasad Mookerjee was a pro-Hindu party, but did not preach anti-Muslimism in any way (following independence it had been an irresistible temptation for the Nehruvian-secularist and negationist writers to equate Hindu Mahasabha with the Muslim League – more on this subject later). There were a handful of Muslims in the field of literature and education who tried their best in this respect. Syed Mujtabaa Ali has already been mentioned. The poet Kazi Nazrul Islam,[42] the Hindusthani classical music maestro Alauddin Khan, the educationists Kazi Abdul Wadud and Rezaul Karim, the publisher Abdul Aziz Al-Aman and many others – all of them tried to preach brotherhood and amity in their own way. One notable figure in this regard was S.Wajed Ali[43]. One of his very poignant stories describes his wonderment when, after returning to a neighbourhood he had lived in many years ago, he heard a grocer reading the Ramayana to his son exactly the same way (he described it as a Snake-charmer's voice) he heard it many years ago. His comment was "The same tradition carries on, unbroken". In his Collection of Essays one finds a rare clarity of vision, an unusual catholicity of outlook. He does not mince words in attacking the religious bigots known as 'Kathmollahs', the purdah system, the vitriolic attack by the fundamentalists upon the Hindus, even the belief that to attain salvation there is no other way but to embrace Islam[44]. Although the fields of education, art and culture was dominated by the Hindus, and the backwardness of the Muslims was manifest, yet when a rare Muslim attained prominence in these fields the Hindus did not grudge them appreciation. Abul Mansur Ahmad, a prominent politician of the pre-independence and East Pakistan era and later a Cabinet Minister in Pakistan's Central Government led by H.S.Suhrawardy, (more on this gentleman in Chapter 3 onwards) recalled the period of his teaching at National School at Mymensingh in the 1920s. During this period he used to sport a beard, and wear a Lungi and a cap, and yet his high caste Hindu students would touch his feet when they met him on the streets - such was his popularity as a teacher. Abul Mansur Ahmad was also full of praise for a number of Hindu gentlemen in high stations for their catholicity of outlook. He mentions a tour by Jatindra Narayan Acharya Chaudhuri, Zamindar of Muktagachha (a very important Zamindari) to his village when he was only a boy. News of Abul Mansur's precocity (he had spoken insolently to the Zamindar's manager, because that manager had spoken similarly to Mansur's father and uncle) had reached the Zamindar's ears, and the Zamindar sent for him. Abul however refused to go - an unimaginable offence in those days, and remarked that the Zamindar could come to him if he wished to. The Zamindar was however vastly amused at this, and compared Mansur to the Hindu God Krishna, who as a boy had slain his uncle, the tyrant king Kangsa of Mathura. Abul Mansur Ahmad mentions a number of similar instances in which his daring but rightful stand was vindicated by his Hindu superiors through their sense of justice and fair play[45]. The sad part of the story is that people like Syed Mujtabaa Ali, Kazi Nazrul Islam Alauddin Khan, Kazi Abdul Wadud, Rezaul Karim, Abdul Aziz Al-Aman, S.Wajed Ali and Abul Mansur Ahmad were not the rule but the exception. A hundred of these well-meaning Muslim intellectuals were not equal to one fire-breathing Moulvi who could inflame passions among the faithful and against the infidels. The mistrust that existed between the communities was bad enough, but it was fanned to the maximum extent possible by the British in pursuance of their ‘divide and rule’ policy. The activities of people like Sir Bamfylde Fuller, sometime governor of the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, have been described in the next chapter which will give some idea of the misdeeds of the British in this field. However the picture that historians in the post-independence Nehruvian-secularist and negationist era mentioned above have tried to draw – that the two communities were living in perfect friendship and harmony till the big bad wolf, namely the British, landed among them, is just a lot of wishful thinking, and probably worse. Equally unrealistic is their overemphasis on the existence of certain deities (such as Bonbibi of the Sundarbans, Satyapir, etc.) worshipped by both communities, and of certain minuscule in-between communities, such as Baul, Kortabhoja, Sahebdhoni and others. A caveat must be entered at this stage. Because the two communities in Bengal grew and functioned separately or did not trust each other does not necessarily mean that the relation between the two were always hostile. In fact for most of the time it was neither friendly nor hostile – which is normal among men who mind their own businesses. However, and this is a very important however, it was possible to inflame communal passions among Muslims in the name of their religion very easily, and this was done very frequently. This was anything but easy among Hindus. The reason for this difference is twofold. Firstly, because of traditions and the no-alternative nature of Islam – Islam was spread by conquest, whereas Hinduism was spread by assimilation ; and also if one were a Muslim one believed in the teachings of the religion all the way – unlike in Hinduism, there are no grey areas. And secondly worship for Muslims being a community affair, and a religious compulsion five times every day at the local mosque, it was easy to address a large number, especially on Fridays, without making any special arrangements. It was this logistical advantage and this forum that were unabashedly made use of by the Hindu-baiting politicians, which ultimately resulted in the Hindus having to leave East Bengal. As if this vertical division was not bad enough, both societies were further stratified horizontally, and that too in not one but two ways, that is socially and economically. The bane of Hindu society, caste distinctions, were the basis of the social division in that society. At the very top were the three upper castes, Brahmin, Kayastha and Baidya, followed by the intermediate castes such as Baishya Saha, Mahishya, Aguri etc., and finally at the bottom the lower castes such as Kaibarta, Napit, Dhopa, Bagdi, Hari, Dom etc.. An impression has gained ground that Bengali Muslims are a completely homogeneous lot but that is very far from the truth. Although practically all Hanafi Sunnis, the entire Muslim society was horizontally divided (and probably still is, if the writer Syed Mustafa Siraz[46] is to be believed) between Ashraf (people who claim, rightly or wrongly, Afghan, Turkish, Persian or at least Northwest Indian ancestry) and Atrap (Muslims who are unadulterated Bengalis)[47]. Upper-caste converted Hindus also tried, and often succeeded in getting themselves classified as Ashraf. The names used for the corresponding groups in Northern India are, respectively, Sharif and Ajlaf or Arzal. There were, and still are, other vague and regional caste distinctions among the Bengali Muslims, such as Gerosti, Badia, Jola (Julaha), Sheikh, Syed, Moghul, Pathan, Khondokar, Nikiri, etc. There are separate mosques for the different groups in many villages, and marriage across some of the caste barriers are very rare. Needless to say, the Ashraf are the upper caste. Some of them look down upon the Atrap to such an extent as to use for them the extremely derogatory term, Pati Neray – in fact an Ashraf Muslim minister of post-partition West Bengal used to use it for an Atrap colleague. This was the reason for Rajshekhar Bose’s poor Atrap Bachhiraddi’s claim that he was not a Bengali from Faridpur, but from Arabia (and therefore Ashraf), where everyone spoke Urdu! As for the economic division, Hindu society had three tiers : Borolok (literally ‘big’ or rich men), Moddhobitto Bhodrolok (literally ‘middle class gentlemen’), and Chhotolok or Baaje Lok (literally small, or insignificant men). Zamindars have already been described. They formed bulk of the rich or Borolok class. Apart from the Zamindars there was also a small, but very powerful group of big businessmen and industrialists ( such as Sir R. N. Mookerjee[48] of Martin Burn fame, the Ship Chandlers and Stevedores of Calcutta Port, etc.), Barristers[49], and ICS men among the rich Hindu Bengalis. Although the term ‘Bhodrolok’ included the rich, it was especially reserved for the substantial middle class of Hindu Bengalis, the source of its literature, art, science and culture. These Bhodrolok were largely a salaried class doing clerical work at different tiers with the Government and the British ‘Merchant Offices’, but there was a fair number of professionals, mostly teachers, doctors and lawyers, among them. This salaried-professional bias was so strong in this community that small businessmen were actually looked down upon, and considered not quite Bhodrolok. The nouveau riche among them had a special name, Naboshakh. The rest, encompassing artisans, cultivators, blue-collar workers and the lot were lumped into the chhotolok or baaje lok category. The Bhodrolok class was a fairly talented lot, and the Bengali intellectual giants born in the nineteenth century practically all came from this class, though there were quite a few from the Borolok class also. Raja Rammohun Roy, the social reformer who abolished sutee or widow-burning and established the Brahmo Samaj (a monotheistic faith in a formless God within the Hindu fold, founded on the Upanishads), and the great Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore were both from the Borolok class. The rest – the social reformer and educationist Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the freedom fighters Surendra Nath Banerjee, C. R. Das, J. M. Sengupta, the seer Ramakrishna Paramahansa, the religious reformer Swami Vivekananda, the novelist and composer of the Vande Mataram Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the educationist Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, the scientists Sir J.C. Bose Sir P.C. Ray and S. N. Bose – to name only a few, were all born to this class. All these gentlemen were fairly evenly divided between East and West Bengal. There were quite a few ladies too, such a the poets Aru and Taru Dutt, Kamini Roy, prosewriters Sukhalata Rao, Seeta Devi, Shanta Devi, Maitreyee Devi, the doctor Kadambini Ganguly, and others. The ‘Nightingale of India’, Sarojini Naidu (nee Chattopadhyay), distinguished poetess and politician, was also a full-blooded Bengali, though she was educated in Urdu at Hyderabad, and wrote in English. As opposed to this picture of Hindu society, there was no middle class worth the name among the Muslims. There were the Zamindars like the Nawabs of Dacca or Comilla, rolling in wealth and luxury ; and there was the ryot or chashi, the common cultivator, living from hand to mouth. There were relatively few barristers, advocates or doctors, and practically no major entrepreneurs among Bengali Muslims. Even among non-Bengali Muslims operating in Bengal the only significant name was Ispahani[50]. The number of white collar Muslims working for the government, though not totally insignificant, was much smaller than that of Hindus, primarily because of lack of English education. As for private service, except for enterprises owned by their co-religionists such as Ispahani, their number was very small. Similarly, the number of leading intellectuals among the Bengali Muslims was very much smaller than that among the Hindu Bhadralok. The novelist Meer Mosharruff Hossain, the educationist Haji Mohammed Mohsin, the essayist Kazi Abdul Wadud, poets Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bande Ali Mian, Ghulam Mustafa, Jasimuddin, S.Wajed Ali and, of course, Syed Mujtabaa Ali mentioned earlier, are worthy of special note. Unlike among the Hindu intellectuals mentioned, there was not a single religious reformer among the Bengali Muslims. Likewise, there were very few intellectuals among their women. Jahanara Chaudhuri and Sakhawat Begum may be mentioned as exceptions. This was the general picture. For most of the time peace prevailed among the two communities but sometimes the peace got a little uneasy. Occasional hostilities were reported, generally beginning with some insignificant event, such as catcalling or beating of drums within the hearing of a mosque or the teasing of some young girl of the other community. Each one of these quickly escalated into a communal riot which was promptly taken advantage of by the lumpen until put down by the police. Dacca town had become notorious for almost annual riots, probably because the two communities were more or less evenly balanced. They often used to take place in the wake of the once-famous Janmashtami processions of Dacca, when the drum-beating by the Hindus supposedly disturbed the Muslims at their prayers in their mosques. The victims of the riots were invariably innocent people who had happened to be in the wrong locality at the wrong moment. The usual crimes committed in the course of these riots were torching and other destruction of property, stabbing, a few murders ; and of course, almost invariably, rape and brutalisation of Hindu women. Still, nobody thought of leaving home or migrating. The landscape of East Bengal, with its incredibly green paddy and jute fields and its wide, wide rivers, beels and haors (depressions in which huge water bodies were created by the monsoon rains) stretching away to the horizon, the beat of the Dhak at Durga Puja time, the lilting tunes of Bhaoaiya and Jaari Gaan (folk music), had been indelibly etched into the hearts of the East Bengal Hindu. This was his Desh, his Baari, his very own native land. Except for the few directly affected by them, the riots were considered mere irritants by the vast multitude of Hindus in East Bengal. They merely served to heighten the mistrust between the two communities. Nobody, almost without exception, among the twelve-million-strong Hindu community of East Bengal realised what sort of a powder keg they were sitting upon. Until 1946 and the Noakhali carnage. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- CHAPTER 1 [1] Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) Poet of extraordinary profundity, founder of Visva-Bharati University, first Indian Nobel Laureate (Literature, 1913) for his English translation of his own Gitanjali (Song Offerings) in Bangla, one of the best-known Indians the world over. [2] Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (1888-1970) Second Indian Nobel Laureate (Physics, 1930) for discovery of Raman Effect in the molecular scattering of light. [3] Hargobind Khorana (b.1922) Indian-born U.S. geneticist. Nobel Laureate (Medicine/Physiology, 1968) [4] Subramanyam Chandrasekhar (1910-1995) Indian-born U.S. astrophysicist. Nobel Laureate (Physics, 1983) [5] Amartya Sen (b. 1933) last Indian Nobel Laureate (Economics, 1998) famous for his Welfare Economics and his study of famines [6] Mother Teresa ((nee Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) (1910-1997), Albanian-born Indian Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity at Calcutta. Nobel Laureate (Peace, 1979). [7] Swami Vivekananda (nee Narendra Nath Datta)(1863-1902) Hindu sanyasin or monk, disciple of Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, founder of the Ramakrishna Math (monastery) and Mission and the Ramakrishna order of monks, who won world acclaim from his address at the Chicago Parliament of Religions, 1893 and practically singlehandedly introduced the profundity of Hinduism to the western world. He restored the self-confidence of the Hindus in the face of European political dominance [8] Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (or Chattopadhyaya) (1838-1894) also called Rishi Bankim, one of the greatest prosewriters in Bangla, author of such classics as Kapalkundala, Ananadamath, Debi Chaudhurani, and many more, and of course of the immortal Vande Mataram, which in Sanskrit means ‘Hail Mother(land)’. The song is partly in Sanskrit and partly Bangla. The song had provided inspiration not only to the freedom fighters of Bengal who had chosen the path of violence, but also to the mainstream freedom movement in India under the aegis of the Congress. The song had been given the status of an associate National Anthem in India after independence, but only the Sanskrit part, because it was considered that the Bangla part refers to idol worship and might offend the Muslims. Subsequently Indian secularists have gone one step ahead and started decrying the whole song on the supposed ground that it is anti-minority. However the whole song still continues to inspire patriotism in a multitude of Indians, including minorities. [9] Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghose) (1872-1950), Revolutionary-turned-mystic and philosopher, considered a saint by many. Suspected of responsibility for terrorist acts in Bengal, he was arrested (1908) and prosecuted by the British but later acquitted. While in prison, he underwent a spiritual experience. When released, he abandoned politics, renounced violence, and retired (1910) to the French possession of Pondicherry in southern India, where he studied Yoga, attracted a devoted group of disciples, and formed an ashram, or religious community, to further spiritual growth. [10] Jagadis Chandra Bose (1858-1937) Physicist, famed for his work on the measurement of very minute responses from plants to external stimuli which was developed upon later by Bio-Physicists, and on the quasi-optical properties of very short radio waves which made significant contributions to solid state physics. [11] Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974) Mathematician and Theoretical Physicist, known for his contributions to Statistical Mechanics in collaboration with Albert Einstein, known as Bose-Einstein Statistics. Postulated the existence of elementary particles called Bosons. [12] Rakhaldas Banerjee (1885-1930) Archaeologist extraordinary, associated with the discovery of the ruins of Moenjodaro (now in Sind, Pakistan), the cradle of the Indus Valley Civilisation. [13] Radha Binode Pal, Jurist of international acclaim, Member, Tokyo Tribunal for the trial of Japanese war criminals after World War II. [14]Syed Mujtabaa Ali (1904-1974) Eminent Bengali litterateur, scholar, linguist, alumnus of Santiniketan, disciple of Rabindranath Tagore. Ali, although an East Bengali Muslim, chose to live alone and die in India, while his family stayed on the other side of the border. Ali had spent considerable lengths of time in Germany (mainly doing research at Bonn and Heidelberg) in the days of the Weimar republic, and in Afghanistan during King Amanullah’s modernisation drive and the subsequent fundamentalist revolt. His works (in Bangla) contain substantial chronicles of the periods. With proficiency in no less than eight languages (Bangla, English, German, French, Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit) and a smattering of quite a few more, widely travelled, and with his formidable erudition, Ali was one of the nearest things Bengal has had to a world citizen. [15] Annada Sankar Ray (b. 1909) A writer of distinction in Bangla, with contributions also to Oriya, is an ex-member of the Indian Civil Service. His observation here, as also elsewhere in this book, is from his Jukto Bonger Sriti (Memories of United Bengal), a small but important book published in 1989 containing autobiographical sketches of his stay at various places in East Bengal while serving in the ICS. While possessed of considerable literary skill and power of observation, Ray, unfortunately suffers from total lack of objectivity and tends to lapse into a state full of sentimental wishful thinking whenever he gets down to analyse the subject of Hindu-Muslim relations. Not unpredictably, he has been lapped up by the Indian ‘Secularists’. [16] Jukto Bonger Sriti (Memories of United Bengal) (Bangla), Mitra & Ghosh, Calcutta, 2nd Ed.1990, p. 61 [17] Buddhadeb Bose, A Bengali poet and prosewriter of considerable distinction, spent his early life in Noakhali town and his college days in Dacca. [18] Noakhalir Mati o Manush (Bangla, The Soil and the People of Noakhali), Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sinha Ed., Gyan Prakashan, Calcutta,1st Ed., 1991, p.167 [19] According to the epic Mahabharata, the five brothers Pandavas lost a game of dice with their cousins, the one hundred Kauravas, lost their kingdom and wandered all over India. There are very few parts of India that they did not visit. Pandavavarjita means areas so remote that even the Pandavas could not visit them. [20] Vincent A. Smith, The Oxford History of India, 4th Ed., 10th Impression 1992, p. 801 [21] Ashok Mitra (1917-1999), a member of the Indian Civil Service, and an important Demographer, was the Census Commissioner of India. The quotations and references here are from his autobiography Tin Kuri Dosh (literally three score and ten in Bangla)in which he has recorded very detailed and astute observations. Although a self-confessed Communist sympathiser in his early days, there is remarkable objectivity in his remarks on the subjects. Important : He is not to be confused with the Economist of the same name who was the Finance Minister of West Bengal for some time and became famous for his remark “I am not a gentleman, I am a Communist” [22] Indian Civil Service (ICS) was a cadre of bureaucrats which formed the ‘steel frame of British administration in India’. People of this service, about a thousand in number of whom half were British and the other half Indian, manned all the key Government posts in British India. They were selected through a very rigorous process, and were very powerful, very handsomely paid, and considered above suspicion. A number of them have left their mark in fields quite unrelated to colonial administration. Writings of three of them, Annada Sankar Ray, Ashok Mitra and Hiranmay Banerjee, have been used extensively as source material in this book. [23] Tin Kuri Dosh (Three score and ten) (Bangla), Dey’s Publishing, Calcutta, Part II, 1st ed., 1993, p.106 [24] Sailendra Nath Sengupta was the Deputy Director of the State Statistical Bureau, and Jatindra Mohan Datta an Advocate and an Encyclopaediac. Ashok Mitra was coached in the relevant subjects by them in 1949 when he took charge of Census Operations. [25] 'Purbapurusher Sandhane' (In Search of Our Ancestors) (Bangla), Ononna, Dacca, 1st Ed., 2001 [26] Sufis are a mystical sect of Muslims who believe that human life is like a journey (safar) in search of God, and the ultimate objective of the traveller is to attain that perfect knowledge of God (ma'rifah) which is diffused through all things. . . . the unprejudiced student of their system will observe that Tasawwuf or Sufism is but a Muslim adaptation of the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophers (Dictionary of Islam by Thomas Patrick Hughes, see Bibliography) [27] Meghnad Saha (1893-1956). An outstanding physicist, with original contributions to Astrophysics in his theory of Thermal Ionisation and its application to the Interpretation of Stellar Spectra. Saha hailed from Dacca city and moved to Calcutta after independence, and became one of the very few true champions the East Bengal refugees had ever known. He was elected to the Lok Sabha (Lower House), of the Indian Parliament from North-West Calcutta on a congress ticket in 1952, and held that seat till his death in 1956. Saha also served for some time on India’s Planning Commission. [28] Bhabatosh Dutt (1911-1997) celebrated professor of Economics of Presidency College, Calcutta, teacher of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, spent his boyhood in Daulatpur (District Khulna) and in Dacca, and has recorded his reminscences in his autobiographical sketch Aat Doshok (literally 'Eight Decades' in Bangla), Pratikshan Publications Private Ltd., Calcutta 1st Ed., 1988 [29] Rajshekhar Bose (1880-1960) (pseudonym Parashuram) a Bengali humorist and litterateur with an unparalleled brand of very dry humour . Bose trained as a chemical technologist and held the top post in Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works, a pioneering Indian-owned venture, for many years. He also has to his credit a concise Bengali edition of the classic Mahabharata, and a Bengali dictionary, Chalantika. [30] A Lungi is a wraparound worn by men below the waist, usually of checquered cotton, similar to a Sarong of Indonesia. As opposed to this, a Dhoti is a much longer piece of cloth, also worn by men below the waist, but wrapped separately around the two legs, and the tail passed between them and tucked in at the back. In Bengal the former was a hallmark of Muslims, the latter of Hindus. Nowadays a lot of Hindus wear lungis, but very few Muslims in West Bengal wear dhotis, and none in Bangladesh. This terminology is peculiar to North India, especially Bengal, and does not apply to South India. [31] The Bengal Muslims 1871-1906 : A Quest for Identity, by Rafiuddin Ahmed, Oxford University Press, 2nd Ed., India Paperback 2nd Impression, p. 106 [32] Khwaja (also Sir) Nazimuddin, a scion of the Nawab family of Dacca, whose ancestors had come from Kashmir as traders and settled down in Dacca, eventually to become major Zamindars big enough to be called Nawabs. The family spoke, and probably still do, only Urdu and not Bangla. Nazimuddin, a prominent Muslim League leader had been a minister in Fazlul Haque’s coalition ministry of 1937, and Premier in the Muslim League ministry of 1943. He became the Prime Minister of Pakistan after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan. [33] Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq (1873-1962) , also called Sher-e-Bangal (Tiger of Bengal),Premier of Bengal heading the Krishak Proja Party - Muslim League coalition in 1937-41, and the Progressive Democratic Coalition (also called the Shyama-Haq coalition) in 1941-43. Although supporting the Muslim League’s Pakistan resolution in 1940, Haq was a rarity among Muslim politicians of Bengal of his time who could look upon Bengalis as Bengalis, and not as Hindus or Muslims. After partition he became the rallying point of all opponents of the League in erstwhile East Pakistan, and sailed to a landslide victory in 1954 as the head of a United Front to become the Chief Minister of East Pakistan. The next year he made a trip to Calcutta where he made a speech advocating the reunion of the two Bengals. On return he was deposed but was later rehabilitated and taken as a Minister in the Pakistan central cabinet of Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, and was made the Governor of East Pakistan in 1956. [34] Nirad C. Chaudhuri (1897-1999), centenarian, sometime secretary to political leader Sarat Chandra Bose, sometime broadcaster, and above all a prolific writer of nonfiction in Bangla and English. His celebrated works in English include Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, Continent of Circe, Thy hand, Great Anarch, and Clive of India. His writing is said to be coloured by his very strong Anglophilia (he had been living in Oxford for quite some time before his death) but is nevertheless very important. His great failing is said to be his tendency to show off his knowledge and erudition (which, however, were truly formidable). Excerpts from Chaudhuri in this book are from his Autobiography of an Unknown Indian and Thy Hand, Great Anarch.

Posted by: G.Subramaniam Jan 8 2006, 08:34 PM

http://www.bengalvoice.com/uproot_chapter2.htm My People, Uprooted "A Saga of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal" Tathagata Roy -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 2 THE COUNTDOWN : POLITICS OF BENGAL BETWEEN THE TWO PARTITIONS, 1905-1947 Looking at the present crop of politicians of West Bengal (this is in 1999) it is difficult to imagine what a star-studded firmament the politics of Bengal in early part of the century was. Beginning with Surendra Nath Banerjee, Lord S.P. Sinha, Bipin Chandra Paul and C. R. Das, there were stalwarts of the calibre of Subhas Chandra Bose, Sarat Chandra Bose, J.M.Sengupta, B.N.Sasmal and A.K.Fazlul Haq. With the advent of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the political scene of India the centre of gravity of Indian politics had of course shifted to him, but the province was still very much in the forefront in every way. Quite a far cry from the present state of being in the backwoods. It is neither possible nor intended to give even an overview of the politics of Bengal during this very eventful half-century. Volumes have been written on this period, and further volumes will continue to be written. However, it is impossible to understand the Hindu exodus from East Bengal without bearing in mind the political framework of the times and the major political events that took place during the period preceding partition of the province. After all, the exodus was a purely political phenomenon – neither religious nor economic. Religion was merely the human attribute exploited in this case by the relevant politicians, and the economic disaster that followed was the result, not the cause of the exodus. In fact economic factors had nothing whatsoever to do with this particular brand of persecution --- Muslim Ashraf and Atrap combined without qualms to drive out Hindu zamindar, pleader, artisan, fisherman and cultivator. First of all, an explanation as to why the period 1905-1947 has been chosen is called for. 1905 was the year of the first partition of Bengal, an event of very far-reaching political significance. In between there was the politically watershed year of 1920. This was about the time when problems between Hindu and Muslim in undivided India began to take on serious proportions. This was also, coincidentally, the year when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi made a serious entry into the politics of India with his non-cooperation movement. This was also the year Lokamanya Balgangadhar Tilak died. The ‘problems between Hindu and Muslim’ referred to are basically communal riots between Hindu and Muslim, of which Bengal had more than its fair share. 1947, on the other hand was the year of India’s independence and Bengal’s second partition, the year in which atrocities against Hindus in erstwhile East Pakistan began with overt or covert state sponsorship, and gradually took on the form of another holocaust. Such state-sponsored atrocities against Hindus have not stopped even after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. They have merely taken on a much more covert form, which is really a case of bad habits dying hard. The year 1992 had seen unspeakable horrors against Hindus once again, in the wake of demolition of a disused mosque built on the birthplace of the legendary Lord Rama at Ayodhya in India. It was this particular set of atrocities that prompted the tigress from Mymensingh, a frail Muslim woman doctor called Taslima Nasrin, to come out with her unforgettable volume Lojja (Shame) that truly marked a watershed in this otherwise drab landscape. More on Taslima and Lojja later. To start, take a brief look at 1905. Lord Curzon had been appointed the Governor-General and Viceroy of India in December 1898, and served in that post till 1905. He was not known for his fondness of Indians, and was even less fond of Bengali Hindus in particular. Before leaving he delivered a parting kick to the province in the form of the first partition of Bengal. According to his scheme the existing Bengal Presidency (which at that time included the present states of Bihar and Orissa) was divided into two parts. The western part, comprising the Presidency and Burdwan divisions together with Bihar, Chhota Nagpur and Orissa would form the rump Bengal. The eastern part would be joined with Assam, to be known as the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam. This scheme was hatched by him much earlier, and he toured the province to garner support for the same, helped by his able lieutenant Sir Bamfylde Fuller. Sir Bamfylde then became the governor of the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, with its capital at Dacca. Their main selling point for the scheme was that it would fetch for the Muslims a province in which they would be in majority and would not have to play second fiddle to the Hindus. Predictably, they got the support of a number of Muslim landowners of East Bengal, among them Salimullah, the influential Nawab of Dacca. Sir Bamfylde had gone one step ahead of his boss in his salesmanship. Bengali folklore is replete with stories of a king who had two queens – Suo Rani, the great favourite, on whom the king lavished love and gifts, and Duo Rani, the neglected, cast-aside one. Sir Bamfylde used to publicly proclaim[1] that for him the Hindu was the Duo Rani, and the Muslim Suo Rani. The partition had been done with the clear objective of breaking the back of the Bengali Hindu, and currying favour with the Muslims. There was widespread opposition to it from all Hindus and a significant number of Muslims, but Lord Curzon remained stuck to it saying that it was a ‘settled fact’. Among the prominent people who publicly opposed the partition were the poets Rabindra Nath Tagore, Rajani Kanta Sen, Kaliprosonno Kavyavisharad, Dwijendra Lal Roy ; assorted public men and men of letters such as Surendra Nath Banerjea, Ramendra Sundar Tribedi, Bipin Chandra Paul, Suresh Chandra Samajpati, Monoranjan Guha Thakurta, and many others. However the number of prominent Bengali Muslims who opposed the partition was very heartening. They included the Barrister Abdul Rasul, Moulavi Abul Qasem, Abul Hossain, Dedar Bux, Deen Mohammed, Abdul Ghafoor Siddiqui, Liaqat Hossain, Ismail Shirazi, Abdul Halim Ghaznavi, and others. Aqatullah, younger brother of Salimullah, the Nawab of Dacca, was a very prominent protester. This list of prominent Muslims is quite interesting, because never again in the politics of Bengal – divided or undivided – would Hindus and Muslims join hands in such large numbers on any issue. The period between 1905 and 1920 was a period of disquiet for the whole of the subcontinent. There were the Morley-Minto administrative reforms in 1910, the repeal of the partition of Bengal in 1911, and moving the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi with the inauguration of New Delhi in the same year with a royal visit. Meanwhile armed rebellion as an expression of nationalism gained ground in Bengal. The first man to be sent to the gallows in 1909, a young man called Khudiram Bose, was followed by countless others. The first world war was waged in 1914, and continued upto 1918. Two young Bengali Hindu revolutionaries, Jatindra Nath Mukherjee and Narendra Nath Bhattacharyya collaborated with the German consul at Shanghai, and planned to import two shiploads of armaments and land them at Raimangal in the Sundarbans and at Balasore in Orissa. The plan did not work out. Jatindra Nath Mukherjee, also known as Bagha (Tiger) Jatin, was killed in a gun battle with the police at Balasore. Bhattacharyya escaped abroad, changed his name to Manabendra Nath Roy (better known as M.N. Roy) and became an associate of Lenin during and after the Russian revolution. A British army officer called Dyer in 1919 opened fire upon a peaceful gathering in a square at Amritsar in Punjab and killed 1516 people in cold blood. Rabindra Nath Tagore renounced his Knighthood in protest. Meanwhile the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms were introduced in India in 1919 and ushered in a period of Dyarchy. In this system the total range of activities of the government was divided into two groups. One group was called ‘Reserved’ and contained the more important and critical departments, such as Revenue, Police and the Judiciary. These were kept exclusively in British hands. The other group, called ‘Transferred’ comprising the less critical departments, such as Health, Local Government, Education, etc. were put to a limited extent in Indian hands, but with such safeguards that the British retained the power of ultimate decision even on these subjects. It was around this time that the country started getting polarised around the two principal parties of the country, the Congress and the Muslim League. The Congress, founded in 1885 by a retired British ICS man Allan Octavian Hume as a platform for dialogue between the elite among the Indians and the British quickly changed itself into a forum of anti-British Indians of differing intensities. Although there was no religious bias to the party to begin with, Muslims were lukewarm about the party from day one. Vincent Smith, an eminent historian writes[2] : “The Muslims in general watched the growth of the Congress from a distance and stood aloof from its controversies with Lord Curzon. But having allowed it to become dominantly Hindu in character through their abstention, they took alarm at the first sign of concessions to its demands. From this sprang the deputation to Lord Minto in 1906, led by the Agha Khan, which demanded separate electorates for Muslims in any representative system that might be introduced.” The Muslim League, founded in 1906 by Nawab Salimullah of Dacca, also changed its character. It was originally conceived as a political organ of the Muslim landowning class. However in 1913 a very urbane, very anglicised, and anything-but-a-devout-Muslim barrister from Bombay called M. A. Jinnah joined the League. He had joined the Congress in 1906, and joined the League while still with the Congress. He was born in Karachi in 1876 as Mahomet Ali Jheenabhai among a Shi’ite Muslim sect called Khoja Ismaili who, curiously enough, are governed by Hindu personal laws. Under his leadership the League gradually became the rallying point of all Indian Muslims who wanted to be different from Hindus in as many ways as possible. The Congress however continued to persist in the illusion that it was for Hindus and Muslims alike. This illusion, as we shall see, persists to this day, and was one of the factors that brought untold misery to the subject of this book, the East Bengali Hindus. At this stage a brief digression on the subject of M.A.Jinnah would be in order. What sort of a person was this M.A.Jinnah who, as we all know now, brought about the political division of the subcontinent, the creation of a state called Pakistan, the greatest migration in history, the great Calcutta killings, and needless misery to countless people of India, largely because of, and by the force of his enormous ego? A man who is worshipped as the Qaid-e-Azam, and hated for the vivisection of the country, depending on which side of the political and religious divide one is on, could not have been an ordinary person. Some of the best insights into his character are available from the autobiography of his onetime junior in the legal profession, M.C.Chagla[3]. According to Chagla, Jinnah around 1920 was a completely irreligious person who never prayed, never visited a mosque, and was very fond of ham sandwiches and pork sausages, food absolutely prohibited by his religion Islam. Chagla describes him as the uncrowned king of Bombay, idolized by the youth for his sturdy nationalism. How did such a person become the narrow sectarian leader that we know him to be? Chagla holds two factors to be primarily responsible. First, wherever he was, he had to be the leader, and he saw no chance of this with the Congress being in the total grip of Gandhi[4]. Second, his personal life : he had married Ruttie, a Parsee Zoroastrian girl many years his junior, daughter of his friend Sir Dinshaw Petit. It was an incompatible match, and had resulted in an unhappy marriage, but Jinnah truly loved her. Ruttie was an avid nationalist, and a good influence on Jinnah, politically speaking. Ruttie died early, and after that Jinnah's only companion at home was his unmarried sister Fatima who was as communal-minded as Ruttie was liberal. Chagla has specifically remarked that she enjoyed Jinnah's diatribes against the Hindus, and if anything, injected an extra dose of venom into them[5]. What followed, of course, is history. Now to return to the state of the country : the times around 1920 was extremely eventful in many other ways, such as Gandhi’s protest against the exploitation of indigo farmers in Champaran, Bihar, followed by the same against the infamous Rowlatt Act, and finally the launch of his non-cooperation movement ; the end to transportation of Indian ‘indentured labour’ to Mauritius, the West Indies, Fiji, and South Africa ; and many others. However, two events particularly relevant to the subject of this book took place at this time. The first was Jinnah’s severing ties with the Congress following serious differences between him and Gandhi with regard to the latter’s non-cooperation movement. The second took place not in India, but in faraway Sevres in France on 14th May, 1920. It was the publication of the terms of a treaty proposed by the British with the Turkish Sultan. His Ottoman empire had fought on the side of the Germans in the war, and was therefore dismembered. The European part of the empire came under the administration of a commission. The Arab Asian part – comprising the Arabian peninsula, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia (later Iraq) went to Britain and France, under the garb of League of Nations mandates. Only Asia Minor (present Turkey) remained directly with the Sultan. Till the Sultan acceded to these terms his empire would remain under the direct control of the allies. Now apart from being the ruler of Turkey the Sultan, having had temporal jurisdiction over Mecca, was also, ex officio the Caliph or Khalifa, the temporal head of pan-Islam. The Muslims of India, or the fundamentalists among them at any rate, were therefore quite agitated over this political emasculation of the Sultan and started a political movement which came to be known as the Khilafat movement. The Indian National Congress under Gandhi allied itself completely and wholeheartedly to this movement. Gandhi’s intention behind doing this was obviously to involve the Muslims in the struggle for independence and thereby forge some kind of a united front against the British. Gandhi, unlike his successor Jawaharlal Nehru, was deeply aware of the basic religiosity of Indians[6] and therefore considered Khilafat to be an ideal channel for reaching his objectives. The British, on the other hand, were counting on the deep schism between the two communities and were quite disturbed about the designs of Gandhi. Lord Reading, the Viceroy of India, wrote to Lord Montagu, the Secretary of State for India pressing him to alter the terms of the Sevres treaty, with a view to placate the Muslims of India. Meanwhile Mustapha Kemal Pasha came to power in Turkey. He was wedded to the idea of modernising and secularising Turkey. He replaced Arabic alphabets by Roman ones in writing the Turkish language, abolished the purdah (wearing a veil) system for women and made it illegal to wear the Fez, the red conical tasseled cap that had become the hallmark of the Muslim in the early part of the twentieth century. As one of the first steps towards this modernisation and secularisation he abolished the Caliphate, and the Khilafat movement in India died out. In the wake of the Khilafat movement, however, other things were happening in India. On the Malabar coast,[7] the northernmost part of the present-day state of Kerala, in August 1921, a group of Muslims of Arab descent known as the Moplahs started agitating against the British. Their rebellion, however, quickly took an abject anti-Hindu turn. The official estimate of deaths, practically all Hindus in this Muslim-majority area, was as much as 2,339. There was widespread forcible conversion of Hindus and desecration as well as destruction of Hindu temples. Some three years later, in September 1924, terrible anti-Hindu riots broke out at Kohat in the North-West Frontier Province. Desecration and destruction of Hindu temples also took place in Amethi in the United Provinces and Gulbarga in Bombay Presidency. The year 1926 saw as many as thirty-five Hindu-Muslim riots in the country. In the riots in Bombay city that took place in 1929 several hundreds died. Out of these the Moplah massacre and the Kohat riots were total anti-Hindu pogroms. The Congress, however, made only a few feeble noises against the Moplah massacre. In respect of the Kohat riots Gandhi started a fast – a hunger-strike actually – at the residence of Moulana Mohammed Ali[8] in Delhi in order to foster goodwill between the two communities and continued for twenty-one days. These riots marked the beginning of the communal rioting that would plague the subcontinent for the remainder of the century. Gandhi’s unstinted support for the Khilafat movement, however well-intentioned it might have been, together with the feeble reaction of the Congress to the anti-Hindu pogroms of Malabar and Kohat, were terrible mistakes, because they sent all kinds of wrong (and presumably unintended) signals to past and potential anti-Hindu rioters. The first and most important signal received by the Muslims was that the Hindu-dominated Congress would henceforth, so long as Gandhi was in charge, bend over backwards in any given situation to please the Muslims. That trait had already been shown in Gandhi’s participating in a sectarian, retrogressive movement like the Khilafat to reinstall a temporal religious leader many thousands of miles away with whom no Indian Muslim should have had any reason to have any business. M.C.Chagla, who has been mentioned earlier in connection with the personality of Jinnah, has roundly criticised Gandhi's participation in the Khilafat movement. In his autobiography he writes "I have always felt that Gandhiji was wrong in trying to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity by supporting the cause of the Khilafat. Such unity was built on shifting sands. So long as the religious cause survived, the unity was there; but once that cause was removed the unity showed its weakness. All the Khilafatis who had been attracted to the Congress came out in their true colours, that is as more devoted to their religion than to their country". In Chagla's view it was the Muslim League under the leadership of Jinnah which was then the party of patriotic, secular, modernised Muslims, and the Congress should have allied itself with the League[9]. The second unfortunate signal sent by Gandhi's alliance with the Khilafatis was that, provided a sufficiently large number could be incited to participate in an anti-Hindu riot, nothing much would happen either to the riot inciters or to a mob. Most certainly the Congress would not, repeat not, ask for punishment for the guilty, because that would amount to committing two sins : first, showing that they were prepared to take up cudgels on behalf of Hindus, and therefore could not be said to be equitable towards Muslims ; and second, obliquely admitting that the British alone could keep peace among Hindus and Muslims. The Congress’s usual reaction to any anti-Hindu riot henceforth would be a mild and inane statement, calling for cessation of all hostilities and restoration of peace and goodwill between the two communities. The worst that could happen following an anti-Hindu riot was that Gandhi himself would come down to the spot of the riot, and appeal for universal peace, hold prayer meetings, or go on fast. Not a breath about bringing the guilty to book. Then some Muslim leader somewhere would make some gesture to make Gandhi break his fast, such as by promising that they would henceforth use their good offices to prevent further rioting. Then Gandhi would break his fast, and the next few days would be all Bhai-Bhai (we are all brothers), until the next riot. Meanwhile the rioters would have had their fun of torching, looting, killing and of course, raping. All in the name of a holy war upon infidels. This view is supported by as ardent a Nehru-admirer as Ashok Mitra who could not help feeling regret at the fact that even after the Great Calcutta Killings of 1946 (see Chapter 3) neither Nehru nor Gandhi saw it fit to visit Calcutta[10]. Mitra could attribute this only to the fear that any such visit immediately following the killings (in which, according to Mitra, the guilt of the Muslims was many times that of the Hindus) might result in their being dubbed anti-Muslim. Thus, (conclusion author’s, not Mitra’s) the right or wrong of the situation was of no consequence. What mattered to the leaders, including the Mahatma, was that they should under no account risk being called anti-Muslim. An anti-Muslim riot was another matter. Then the Congress and the Muslim League would vie with each other to get tough with the rioters. Thus, during the Noakhali carnage (see Chapter 3 for details) where Hindus were butchered, their women raped and brutalised by the hundreds, and families forcibly converted to Islam by the villageful, all that Jawaharlal Nehru did was to meekly follow Gandhi from village to village. What Gandhi did in his turn was to visit villages once inhabited by Hindus with the message that they should come back to their homes. Or rather what had once been their homes, and were now charred remains thereof. But during the Bihar riots that followed in retaliation, where Hindu killed Muslim, the selfsame Jawaharlal Nehru seriously suggested that the Royal Indian Air Force should be brought in to strafe Hindu villages[11], and Gandhi of course threatened a fast unto death. These signals had a profound influence on the turn of events in the province of Bengal. Here, first, the Muslims were in the majority. Secondly, they could be inflamed much more easily in the name of waging a Jihad, holy war. Thirdly the logistics of inflaming passions among Muslims existed in the form of their prayer meetings five times a day. And now they were being told that an occasional deviation would result, at worst, in yet another fast by Gandhi. The inevitable result followed. The increasing number of Muslims flocking to the Muslim League felt emboldened beyond belief. With one party among the two principal ones in the country being their very own, and the other trying to placate and appease them in every conceivable way, the future was surely theirs. In the midst of all these the communities were fast becoming so clearly divided as to make any talk about ‘common interest’ increasingly an absurdity. The fringe of Muslims with the Congress, who were called ‘Nationalist Muslims’ at that time, was constantly dwindling. Meanwhile M.A.Jinnah had returned to India from Britain to be elected the ‘Permanent President’ of the Muslim League and the Muslim League had become synonymous with this one man. By and large the Hindus and Muslims looked up respectively to the Congress and the Muslim League as their own parties, and to Gandhi and Jinnah as their supreme leaders. There were a few exceptions to this rule. Chaudhri Khaliquzzaman of the United Provinces was one, but eventually he yielded to pressure and joined Jinnah in 1937. Another, Allah Baksh of Sind, was assassinated. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan of the North-West Frontier, also known as the Frontier Gandhi, leader of the Red-shirted Khudai Khidmatgar (who were a voluntary organisation rather than a political party) remained close to but separate from the Congress. Only the Unionist Party in Punjab, and the Krishak Proja Party in Bengal held out as strong, self-willed, mainstream Muslim political parties distinct from the League. The former was a party which represented rural, as opposed to urban, interests in Punjab, and was led by Mian (later Sir) Fazli Hussain, followed by Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, and Khizr Hyat Tiwana. This party cut across religious lines, and had among its leaders Lala (later Sir) Chotu Ram, representing Hindu Jat agricultural interests and a number of leaders from among Sikh agriculturists. The latter was led by A. K. Fazlul Haq and represented Muslim agriculturists while the Muslim League in Bengal belonged to the Muslim elite, namely the Zamindar class. More about this party later in this chapter. The sensible thing under such circumstances for the Congress would have been to ally with these parties, who had credible and sober Muslim leaders, so as to draw Muslims away from the rabidly communal Muslim League. Yet the Congress continued to persist in the illusion that they alone represented Hindus and Muslims alike, and in order to reinforce their own faith in it were prepared to do anything – anything at all - to please the Muslims. This did not hurt Hindus from the provinces where they were in an overwhelming majority, such as Bombay Presidency, Madras Presidency or the Central Provinces and Berar. This did not hurt the Punjabi Hindus or Sikhs either, because of the presence of the Unionist Party described above ; nor the Hindus in the North-West Frontier Province because Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, very close to the Congress, held sway there. This did not even hurt the Hindus in the United Provinces or Bihar because, in spite of the substantial Muslim minority being solidly behind the League, the majority was still with the Hindus. On the other hand it hurt the Bengali Hindus like none else, because there was no one here to save them from the tyranny of the Muslim League except the Congress, and that party would do nothing to help the Hindus for fear of being dubbed communal. The one slim ray of hope that existed with Fazlul Haq’s Krishak Proja Party was adequately taken care of by the Congress’s remaining equidistant from them and the League, followed by a most regrettable and pigheaded refusal in 1937 to make a coalition with them. In such a state Round Table Conferences – some three rounds of them – were held in London among the various concerned parties, namely the British, the Congress the Muslim League and diverse other groups. Nothing much came out of them. In 1932 Ramsay Macdonald, the Labourite Prime Minister announced his 'Communal Award'. This award fixed communal representations in the provinces and was given its final shape by the Poona Pact of 4th September 1932 which secured general as well as special representations for the scheduled or depressed classes. This was followed finally by a mammoth piece of legislation known as the Government of India Act 1935, which received royal assent on 4th August 1935. Vincent Smith describes it as “the last major constructive achievement of the British in India”. What did the 1935 act do? In short, it enlarged the scope of popular representation subject to the paramountcy of the British. It put an end to the Dyarchy of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms and introduced the federal principle with the corollary of provincial autonomy and the principle of popular responsible government in the provinces. Muslim-majority Sind was separated from Bombay Presidency (which had an overall Hindu majority) to form a separate province. A new province of Orissa was formed from the Orissa Division of the former province of Bihar and Orissa and the adjacent portions of Madras Presidency and Central Provinces. Burma was completely separated from India, and a separate act called the Government of Burma Act was re-enacted in the very next session of the British Parliament. Provincial elections took place in February 1937 and resulted in striking Congress successes in the Hindu-majority provinces. The Muslim League did well only among Muslims in the Hindu-majority provinces. The Congress, conversely, drew practically a blank among the Muslims. Of the 836 non-Muslim seats that the Congress contested they won as many as 715 ; but of the 485 Muslim seats they contested 85 and won only 26. The Muslim League won only two out of the 86 Muslim seats in the Punjab, 40 out of 119 in Bengal, and none at all in Sind and the North-West Frontier. Thus, very ironically, the Muslim League made a very poor showing in the land mass that is today known as Pakistan. Two things happened in these elections which made rift between the Congress and the Muslim League irreparable -- and in effect strengthened the position of the Muslim League. The first happened in the United Provinces where the Congress and Muslim League had contested the seats on an understanding that there would be a coalition if they won. This was termed ‘independent cooperation’ by Jinnah and was adopted not just in U.P. but also in all Hindu-majority provinces. Jinnah went on to declare “There is really no substantial difference between the League and the Congress . . . . we shall always be glad to cooperate with the Congress in their constructive programmes”. When the results came out it was found that the Congress had won a majority of its own in seven out of the eleven provinces. As a result the Congress went back on its understanding. Jawaharlal Nehru declared, with historic shortsightedness, that everybody else will have to ‘simply fall in line’ with the Congress. This actually reinforced Jinnah’s oft-taken position that however much they talked about cutting across religious lines, the Congress could not be trusted to look after the interests of the Muslims. Maulana Azad has termed this action of Jawaharlal a blunder equal to the one he made nine years later on July 10, 1946 when, by a thoughtless remark at a press conference, he gave an opportunity to Jinnah to wriggle out of the League’s reluctant acceptance of the Cabinet Mission proposals (see later in the chapter). Bhabani Prosad Chatterjee, in his well-researched “Deshbibhag : Poshchat o Nepottho Kahini” (in Bangla, meaning “The Partition : the Background and what happened behind the scene[12]) has commented that had the Congress obliged the League by accommodating them in the United Provinces, the Hindus would surely have accused them of appeasing the League[13]. It is difficult to accept this position. Chatterjee has not mentioned who among the Hindus would have made this accusation. Only the Hindu Mahasabha would have done it, and they did it even otherwise, not without any justification. In truth the reason lay in the Congress’s eternal grand delusion : that they, and they alone, represented all castes and communities through the length and breadth of India. The second incident took place in Bengal. Here, three parties emerged, with none being able to secure a majority. Fazlul Haq’s Krishak Proja Party, representing the interests of Muslim agriculturists secured most of the seats reserved for the Muslims, but that was not sufficient for him to form a ministry. Haq himself was deeply suspicious of the Muslim League, and wanted to have no truck with them. A number of prominent members of the party, though devout Muslims, were nationalistically inclined, and wanted a coalition with the Hindu-dominated Congress. The Congress however remained stuck in a totally inflexible position, which later proved disastrous, that they would rather sit in the opposition but would not enter into any coalition. Fazlul Haq thus was driven into a coalition with the Muslim League and is said to have remarked, in so many words, that he had been thrown to the wolves. An understanding was reached between him and the Muslim League leaders Suhrawardy[14] and Nazimuddin through the good offices of a Bengali Hindu Industrialist called Nalini Ranjan Sarker[15] and the Coalition Ministry took office in late 1937. Suhrawardy and Nazimuddin had, until the previous year, belonged to a party known as the United Muslim Party which merged with Jinnah’s Muslim League through the efforts of Ispahani and a few others[16]. This refusal of the Congress to form a coalition with Fazlul Haq has already been termed pigheaded, and was the result of a decision of the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) who refused to make an exception in the case of Bengal. This was probably the first nail to be driven in the coffin of the East Bengali Hindus, though very few realised it as such at that time. Nor was it a result of following some inflexible principle, because the selfsame AICC permitted such a coalition in Assam. Now why did the AICC do it? Was it an act of simple political stupidity that occasionally occurs in the life of every nation and moulds the destiny of millions? Or was it something deeper, an act of spitefulness? And if the AICC did it why didn’t the Bengal Congress raise their voice against such a decision, and in favour of coalition with Haq? Perhaps we shall never know. However we can look at observations of contemporary watchers and try to reach our own conclusions. Nirad C. Chaudhuri, as the secretary of the Bengal Congress president Sarat Chandra Bose, had the opportunity of observing the situation at very close range. It is generally acknowledged that his objectivity, astuteness, and power of observation could not be seriously faulted if the British were not concerned. He has said[17] : “I am unable to say whether the treatment of Bengal by the Congress was deliberate. But there is no doubt that there was indifference to Bengal in the Congress, if not some real antipathy, which, in spite of being only latent, influenced policies. . . . . Here I have only to add that at that early stage even Sarat Bose showed lack of foresight by being opposed to office acceptance”. These were all momentous events, the Communal Award of 1932, the Government of India Act 1935 and the taking office of Fazlul Haq’s coalition ministry in 1937. What did they mean for Bengal, or more precisely, Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims ? Again, Nirad C. Chaudhuri had spoken about these with remarkable clarity. He has this to say[18] : “Let me begin with the political situation in the strict sense. The starkly obvious feature was that, under the provincial constitution imposed on Bengal by the Government of India Act 1935, Bengali Hindus were permanently debarred (italics his) from exercising any political power in their province . . . . . . except through the charity of the Muslims which was not likely to be bestowed. . . . . they were reduced to a permanent statutory minority, disenfranchised as to power, although given the franchise to elect members to the legislature”. It ought to be mentioned that this situation continued till the partition of the province (except for the brief interregnum of Fazlul Haq’s ministry, 1941-43) till the province was partitioned and Hindu-majority West Bengal came into being. Chaudhuri also wrote[19] in the then popular Bengali monthly Sanibarer Chithi in September 1936 “ Today, as a result of the Communal Award of 1932, there is going to be a dominance of Muslims, as against the Hindus, over the governance of Bengal. . . . . They (the Bengali Hindus) are apprehensive that as soon as the Muslims get political power they would, in education as in literature, undermine the very culture based on ancient Indian ideals which was the pride of the Bengali Hindu. The fear is neither baseless nor unjustified. . . .” (Translation his). Meanwhile there were legislative and economic changes which bettered the lot of the Muslim peasant. The Bengal Tenancy Act, the legislation forming the framework of the Zamindari system, underwent two amendments, all in favour of the ryot, the tenant peasant, most of whom in Eastern Bengal were Muslim. Jute prices also registered a steep upward movement around this time, and jute cultivators were almost all Muslim. This economic empowerment had an immediate political fallout. Muslims began to increasingly occupy posts of Presidents (who were hitherto mostly Hindu) of Union Boards, the lowest rung in the system then prevalent of Local Self-Government. In the meantime, while the Congress was proceeding on the Gandhian path, and the Muslim League was busy trying to wrest as much as possible for the Muslims, a different kind of movement was in full swing in Bengal. This was the movement of those who had chosen the path of violence to freedom. They were confined largely to Bengal, and to some extent to Punjab and the Maharashtra region of the Bombay Presidency. The British used to call them terrorists, but in Bengal they were known as Biplobi or Revolutionaries. Their epoch was Bengal’s Ognijug or Agniyuga, the era of fire. Normally when one talks of Revolutionaries one almost automatically thinks of Marxists or Communists, but these people had nothing to do with Marxism. In fact the Marxists or Communists had played a very underhand and nefarious role in India’s freedom movement – more on this subject later. The inspiration for the movement came from a variety of sources – mainly from the patriotic song Vande Mataram composed by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, and to the part of the Hindu scriptures known as Bhagavad Gita, which is actually a collection of the counsel that Lord Shri Krishna gave to the warrior Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. This phase of India’s struggle for freedom actually began in the early years of the century, led by a brilliant person called Aurobindo Ghosh who had qualified for the ICS, but failed the test of riding a horse. He eventually left the movement for a life of spiritualism, and came to be known as Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry. The movement did not have any central control, as a result of which it ebbed and flowed with varying strength at various points of time. Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki were among the first to take shots at the British. Khudiram’s death by hanging and Prafulla’s in a gunfight provided inspiration for hundreds of others. During the First World War some of the revolutionaries tried to collaborate with the Germans – the efforts of Bagha Jatin in this regard have also been referred to earlier. It is not that the Revolutionaries did not have any organisation at all, merely that they had no central organisation, planning, coordination or control. In fact they used to operate under the loose control of a number of organisations spread throughout the province, especially East Bengal. One very important such organisation was the Anushilan Samiti which had more than five hundred branches in East Bengal. Among the others were Jugantar Dal, Attonnati Samiti, Sri Sangha, Prabartak Sangha and others. A high point in the Revolutionary movement was reached on 18th April 1930 when a group of very ordinary middle-class Bengali Hindu Bhadralok, having formed themselves into an organisation called the Indian Republican Army (doubtless under inspiration from their Irish counterparts), led by a schoolteacher called Shurjo Sen, also known as Masterda, raided the district armoury at Chittagong and cut off Chittagong from the rest of the world by simultaneously ransacking the telegraph office. Most of the group perished in the gunfights that followed, but Masterda, with his associate Tarakeshwar Dastidar were captured, tried and hanged. Their bodies were not allowed to be cremated for fear of unrest. Instead they were secretly thrown into the sea. Some others, such as a young intrepid woman called Pritilata Ohdedar, chose to commit suicide. Meanwhile a number of Indian and British police officers, such as Ellison of Comilla, Asatullah and Tarini Mukherjee were shot dead by other revolutionaries. The same year saw a gun-battle on the corridors of Writers’ Buildings in Calcutta, the seat of the Bengal Government, where three young men called Binoy Basu, Badal Gupta and Dinesh Gupta shot dead Simpson and Craig, two very senior police officers, and were themselves killed or subsequently hanged. There were similar revolutionaries following the path of armed insurrection in other provinces too, notably in Punjab and in the Maharashtra part of Bombay Presidency. In fact the first among such revolutionaries to go to the gallows were the Chapekar brothers of Poona (now Pune). However, the preponderance of Bengal in this phase of the struggle for freedom is brought out by nothing else as clearly as the walls of the cellular jail at Port Blair, Andaman Islands. In the British days the Indian Penal Code prescribed the punishment of ‘transportation for life’ for certain offences, and that meant moving to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, which were penal colonies just as French Guiana and Devil’s Island were to the French. This practice was abolished after independence, and the cellular jail today stands as a national monument. Now, the cellular jail has the names of its inmates inscribed on the walls, and has them classified province-wise – and out of the thirty-two walls where such names appear, as many as twenty-three carry those from Bengal. Two points are to be noted. First, these revolutionaries were, to a man, all Hindus. Secondly, barring those from the district of Midnapore, practically all the rest were from East Bengal, many of them from the districts of Barisal, Dacca, Faridpur, Chittagong and Tipperah. Because of the lack of a central control, of any definite gameplan, and more than anything else of leadership, the revolutionary movement petered out. But it had put the fear of God in the British and had mobilised a lot of fence-sitters to commit themselves totally to independence of the country. While popular perception has it that the mainstream Congress movement, following the path of non-violence under Gandhi, was primarily responsible for bringing independence to the country, this is not accepted by all. In fact it remains an enigma to this day as to what precisely prompted the Imperial British to give up the first slice, the brightest jewel, of their empire, and go home without a serious fight. It is widely believed that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army, and the Naval Mutiny of 1946 had played at least as important a part as Gandhi’s non-violent movements ; because these two caused the British to start doubting, for the second time since the War of Independence of 1857 (wrongly termed by some as the Sepoy Mutiny), the loyalty of their Indian troops. Along with these, the revolutionaries of Bengal and Punjab must have played a very important role too! But that is not the end of the enigma. What happened to those among the fearless revolutionaries who survived, the majority of whom were Hindus from East Bengal? Very strangely, practically all of them left East Bengal after partition, hounded out by Muslims, without so much as a whimper. The enigma is, why did people, who had braved the imperial power of the British, succumb so meekly when challenged by the might of the much less powerful Pakistani state and their rag-tag Lungi-clad Muslim rioters? Why did such people run away from places that were their homes for hundreds of years? This question has been rarely, if ever, asked. An answer to this question, and also why it is not asked, has been attempted in chapter 10 of this book. All these surviving East Bengali Hindu revolutionaries lived on to become embittered, frustrated, disgruntled old men in the refugee colonies of post-partition West Bengal. Their exploits were largely forgotten in the media blitzkrieg launched by the Congressites in their self-praise and in praise of Gandhi and Nehru and their non-violent struggle. Their grandchildren born in post-partition West Bengal refused to believe that they did the kind of things they claimed they did. All that they got (in material terms) for risking their lives and then being hounded out of their homes, were commemorative copper plaques, pensions, some franchises from state-owned companies, and railway travel concessions. Quite a few among them became Communists. One or two took to crime, and one became an expert bank robber, of course with a revolutionary objective. Not one of them ever opened his mouth against their being ousted from East Bengal. We can now return to the mainstream independence movement. The next milestone in Bengal politics was the exit of Subhas Chandra Bose from the Congress in 1939, followed by his exit from the country in 1941. It happened this way : In 1938 Subhas Chandra Bose was a brilliant young man of only forty, with great personal charm and magnetism. He was the younger brother of Sarat Chandra Bose, President of the Congress in Bengal, which gave him considerable political pedigree as well as clout. He had just come back from a long sojourn in Europe where he had gone for medical treatment. He was a powerful speaker, of a very presentable appearance, a confirmed bachelor, of unimpeachable personal integrity and was totally untainted by any scandal. With all these he had acquired an irresistible appeal to the intelligentsia, and it was only natural that he should be considered for the highest political office that a Hindu in British India could aspire to – namely the presidency of the Indian National Congress. At that time the hold of Gandhi on the Congress was so complete that no one could think of reaching that office without his endorsement, and no one could think of continuing in that office without his support. Gandhi endorsed Subhas’s candidature for the Congress to be held at Haripura in 1938, and Subhas was elected president. The next three years in his life after this was an anticlimax. Immediately following his election problems started between the two of them. Unfortunately Subhas’s skill at politicking was next to nothing compared to Gandhi’s. Gandhi managed to get practically all the first-rung leaders of the Congress, such as Patel, Nehru, Kripalani, Bhulabhai Desai, Sarojini Naidu, Azad and others leagued up against Subhas. The time for electing the president for the next session, to be held at Tripuri, near Jabalpur, came, and Gandhi endorsed a quiet, if colourless, person called Pattabhi Sitaramayya for the post. An election was held. Such was Subhas’s appeal that he got elected in spite of Gandhi’s active opposition, and Gandhi promptly went on record saying that Pattabhi’s defeat was his defeat. After this his camp made life miserable for Subhas, with the result that he was forced to resign in exasperation, also leaving the Congress in the same motion, to found a new party called the Forward Bloc. This proved to be great political mistake on Subhas’s part. In one stroke he had thrown himself out of the political mainstream of the nation. Even his brother Sarat Bose did not follow him, and remained with the Congress. After this, in January 1941, despite being under police surveillance, he escaped from his house and went to Nazi Germany, and thence by submarine to Japan. His greatest exploits all relate to the period after this exit, but the fact remains that with this he was lost to Bengal. Subhas Chandra Bose was a natural, charismatic leader, and his exit from Bengal robbed the province of a person who could hold a brief for the province before any forum in the world. His appeal also ran across communal lines, and he had the capacity to persuade the Muslim majority of Bengal to take a rational line vis-a vis the Hindus. As already said, the Congress, despite being an overwhelmingly Hindu party, and existing because of Hindu support alone, was always reluctant to take up the cause of Hindus for fear of losing a Muslim support that wasn’t there. Fortunately for the Hindus of Bengal, there rose above the political horizon, at this juncture, a leader of unmatched clarity of thinking, fearlessness and integrity. His name was Syama Prasad Mookerjee[20], and for the Bengali Hindus he was to prove to be their last hope in politics – although they did not realise it then, and have only begun to realise it after all these years. Syama Prasad entered politics at the instance and insistence of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the president of the All-India Hindu Mahasabha, who had then just been released from prison and had come to visit Bengal in August 1939. The Congress’s pandering to Muslim interests in order to garner their votes, at the cost of Hindus who had kept the party in business, had thoroughly revolted Syama Prasad. He heard Savarkar’s speech at the Hindu Mahasabha conference at Khulna and came in contact with him. Meanwhile other Mahasabha leaders, such as Ashutosh Lahiri, N.C.Chatterjee (father of Somnath Chatterjee, parliamentary leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the 1980s and 90s) had perceived the great promise of the man and were pressing him to join. Another person who was instrumental in finally persuading him to join the Mahasabha was Swami Pranavananda, founder of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha. Another very important thing happened on September 1, 1939 in faraway Europe. Hitler’s Wehrmacht invaded Poland, and Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister rose in the Parliament at Westminster to say, “Gentlemen, we are at war with Germany”. As a British colony India was dragged into the war which was, till then, a purely European affair – even the United States of America had not joined it then. The Congress wanted an assurance from the British regarding India’s independence after the war as a quid pro quo for India’s joining the war, and the British government flatly refused. The Congress then resigned their ministries in all the seven provinces where they were in power. The British were not terribly hurt. But the happiest person was Muhammad Ali Jinnah who termed the day of such resignation as the ‘day of deliverance for the Muslims’. Meanwhile Fazlul Haq was having a very hard time with the Muslim League diehards. It was his dream to educate the illiterate masses of Bengal, and in spite of having been Premier he had selected for himself the portfolio of Education rather than the much more politically important Home or Finance portfolios, leaving these to the Muslim League. His politics was so fundamentally different from that of the communal zealots of the League that nobody expected them to stick together for any length of time. He had been more pressured than persuaded to support the Pakistan Resolution of 1940 at the Muslim League session at Lahore, much against his wishes as it turned out later. Finally in 1941, he decided that enough was enough, and after having a word with Syama Prasad, left the ministry which then collapsed. He then formed, in December 1941, the Progressive Coalition ministry with the Hindu Mahasabha, in which Syama Prasad became the Finance Minister. This was popularly known as the Syama-Haq ministry, and this was the last time over a long period that Bengali Hindus were going to get some justice from their government. Despite the fact that the cabinet enjoyed the confidence of the Provincial Legislative Assembly, the Governor waited for a full week, from the 3rd to the 11th of December, before swearing the cabinet in. And before he did so, he dealt it a terrible blow. On the 11th, a few hours before the swearing-in, he got Sarat Chandra Bose arrested under the Defence of India Regulations, and incarcerated him in the Presidency Jail. The supporters of the Coalition were all aghast and advised Fazlul Haq not to swear the cabinet in. However this would have meant playing right into the hands of the British, and Haq did not do it. Instead he decided to get his cabinet in first, and then apply pressure on the Governor to release Bose. However, this design also failed. The Governor told Haq that this was a decision of the Central Government, and there was nothing he could do about Bose's arrest[21]. The real reason for such conduct was that the British hated the ministry. First, they were right through clearly partial to the Muslims, though not all of them were as brazen as Sir Bamfylde Fuller (see Chapter 1) about it. Secondly, their entire administrative strategy at the time rested, to a large extent, on quietly fomenting and exacerbating Hindu-Muslim tension, and the Progressive Coalition ministry was literally a monkey wrench into their works. This element in their administrative strategy was so basic that even Annada Sankar Ray, who is otherwise unduly mild towards the British even while criticising them in his Jukto Bonger Sriti, is very explicit on this score. He mentions a case where a Brahmin and a Muslim were arrested during the Civil Disobedience movement. The British District Magistrate released the Muslim immediately, telling him repeatedly that the British had no quarrel with the Muslims, but kept the Brahmin in lock-up for a week. Thus, Ray observes, it was rubbed into him that the Government does not desire amity between Hindu and Muslim[22]. Thirdly they were even more partial to the Muslim League than they were to the Muslims, and could not take kindly to a ministry that had deposed them. The hatred was manifest from a telegram sent by Lord Linlithgow, the Viceroy, to Amery, the Secretary of State for India on the subject of unleashing repressive measures on the populace who had participated in the ‘Quit India’ movement (see below) : “Herbert (Sir John, the Governor of Bengal) is not very certain of the attitude of Haq, who, under Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s influence shows signs of wobbling, with the result that the Bengal Government may be reluctant to take necessary action”. So they looked for opportunities to dethrone this ministry and reinstall the Leaguers. Such opportunity was not late in coming, and the occasion was provided by the Congress’s ‘Quit India’ call. In fact the Hon’ble Sir John Arthur Herbert, Governor of Bengal, was a very complex character whose ideas nevertheless fell admirably in line with the Imperial designs of the British. He was known as ‘Herbert the pervert’ in intimate circles for some of his strange proclivities. He had also inherited the love of Muslims and hatred of Hindus from his predecessor of an earlier generation, Sir Bamfylde Fuller (q.v.). He set for himself a task of Muslimizing the Police forces and went about this in a very Machiavellian way. For their own reasons the British had decided to have two parallel Police departments in their Presidencies. Thus, for Bengal there was Calcutta Police, with jurisdiction over Calcutta, and Bengal Police for the rest of Bengal. They were not just separate and independent departments but had totally different cultures. Calcutta Police was much more the glamorous of the two, with their smart white uniforms (as opposed to drab khaki of the moffusil), and the resplendent red turbans of their constables. Their headquarters, Lalbazar, was modeled after the Scotland Yard of London. The sergeant cadre of Calcutta Police in those days was manned almost exclusively by Anglo-Indians, generally known as Lalmukho (Red-faced) sergeants. However the sub-inspectors’ cadre was manned largely by Indians, mostly Bengalis. Because of the glamour of the Calcutta Police and the fact that its officers were subject to transfer only within the city, a number of young men from good, aristocratic families of Calcutta were attracted to this cadre, and as a result most of the Officers-in-Charge of the Police Stations, who were of Inspectors’ rank in the force, were Bengali Hindus. Herbert created a number of functional departments in the Calcutta Police Headquarters, such as Criminal Records, Cheating, Murder and so on. He then imperceptibly drew away the Hindu Inspectors from the posts of Officers-in-Charge to head these departments and had them replaced by Muslims. As a result, by the time Suhrawardy was in position for the run-up to the Great Calcutta Killings (see Chapter 3), what are called ‘Line Functions’ in Management Science today, or ‘Command postings’ in the Army were entirely in the hands of Muslim officers. Quite a lot of Suhrawardy’s work thus had already been done in advance by Herbert[23]. In August 1942, in its Bombay session, the Congress called upon the British to ‘Quit India’. This is variously known as the “Quit India’ movement, the August Kranti or Biplob (Uprising) and so on. As a movement it was not a well-planned or coordinated one. However, it was enough for the panic-stricken British to promptly put all the Congress leaders in jail. As a result the movement became a loose cannon and at places, one hell of a cannon. One such place was the Midnapore district of Bengal, the home of such dissimilar characters as Khudiram and Suhrawardy. The district had earned great notoriety after the assassination of three of its District Magistrates – Douglas, Burge and Peddie – so much so that thereafter the government stopped sending Britishers to the district to become its magistrate. In certain parts of the district, notably in the Tamluk and Contai subdivisions, total independence was proclaimed. The areas were cut off from the rest of India by uprooting railway lines and severing telegraph connections. The British retaliated with brutally repressive measures, deploying both the police and the military who absolutely took the law in their own hands. They made few arrests. Instead they killed, burnt, tortured, maimed and raped, all with a carte blanche issued by governor Herbert. At this juncture a terrible cyclone, accompanied by tidal waves, hit the Midnapore coast in the very same Tamluk and Contai subdivisions. This was on October 16, on Ashtami day of the Durga Puja, the biggest festival of Bengali Hindus, and the streets were full of people in Contai town. In no time the town went under five feet of water. This was a time of the year when no cyclone is normally expected, and the population was taken totally unawares. Ashok Mitra[24] writes that some thirty thousand people lost their lives in the first fifteen minutes. It is still believed by many that the District Magistrate of Midnapore, Niaz Mohammed Khan, an ICS officer who later opted for Pakistan and became an important civil servant there deliberately withheld a cyclone warning on the grounds that ‘disloyal people had no right to live’. At any rate, according to Ashok Mitra[25] he recommended to the government in his report that, in consideration of the political mischief wrought by people from the district, neither should the government take any relief measures for at least one month, nor permit any non-governmental organisation to do so. Was this being more loyal than the king – or more malevolent than the devil? The conduct of Niaz must have been observed with considerable approval by Suhrawardy, although the latter was not in power at this time. For later, when Suhrawardy returned to power by the grace of Governor Herbert, he put Niaz to good use in the run-up to ‘Direct Action’, also known as the Great Calcutta Killings. This is described in the next chapter. Niaz is credited with various other feats, such as an attempt to Islamise the Arakan coast of Burma (later Myanmar) by settling Muslims from Chittagong there. He succeeded in this, but only temporarily, because later, in the 1990s the Buddhist Myanmarese government drove out all these Muslims, known as Rohingiyas, back into Bangladesh. We need only remind ourselves at this stage that it was under administrators like Niaz a few years later that the Hindus of East Bengal had to live. The unbelievable hardship to which the population of the area were subjected to by this combination of human repression and the natural calamity was carefully hidden by the British administration from the public at large, even from the provincial cabinet. When Syama Prasad came to know of this, entirely through unofficial channels, he was incensed. He rushed to Midnapore, and upon observing the deliberate and inhuman official callousness, took up the matter with the Governor Sir John Herbert who, quite predictably, did exactly nothing. Syama Prasad, in protest resigned from the cabinet on November 20, 1942. Sir John was waiting for such opportunities. Around this time he somehow (possibly by hinting that he would form an all-party government of which Haq would be the Premier) had persuaded Fazlul Haq to sign a resignation of his cabinet, but he kept this up his sleeve for a while. A few months later, when Haq said in the Provincial Assembly that he would have a Judicial Inquiry instituted to determine the cause of the disaster and the relief measures[26] he sacked the Haq cabinet on March 28, 1943 with this resignation. Thereafter, using his extraordinary powers he installed a Muslim League cabinet led by Nazimuddin, with Suhrawardy as the Minister in charge of Civil Supplies. Nazimuddin flatly refused to take any non-League Muslim into his cabinet, and Haq was out. Herbert also got what he wanted : a rubber-stamp provincial cabinet, with no voice of conscience like Syama Prasad or Haq. At this point it is necessary to take a look at the role played by the Communist Party of India at this juncture and later. This is because, as will be seen, the Indian Communists, in order to secure political gains, wholeheartedly supported the demand for Pakistan voiced by the Muslim League, and eventually played a pivotal role in preventing proper rehabilitation of the refugees from East Bengal. In order to understand their behaviour during these epoch-making years it is also necessary to briefly digress into the origin and development of Indian Communists. Around the middle years of the twentieth century it used to be said about Indian Communists in jest, “ Who is that man sweating away in an overcoat on this steamy afternoon ? Oh, that is Comrade so-and-so. But why the overcoat? Because it is snowing in Moscow.” There was considerable truth in the joke, because in those days the Indian Communists were blind followers of the Soviet political line, regardless of its applicability to Indian conditions or of the national interests of India. Just how blind, and where this landed them and all those that listened to them can and ought to form the subject of a distinct line of study. For the purposes of this book the discussion will have to be limited to the bare mentioning of three aspects, namely : first, their position during India’s freedom struggle ; second, their collaboration with the British Government during the war, and especially their depiction of Subhas Chandra Bose as a Japanese stooge ; and third, their role in and following the partition of the country and of Bengal. The Communist Party of India (CPI) was founded, not in India, but at Tashkent in the erstwhile Soviet Union (now Uzbekistan) on October 17, 1920. This was very symbolic of the fact, observed throughout the life of communism in India, that the Indian communists were always far away from the aspirations of the people – in fact there was always a lack of basic understanding of Indianness among them. One of the founder-members was Manabendra Nath Roy, better known as M.N.Roy, who has been mentioned earlier in this chapter in connection with revolutionary activities in Bengal during the First World War. Roy very soon fell out with Dange, another founder-member, and the Comintern appointed a British communist with Bengali roots, Rajani Palme Dutt, to lead the party. Thereafter Zinoviev, a member of the then-ruling ‘Troika’ of the Soviet Union (of which the other members were Stalin and Kamenev), ordered the fledgling CPI to be 




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