Twitter

Follow palashbiswaskl on Twitter

Thursday, August 30, 2012

PUSH COMES TO SHOVE : THE KILLINGS OF 1950, AND THE NEHRU-LIAQUAT PACT by Tathagat Roy


"My People, Uprooted: A Saga of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal" by Tathagata Roy




The reason for which the Hindus left East Pakistan before 1950 was largely insecurity. Most of them were relatively affluent, upper-caste urban Hindus from the big towns like Dacca, Chittagong, Mymensingh or Rajshahi. They were mostly zamindars, mercantile employees, professionals, businessmen and the like. They were politically alert, could see the future with considerable clarity, and had no illusions about what lay in store for them in the fledgling Islamic Republic.

Consequently, they were the people who got the best possible deals – under the circumstances. Quite a few of them could manage to exchange property with Muslims from West Bengal. Even here they got an unfair deal. In Rajlakshmi Debi's Bangla novel Kamal-lata there is a conversation described between a Hindu from Mymensingh town and a Muslim from a Calcutta suburb sometime just after partition. In the process of haggling the Muslim says "Excuse me, but your position and ours are not the same. So long as Mahatma Gandhi is alive we have no fears. But you won't be able to live here much longer"[i].

On the other hand the Hindus' exodus of 1950 and afterwards was running for dear life, plain and simple ; together, of course, with trying to save their womenfolk from rape, molestation and forcible marriage to Muslims. The refugees of this time included some urban Hindus who had decided to 'wait and watch' and had dubbed the earlier refugees as 'alarmist'. However the bulk of them were middle and lower-middle class rural folk, as well as small traders, weavers, artisans, fishermen, cultivators and the like who were strewn all over the vast delta of East Bengal, literally in little Hindu islands in a Muslim sea. North Bengal (Rajshahi, Pabna, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra) was marginally less affected compared to the delta.

Hiranmay Banerjee was, at this time, the District Magistrate of 24-Parganas
[ii]. In early January 1950 reports reached Calcutta that organised persecution and uprooting of Hindus, at the hands of Muslims had started in the Bagerhat area of Khulna district. According to Sandip Banerjee it began with a skirmish between a procession and the police[iii]. Khulna, it would be remembered, was a Hindu-majority district at the time of partition – it was given to Pakistan in exchange of the Muslim-majority district of Murshidabad which went to India in consideration of the necessity of keeping the headwaters of Calcutta port in Indian control. There were a large number of Hindus in the district, and naturally a large number were affected. The persecution had taken the form of rioting, beating, and grievous injuries, some of such injuries resulting in deaths. Riots started in West Bengal in retaliation.

According to Abdul Mohaimen, the problem which started from the Kalshira village of the Bagerhat area of Khulna on December 20, 1949, had nothing to do with Hindus or Muslims. It began with a clash between the Communists and the police. The Communists killed some policemen, in retaliation of which the police destroyed the houses of some villagers some of whom were Hindus. These Hindus migrated to Calcutta and spread a rumour of atrocities on Hindus which resulted in atrocities on Muslims in West Bengal, which finally triggered the near-holocaust of Hindus in East Bengal. Sandip Banerjee, while quoting Mohaimen, and while acknowledging that some exaggerated accounts were published in the West Bengal press, states categorically that none of these things can mitigate the guilt of the East Bengal Muslims in the systematic and wholesale slaughter and the uprooting of Hindus
[iv].

For an authentic version of the Kalshira incident, paragraph 15-17 of the letter of resignation of Jogendra Nath Mandal, Pakistan's Central Minister for Law and Labour till October 1950, ought to be seen. This letter has been reproduced in the Appendix.

So far the only serious study done on the subject of persecution of minorities in East Bengal culminating in a book is by A.J.Kamra, and the book is titled 'The Prolonged Partition and its Pogroms'
[v]. This is truly a piece of pioneering work, and the study could have been much more rounded and comprehensive were it not to be terminated by Kamra's death. When he died the book was still in the form of a draft, and it was given the shape of a book by Dr. Koenraad Elst, the Belgian researcher who can truly be called the nearest thing to being a Simon Wiesenthal of Hindus in India, indeed of all peoples who have suffered Islamic persecution. Because of this shortcoming the sources of a lot of information is not mentioned, but they all have the ring of truth. Kamra apparently knew no Bangla, (nor does Elst) but the care and meticulousness with which he had scanned the available material in English and recorded the same deserve unstinted praise.

Kamra has recorded the observations of Wilfred Lazarus, staff correspondent of the Press Trust of India (the premier news agency of India) which are reproduced below. These are first-hand observations - Lazarus had visited Kalshira village at considerable personal risk. As will be seen, they differ very substantially from Mohaimen's account.

"A police party of four was sent to Kalshira and raided one of the houses suspected to be a Communist hideout. Women in the house raised an alarm against police high-handedness (it was established that the police had tried to rape the women). Nine men responded to their alarm and clashed with the police. One policeman died on the spot and two others were injured seriously. This incident happened after nine in the night. Two days later a party of policemen under the Superintendent of Police arrived on the spot and assisted by Ansars and Muslim mobs started large-scale looting of the houses in the village. Most of the villagers of Kalshira were Scheduled Caste Hindus.

The trouble soon spread to several other neighbouring villages. Even according to the most sober reports, utter lawlessness prevailed in these villages for a few days and the whole of Bagerhat subdivision went through a reign of terror. Some of the inhabitants of villages fled for their lives, leaving everything behind, and crossed over to West Bengal, while others were unable to escape because of a steel ring thrown round the villages by the local police and the Ansars.

It was after the matter was raised in the Indian Parliament that the East Bengal government issued an official communiqué on February 3, almost six weeks after the incident. Even today, two and a half months after the incident, a visit to this place is difficult and can only be undertaken at great personal risk.

Destruction in areas like Backergunge, Khulna, Mymensingh, Chittagong, and Sylhet has been thorough and on a wide scale. There was no retaliation whatsoever from the members of the minority community, as almost all of them had been dispossessed of their arms after partition"
[vi].

Ashok Mitra has advanced an economic reason for the atrocities to begin. According to him the balance of trade between the two countries was heavily in favour of Pakistan in 1947-48 and 1948-49 ; in other words during these two financial years (1st April to 31st March) Pakistani exports to India, mainly raw jute, were far in excess of Indian exports to Pakistan, mainly coal. On 18th September 1949 the British pound sterling was devalued in comparison with the United States Dollar by about a third, and India devalued its Rupee to the same extent the very next day. As a result the value of Pakistani exports fell, and Pakistan refused to send some fifty thousand bales of raw jute already loaded on to barges for which India had paid in advance. All traffic by rail or inland waterway gradually came to a complete standstill and from 16th December 1949 there was sine die total suspension of trade. India's main export to East Pakistan was coal of which there wasn't a grain there, and stoppage of supply by India caused havoc in East Pakistan. Coupled with this there were disputes regarding sharing of canal waters in the west, between East and West Punjab. This began to worry the Pakistani administration, and their solution for this was to put the blame on the East Pakistani Hindus and drive them out.

Ashok Mitra as an ICS officer was definitely privy to what was going in East Pakistan at that time, but he has chosen to make only a passing reference to the tragedy. According to him atrocities against Hindus started in Dacca and Khulna from the second week of February 1950. These took the form mainly of murder, arson and forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam. There was curfew in Dacca town from dusk to dawn from 10th till 20th February. Nehru came to Calcutta on 6th March, and again on 16th March to see the plight of the refugees, and made an appeal to Liaquat Ali to call a halt to the atrocities. At first there was no response. Meanwhile anti-Muslim riots started in the industrial town of Howrah, and took a serious turn on 26-27th March. It is then that Liaquat Ali, on 29th March 1950 made his first conciliatory gesture in a speech at Karachi, and expressed his intention to travel to New Delhi on 2nd April to work out a solution with Nehru
[vii].

The letter of resignation of Jogendra Nath Mandal, reproduced in full in the appendix, gives a comprehensive observation of the origin and development of the pogroms of 1950 by a person in considerable de jure authority and freedom of movement. Jogendra Nath Mandal, from Barisal, was a leader of the depressed classes who was snared into a partnership with the Muslim League during the pre-independence years. Once Pakistan was achieved the Muslim League showed its true colours. Even so, Mandal stuck to them for quite some time, having been made Pakistan's Central minister for Law and Labour. However, the pogrom of 1950 was too much even for him. He fled to India, and from there sent his resignation to Liaquat Ali. As the letter reveals, the economic reason pointed out by Ashok Mitra was but one of the many reasons for the 1950 pogroms. Mandal mentions it last of all.

Meanwhile Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, the legendary physician, had replaced Prafulla Chandra Ghosh as the Chief Minister of West Bengal. Dr. Roy was a go-getter par excellence, and was capable of taking very hard decisions, and also of owning up if something went wrong. He also had formidable powers of persuasion. He immediately mobilised the police force and the military to quell the disturbances in West Bengal. As the District Magistrate of 24-Parganas the bulk of the work had to be done by Hiranmay Banerjee. In a very short time the situation was brought under control and atrocities against Muslims ceased in West Bengal.

But both Banerjee and Dr. Roy apprehended that the converse would not cease so easily in East Bengal, and in fact it did not. A meeting was arranged between the Chief Secretaries of the two Bengals. Sukumar Sen of the ICS (Later India's first Chief Election Commissioner) was the Chief Secretary of West Bengal at the time, and he traveled to Dacca, and came back with very bad news. He said that an enormous refugee influx was in the offing, whose number could go up to a million.

While at Dacca he had to witness a curious incident. On February 7, 1950 a large group of Muslim women in bloodstained clothes were paraded before him inside the Secretariat. According to the letter of resignation of Jogendra Nath Mandal, Pakistan's central minister for Law and Labour (see Appendix), on February 10, a woman was painted in red to show that her breasts had been cut off by a Hindu mob in Calcutta, and taken round the East Bengal secretariat. Immediately the secretatriat employees struck work, and came out baying for revenge against the Hindus. All this while Sukumar Sen was closeted with his East Bengal counterpart in the secretariat. The secretariat employees then went in a procession to Victoria Park where rabid anti-Hindu speeches were made. The mob then fanned out and began to loot Hindu shops and killing Hindus indiscriminately. Mandal arrived at Dacca from Karachi the same day, and came to know that all these atrocities had been committed in the presence of high police officials
[viii]. He could, however, do nothing, and as will be seen later, was forced to resign and flee to India. When this was the state of a minister of Pakistan's central cabinet, the state of the Hindu on the street can easily be imagined.

As apprehended, the exodus began soon enough. It was a deluge of humanity, driven out of their home and hearth of centuries by unimaginable inhumanity, perpetrated in the name of Jihad, and of establishing in East Pakistan Dar-ul-Islam, meaning, ironically, Land of Peace. It has been said that Islam neither endorses nor condones the killing, raping or uprooting of non-believers, and quite possibly it is true. Perhaps the people who did the atrocities were not aware of it. In any case these tenets were of no consequence to the hapless millions who did not subscribe to Islam, and who suffered as a result thereof at the hands of those who professed Islam. There was, apparently, also a strange dearth observed at the time of Islamic scholars who could have put the errant believers wise. Unlike what Shamsuddin did after the Noakhali carnage, no Islamic cleric in Pakistan appears to have gone on record to state that what was being done was against the tenets of their religion. And if any cleric in India said so it could have only been from an instinct for survival and did not have the slightest effect on the East Pakistanis.

What brought about all these mayhem? The Kalshira incident has already been mentioned, but the most dominant factor seems to have been the encouragement given by the official media. On February 6 and 7, Radio Pakistan gave a direct call to prepare and take action by a repeated announcement : "Brethren! You have heard about the inhuman atrocities that are now being perpetrated on our brother Muslims in India and West Bengal! Will you not gather strength"? Radio Pakistan further announced that 10,000 Muslims had already been killed in Calcutta, and a local daily, Pashban, increased this figure to 100,000. Later, at the time of signing of the Nehru-Liaquat pact Radio Pakistan corrected these figures of the number of Muslims killed at Calcutta to - twenty
[ix].

Some of the worst atrocities took place in the coastal district of Barisal, also known as Backergunge, now consisting of the districts of Barisal, Bhola, Pirojpur, Barguna, Patuakhali and Jhalakati of present-day Bangladesh. Barisal is literally a maze of perennial rivers, canals and water courses, with the result that it was one of the very few districts of British India without an inch of Railway line. To reach Barisal from the provincial capital of Calcutta one had to take a train to Khulna, and at Khulna board a steamer for an overnight voyage to Barisal. The soil of the district is incredibly fertile, and being close to the sea, conducive to cultivation of coconut, a cash crop. Everybody in the district who had even a chhitak (about 45 square feet) of land would grow paddy and coconut in profusion, without any fertiliser, with the minimum of labour. As a result, the people of the district were relatively well-to-do, the Hindus more so because of their white-collar occupations coupled with their landed wealth.

Barisal was the abode of the intellectual clans of the Guha Thakurta-s and the Ghosh Dastidar-s of Banaripara and Gabha villages respectively. It also had a strong Baidya community, with the names of Sengupta and Dasgupta, the only caste of doctors to be found anywhere in Hindu India. These people followed the hereditary practice of Ayurveda, the ancient Hindu science of medicine, which had given the world legendary physicians like Susruta and Charaka, and pathbreaking drugs such as Sarpagandha (Rawoulfia Serpentina), one of the first drugs to combat hypertension. The Baidyas had migrated in large numbers to cities like Calcutta and Dacca, and had become a very urbane and sophisticated people, a large number among whom followed intellectual pursuits. The district was also the home of a large number of lower-caste Namahsudras and Kaibartas who were into fishing and allied trades.

The scythe of Islamic persecution cut across the entire lot of all these communities. Because of the topography of the area, and the distance from the Indian border it was relatively more difficult for these people to get away from the marauders. Consequently some of the most heartrending tales were heard from these parts.

Sandip Banerjee describes one such incident. In an interview with Sukumar Mukherjee of Calcutta, formerly of village Rajpur, near Jhalakati, Banerjee was told that at the time of partition Sukumar was working in Calcutta. He tried, but failed to persuade his father to leave his village and migrate to India and live with him. His father's argument was typical : 'If we have lived with the British so long why shouldn't we be able to live with the Muslims? They're not more alien than the British, are they?'

But three years later, in the spring of 1950, none of these fancy arguments were of any avail. It was the day preceding Shivaratri, the night when Hindu married women traditionally observe a fast and pray for the good of their husbands. On this warm March day the falling darkness of the evening was rent by the crazed shouting of a Muslim mob and the blaze of fire. Hindu households were being torched. Someone ran and informed the police station. It was of no use, no one did anything. When the mob and the fire began to draw near most of the Mukherjee family went up to their terrace so as not to be burnt alive – but not Sukumar Mukherjee's father and his elder brother. They sat inside, their faith in humanity growing shakier by the minute, mumbling to themselves 'why should they attack us, we have done nothing to them!'

The people on the terrace could hear their door being forced, their house being set on fire. Their neighbours, the Sarkars and the Gangulys, were also attacked. The houses were ransacked. The marauders went about the business totally unhindered by any state machinery. In all nine Hindus, including a niece of Sukumar, and a few from the neighbouring families were beheaded. The severed heads were neatly arranged on the stairs, one on each step. Sukumar's father's elder brother was burnt alive, his father and his own elder brother seriously injured from stab wounds. His mother was hit on the waist with a Laja, a sort of cutlass.

Sukumar was at Calcutta then. He read about the killings of East Bengal, and especially in Barisal, in Calcutta newspapers but could do nothing for his family. The only thing he could do and used to do was to go to Sealdah station every day looking for known faces, and to see if anyone from his family was there. One day he came home and heard that his family had arrived and were with a relative. He ran, and found his mother, sister, sister-in-law in an unimaginable state. They had carried only the clothes on their backs
[x].

The scenes of two of the most horrendous killings were the villages of Muladi and Madhabpasha, both in Barisal or Backergunge district. Muladi, and important riverine port, was the home of several hundred Hindus. When torching of their houses started all the Hindus flocked to the Police Station for shelter. They were then attacked and the whole lot of them were killed in the precincts of the Police Station. The Officer-in-charge was found to have been in possession of large quantities of jewellery and similar valuables looted from the hapless Hindus. An old Hindu schoolteacher, a bachelor, was roasted alive by his own students, young Muslim boys who danced around the fire in glee. At Madhabpasha, under Babugunge Police Station, some two to three hundred Hindus were rounded up by a bloodthirsty Muslim mob, made to squat in a row and had their heads chopped off one by one with a ramda (a sort of axe)
[xi].

News of incidents such as these spread fast and caused widespread panic among the Hindus and forced them to leave their home en masse. Sailabala Sen of village Raipur, Netrokona, district Mymensingh was a Barui, the caste that makes a living out of growing and selling betel leaves (Paan). She had lost two children from disease, but was keeping herself busy with her betel cultivation. One night she was told by breathless neighbours that a huge mob of Muslims was on the way to set fire to her whole village, including the palatial house of the Hindu zamindar, and all Hindus better run for their lives without delay. No one thought of going to the police – by now Hindus had lost all faith in the Pakistani police. Sailabala and her family immediately gathered their valuables in a few bundles. They debated for a short time whether they would go for the nearest border of Garo Hills (now a part of the Indian state of Meghalaya) or go to faraway West Bengal. They decided in favour of the latter, for the Garo Hills were forested, without any infrastructure, full of wild elephants, and were moreover not a Bengali-speaking area. So she set out into the night with her bundles, leaving behind her home with her utensils strewn about in the kitchen waiting to be washed the following morning, her bed made, her mosquito-net strung up, her last night's panta bhaat (stale, slightly fermented rice) still in its pitcher, her cow tethered to a post.

Travelling to West Bengal from Netrokona was, however, not easy. She traveled to the railway station and sat waiting there for her train, cowering in fear of the mob, at the same time with her heart torn away by the pain of leaving her home and the memory of her dead children. She took the morning train to Bahadurabad Ghat (river port) and boarded the ferry steamer to cross the enormous Jamuna river and board another train on the other bank at Sirajgunge. Then the next morning she detrained at Sealdah. Eyes streaming tears, and a heart as heavy as lead, she took up residence in an abandoned barrack of what used to be a hospital complex of the U.S. Army during the war in the Lake area of South Calcutta. Later she took up employment as a domestic help.

The existing means of transportation proved to be totally inadequate to move the huge mass of uprooted humanity. Sandip Banerjee was told by Ms. Shanta Sen
[xii] of the circumstances in which her grandmother Ms. Saudamini Sengupta, of village Jasurkati, thana Gaurnadi, district Barisal, met her tragic end. This was a little after the spate of killings ended, but the bulk of Hindus by this time had decided to move. Saudamini traveled by country boat from her village to the steamer station of Barisal, but had to wait on the wharf for a month – one month – for room to board a steamer. On reaching Khulna she found it even more difficult to board the train going to Calcutta. The people accompanying her pushed her inside through a window. In the process she got seriously hurt in some vital organ in her abdomen, and was in excruciating pain right through the journey. There was, however, nothing to be done. On reaching Calcutta her son found her in tatters, with a bundle in hand, writhing in pain. She died the next morning. On untying her bundle her son found a few dried-up lychees. She was carrying them for her dear grandchildren

The Government of West Bengal, under the stewardship of Dr. B.C.Roy took extraordinary measures seeking to ferry the Hindus safely to West Bengal. Fifteen large steamers, belonging to the Calcutta-based British India Steam Navigation Co. and the Rivers Steam Navigation Co. were pressed into service to pick up stranded and beleaguered Hindus from the riverine parts of East Bengal, especially from Khulna, Barisal, and the southern part of Faridpur districts. These steamers came in through the Sunderban deltas and disgorged their miserable load at the Babu Ghat and Shalimar Ghat, wharves on the two sides of the Hooghly. Special trains were also arranged and special aircraft pressed into service. Very few could afford air travel, yet some of the ones that came in had to be given emergency treatment for injuries sustained by them at the hands of Muslim goons on the way to Dacca airport. A medical centre had to be opened for them at Calcutta airport
[xiii].

Those who lived close to the border walked down from their villages and crossed on foot. In the process many were looted and left with nothing except the clothes on their backs. Innumerable women were snatched away by roving Muslim gangs of whom a mention has already been made. Uniformed East Pakistani civil defence personnel, known as Ansars, participated in this looting and snatching of women. Malakshmi and Rajlakshmi Pal, two young sisters, were trying to cross the border on foot, and met fate such as described above. An account of their misfortune, as made in a statement they later made to Ananda Bazar Patrika is as follows : " Just when we were about to cross the border we were accosted by four men who started asking us questions and then forced us to accompany them. They then told us to give everything that we had on us. We gave them Ten Rupees (a very large sum in those days). But they did not let us go. They first forcibly stripped us, squeezed our breasts, touched us between the legs, and finally raped us"
[xiv].

Dr. B.C.Roy made a statement on April 2, 1950 that in East Bengal non-Muslims were being forced to observe Islamic rites. Hundreds of Hindus were killed, their houses set on fire, their crops destroyed, and of course, their womenfolk taken away. Thousands were made to convert to Islam. Ananda Bazar Patrika of April 3 reported that widespread torching and looting of Hindus had taken place in Khulna. At the Benapol border between Khulna and Calcutta two unmarried girls called Meera and Dheera, and a married woman called Bakulrani Mitra were snatched away while they were on their way to India
[xv].

As mentioned earlier, trains going towards India, or otherwise carrying a large number of Hindus were a particular target of the roving loot-murder-and-rape gangs, including the Ansars. A train was found to have steamed into a border station in India with a few of the compartments empty, except for a few bloodstained dhotis, saris and broken conchshell bangles that Bengali Hindu married women wear on their wrists
[xvi]. Benapol, the last East Pakistani station between Khulna and Calcutta was a favourite haunt of these gangs.

Some Hindus stuck to their guns, even resisted attacks and lived on. This was however, possible only where the Hindus were numerous, organised, and compactly located, and the ambience among Muslims was also relatively saner. One such place was the port town of Chittagong, now the second city of Bangladesh. Bidhan Bhattacharyya
[xvii]used to live in Nabagraha Lane near Laldighi. Muslim students from the nearby Chittagong Medical School attacked a close friend of his (whose name he cannot now recall) and severed his iliac artery. This friend bled profusely and had to be admitted to the local hospital where he got very indifferent treatment. He succumbed to his injuries in a few days. After the incident the Hindus gathered all the women in one house at the centre of the Hindu area, and gathered brickbats on the terrace and kept vigil through the night. There were, however, no further attacks. Chittagong town happened to be one of the few places where the Hindus could continue to live on with some semblance of dignity right through the Pakistan era.

Most Hindus of East Pakistan were not as fortunate as those of Chittagong. The Hindus of Dacca were some of the worst affected ones, presumably because of their affluence, which had roused envy in a lot of people. The Muslims among such people saw in the 1950 pogroms a heaven-sent opportunity to divest them of their riches and got busy immediately. As always, trains provided an opportunity to find a large number of Hindus concentrated in a small space, and was preferred by the goons – it saved them the trouble of moving from house to house to kill and loot Hindus. Ramendra Lal Bose
[xviii], then a young boy of about thirteen, is a survivor of a train massacre just outside Dacca. His account is as follows :

"My father was an Assistant Manager in the Sarail estate of Comilla district
[xix]. We used to live in Brahmanbaria town where I was a student of class VI in Annada High School. After my annual examinations were over I, with my uncle (father's cousin) Ajit Kumar Bose, went to visit our ancestral village of Chhunka, near Manikganj, in Dacca district. My uncle at the time was a college student. To return to Brahmanbaria from Chhunka we had to travel in a small steamer to Narayangunge, and then take a metre gauge train which would reach us via Dacca, Bhairab Bazar and across the Bhairab bridge spanning the mighty Meghna river. It was probably January or February 1950 – I am not very sure, but it was quite cold, and I had woollens on. Upon reaching Narayangunge we heard that anti-Hindu riots had broken out, and it had become very dangerous for Hindus to travel. We were not particularly scared, but decided to find out and walked to Chasara, near Narayangunge where a cousin of my grandfather used to work for the steamer company. What that gentleman told us made us quite apprehensive. He also beseeched us not to travel by train until things settled down and to stay on with him. But my uncle said he had to go because he would be missing college otherwise, and we set out.

At Narayangunge station we found that some compartments had been specially earmarked for Hindus, and armed guards posted in those compartments. This reassured us. The guards, all Bengali Muslims, were quite friendly, and asked us for money for tea, biri (indigenous cigarettes) and snacks, which we willingly gave them. However, they sprung a surprise on us on reaching Dacca (the old Fulbari station, not the present Kamalapur). They said their duty ended here, and they would not go any further. Brahmanbaria was still another about four hours away.

Between Narayangunge and Dacca the guards had told us to keep the windows shut, and we did so. But off and on we took a peek outside. What we saw was not nice at all. At one place we saw a couple of corpses lying, to which somebody had tried to set fire, and they were lying in a half-charred condition. After this, being told that the guards were taking off filled us with apprehension. One of the passengers, one Biren Babu (I have forgotten his surname, it could be Bose or Guha) was quite vociferous. He went to see the station master and shouted a lot, insisting that guards be deployed in the Hindu compartments of the train. Nothing, however, happened, and the train steamed out of Dacca station without guards.

Metre gauge trains are, as a rule, quite slow, and our train had not picked up much speed in five minutes after leaving Dacca, when there was an incessant banging on the door. The train also gradually came to a halt. These were wooden bodied coaches, and after some time one of the doors splintered in spite of a number of passengers having put their body weight behind the door. A mob of about a dozen people burst into the compartment.

About half of the mob immediately started stabbing the passengers. They used daggers about four inches long with curved blades, which they thrust into the passengers' necks or stomachs. They did it quite fast, deftly and with cold-blooded deliberation. They must have given some kind of practised jerk while the dagger was inside, because though they simply pushed the daggers and withdrew them, blood spurted from the passengers' wounds, and the floor became slippery in no time. The compartment was filled with the crying of the victims and the cursing of the assailants. I lost sight of my uncle in the melee. These assailants were definitely Daccai-kuttis
[xx], for they spoke in their typical dialect. They were swearing all the time in the dialect, and looking for Biren Babu, the gentleman who had been clamouring for armed guard at Dacca station.

I was short and thin at the time, and I slipped below one of the benches and pretended to be dead. The floor was awash with blood. Meanwhile I could sense that the rest of the mob had started looting. One of them thrust his hand into my pocket, and finding nothing, kicked me in the behind. I lay still – more immobilised from fear than out of any deliberate intention. At this time there was a sound like a gunshot outside. In less than thirty seconds the assailants left the compartment.

When I was sure that I was not hearing any cursing I crept out from below the bench. I heard my uncle moaning, calling for me. He had a foot-long gash on his side which he was holding tightly with his hands so as not to lose blood. I was totally unhurt. The passengers whose throats had been cut were lying on the floor, by now nearly dead, while those stabbed in the abdomen were clutching their stomachs like my uncle, some of them doubled over. The floor of the compartment was sticky with blood. The train suddenly started going backwards, back towards Dacca, and in a few minutes we were at Dacca station. A large number of young men who seemed to be some kind of volunteers took charge of us. Later I came to know that they were led by Shaikh Mujibur Rahman, later the first Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh.

We were given first aid at Dacca station. Then the seriously injured among us were sent to hospital. The rest of us went to Roop babu's house near Sadarghat. Roop babu was a very rich Hindu gentleman with a huge house on the Buri Ganga river. We stayed there for close to a month. My father then took me back to Brahmanbaria. Later we relocated to Dinajpur, also in East Pakistan, but part of the region known as North Bengal which was not as badly affected as East Bengal. Still later I migrated to Calcutta. I trained as a technician and got a job in Rourkela Steel Plant. My uncle survived his injuries too, migrated to India and became a police officer. He is retired now and so am I".

One of the most gruesome of the mass murders that took place during this period was the Meghna Bridge massacre. It took place on 12th February 1950. The bridge, also known as the Bhairab Bridge and Anderson Bridge, is nearly a kilometre long, and spans the wide Meghna river between Bhairab Bazar Junction on the Dacca-Mymensingh eastern line, and Ashuganj near Brahmanbaria, and carries a single metre gauge rail track across the river. It is an important rail link between Dacca on the one hand, and Chittagong, Comilla and Sylhet on the other. It was a carefully pre-planned massacre. The assailants boarded each train from either side just before it got on to the bridge, and blocked the doors. When the train was completely on the bridge they stopped it – which they could not have done without the connivance of the train crew – and carefully, methodically, began picking out the Hindus, slitting their throats, and throwing the corpses into the river. There was no escape for the Hindus. This was not in open country that they could get down and run for their lives, as some managed to do in the Santahar train massacre (see later in this Chapter). The choice was between getting one's throat cut, and jumping out, to be either hit by a steel girder or plunge into the crocodile-infested waters some twenty metres below. Some must have tried jumping out. An eyewitness account, from Ranjit Kar, a Retired Leading Seaman of the Indian Navy, is given below.

"Widespread and wanton killing of Hindus had started from the beginning of February 1950. We used to live mostly in Dacca town where we had a house, but when the disturbances started we decided to move to our village of Khashowla. At Khashowla we came to know that in a neighbouring village a retired Headmaster Kul Bhushan Chakraborty had been mercilessly hacked with choppers by Muslims, but had miraculously survived (he later moved to Calcutta and became the Headmaster of Ramrik School, Bhowanipore, Calcutta). We therefore decided that it was no longer safe to be even at Khashowla, and we should move to India. At the time I was about twenty. We had some relatives in Agartala in Tripura, India, and my father told me to go and meet them and find out whether we could go and put up with them till we found a way to go to West Bengal. To go to Agartala one had to take a metre gauge passenger train to Akhaura junction. From Akhaura Junction in East Pakistan Agartala in India was just three miles away.

I boarded the train from the nearest railway station, Jinordi. The train was full of Hindus from neighbouring areas of Sripur, Ghorasal, Methigenda, Narsingdi and other places, all fleeing from Muslim persecution. The train reached Bhairab Bazar in late afternoon, around, maybe, three o'clock. As the train was about to steam out of the station we found that a number of Muslims were boarding the train. They were speaking Urdu among themselves, and were, in all probability, Biharis. They were all armed with lethal weapons like hatchets, choppers and long daggers. They blocked the doors of the carriages so that no one could get out. I could sense that our end had come.

I was wearing a pair of Pyjamas and a Fatua, a loose shirt without a collar. I later realised that it was this dress of mine which saved me. Adult Bengali Hindus in those days invariably wore dhotis, and I was taken for a Muslim. I was a thin lad and short of build. Some burqa-clad women were siting on one of the benches in the compartment. On an inspiration I sat down next to one of them, half expecting her to shoo me away. She did not do so.

The train rolled on to the bridge and stopped. It is a wide river, about a kilometre across, and a stiff breeze was blowing. The Bihari Muslims guarding the doors now got busy. They started to slash and stab and slit throats, and throwing the half-dead Hindus out of the door. The compartment was filled with the howling and shrieking of the Hindus and their cries for mercy. Blood was everywhere. I closed my eyes tightly. The burqa-clad woman sitting next to me - apparently an elderly one - put an arm around my neck. That did it. I was taken to be one of them, and left alone. I was in a daze and hardly realised that the train had started moving again, and the Biharis were gone. The train stopped at Brahmanbaria, and the women asked me where I wanted to go. I must have said Akhaura, because the women set me down at Akhaura, and said 'Khuda Hafiz' (God bless). By that time I had gathered my wits well enough to be able to walk across the border to Agartala."

The killings went on through the day, and maybe into the night too. Shyamalesh Das, then only 12, was travelling with his father, mother and elder brother from Sylhet town to Kishoreganj. His father Jatish Chandra Das had just retired from teaching at Murarichand College, Sylhet, and had got a job in Gurudayal College, Kishoreganj. The train they had taken was to take them to Bhairab Bazar Junction where they would change trains and proceed to Kishoreganj. His father and elder brother Shekharesh were never to reach Kishoreganj. A party of assailants stopped and boarded the train between the stations of Talshahar and Ashuganj east of the bridge. These were Bengali Muslim young men, Ansars. As soon as the train boarded the bridge they caught Jatish and Shekharesh, slit their throats, and threw them out of the train into the river. Shyamalesh was spared presumably because of his youth.

His mother somehow kept her balance and decided to proceed on to Kishoreganj. At Bhairab Bazar station she got down and begged the Railway Police to provide them escorts to Kishoreganj. One inspector relented and provided two constables. Their train to Kishoreganj was again attacked between the stations of Kuliar Char and Jashodal, but the attacks were repulsed by the constables. Eventually they managed to reach Kishoreganj late in the evening.

Prabhas Chandra Lahiri, in his Pak-Bharater Ruprekha (in Bangla, meaning 'An Outline of India and Pakistan') has held two people responsible for planning this massacre, or at least for creating a proper atmosphere for it : Aziz Ahmed, the (Permanent) Chief Secretary of East Pakistan, and Abdul Majid, the District Magistrate of Rajshahi. One Moulvi Abul Kalam is said to have warned off quite a few Hindus beforehand, thus saving them from sure death
[xxi]. The conspiracy theory finds greater credence from the fact that in that particular region no other major atrocity had been heard of during the time. Subodh Lal Shome[xxii], manager of Assam Bengal Cement Co. of Chhatak, Sylhet, passed through Akhaura Junction the very next day en route Chhatak from Calcutta. Akhaura is just fifty kilometres from the bridge, yet Shome came to know of the massacre only upon reaching Chhatak, through newspapers.

A. J. Kamra, through scanning of contemporary newspapers, had prepared a very large list of brutalities upon Hindus perpetrated at this stage which he has painstakingly recorded in his book. His accounts show that the atrocities took place throughout the length and breadth of East Bengal, though in certain parts, such as Barisal, they were particularly bestial. An abridged version of the more serious among them is reproduced below.

"Among the localities worst affected in Dacca itself were Banagram and Makims Lane. The situation in these areas continues to be tense. Houses have been extensively looted and many completely burnt down, places of worship are said to have been desecrated"
[xxiii].

"Refugees keep on arriving daily by the thousands in Karimganj (Assam) and relief organisations find it difficult to cope with the situation. They have left everything behind, and even the few clothes and cash they were carrying was snatched away from them by the Ansars and the Muslim mobs. These terror-stricken people are telling harrowing tales of atrocities perpetrated on them during the fateful weeks of February. Even when fleeing for life, they were attacked on the way, detained, searched, assaulted, everything they had was snatched away, their womenfolk and young girls were raped and dishonoured. In some places these unfortunate people have collected in large groups for migrating out of Pakistan, but Ansars and local goondahs are blocking their way"
[xxiv].

"In Lakutia village, about five miles from Barisal town, the Muslims started looting and burning Hindu houses on February 15. More than a thousand Hindus, including women and children, took shelter in the house of Mr. P.L.Roy, popularly known as Rajbari (literally 'house of the king' - P.L.Roy must have been the local Hindu Zamindar, or a man of considerable means, owning a palatial house). Muslim mobs surrounded the Rajbari on February 15, and again on February 16, but on both occasions they went away on receipt of large sums of money from the inmates. on the evening of February 15 an Assistant Magistrate who visited the Rajbari promised to send a police force the following morning, but this was nothing but a hoax. On the morning of February 17, a Muslim mob of about one thousand stacked straw and tree branches around the Rajbari house and set fire to it. engulfed by the smoke and fire the refugees ran towards their houses. They were then attacked and about fifty of them were killed. Women were abducted from the village, and many were believed to be concealed in nearby villages"
[xxv].

"On 12th February murders took place between Sarachar and Manikkhali railway stations (in Mymensingh district). Murders were committed on the railway near Sarachar on Sunday February 12, and the killings continued unchecked till Monday. Sarachar station lies between Bhairab bazar (next to Meghna Bridge, the site of the infamous massacre) and Kishoreganj"
[xxvi].

"The famous Shivaratri mela
[xxvii] was to be held in Sitakunda (in Chittagong district) on 15th February. The local authorities were asked to abandon the mela due to the communal activities of the Ansars. The District Judge, who is the ex-officio President of the shrine committee was non-committal, and the Divisional Commissioner assured that necessary police precautions would be provided, and there was no need for stopping the mela. Most of the persons who had left Chittagong for the mela on the evening of 14th February are still missing. All up and down trains to Sitakunda were looted and Hindu passengers killed. An eyewitness counted twenty-five dead bodies lying along the railway line awaiting their final disposal"[xxviii].

"About 400 Hindus, mostly Namahsudras (an 'untouchable' caste), men, women and children, left village Jinjira of Maheshkhali police station in the district of Jessore. They reached village Hajarkhal in the Hanskhali police station of District Nadia, West Bengal, on March 19 after crossing the Ichhamati river. The women and children traveled in Donga boats, and the men swam across the river. Three Pakistani armed constables chased the last batch of them, and fired on them while they were swimming, killing one of them"
[xxix].

"In the month of January 1950 a police officer, along with a few constables and Santal
[xxx] peasants were killed in a clash in Nachole in Rajshahi district . . . . Immediately after that armed police and army operations were started there. Village after village was indiscriminately burnt down, peasants were beaten and tortured mercilessly. They created a reign of terror by free looting, and the rape of Santal women went at will. Twenty-four Santal peasants succumbed to death due to police torture inside Nachole police station. Innumerable peasants were killed in Nawabgunge and Rajshahi jails. One of the notable leaders of the movement, Ila Mitra, was brutally tortured in various ways, including rape. The pervasive and multi-dimensional torturing compelled most Santal peasants to emigrate to West Bengal"[xxxi].

Hiranmay Banerjee describes the fate of a family which is, at once, a story of unspeakable selfishness and great courage. One day, at daybreak, a policeman, near the India-East Pakistan border near Bongaon in the 24-Parganas district of India, while returning after having answered a call of nature in the field, came upon a group consisting of a middle-aged woman, two young girls and a small boy. The absence of a male adult in the group was quite unusual. Also, the group was seemingly moving about in the semi-darkness in an aimless manner, and appeared to have lost their way. The policeman could make out upon questioning them that they were Hindus, and had come from the Khulna district of East Pakistan. He brought them to their outpost, and the officers present there questioned them further. What they heard was truly amazing.

The group consisted of a mother and her two minor daughters and a son. They were from a village in Khulna where the father of the children was a schoolteacher. There had been widespread atrocities on Hindus in the region, and all the Hindus in the village were leaving, but this particular Hindu schoolteacher seemed not to have a care in the world, and stayed on. Not even his family had an inkling of his source of assurance till he told them, which was only after the rest of the Hindus had left for India. And it was this : he had made a secret deal with an influential Muslim that he would give his eldest daughter, then 15, in marriage to a son of the Muslim. In return he had been promised protection.

His wife was on the verge of a collapse on hearing this, but not the daughter who had been promised in marriage. She left home with her mother, sister and brother in the dead of the night when his father and the whole village was asleep, caught a train and traveled up to Benapol, the border station. Here they were set upon by an Ansar gang who took them to their camp on the grounds that they had been travelling without an adult male escort. She again managed to escape from the camp with her family at night, but this time they did not take a train. They began to trek westwards judging from the direction where she had seen the sun set, because the girl had been taught in her school geography classes that India lay westwards. There was no path to follow – the group walked on, led by this girl of 15, by dead reckoning. Somewhere along the way they crossed the border into India and surprised the policeman returning from his early morning chore
[xxxii].

Dr. Brajesh Pakrashi,
[xxxiii] now a U.S.citizen, practising in Cleveland, Ohio, was a student of Presidency College, Calcutta at the time. The students of the college formed a volunteer corps to help the refugees coming in. Dr. Pakrashi describes his experience of one day thus : "We were standing on the already severely overcrowded platform of Sealdah station to receive a train which was reported to be bringing in a large number of refugees. When the train drew near we saw that it was overflowing with humanity, with people hanging on to the doors. Then the train drew to a stop, and the people started getting out. It was an incredibly pathetic site. Many of those getting down were weeping, some were howling. One young woman, who seemed to be barely sane, took a look at us and ripped open her blouse, crying, 'see what they have done to me!'. We saw some words in Arabic script, burnt into her skin just above her breasts".

Nripendra Bhattacharyya
[xxxiv], later a Judge of the Calcutta High Court, was a student of Ashutosh College, Calcutta at the time. They decided to do relief work among the refugees and pitched tents near the Banpur border. Many people were crossing this border on foot. Among them he found the condition of Hindu women to be indescribable. Many of them could barely walk, having been gang-raped, and had to be dragged by their relatives. Many of them bore scratch marks all over their bodies, unmistakable signs of bestial gang-rapes. He also saw a woman in a partially disemboweled state, nearly dead, being carried by her relatives. They made room for some of the more serious cases in their tents and took turns in sleeping in the open. Once when they were camping very close to the border their tent was set upon by the Ansars from across the border, and they had to run inland.

Thus the Hindus, driven out by Islamic persecution, entered West Bengal in huge numbers. The bulk of them came in through the rail borders at Banpur (mainly from Kushtia, Faridpur, Dacca and Mymensingh) and Petrapol (from Jessore, Khulna and Barisal). A large number among those from Rajshahi and Pabna went to Malda and Murshidabad, and those from Dinajpur, Bogra and Rangpur to West Dinajpur, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts of West Bengal. Hindus from Tipperah and Noakhali districts entered Tripura state of India in large numbers, while those from Sylhet went to Tripura as well as in large numbers to Assam, especially Shillong town.

Some figures of Hindus who crossed over from East Pakistan to West Bengal in India and sought state rehabilitation is as follows. The parts in italics are very important. For every Hindu who sought state rehabilitation, there was at least another who rehabilitated himself, or with the help of his relatives or came to join family members who were already in India. The figures also do not include the numbers who went to Tripura and Assam.


In March 1950 some Muslims from rural areas of West Bengal, especially Tehatta and Karimpur areas of Nadia district, and Bagda and Bongaon areas of 24-Parganas district left for East Pakistan.

These are border areas, and a large number among them crossed on foot while others went by train. Later in the same month there was serious rioting in Howrah town requiring deployment of the army, as described by Ashok Mitra, and mentioned earlier in this chapter. This time also saw acrimonious debates between Syama Prasad Mookerjee, then the Union Minister for Industries, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister, on the floor of the Parliament, and the coming into being of the Nehru-Liaquat pact.

In regard to this only significant reciprocal movement of Muslims from West to East Bengal, Hiranmay Banerjee expresses his firm conviction that if allowed to proceed in its natural way, this could have resulted in an exchange of population between the two Bengals, just as had happened in Punjab. This would also have inevitably resulted in exchange of properties, as had been done by the pre-1950 refugees and would also have taken care of the rehabilitation problems of the refugees. Syama Prasad Mookerjee and K.C.Niyogee, the two ministers in the Union Cabinet from West Bengal, had unequivocally advocated this line of action
[xxxvii]. Alas, this was not to be. The result was a horrible shortchanging of the Bengali Hindu – if indeed a human tragedy of such enormous proportions can be termed shortchanging. This was in the fact that the Hindus of East Bengal had to leave, but the Muslims in West Bengal stayed put.

It began this way : while the uprooting of the Hindus from East Bengal was in full force, and the reciprocal movement of Muslims from West Bengal had also started, the Union Minister for Refugee Rehabilitation, Mohan Lal Saxena convened a meeting in the Writers' Buildings at Calcutta on 2nd March, 1950. The people called to the meeting were principally representatives of the state governments of West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Bihar and Orissa. Certain people interested in the East Bengal refugee problem, such as Dr. Meghnad Saha, were also invited. In this meeting Saxena made an astounding proposal which, apparently, was from none other than the Government of India. The proposal, in short, was that the pre-1950 refugees were to be distinguished from the post-1950 refugees. In respect of the former the Government would continue with its rehabilitation measures. In respect of the latter, however, the Government's brief would be Relief, and not Rehabilitation. And why? Because, argued Saxena, once the hostilities subside, the refugees might want to get back home. Also, till it was known how many refugees would arrive, it was not possible to do any planning for their rehabilitation
[xxxviii].

Lame excuses, weak arguments for an a priori decision already taken. Dr. Meghnad Saha protested vehemently. Only a few days ago, on 23rd February 1950, Nehru and Syama Prasad had argued out this question on the floor of the Parliament. Syama Prasad had spoken in favour of an exchange of population on the Punjab model. In reply Nehru had said that this was completely antagonistic to India's political, economic, social and spiritual principles. But there was also a greater principle related to it. It was a question of breach of trust. Syama Prasad replied that when Pandit Nehru himself had arranged the exchange of population in Punjab he had kept this question of breach of trust in cold storage. At the present moment it would be proper for him to keep the question of breach of trust in cold storage again and face the reality like an experienced politician. But all this had fallen on deaf ears. Nehru had already made up his mind
[xxxix].

The uprooting of East Bengali Hindus since 1946 had failed to move Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, but the reciprocal movements of Muslims from West Bengal in February-March 1950 must have touched a chord in him, for he now rushed to sign the Delhi Pact, better known as the Nehru-Liaquat pact, which he did on 8th April, 1950. Syama Prasad Mookerjee and K.C.Niyogee, the two central ministers in his cabinet from West Bengal, immediately resigned from the Union Cabinet in protest, but even this did not cause Nehru to do any rethinking.

On paper this pact contained a solemn assurance by the Governments of India and Pakistan that thenceforth each country would ensure the security of their religious minorities. The policy of exchange of population followed in the case of the Punjabi minorities two-and-a-half years ago would not be followed in the case of the Bengali minorities. On the other hand, people who had left the land of their birth for fear of religious persecution would be encouraged to go back there ; and those who would go back would be given possession of their properties.

Very pious and full of hope and faith in human goodness, no doubt ; the question is, what did it imply in the political realities of the time ? In short it implied a promise by a state called Pakistan, which (or the ruling party, called the Muslim League, of which) had committed, or allowed to be committed, unspeakable acts of religious persecution upon Hindu minorities like the Noakhali Carnage, the Great Calcutta Killings, the Meghna Bridge, Muladi and Madhabpasha massacres, and countless other big and small atrocities. The question that anyone with a semblance of common sense would ask himself is, why should a state or a party like that suddenly reform itself ? And if they would, why did they not do so earlier?

And because such a person with a semblance of common sense would not have found an answer to such questions, he would have come to the conclusion that such state or such party will not honour their commitments under the pact.

Yet neither the question, nor the answer, or rather the lack of an answer seemed to trouble Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He set about, with all seriousness, to set his governmental machinery in order so as to restore the property of any Muslim who had crossed over to East Pakistan, and now intended to come back to India.

The strange thing is that, it is not as if Nehru had no idea of what the Muslim League was capable of in the matter of persecuting religious minorities. He had himself toured the villages of Noakhali with Gandhi and seen for himself the misdeeds of the League goons. 


He would definitely have remembered that while he was trying to cajole Jinnah at Bombay in August 1946, to get him to reconsider his rejection of the Cabinet Mission's grouping plan, Suhrawardy at Calcutta was making preparation for 'Direct Action', and the latter could not have been done without the knowledge of Jinnah. As late as in April 1948 Nehru arranged an 'Inter-Dominion Conference' which resulted in a 'Indo-Pakistan agreement for settlement of the problems of the minorities'[xl]. And all the atrocities of early 1950 took place less than two years from the agreement.

Yet Nehru decided that his pact with Liaquat Ali would take care of the problems of the minorities of East Pakistan! Why and How ?

It is beyond the scope of this book to explore the mind of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, yet a short digression must be made on this subject ; for it was he, more than any other Indian politician, who was responsible for the plight of the refugees from Eastern Bengal. Why did Nehru habitually behave in such an irrational manner, and why did the rest of the nation put up with it?

Before we get down to answer this question, we have to remember that gross mishandling of the East Pakistan refugee problem was only one of the large number of similar acts committed by Nehru. These acts make so little sense that they must all rank as crass political stupidities. Nehru had, in spite of having ruled India for seventeen years, and out of that having enjoyed practically unchallenged power over the nation for no less than fourteen years (1950-64, from Patel's death to his own), failed to address the problems of food deficit, population explosion, governmental corruption and illiteracy ; despite his great predilection for foreign affairs willfully acquiesced in the Chinese annexation of Tibet and, aided by his trusted friend Krishna Menon, turned India into a virtual Soviet satellite, and made enemies of all western nations ; needlessly internationalised the Kashmir dispute ; taxed the nation to its gills, gave birth to a 'Black Economy', and frittered away all that tax money in creating a semi-Stalinist command economy based on state-owned heavy industries – real white elephants – that he fancifully called 'temples of tomorrow' ; and finally foisted a hereditary rule on the country and his party, the latter continuing to this day in the person of his Italian-born granddaughter-in-law.

Even during Patel's lifetime he had committed the incredible folly of calling off the Indian Army in Kashmir in 1948 when they were in hot pursuit of the fleeing Pakistani irregulars, and declaring a cease-fire unilaterally. He is believed to have done this because he believed Lord Mountbatten implicitly, much more than he did his own Generals, and it is on his advice that he did this. There must be very few instances indeed in the history of mankind where a nation, about to taste victory in a war not of its doing, has acted in such an inexplicable manner. Had the army been allowed to chase the irregulars out of the hills of Kashmir on to the plains of Punjab - which they would have done in another forty-eight hours - the Pakistanis would have lost all the advantage of the heights, and probably there would have been no Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and no Kashmir problem today.

Maulana Azad's remarks on the man in the context of his press interview which gave Jinnah an opportunity to retract his acceptance of the Cabinet Mission proposals, to be found in Chapter 3, are quite instructive. Another very astute and knowledgeable person who saw him at close range is the relatively unknown Benoy Mukherjee
[xli], Chief Press Adviser and Registrar of Newspapers, Government of India, around 1947 and later Secretary, Press Council of India. In an interview[xlii] to the Bangla fortnightly Desh, he has described Nehru as a 'Political Somnambulist', a person living in his own dreamland of political make-believe. He re minisces on the Nehru-coined slogan of the 1950s, 'Hindi-Chini bhai bhai' (Indians and Chinese are brothers) which culminated in the Chinese attacking India in 1962. The attack was preceded by frequent border incursions by the Chinese across the McMahon line, a fact that Nehru simply chose to ignore, because it did not fit in with his pre-set notions of Sino-Indian friendship. Mukherjee describes Nehru as imagining 'secularism' (one of the most misused words in India - more on this subject later) to be the panacea for all centrifugal and divisive tendencies. He chose to forget that there was such a thing as pan-Islamism, that Islam called upon all its followers to unite regardless of nationality, that Allahu Akbar was not merely a religious slogan but a political exhortation as well.

Ashok Mitra, ICS and pink, is a lot more charitable. While admitting that he came to appreciate Patel immensely upon observing his performance as the Union Home Minister, and observing that India's internal administration would have been much more firm and focused, he still insists that Patel was a man of limited capabilities. He did not have the quality that Nehru had, of being a helmsman acceptable to all and sundry
[xliii]. But in the end he concurs in all that has been said about Nehru by the others. He particularly mentions the defeat of the Congress in a by-election in Calcutta in 1949 at the hands of Sarat Bose. According to Mitra this defeat made Nehru lose his balance completely and he declared that Calcutta and West Bengal were both plagued by factionalism and intrigue, and Dr. B.C.Roy was unequal to the situation. A defeat in a by-election, and that too at the hands of a stalwart like Sarat Bose, according to Mitra, should not have unnerved Nehru so badly, but it did! This also reminded Mitra of the childish state to which he had been reduced upon not being able to control the riots at Delhi, which was taken full advantage of by Mountbatten who acted like the boss after India had won its independence[xliv].

Now we can return from Nehru to the pact he made with Liaquat Ali. All that can be said is that the pact was a sad failure, because Pakistan had no intention of honouring the pact. For India it was an act of incredible political naivete. The Santahar train massacre, described later in this chapter, took place after the pact. Elementary police intelligence could have prevented the massacre. On the other hand what was done during the massacre in the name of providing security for Hindus was a diabolical farce, as the story will tell.

But before that it is necessary to recount once again Hiranmay Banerjee's reflections on the pact. These are important, because Banerjee was a totally non-political person, an able administrator of the ICS, and had first-hand experience of all that happened on this side of the border. And finally, he has never been accused of being, what is known in present-day India as 'communal'.

According to Banerjee, Nehru himself had doubts as to how far the Hindus who had come away from East Pakistan to India could be persuaded to return to Pakistan. That is why he declared, almost simultaneously with signing the pact, that those of the East Bengal refugees who intended to stay on in India permanently would be provided Rehabilitation, and not merely Relief as earlier declared by Saxena
[xlv].

Banerjee has further observed that minorities left on the other side of the border would always feel an affinity towards the country where their religious compatriots are in the majority, as the Hindus left in East Pakistan did towards India. But there was no way in which India could look after their interests, because the East Pakistani Hindus were foreign nationals in a foreign country. Anyone who thought otherwise must have been dreaming. At the most some pressure could have been created, with very limited results. In such circumstances minorities would have always remained insecure (as they do to this day – see Chapter 9). On the other hand, had there been an exchange of population, not only would there have been no insecurity, but the problem of rehabilitation would have also literally solved itself, because the properties left by the Muslims in West Bengal could have been used to rehabilitate the Hindus coming from East Bengal, and vice versa, as was done in Punjab
[xlvi]. On the other hand, the one-sided influx of Hindus into India, and the uncertain policies of the government created insurmountable problems. This is why Syama Prasad had staunchly advocated exchange of population.

The first part of Banerjee's premise appears to be outright dangerous for what today is grandiloquently termed as 'the secular ethos of India', for it would imply that Urdu-speaking Muslims of present-day India feel an affinity towards Pakistan, and the Bangla-speaking ones towards Bangladesh. An argument like that amounts to delivering a broadside on the edifice of secularism in India, or more precisely, on the Left-Nehruvian interpretation of it, and is likely to bring forth allegations of Hindu fundamentalism. Unfortunately for the people who might be tempted to make such allegations, there is nothing in the conduct of Hiranmay Banerjee till the day of his death to suggest that he had anything at all to do with anything remotely connected with Hindu interests. He had been an archetypal ICS officer, totally steering clear of politics all his life. The question therefore arises : whether what he had said was the truth or not? An answer has been attempted in Chapter 11.

Now on to Santahar, the scene of another train massacre, to show how Pakistan respected the Nehru-Liaquat pact. This is again from a eyewitness, Nrisingha Pati Changdar. The following is an account, in his own words spoken in Bangla, of what happened at Santahar and his providential escape.

"My father was a practising lawyer in the subdivisional town of Naogaon, district Rajshahi, at the time of partition. The town was otherwise famous for being the centre of legal cultivation of the intoxicant Ganja, an Indian variant of Marijuana, in Bengal. Like most upper-class Hindus our family had decided to move to India, but we were taking our time over it, because North Bengal had remained relatively peaceful even during the killings of early 1950, and also because my father's legal practice was thriving. The relation between Hindus and Muslims was also fairly cordial. There was only one dark cloud in this fair sky : a large number of Urdu-speaking Bihari Muslims had moved in since 1947, and had taken up residence in the Railway town of Santahar, close to Naogaon. They were said to be very anti-Hindu. There was practically no social interaction between them and the local Bengali Muslims who used to be quite scared of them.

My parents had remained in Pakistan, but I had moved to Nabadwip, district Nadia, West Bengal, in India, and had enrolled myself in the Intermediate College there. In November 1950 I completed my selection test preparatory to the Intermediate examination and went to visit my parents in Naogaon.

Upon reaching Naogaon I began to hear stories that the Bihari Muslims of Santahar were up to some serious mischief. They were openly belligerent, and were going around making dire threats to Hindus, such as they would play the next Holi (the Hindu festival of sprinkling coloured water, celebrated in March every year) with Hindu blood. We used to hear most of these stories from my father's Muhuri (Lawyer's clerk). His name was Arif Mian and he was a local Bengali Muslim. He was very close to my father, so much so that in spite of being Muslim he had become part of our family. Arif Mian told me never to go to Santahar and to stay away from Biharis everywhere. He also strongly advised me not to travel by train to India until things settled down.

My intermediate examinations were meanwhile drawing near, and after some time I decided that I could not stay back any more and had to return to Nabadwip in India. Arif Mian tried to prevail upon my father not to let me go, but my father relented because he took the examination quite seriously. We traveled to Santahar in a horse-drawn carriage known as a tom-tom with Arif Mian. The train that we would be travelling by was Assam Mail, which started from Amingaon in Assam (on the opposite bank of the Brahmaputra from Guwahati), and traveled to the Sealdah station of Calcutta through East Pakistan. We found the station platform rather quiet, which was quite a departure from the usual bustle of an important junction station in the subcontinent. It was very early, about six in the morning. Arif put us on the train and waited till the train steamed out. For some reason all the passengers that we saw in the train were Hindus. With us were two brothers Kanti Sekhar Roy and Bhranti Sekhar Roy, and their sister. They were also from Naogaon, and we knew them quite well. There was an armed policeman in the compartment. This was apparently to ensure the safety of the Hindus. We had heard that such guardsmen were being posted in selected trains following the Nehru-Liaquat pact, and the presence of the guard reassured us.

The train stopped right after it left the station limits. This is quite usual, and at first we paid no attention. After a while however one of us looked out and exclaimed. We also looked out and saw a large mob had surrounded the train, and were shouting anti-Hindu slogans. Quite a few of them had lethal weapons, such as choppers and axes in their hands. From their looks and speech there could be no mistake that they were Bihari Muslims. Suddenly we heard the shout "Bachao, bachao" (Save us, save us).

Craning our necks out we saw a group of about ten or twelve Biharis leave one compartment and enter another. Simultaneously a sari-clad woman streaming blood jumped out of the compartment that the Biharis had just left and fell unconscious beside the track. Immediately a few of the Biharis surrounding the train pounced upon her and hid her from our view. This was only two or three compartments away from ours, and it took me no time to piece together what was happening. The group of ten or twelve were a murder squad, they were entering one compartment after another and knifing the Hindus. Those who tried to escape were being taken care of by the surrounding mob.

All of us begged the guard to open fire at the rioters, but he sat impassively and said that if he fired and hit a single Hindu he would lose his job. No one knew what to make of this. Later I figured that he must have been very scared himself that if he fired the mob would lynch him. Or his rifle was 'drill-purpose' and incapable of firing. Or he was under orders not to fire. Probably all. Anyway, he did not open fire.

Without thinking I jumped out of the train. A gap had been created in the surrounding mob a little away from our compartment, and I headed for the gap. Immediately I was chased by a Bihari brandishing a foot-long dagger. While I was running along the train, and he was chasing, another woman jumped out of one of the compartments. From what I could make out while on the run, it was a young girl in a frock – she could not have been more than fourteen. She was bleeding profusely from her flank. She fell almost on top of me, and I swerved and managed to avoid her. When I looked back to see how far my assailant was, I found that he had got busy in stabbing whatever was left of the girl. All this happened in less than a minute.

Meanwhile I had found the gap, and was racing away from the train. A few of the Biharis surrounding the train broke ranks and gave chase. But I had a head start over them. I also knew how to run on the narrow dykes, called aal, separating one man's paddy-field from another's, I was seventeen years old and fit, and above all I was running for my life. After a while they gave up the chase. But I was crazed by fear, and kept on running. I was nearing a village, and I could see quite a few lungi-clad men come out. I thought of avoiding them, but I could run no more, and sat down panting.

The lungi-clad men approached me, and I sat there, waiting for my fate to overtake me. Then I heard them addressing me in the familiar Rajshahi dialect. They took me to their homes and gave me some food and water. They were local Bengali Muslims, and they had seen the train stop in the distance and the Biharis gathered around it, and guessed that the latter were up to no good. I stayed the night with them. Next day I reached Naogaon, bypassing Santahar. I had been given up for dead by my parents.

Kanti Sekhar Roy, my co-passenger from Naogaon had tried to save his sister from being stabbed, and in the process both had been stabbed murderously. His sister died right there, but Kanti survived, and was taken to Naogaon hospital where facilities were very primitive. His parents tried very hard to take him for treatment to Calcutta, but the local Pakistani administration did not permit it for fear of provoking a riot in Calcutta, and forced him to stay on at Naogaon hospital where he died from sepsis"
[xlvii].

The Nehru-Liaquat pact provided absolute physical security to Muslims in West Bengal. This security was later reinforced by the political strength of the Muslim minority by their tendency to vote en bloc, and the secularist aberrations in Indian politics -- more on this subject later. It was also meant to reassure the Hindus of their safety in East Pakistan, and instill a sense of security in them. Instead, it made them twice as much insecure, because they now knew that Nehru's government, just to prove that his pact was a success, would flatly deny all allegations of atrocities upon them and pretend that all was well with the Hindus of East Pakistan. At the most, when things got a little hot, they would 'take up the matter with the Government of Pakistan' (as they say in Indian officialese). What good that would do no one knew better than the East Pakistani Hindus.

Thus, after 1950 it was a continuous downhill journey for the East Pakistani Hindu. Until 1950 there was some sort of hoping against hope in the Hindu mind that eventually the Hindu minority in East Pakistan would receive some justice from the Pakistani state, and it might be a good idea to grit one's teeth, and hang on to one's property till then. Pressure from India, and apprehension of anti-Muslim violence in India could have brought about such a state of affairs. The Nehru-Liaquat pact also did away with all hopes of the Indian Government interceding on behalf of the Hindus.

Also, by this time the last hope of some political sense dawning on the Indian state was lost with the death of Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on December 15, 1950. Benoy Mukherjee, Press Adviser to the Government of India referred to earlier, recalls a conversation between Patel and Dr. Malik, the Pakistani Minister for Minorities. This was in the context of an inspection of the riot-affected areas on the two sides of the border as a sequel to the Nehru-Liaquat pact carried out by two ministers - C.C. Biswas of India and Dr. Malik of Pakistan. Mukherjee and K.K.Sen (ICS) of India, and Agha Hilaly (later Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and the United States) and Mahmud Hasan of Pakistan were associated with the ministers in their capacity as permanent civil servants. Dr. Malik met Patel after the tour and gave a glowing description of how happy the Hindus were in Pakistan. Patel in reply quietly took out an intelligence report which said that even in the previous week about a hundred Hindus had left East Pakistan. He then addressed Dr. Malik in a polite but very firm tone and said : Mr. Minister, tell your Prime Minister that this pact will not last very long unless you stop ousting Hindus. Malik, taken totally unawares, went pale in the face
[xlviii].

It was about Patel that Maulana Azad had remarked : "My second mistake was that (the first one being his stepping down from the Presidency of the Congress) . . . . I did not support Sardar Patel. We differed on many issues, but I am convinced that if he had succeeded me as Congress President he would have seen that the Cabinet Mission plan was successfully implemented. He would have never committed the mistake of Jawaharlal which gave Mr. Jinnah the opportunity of sabotaging the plan"
[xlix]. If the Maulana had not committed this horrible mistake. Sardar Patel would have been the Congress President, perhaps there would have been no partition, or even if there was perhaps he would have become the Prime Minister of divided India, and the fate of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal would have been quite different.

Patel was called the Iron Man of India. Some have called him anti-Muslim. Benoy Mukherjee, who had seen him continuously from very close quarters, refuses to comment on this aspect but observes that he was a no-nonsense man, one who never hesitated to call a spade a spade. According to Mukherjee he was neither a capitalist, nor a socialist, neither a fundamentalist nor a secularist. He was, above all, a realist
[l].

[i] Kamal-lata, (a novel in Bangla) by Rajlakshmi Debi in the backdrop of the war and partition years, set in Mymensingh town.

[ii] So named, because it was constituted out of that number of Parganas. A Pargana is the tract of land administered by a Zamindar. The district has now been bifurcated into two parts, North and South.

[iii] Deshbhag, Deshtyag, ibid. p. 67

[iv] Dui Doshoker Sriti (Memories of two decades) by Abdul Mohaimen, quoted in ibid. p. 68

[v] 'The Prolonged Partition and its Pogroms, by A.J.Kamra, Voice of India, Delhi, 1st Ed., 2000

[vi] ibid. p. 59-60

[vii] Tin Kuri Dosh, ibid., part III, p.120-122

[viii] Letter of resignation of Jogendra Nath Mandal, dated October 8, 1950, reproduced in appendix.

[ix] The Prolonged Partition and its Pogroms, ibid. p. 57

[x] Deshbhag, Deshtyag, ibid. p. 75-76

[xi] The Prolonged Partition and its Pogroms, ibid. p. 63

[xii] Deshbhag, Deshtyag ibid. p. 76

[xiii] Udbastu, ibid. p. 79, 83

[xiv] ibid. April 11, 1950

[xv] Deshbhag, Deshtyag, ibid. p. 66

[xvi] Ananda Bazar Patrika, April 7, 1950 ; Udbastu, ibid., p. 89

[xvii] Interviewed February 21, 2000

[xviii] Interviewed February 26, 2000

[xix] The district was known as Tipperah in British India, and has subsequently broken up into a number of smaller districts in present-day Bangladesh. Sarail is now in Brahmanbaria district. Incidentally, this author's grandfather was also a Naib (junior manager) of Sarail estate.

[xx] Daccai-kuttis are drivers of horse-drawn carriages in Dacca, and are a part of the folklore of Dacca city. They must have come en masse at some place in North India centuries ago, for the dialect that they spoke was a typical mixture of Urdu and Bangla, with a lot of chh-sound and swear words. All of them Muslim, and practically all illiterate, they are credited with an acerbic wit and a fantastic sense of humour – in saner times , of course.

[xxi] Quoted in Deshbhag, Deshtyag, ibid. p. 68

[xxii] Interviewed ibid.

[xxiii] The Prolonged Partition and its Pogroms, ibid. p. 60-61

[xxiv] ibid. p. 61

[xxv] ibid. p. 62

[xxvi] ibid. p. 64

[xxvii] Shivaratri is literally the 'night of Lord Shiva', the night when Hindu married women traditionally observe a fast and pray for the good of their husbands. A mela is a village fair.

[xxviii] The Prolonged Partition and its Pogroms, ibid. p. 67

[xxix] ibid. p. 73

[xxx] A generic term used to denote certain Australoid peoples of Eastern India such as Oraon, Munda etc., said to be among the earliest inhabitants of the region. The term is not much used nowadays and these peoples are usually referred to as Jharkhandi or Chhota-Nagpuria, because they are the most numerous in the Chhota-nagpur region in the southern part of the Indian state of Bihar, but are found also in parts of Bengal and Northern Orissa. They are not Hindus in the strict sense, but they are not Muslims either, and that was enough reason for the Pakistani police to do to them what they did.

[xxxi] The Prolonged Partition and its Pogroms, ibid. p. 73, quoting a book called 'Religion and Politics in Bangladesh and West Bengal, a study of communal relations', by Sukumar Biswas and Hiroshi Sato, Tokyo 1993, publisher not mentioned. The 'movement' referred to is the Tebhaga (literally 'three parts') movement launched by the Communist Party, demanding two-thirds of the produce of land for the peasant, leaving only one-third for the landlord. Ila Mitra later emigrated to India and became an important functionary of the Communist Party of India, and was lauded by fellow Communist Bengali Muslim poet Golam Quddus as 'Stalin-Nandini' (daughter of Stalin), presumably before the 20th Congress of the CPSU. She is part of the legend of Bengali Communists in which the role of her Muslim tormentors is carefully whitewashed.

[xxxii] Udbastu, ibid. p. 90

[xxxiii] Interviewed November 5, 2000

[xxxiv] Interviewed June 21, 2001

[xxxv] ibid. p. 105

[xxxvi] ibid. p. 92-93

[xxxvii] ibid. p. 77

[xxxviii] ibid. p. 59-60

[xxxix] ibid. p. 62 ; The Marginal Men, ibid. p. 31

[xl] The Marginal Men, ibid. p. 16-18

[xli] Benoy Mukherjee (b. 1909) is in fact quite well-known in contemporary Bangla literature by his pseudonym Jajabor (meaning Nomad, in Bangla), and is celebrated as the author of the pathbreaking novel Drishtipat ( A Look) describing pre-independence New Delhi society, and Jhelum Nodir Tirey (Beside the River Jhelum), a journalistic piece describing the Kashmir war of 1948 between India and Pakistani irregulars, and the events that had led to it. As Press adviser he had access to information relating to all the goings-on in official circles during the tumultuous years immediately preceding and following independence of the country. As such all his observations are authentic and very valuable.

[xlii] Desh, (Bangla fortnightly, Calcutta) April 24, 1993 pp. 51-66. Interview of Benoy Mukherjee by Niladri Chaki.

[xliii] Tin Kuri Dosh, ibid., p. 118

[xliv] ibid., p. 100-102

[xlv] Udbastu, ibid. p. 78

[xlvi] ibid. p. 71

[xlvii] Interviewed 1st February 2000

[xlviii] Interview of Benoy Mukherjee, ibid. p. 57

[xlix] India Wins Freedom, ibid. p. 162

[l] Interview of Benoy Mukherjee, ibid. p. 57

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Welcome

Website counter

Followers

Blog Archive