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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2676

The Legacy of the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh - Part-II

By Rabindranath Trivedi - Reporting for Asian Tribune from Dhaka

Part-II: Mahatma Gandhi Visited Noakhali In October 1946

Dhaka, 18 July, (Asiantribune.com): Now on to Noakhali from Calcutta, for the next horror. It is learnt that a Muslim League leader called Ghulam Sarwar assisted by a Moulvi Rashid Ahmed and a Mukhtar Majibar Rahman began the carnage at Noakhali. Sarwar was a fire-breathing rabble-rouser from a Peer’s family who had lately wrested the leadership of the Krishak Samiti (Cultivators’ Association) from milder leaders such as Khan Bahadur Abdul Gofran. Once begun, the violence gathered its own momentum and rolled on. “The inspiration of course came from Suhrawardy’s launching of the Calcutta Killings (including the Hindu reprisals), and the assurance that under Suhrawardy’s benign rule and Burrows’s indifference the police could be trusted to look the other way while Muslim plundered Hindu.

In fact that is what happened in the Calcutta Killings, and that is what would have continued to happen, had not the tide of rioting turned against the Muslims, observed Mr Roy. There was no such fear in Noakhali. The overwhelming numerical majority of Muslims, and the remoteness of the area would ensure that there would be no retaliation, nor any official action in a hurry. Sarwar’s motivation in starting the carnage was simple, and remarkably similar to Suhrawardy’s. Just as Suhrawardy wanted to curry favour with Jinnah and elevate himself to a National Level, so did Sarwar want to curry favor with Suhrawardy and raise himself to Provincial Level. He had won the 1937 elections on a Muslim League ticket, but had been refused a ticket by the League in 1946. He was determined to show his political bosses that he deserved a ticket. He began with touring the district, making rabid speeches and provoking isolated incidents of harassment of Hindus, outraging the modesty of Hindu women, even killing. The Hindus looked for help from the Congress, but predictably, no help came, Tathagata Roy opined.

Gandhiji rushed to Noakhali on a Peace Mission, reaching Choumohani railway station on 7 November 1946. He appealed for peace and love in a public meeting and reached Ramgonj.

"The region of Noakhali in which Srirampur was set, was one of the most inaccessible parts in India, a jigsaw of tiny islands in the waterlogged delta formed by the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers......Srirampur had been one of the unpronounceable names figuring on the reports arriving almost daily on Clement Attlee's desk from India. Inflated by fanatical leaders, by reports of Hindus killing their co-religionists in Calcutta, its Moslems, like Moslems all across Noakhali, had suddenly turned on the Hindu minority that shared the village with them. They had slaughtered, raped, pillaged, and burned, forcing their neighbors to eat the flesh of their sacred cows, sending others fleeing for safety across the rice paddies. Half the huts in Srirampur were blackened ruins. Even the shack in which Gandhi lay had been partially destroyed by fire.

It is interesting to note that there is no Srirampur in Noakhali. There is Ramchandrapur, Ramkrishnapur, Harinarayanpur, Gobindapur, Abhirampur and Ramgonj (where riots took place). Sudharampur or Srirampur is no more today. Joined by volunteers from home and abroad, Gandhiji moved from village to village, spreading his message of communal harmony, non-violence, and respect for ethics, truth and human rights. His mission was successful in stopping the riot. Gandhji arrived at Joynag on 29 January 1947. Hemanta Kumar Ghose, the local Zaminder, donated all his property to the Mahatma for setting up the 'Ambika-Kaliganga Charitable Trust'. In 1975, it was converted into ‘Gandhi Ashram Trust' (GAT) through a special ordinance. The newly established museum of the trust contains various belongings and books used by the great leader and his photographs.

But the man behind the Gandhi Ashram completing Gandhiji’s unfinished task of building trust, faith and friendship between communities was no more when we visited GAT. We are talking about Charu Chowdhury (1900-1992), who had accompanied Gandhiji on his peace mission from Sodepur, to Noakhali in October 1946,on his orders and had followed him like a shadow for five months from village to village spreading the message of peace, love and brotherhood. Mahatma Gandhi’s parting words to him in the neighbouring HaimChar on March 29,1947,when he suddenly left Noakhali on his peace mission to Bihar and their reiteration as “Bapu’s message to him at Howrah station three days later when Gandhiji was leaving for Patna,were still a gospel, a path finder and a source of inspiration” to him.

“My satisfaction is that I am no longer considered an outsider here. I am one of their own. My ashram has succeeded in bringing peace and understanding where once bitterness prevailed.” Contending with suspicion and government hostility had become a part of his and the Ashram’s daily life during the Pakistani days. The Pakistanis imprisoned him for about 10 years on trumped-up charges. But the Ashram’s darkest days came during the 1971 liberation war when on September 9 two old asharamites and close associates of Charu Babu-Debendra Narayan Sarkar (81) and Madan Mohan Chattopadhyay (71)-were killed by Pakistani soldiers. Charu was picked up and taken to Dhaka Central Jail. The Jailor Mr. Nirmal Roy released him on December 16, 1971.” But I had nowhere to go as my ashram had been vandalised. It again took months to put the ashram in order,’ Charu Babu told Manas Ghosh of the Statesman in September 1989.

Compared to Sabarmati and Sevagram, the GAT looks unimpressive. But it has a uniqueness that very few ashrams of its kind in India can match. Miss Jharnadhara Chowdhry, Charu Babu’s direct disciple now manages the Ashram’s day to affairs she has been living and working in the midst of the district’s poor Muslim peasantry for their uplift. The Ashram is house in a two-storied building in which the Zaminder of Joy nag- Barrister Hemanta Ghose-once lived.

"To a century fraught with violence, Gandhi had offered an alternative, his doctrine of Ahinsa-non-violence. He had used it to mobilize the masses of India to drive out the English from the sub-continent with a moral crusade instead of an armed rebellion, prayers instead of machine-gun fire, disdainful silence instead of the fracas of terrorists' bomb..

He walked from village to village in riot-torn Noakhali, where Hindus were being killed in retaliation for the killing of Muslims in Bihar, and nursed the wounded and consoled the widowed; and in Calcutta he came to constitute, in the famous words of the last viceroy, Mountbatten, a "one-man boundary force" between Hindus and Muslims.

The ferocious fighting in Calcutta came to a halt, almost entirely on account of Gandhi's efforts, and even his critics were wont to speak of the Gandhi's 'miracle of Calcutta'. When the moment of freedom came, on 15 August 1947, Gandhi was nowhere to be seen in the capital, though Nehru and the entire Constituent Assembly were to salute him as the architect of Indian independence, as the 'father of the nation'. Mahatma Gandhiji stayed there for about four months and left Noakhali on 2 March 1947. Noakhali continued to be in the grip of fear for many months.” In conclusion it can be said that the riots in Calcutta and Noakhali in 1946 decided the relations between Hindus and Muslims in Bengal for decades to come. Their memory still lingers among the people of Bengal. Direct Action had entered its historic importance not because Pakistan was achieved on that day but because on its corpses was laid the edifice of Bengal Partition. From what happened in Calcutta and Noakhali in 1946 it had to be separated from the Muslim League and Muslims.”

Gandhji arrived at Joynag on 29 January 1947. Hemanta Kumar Ghose, the local Zaminder, donated all his property to the Mahatma for setting up the ' Ambika-Kaliganga charitable Trust'.In 1975, Trust was converted into 'Gandhi Ashram Trust' (GAT) through a special ordinance in 1975. Mahatmaji stayed there for about four months and left Noakhali on 2 March, When Lord Mount batten replaced Lord Wavell as the Viceroy of India in March 1947,and he had the mandate from British Cabinet of Mr. Attlee to transfer power to Indian leaders. Ultimately, events led inexorably to an accelerated partition plan of Cabinet Mission and later by Mount batten in June 1947. His philosophy on humanism speaks clearly of the fact that it is sacrifice, not enjoyment, glorifies a life,” president Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed said while inaugurating the “Gandhi Memorial Museum” of the Gandhi Ashram Trust at Joynag under Begumganj upazila. The function marks the 139th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi who came to this village on November 7 in 1946 to restore communal amity here; Barrister Hemanta Kumar Ghosh of Noakhali by floating a trust donated all his movable and immovable property to Gandhi for charitable services. Under a special order in 1975, Gandhi Ashram Trust was floated and it earned appreciation of all for all for its service oriented and development activities.

To me it was a journey to pilgrimage in the year 2000 that helped me to know the man Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was-- 'an unlikely revolutionary, the gentle prophet of the world's most extraordinary liberation movement.' If the readers of history make a journey to Srirampur, they would never find it; they may find a Gandhi Ashram at Joynag under Begumgonj Thana in the district of Noakhali .The newly established museum of the trust contains various belongings and books used by the great leader and his photographs.

In the last decade of his life Rabindranath Tagore(1860-1941) felt compelled to adopt a public role, out of distress at the decline of Bengal in the mid-to-late 1930s. As he saw it, Bengal was fast losing her soul, all the self-destructive tendencies he had inveighed against since the failure of the 1905. Swadeshi Movement was coalescing to make tragedy. And with hindsight one can see that he was only too accurate in his diagnosis. V.S.Naipaul, a great writer of the late twentieth century, observed of it in India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990): “It was an old man’s (Tagore) melancholy farewell to the world. Five years later the war was over. ... The calamity Tagore hadn’t seen was the calamity that was to come to Calcutta.” After Rabindranath Tagore’s death in August 1941, India was partitioned and Bengal was divided in August1947 and its accompanying bloodshed, Bengal has indeed gradually lost her leadership of India in every field--political, commercial, intellectual and artistic. (to be continued)

Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired civil servant, author and columnist.)

- To be Continued –

- Asian Tribune –

Also Read:

Part-1: The plight of Hindus In East Bengal in 1940’s

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