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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 2994

The Legacy of the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh – Part III

By Rabindranath Trivedi - for Asian Tribune from Dhaka

Part-III: Aftermath Of Mahatmaji And Quid-E-Azam Father Figures of Two Republics

Dhaka 19 July, ( After six decades of partitioned of Bengal, we are discussing 'minority issue' with a new vision in Bangladesh. Would the history of the Indian sub-continent be different had Deshbandhu Chitta Ranjan Das not died in June 1923 so early? What might he have achieved if he were to live till 1947? There have always been the many voices to let us know that after Deshbandhu C. R. Das , there was never to be another Bengali politician able to operate at the vast national level that was his forte. If death had not finished him, he would surely have brought all his influence to bear on those who otherwise may have wanted India to be segmented in communal sectors anyway. There was certainly Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who could have prevented the final collapse, but that is another tragedy that was inevitable. Again,who knows whether the communalism that quite went beyond the control of Mahatma Gandhi, JawharLal Nehru and Quid-e-Azam M.A.Jinnah would have reared its head with Deshbandhu C. R. Das around?

Ten years before the great Calcutta killing, in 1936, Rabindranath joined other prominent Bengali Hindus in sending a memo to the Secretary of State for India in London, asking for a modification of the Communal Award.... Tagore put his signature to the following politically explosive statement in the memorial:

.... The Hindus of Bengal, though numerically a minority, are overwhelmingly superior [to the Muslims] culturally, constituting as much as 64 per cent of the total literate population and more than 80 per cent of the total school-going population, while their economic preponderance is equally manifest in the spheres of the independent professions and commercial careers...”

The Muslim commentators had hit the nail on the head. While Tagore’s speech had been an honourable effort at reminding both the Hindus and the Muslims of the risks they were running, As always, Tagore believed that politics should be the art of the noble, rather than of the possible. (Krishna Dutta&Andrew Robinson, 1997.p.338-340)

‘Political polarization, in terms of complete division between Hindus and Muslims, was quite apparent by now.’Shila Sen opined:” The constant opposition and criticism of the ministry (Huq ministry, 1937-41) by Hindus-Congress and non-congress-clearly brought home to them that Hindu interests and Muslim interests could never be identical in Bengal. This helped strengthen the process of polarization in Bengal politics.”(Ibid. p. -101).

This transformation, Jinnah’s greatest achievement before the Lahore Resolution, was the result of the Bengal legislative politics, conditioned by the attitude of the Congress and the Krishak Praja Party towards the ministry. And Fazlul Huq could not save the ministry without joining the mainstream of the Indian Muslim minority. This had the effect of strengthening the Muslim League in Bengal.

We are left with the certain painful feeling of minority, how Bengal has been belittled in our times, despite the glory that led up to its becoming the pre-eminent region of pre-1947 India.


In our rural village in Faridpur, we had enjoyed a Karim Bayati's ( a Bard) song in Bangla in the early 1950's reminds me on different occasion .Meanwhile, 10 million Hindus were hounded out of the country since 1947.
"Gandhi gechhey gulier maddhyie,

Jinnah gechhen mara;

Nazimuddin hoichhey raja Hindur dafa sara;
Momin musalman mukhey Allah Rasul sabey bollo"

[ It means Gandhiji (1869-1948) and Jinnah (1876-1948), founding fathers of Union of India and Pakistan, were no more,( M.A.Jinnah was the first Governor –General of Pakistan died on 11 September 1948.) So Khwaja Nazimuddin became the king, (Governor-General of Pakistan), the fate of Hindus is doomed permanently. So, Muslim brethren, chant in the name of Allah and Rasul,the Prophet .]

Here King means Governor-General of Pakistan, the centralised all powerful figure under India Act 1935. Later the power of the Governor General was transferred to the Constitutional post of the President of Pakistan. It was a blow to the parliamentary system in Pakistan. Jinnah's acknowledged lieutenant Liaquat Ali Khan assumed leadership and as the Prime Minister. Liaquat was assassinated in Rawalpindi on October 16, 1951. He was succeeded by Khwaja Nazimuddin, who stepped down as governor general. Ghulam Mohammad, a Punjabi civil servant, became the governor-general. In 1955, General Iskader Mirza forced Ghulam Mohammad to resign as the Governor-General. In 1956, the Constituent Assembly adopted a constitution that proclaimed Pakistan as Islamic Republic.

The first Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was framed in March 1956. The Paragraph 32(2) of the Constitution stated that, a person would not be qualified for election for the head of state unless he was a Muslim. The constitution also stated that no law could be introduced in Pakistan beyond the provisions of the Holy Quran and should be in accordance to the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad- sunnah.

The laws in force, which did not reflect Islamic way of life would either be cancelled or suitably amended. It was further stated that Pakistan would run on the basis of Islamic principles as the country was for the Muslims. Due to such Islamisation and communalisation of the first constitution of Pakistan the Hindus therein were reduced clearly to the second class citizens of Pakistan. We will see the repetition of history and the betrayal of the constitutional governments after August 1975.

M.A. Jinnah was in favour of making Pakistan a modern secular state as evident from Jinnah's 11August, 1947 speech in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly (CAP). But Jinnah's strong advocacy of Urdu as the national language of Pakistan provoked the Bengali of East Bengal to think seriously about their position. Their cultural identity threatened, “Jinnah, as a pragmatic politician, made this pronouncement because he knew that at that critical juncture of history it was not possible for Pakistan to survive without the minorities. They were dominant in the economic life of the country. (Minority Politics in Bangladesh by Ghulam Kabir,.pp-21)

The crux of the political problem was the Hindu-Muslim divide in Bengal. It is even today a congenital defect that crippled both the community, particularly the Hindus in erstwhile East Bengal-turned-Bangladesh

14 August 1947 marked the beginning of a new era in the political life of East Bengal. The achievement of Pakistan indicated the reversal of the dominance of the Hindus in East Bengal. The place of the Hindu elites of the partition era was taken over by West Pakistanis, refugee Muslims from India, and Bengali Muslims.

With the establishment of new political authority in East Bengal the minorities were tossed into a hostile situation. Since a large number of the Hindus left Pakistan after partition, the provincial government found an opportunity to requisition Hindu houses for government offices and government servants. The Hindus faced a unique situation.

The Hindus were the champion of Indian nationalism and fought for the independence of India. When Pakistan came into being over blood, it was a great shock for the Hindus. In the first session of the CAP, Kiron Shankar Roy, leader of the opposition Congress Party ,frankly admitted that the Congress Party was not very happy because of the division of India, and the partition of Bengal. So , it was quite natural for the Hindus to have psychological reservation about Pakistan and its Muslim League leadership in East Bengal.

During the first few years of post August 1947,the migration was confined to the upper caste bhadralok section of the political elites, professional and well to do families. In most cases they would send the young and female members of the family to India, leaving behind one or two older members to look after their property or professions.

However, Muslims constituted the overwhelming majority in East Pakistan meaning that the minorities were not in a position to become formidable political opponent of Muslims or of other where number mattered. (According to 1951 census Muslims constituted 76.9% of the total population of East Pakistan as against 70.3% according to 1941 census). The Hindu leaders also voiced minority grievances in almost every session (1948-56) of the East Bengal Legislative Assembly (EBLA, 1948-56) and the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (CAP, 1947-54). When they tried to voice grievances of the community, they were often attacked by the ruling party and the press for their alleged "divided loyalty' or disloyalty to Pakistan. It is interesting to note that the culture of vilification still presence in the society.

Broomfield discussed the bhodroloke in his 1968 book titled "Elite conflict in a plural society: twentieth-century Bengal." His study spanned the first half of the last century, focusing on the 1910s and the 1920s. Here is how he depicted the bhodroloke: "...a socially privileged and consciously superior group, economically dependent upon landed rents and professional and clerical employment; keeping its distance from the masses by its acceptance of high-caste proscriptions and its command of education; sharing a pride in its language, its literate culture, and its history; and maintaining its communal integration through a fairly complex institutional structure..." Broomfield's thesis was that the Calcutta-based, predominantly Hindu, bhodrolokea: " were opposed to democracy in pre-partition Bengal, and this opposition to majority rule contributed greatly to Muslim separatism and partition. Whatever the intellectual accomplishments of individual bhodrolokes: "...were, the bhodroloke: ". class was portrayed as an anti-democratic force in Broomfield's narrative. Therefore, while it is true that the bhodrolokes: " were seen as high achieving, benign elite who brought welcome innovations and reforms to Bengal, it is also true that they were simultaneously perceived as beneficiaries of colonialism, a much-despised enterprise precisely because of its exclusion, racism, and dehumanization of the majority. Indeed, these evils of colonialism are highlighted in the schools of Bangladesh and passed down the generations through socialization, thus raising serious questions about the effectiveness of the advisor's choice of packaging.

The Hindu Bhadraloks are vilified by a section of press as Indian agent. Khawaja Nazimuddin declared on 8 June 1948, a month before the death of Jinnah, that those who supported the West Bengal papers had' no right to live in Pakistan,' The leaders of Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League in pre-independence India used religious rhetoric and created sharp perceptions of " religious strife" among people of their respective communities.

Mr Jogendra Nath Mondal, a close associate of M A Jinnah, was elected President of the inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (CAP) on 10th August 1947. This was a gesture of goodwill to the minorities, although the motive behind it was probably to show the world that the newly born Muslim State of Pakistan had a place for minorities. The First governor-general, Quid-I-Azam Mr. M A Jinnah was elected president of the CAP the next day.

In his address of felicitation Kiran Shankar Roy, Leader of the opposition from Congress party, outlined the party's policy:" As far as we are concerned, sir, if Pakistan which you have in your mind means a secular democratic state, a state which will make no difference between a citizen and a citizen, which will deal fairly with all irrespective of caste, creed or community, I assure you that you shall have our utmost cooperation.”

In his speech, founder of Pakistan M A Jinnah declared," you are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or Caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” But Keith Callard predicted in its early years of Pakistan that the 'Hindu community was likely to diminish in size, in wealth, and in talent 'in Pakistan’ (pp-265)

If Jinnah continues his office one more decade, minority in the subcontinent may not quit their ancestral homes. "Non-Muslims would have stayed back in Pakistan if M A Jinnah's reinterpretation of the two-nation theory had been carried out. Its ethos become secularism, not religion..”

It may be recalled that partition of the subcontinent in 1947 itself brought about opportunity to the small landholding Muslim peasants to grab the title to the paddy land, homestead, pond and tank, and orchard of the fleeing, driven-out, or killed Hindu neighbours in East Bengal. In the same way the small merchants and the professional Muslims easily took over the place of middleclass Hindu merchants and wholesalers and professionals respectively.

Similar opportunities for the Muslims were also created immediately after the riots took place in East Pakistan Communal riots were deliberately created to take hold of Hindus property. Different political events, communal riots, War, and Constitutional provisions in the years 1948,1950 and 1964 ,1977,1992 and 2001 accounted mainly for the flight of the East Pakistani later turned Bangladeshi Hindus to India.

A news deadline on Nov.12, 2006 from Islamabad says: Founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah told Lord Mountbatten in 1947 that he would be "delighted" if the proposal to create a separate, sovereign Bengal were accepted, a new book has said When Mountbatten asked Jinnah what he thought of eminent Muslim League leader H S Suhrawardy's proposal, he said "I should be delighted. What is the use of Bengal without Calcutta; they had much better remain united and independent; I am sure they would be on friendly terms with us," US historian Stanley Wolpert says in his book on the partition of India.

When Mountbatten asked Suhrawardy if he would wish Bengal to remain within the British Commonwealth, Jinnah replied "Of course, just as I indicated to you that Pakistan would wish to remain within the Commonwealth."

"Had Mountbatten followed the advice of Gandhi, Jinnah or Suhrawardy, instead of listening only to Nehru, Punjab and Bengal might have been spared the deadly horrors, and a richly united Bengal, with its capital in Calcutta, would have emerged instead of the fragmented, impoverished Bangladesh born from its eastern half a quarter of a century later," The Daily Times, Nov 12,2006, quoted Wolpert as saying in his book, reports PTI. Shila Sen, an author ‘Muslim Politics in Bengal (1937-1947)’, noted, “The initiators of the move for an independent Bengal were Sarat Bose and Abul Hashim and not H .S. Suhrawardy or any other personality.”

So, Mr Stanley Wolpert made a fabricated story to create sensation and just to befool Bengalis. In British India, the Muslims of Bengal asserted their religious identity to escape from the economic exploitation of the Bengali Hindus who shared the same mother tongue. In the United Pakistan, the Bengalis of East Pakistan reaffirmed vigorously their cultural and linguistic identity to resist the economic exploitation by their coreligionists who spoke a different language.

Though history has repeated itself in Pakistan, the lessons learnt from Hindu-Muslim confrontations were forgotten. Between 1949-50 and 1969-70, the ratio of economic disparity between East and West Pakistan increased from 21.9% to 61% The widening of disparity was attributed directly to the discriminatory role of the state and the transfer of resources from East Pakistan to West Pakistan. The vernacular elite provided the leadership in mobilizing the masses against economic deprivation and cultural discrimination. The dominant middle classes in Pakistan by its uncompromising support to a regime of exploitation paved the path for dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971.' The relationship between the eastern and the western wings of Pakistan was the mirror image of Hindu-Muslim relations in the undivided sub-continent.

However, "Creation of Pakistan in 1947 led to the division of Bengal on religious line. The major portion of it, i.e., East Bengal,with a new name-East Pakistan-became part of Pakistan. Muslims constituted the overwhelming majority in East Pakistan meaning that the minorities were not in a position to become formidable political opponent of Muslims or of other where number mattered. ( According to 1951 census Muslims constituted 76.9% of the total population of East Pakistan as against 70.3% according to 1941 census).

The minorities were compelled to take a defensive posture. Where minorities particularly Hindus had discontent, frustration, and grievance due to failure in keeping Indian subcontinent intact Muslims had a sense of achievement and victory through creation of Pakistan. Thus, within a few years of its creation a good number of Hindus from East Pakistan emigrated to India of their own will. The Hindu emigrants were the well-off and educated section of the community. Thus, the Hindus who stayed back were left leaderless and unprotected to an extent.

Pakistan was basically created as a country to save exclusively the Muslims of South Asia from the perceived unjust rule, oppression, and tyranny of the Hindus. Therefore, Muslim League's policy of hostility towards the Hindus and their efforts to drive them out from their roots was quite natural and logical and practice was not an exception. In this connection it may be mentioned that the Tehbhaga Movement of 1946-1947 under the leadership of Communist Party opened up an opportunity for the Muslim League to become heavy-handed on the Hindus because most of the leaders of the party and the cultivators involved in the movement were Hindus or ethnic minorities not Muslim by religion. ( Mohammad Rafi,2005,P-29)

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

Part-II: Mahatma Gandhi Visited Noakhali In October 1946

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