The Legacy of the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh Part IV
By Rabindranath Trivedi - for Asian Tribune from Dhaka
Part- IV: Riot In East Bengal In 1950
Dhaka, 20 July, (Asiantribune.com): In February 1950, there was again a communal flare-up in which thousands of Hindus killed, followed by an unprecedented level of Hindu migration from East Bengal .The riots in 1950 killed thousands and pushed 35 lakh Hindus to take refuge in India. On the day of division of India in mid August 1947, there were around 42 million populations of whom 29.5% were counted as to around 12.5 million minorities in the eastern part of Pakistan. Here Hindus are the majority with around 98% among the minorities and rest of them are Buddhists and Christians. However, number of minorities in this part started declining rapidly since then due to 2-nation theory.
Because Pakistan was meant for Muslims, thus minorities (mainly Hindus) had to leave this country. They decided to leave for India. Prafulla Kumar Chakraborty, in a reference to this incident in his book ‘The Marginal Men’ has described the anguish of the Hindus as a community in very graphic terms. The Bhadralok class of East Bengali Hindus were the vanguard of the Ognijug, the era of fire of the Bengali revolutionaries , and had made untold sacrifices at that time, including quite a few going to the gallows. The intense yearning with which they had looked forward to independence can therefore only be imagined. Now the independence that had come to them had turned out to be a thousand times worse than British rule.
The attitude of Muslims towards the Hindus seemed to have changed almost overnight with independence. They adopted a policy of destroying totally the Hindus’ sense of security by resorting to systematic persecution, especially in regard to the safety of their women. Still, the Hindus would have stuck on to their roots if only there had been some kind of fair administration in the country. In fact there was none. The openly partisan East Pakistani administration did not lift a little finger to restrain the Hindu-baiting Muslims. Therefore they had no recourse but to leave for India.
Sukomal Talukdar, born in the village of Bhabanipur, near Hathazari, Chittagong, now a U.S. citizen living near Seattle, Washington, recalls some of his earliest memories being those of Muslims raiding their property, forcibly taking away fish from their ponds, wood and fruits from their trees, and his elders discussing the matter helplessly. His sisters, in spite of being bright students, could not pursue their studies very far because Muslim boys used to tease them, sometimes threaten them. A stage came when it became downright dangerous for them to go to school, and they had to be given away in marriage quite early. Complaints made to the local thana (police station) brought forth the reply that if Hindus wanted to live in Pakistan this is the way they will have to live. The general idea was to create an atmosphere of extreme insecurity so that the Hindus left for India, and the Muslims could usurp their property.
Sandip Banerjee has narrated a number of incidents such as those experienced by Ms. Binapani Roy Chaudhuri, of village Joypur, Habiganj subdivision, Sylhet district. This is what she said : ”There had been no atrocities on Hindus in our village, but there was a lot of panic following the Noakhali carnage and 'Direct Action' in Calcutta. One day, we all gathered together to hear the results of the referendum when it was announced on the radio. We were all very dejected to learn that Sylhet was going to Pakistan. . . . Our village had more Hindus than Muslims. The Hindus owned the land the Muslims tilled it. Relations between the communities were quite acceptable. But as soon as the referendum results came out, panic spread among the Hindus. Muslims went around saying 'Let us first get Pakistan; we shall then get even with the Hindus'. Independence Day for us was a very sad day. We passed the next few days in bated breath.
Thefts and robberies started taking place in Hindu households. A girl from the Nyayaratna family was kidnapped and returned a few days later. The overall insecurity was too much to stand. I was then eleven years old. I was sent away to Shillong where my elder brother lived. For a few years we alternated between our village and Shillong. Then, in 1953, the Muslims set fire to our house and we all moved permanently to Shillong."
A few Hindu festivals had made East Bengal famous. Two of these were the Janmashtami] processions of Dacca, and the Rath] festival of Dhamrai, a village near Dacca. The large concentration of Vaishnavas] among the moneyed Hindus of Dacca had made these events memorable. Within a month of independence Muslims attacked the Janmashtami processions in Dacca. The Rath mela of Dhamrai was closed down altogether and for good. Eventually, with the Hindus leaving Dacca town by the thousands, the Janmashtami processions also became a thing of the past. By 1949 the number of Durga Pujas ] in Dacca town had also come down drastically. Posters were visible all over town against the pujas.On Vijaya Dashami day, the last day of the pujas, and a day for proclaiming brotherhood of all, Hindu households were set on fire by the hundreds, rendering as many as 750 Hindu families homeless. Saraswati Puja immersion processions were attacked in Patuakhali in Barisal.
At this stage the plight of the Hindu politicians who had chosen to stay on in East Pakistan should be mentioned. They had stayed on either because they thought they could provide leadership to, and influence the state in favour of the Hindus, or because they thought they would be in demand as leaders of a minority group. There were several of them, notable among them being Dhirendra Nath Datta, Kamini Kumar Datta (both of Comilla), Satindra Nath Sen, Jogendra Nath Mandal (both of Barisal), Basanta Das of Sylhet and Prabhas Chandra Lahiri of Rajshahi. All of them had to leave politics, some of them also this world, in pitiable states. The case of Dhirendra Nath Datta was particularly sad. He had been a member of the Pakistani Parliament and Constituent Assembly, and had demanded National Language status for Bangla.
Before this Jinnah had declared at Dacca that the national language of Pakistan shall be Urdu, and none should have any doubts about it. A number of youths protested on his face. During the whole Pakistan period from 1947 to 1971, there was tremendous migration of minority populations and even after from Bangladesh .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”.
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. 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. 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 rumor 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.
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.
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'.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. Kamra has recorded the observations of Wilfred Lazarus, staff correspondent of the Press Trust of India (the premier news agency of India). 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 neighboring 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 have 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.’
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. Within six months of Muhammad Ali Jinnah's death, Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan in legislative assembly mentioned that Pakistan was a Muslim state. Notably, just after the partition, Sardar Ballv Bhai Patel remarked _Those who wanted Pakistan do not have any right to stay in India after the creation of Pakistan. In the same tone, Khawja Najimuddin the Chief Minister of East Bengal declared in the East Bengal Legislative Assembly_ Those who supported the press and newspapers of West Bengal do not have the right to live in Pakistan. Such provoking declarations and counter-declarations were made frequently not only by natural leaders but also by leaders lower in ranks which in its trail created 1950 communal riot." (Mohammad Rafi,2005,P-29)
Here is an episode ,how overnight, Hindu-Muslim families that had lived as friendly neighbors for decades in British India became mindless enemies in East Bengal in 1950. In February 1950, after seventeenth month of sad demise of M A Jinnah, there was again a communal flare-up in which 40 thousands of Hindus were killed, followed by an unprecedented level of 35 lakh Hindu migration from East Bengal to take refuge in India. (Missing Citizens of East Bengal).Former Prime Minister of Bengal A. K. Fazlul Huq was then visiting Calcutta with his young son Faizul Huq. He had a discussion with Chief Minister Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy at Writers’ Building. Later he rushed to Barisal, where a massive destruction, arson, raping, and Hindu killing had been done by Muslim Leaguers with a plea that Fazlul Huq had been killed by Hindus in Calcutta. While Liaquat Ali Khan Visiting Barisal, Fazlul Huq told him at Barisal circuit House that riot was a Muslim League Government’s sponsored massacre. The league has crushed my reputation and image, Fazlul Huq told Nawabzada with a shocked silence.
Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired civil servant, author and columnist.
- To Be Continued –
- Asian Tribune –