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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2400

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

By Rabindranath Trivedi - for Asian Tribune from Dhaka

Part-VII : Bengali Muslims Fight Communalism in 1964

Dhaka, 23 July, (Asiantribune.com): On December 5, 1963, the former Prime Minister and the most prominent leader of the NDF, Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy, died in his sleep in Beirut where he was undergoing treatment. The whole of Pakistan mourned his death with a renewed pledge to carry on the struggle of the people against the Ayub regime. Since then, the government was looking for an opportunity to crush the unity of the people, particularly those of East Pakistan. Soon the opportunity came and the government made its full utilization. A hair of Prophet Mohammad was stolen from the Hazrat bal (contained a hair of Prophet Muhammad) mosque in Kashmir. The government utilized this incident to incite the Muslims and the ruling Pakistan Convention Muslim League declared ‘Kashmir Day' on January 3, 1964.

Towards the end of 1963, tension between Bengali and non-Bengali workers in the mills and factories were reported in Khulna. Sporadic riots took place in Khulna.This gave rise to the communal riots in East Bengal -the lead was taken by a leader of Khulna and soon the riot was spread over the industrial areas there and soon the whole of East Bengal got the contagion. The Biharis took the lead again. Riots also started in Jessore, Mymensingh, Pabna, Rajshahi and some other places. It was learnt that at all the places Bengali Muslims came forward to protect the Hindus and in the process some of them were killed. An official-backed news item on the issue of the theft of the Prophet's holy hair from the Hazratbal shrine in Kashmir was in the media. I still recall the voice of Radio Pakistan’s newscaster Sarkar Kabiruddin stating "This hair is not that holy hair, this is a false, artificial hair." About ten thousand Hindu died in Narayangonj and Dhaka. Some Muslims came forward to rescue Hindus in Dhaka and adjacent areas had to face martyrdom in that riots. A new sense of Bengaliness resurrects in the blood of Muslim and Hindus that forced them to the liberation war in 1971.

Kamruddin Ahmed writes: “When it was affecting even Dacca, a committee was formed to resist the communal riot in the name of ”Danga Pratirodh Committee” and a leaflet was issued under the title ”Purba Pakistan Rukhia Darao” (p. -157) It was learnt later that in Dacca, the Bengali Muslims under the political leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Ataur Rahman and others from National Awami Party, students, journalists of East Pakistan Journalists Union and intellectuals brought out a procession. Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia, the Ittefaq editor, Zahur Hossain Chowdhury, the Sangbad editor and Abdus Salam, The Pakistan observer editor, were at the head of the journalists’ procession. The Ittefaq came out with a call urging the Bengalis to rise up and put up resistance. In bold headlines on the front page, the paper said: " Sangrami Bangali Rukhiya Daraon". Two small news items and a comment in the Dacca papers were revealing. The Ittefaq reported that at least 95% homes of the minority community in Dacca and Narayangonj had been affected in 3 days-14 to 16 January, 1964.

The Pakistan Observer reported that attacks were made on a girls’ school, hostels, and passengers on trains and buses, and that evacuees from Narayangonj alone who took shelter in two mills totaled 240,00. Unofficial estimates of the evacuees in Dacca put the number at about 150,000. Mr. Ataur Rahman Khan , ex-chief minister of East Pakistan and former prime minister of Bangladesh, in his book " Swoiracharer Dosh Bachhar,-Ten Years of Despotic Rule” gave a pen-picture of the riots. It was an irony of fate that whenever there was massive communal violence against Hindus, the Government arrested the Hindu leaders and the Bengali Muslims who were fighting against the riotous mob to protect the Hindus. In Dacca, Narayangonj and other affected places loot, arson, rape, and killings were going on It was a dress rehearsal of 1971.

The non-Bengali and Muslim League goondas spared nobody in the so-called holy war, not even an American national, Professor Father Novak, who was brutally murdered on 16 January 1964 because he was going to rescue a Hindu family in distress. The Guardian of Manchester and London commented in a dispatch that Dacca riots were the worst in a decade. The local press was ordered to print nothing on the wave of religious violence. After four days, Father Novak's body was found on the riverbank and his personal effects, including a wristwatch and a bicycle, were recovered from those who killed him. Non-Bengali Muslims killed a number of Bengali Muslims during this riot. Massive exodus of the Hindus began after the riot of 1964. The Bengali nationalism created a united effort for democratic movements among the Hindu-Muslim communities.

What is remarkable about the rise of Bengali nationalism, as observed by James Novak,"is that Muslim feeling declined and Islam ultimately was put on the defensive. This change had been implicit in the founding of the Awami League, a party that, while never anti-Muslim, had not countenanced communalism. However, after the much -agitated Prophet's hair riots of 1964, the Muslim (rightiest) leadership lost its ability to generate mass support".

The Bangladesh Awami League:(AL): This party was founded in 1949 under the dynamic leadership of Maolana A H Khan Bhasani and H S Suhrawardy as Awami Muslim League and later in 1955 it dropped the word Muslim from its manifesto for the greater participation of all communities irrespective of religion and caste. After 1963, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, single handedly led the party and the country’s struggle for Liberation. The party committed to democracy, secularism, nationalism, and socialism. After August 1975 and particularly in the nineties the party moved to the principle of market economy.

We witnessed the Hazrat Bal’s riotous episode just 43 years ago, now Pakistan is facing the politics of Islamists Terririst in the Lal Mosque in Islamabad. “Situated almost in the centre of Islamabad, the "Lal Masjid" complex has most Federal Government offices (including the Presidency, the two Houses of Parliament, PM's Office, Supreme Court, Federal Ministries, Intelligence Bureau (IB), etc) a mile or so to its northeast, with the diplomatic enclave (including the US Embassy) and the ISI HQ the same distance east and west respectively. One would suppose (and reasonably expect) that the intelligence agencies and other Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), particularly those in the vicinity, would have informed the government about the activities of the religious extremists running its administration and taken steps to prevent a potential catastrophe. Automatic weapons in the hands of the students of the Seminary should have been some cause for consternation, if not absolute alarm, given the proliferation of unlicensed weapons on blatant public display in Pakistan.

Unchecked by the LEAs the Seminary students eventually had to go berserk, evidenced not only by high-handedness with their neighbours but in expanding the sphere of Jamia Hafza-style vigilante-type justice, enforced mainly through squads of black Burqa-clad women bearing staves. For six nights, the residents of Islamabad stayed awake because of the gunfire and bomb blasts. It is abundantly clear the foreign militants present prevented Abdul Rashid Ghazi from surrendering. As quiet descended on the shattered buildings, smoldering fires still burnt, the effect of battle leaving virtual devastation in an enclave where God's name was invoked for confrontation rather than for peace. Because of the proliferation of booby troops and mines, army engineers have made teams to defuse them. This de-using/defusing is a slow, painstaking process. What about the lessons learnt from this tragedy, what about criminal neglect that led to this bloody trauma that the people of Pakistan, and more particularly those of Islamabad, had to go through? "Operation Silence" opened with a deafening bang, why is the silence still deafening? Writes Ikram Sehgal , an eminent Pakistani political analyst and columnist (DS,13July.07).

Six Point and Movements

The East Pakistan Communist Party was outlawed in 1954. The political atmosphere in the January 1965 presidential election and the subsequent defeat of the Combined Opposition Party candidate Miss Fatima Jinnah (sister of M. A. Jinnah) and 17-day long Indo-Pak War in September 1965 eastern wing was cut off from West Pakistan. It has been noticed that the relations of this land had with India often determined the fate of the Hindu community.

In 1964, the Hindus had to face a great riot. In 1965, they had to face the imposition of the Enemy Property Ordinance and their leaders were thrown behind the prison bars. Comrade Mani Singh led the E P Communist Party until its split into pro-Moscow and pro- Peking groups in 1966. Sheikh Mujib’s metamorphosis from an organization man to a charismatic leader came in the 1960’s. After H S Suhrawardy’s death in 1963, the Awami League suffered a leadership vacuum. Sheikh Mujib missed no opportunity to exploit the political developments. Sheikh Mujib put forward his famous six-point demands at a conference in Lahore in February 1966. It sparked a political movement in East Pakistan. Military ruler Gen. Ayub Khan branded Sheikh Mujib as "secessionist' and threatened to use the 'language of weapon'. A conspiracy case known as "Infamous Agartala Conspiracy Case" was filed against Sheikh Mujib and some of his close associates.

The six-point movement received total support from people of all walks of life including the Hindus. A mass upsurge in September 1968-March 1969 swept over all over Pakistan, resulting in the collapse of Gen. Ayub's first Martial Law regime. The release of Sheikh Mujib and Moni Singh other political party leaders was applauded by the people of this land. On February 21, 1969, the top student leaders provided the leadership of different political parties. Sheikh Mujib was accorded a hero’s reception at Ramna Race Course. Student leader Tofail Ahmed, on behalf of the people, conferred the title of “Bangabandhu (friend of Bangal) on Sheikh Mujib.

On March 25, 1969, Ayub Khan was ousted from power and General Yahia Khan took over the helms of affairs of Pakistan.The rapid polarization in the East-West Pakistan relationship during the Ayub era opened up newer possibilities for the Hindus. The Muslim League and communal politics became totally discredited among the Bengali Muslims. Bengali nationalist Muslims were now fighting against the ruling West Pakistani Muslim elite. The Bengali nationalists were espousing the causes of secularism, unfettered democracy, provincial autonomy, and equal rights for all citizens for which the Hindus had fought a long time. The schism between the Muslims of the two wings of Pakistan led to the regrouping of the Hindus with the Awami League. The Hindu regrouping was manifested in the 1970 elections and the Bangladesh liberation movement.

After the imposition of martial law, the Hindu community retreated from the mainstream Bangladesh life. Hindu advancement in politics ended with the collapse of the parliamentary system. The repressive, anti-Hindu and anti-Indian martial law regime forced the Hindus to retreat. The Hindus were always free to migrate to India. This very fact explains the lack of any serious effort on the part of the Hindu leaders to rebuild their political base and their gradual retreat. Had there been no opportunity to migrate to India, they would have made serious attempts to re-emerge politically. After partition, most of the prominent Hindu leaders left East Bengal in despair, having lost all hopes for effective political participation in Pakistan where a single Muslim communal party was monopolizing political power. The remainder of the Hindu leadership concentrated on articulating minority grievances and seeking democracy and constitutional safeguards for the community…In an attempt to ally with the Bengali Muslims, the Hindu leaders espoused Bengali causes in the central and provincial assemblies…During the period 1954-58, they shared political power with the majority community both at the center and Provincial assemblies.

In East Bengal, their support was instrumental in determining the fate of the different coalition governments they took part in constitution making. They were successful in getting their most important demand, the joint electorate, incorporated in the Constitution of Pakistan and 23% quota in public offices and civil services.

After five decades, socio-polico existence of Hindus is nowhere in Bangladesh. Death of Hindu nation in Bengal to day would be the death of Hindus in India. Because, what Bengal thinks to-day, India will think to-morrow, as said Tilak in the last century.

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

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

Part- IV: Riot In East Bengal In 1950

Part-V: Pundit Nehru, Indira Gandhi Visit Bongoan Refugee Camps in March 1950

Part-VI : The Hindu Leaders in East Bengal

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