Chapter 1 - Background : Pre-Partition Bengali Society
Chapter 2 - The Countdown : Politics of Bengal between two partitions, 1905-1947
Chapter 3 - The Three Horrors of the Forties
Chapter 4 - Partition, at last
Chapter 5 - The Push Begins, gently : 1947-1950
Chapter 6 - Push comes to Shove : The killings of 1950 and the Nehru-Liaquat Pact
Chapter 7 - The Steady, Ungentle Squeeze, 1950-71
Chapter 8 - The Gory Climax : The Holocaust of 1971
Chapter 9 - Blowing Hot and Cold : Hindus in the Bangladesh Era
Chapter 10 - The Eerie Silence : The Meaning of the Word 'Secular'
Chapter 11 - Now What?
Appendix 1 - Jogendra Nath Mandal's Resignation Letter to Liaquat Ali Khan
Appendix 2 - List of Persons Interviewed
This book is a forceful exposure of atrocious human rights violations in the erstwhile East Bengal, later known as East Pakistan after the partition of India in 1947 and till later as Bangladesh since its independence in 1971. The author, Tathagata Roy, an engineer by profession with a legal background, thoroughly researched books and written documents supplemented by oral history based on interviews of witnesses. Though based in India he has family roots in East Bengal. However, he has tried to get over the personal factor and present an objective outlook.
Hindu-Muslim relationship in India has always been a controversial topic. Anyone speaking on behalf of a particular community is likely to be doubled as communal. Yet, truth demands outspokenness. Knowledge advances on controversies. Anyone who does not like the author’s point of view must come forward with contradiction based on contrary evidence so that truth may ultimately come out in the open. Secularism does not call for the suppression of truth, however unpalatable that may be.
With such an attitude of mind one should go through this book. It may be said that the book presents only one side of the picture. But nothing prevents one from presenting the other side.
The author strongly argues that silence in this behalf is not golden. Secularism, he contends, does not demand suppression of facts.
In my view, the author’s marshalling of facts is stimulating and persuasive, Whether one agrees with him or not, one will be impressed by the author’s approach towards truth of this painful situation with penetrating zeal. The book may be controversial but cannot be called communal,
This book is a truthful record of the continued human rights violation in our neighbouring country. Without meaning any disrespect the author presses for the remedy of an unbearable situation. This book is recommended for all discerning readers for careful critical study.
Pratap Chandra Chunder
Formerly Union Minister of Education,
Social Welfare and Culture
As prefaces go, this is rather a long one, but there are reasons for it. I strongly suggest that the prospective reader go through it carefully. It is important for appreciation of certain aspects of the book.
The topic is already very nearly forgotten. It would be completely so in another twenty years when the people, who saw it all happen, die away. I did not see it happen, but at some stage of my life formed an abiding interest in my roots, and therefore in the subject. The subject is the persecution, partly state-sponsored, qualifying as human rights violation, and the resultant exodus of Hindus from what was once known as Eastern Bengal. This ‘Eastern Bengal’ later came to be known as East Pakistan, and is now known as Bangladesh. This exodus began with the independence and the partition of India and that of the province of Bengal, became a flood during the East Pakistan days and continues, though to a lesser extent, to this day.
The stated purpose of this book is to put on record this major case of human rights violation ; and also to trigger further research on the subject ; and further to point out the extent to which it has been concealed. To restate the same on a different plane, the purpose is to tell the post-1960 generation of Bangladeshi Muslims on the one hand and of Indian Bengali Hindus with East Bengali roots on the other, what their ancestors did, the former to the latter, and how the latter swallowed and concealed it.
The purpose of the book is not, repeat not, to create disaffection between Hindu and Muslim or between India and Bangladesh. It is my firm belief that telling the truth does not create disaffection, but concealing it may do so, at least in the long run. However, if such disaffection does result then it is again my belief that the same should be taken care of by means other than suppressing the truth. Preferably by facing it, and also facing the fact that the post-independence generation in either country and either religion have not been told the truth, from mala fide motives.
Very strangely, in these times when world opinion quickly crystallises to condemn any human rights violation, this is one of the very few cases that has all but escaped the attention of the world, even of most of India. Even people who are vaguely aware of the human rights violations in East Bengal suffer from very basic and serious misconceptions about certain aspects of the matter. This is mainly in relation to the aftermath of the exodus and a comparison of refugees from the two erstwhile wings of Pakistan – in other words a comparison between Punjabi and Bengali refugees. The fundamental difference between the two migrations was that the first was a violent, one-time, but two-way affair while the latter was – and is – a continuing one-way traffic, the result of periodic gentle, and not-so-gentle, squeezes. This difference is not only not appreciated by most people ; it is not even known to them.
But, precisely because of this ignorance, the question might be asked, why am I talking about the movement of Hindus alone? What about the reciprocal movement of Muslims from West to East Bengal? The simple reason why I am not talking about any such thing is that there was no such thing, no such reciprocal movement. Muslims have not left West Bengal in any number worth mentioning. This fundamental difference between the human migration in Bengal and that in Punjab simply cannot be overstated. In Punjab, after January 1948, no Muslim was left on the Indian side, and no Hindu or Sikh on the Pakistani side – literally. On the other hand, religious violence in the wake of partition in Bengal, unlike in Punjab, has been strictly a one-way affair. In Punjab there was a Patiala massacre (of Muslims) to match a Sheikhupura (of Sikhs and Hindus), but there is no parallel of the Meghna Bridge or Jagannath Hall massacres in West Bengal.
In fact there has been quite the opposite. The Radcliffe award gave Muslim-majority Murshidabad district to India, and in return Hindu-majority Khulna district went to Pakistan. Today the proportion of Muslims in Murshidabad is much more than what it was at the time of partition, while the Hindu population of Khulna has decimated. There is no Jhulan-jatra any more in Dacca, but Idd and Muhurrum are celebrated with all pomp and glory in Calcutta. Infiltration of Bangladeshi Muslims into the border districts of West Bengal and Bihar goes on unabated, and that into Assam has reduced – not stopped – only after a bloody revolt.
It is these sources in Bangla that have largely formed the foundations of my research on the subject. The sources of information in printed form have all been referenced in endnotes. Very little of the contents of this book are based on personal experience. I was born in 1945, and the problem had mostly (though not completely) solved itself – as all human problems do, given time – by the time I was mature enough to attempt any serious observation. A substantial part is based on interviews of persons who have seen it all happen with their own eyes, as also others, in India and Bangladesh, and a few in the United States. The interviews were all conducted during the writing of this book, between 1999 and 2001. Quite a few of the interviewees were in their sixties and seventies, some in their eighties, and the events they were trying to describe had taken place some fifty years ago ; it is therefore possible that some inaccuracies had crept in. There is some hearsay also, kept down to the barest minimum. Wherever possible their names and relevant particulars of the persons interviewed have been given. Some of them have wished anonymity, and such wish has been respected. A complete bibliography, list of interviewees and a set of acknowledgements appears at the end of the book.
The questions may well be asked : who is this author, is he qualified to write something like this? And what is the point of writing it anyway, instead of letting bygones be bygones? The last contention is patently puerile – if accepted it would do away with all unpleasant chapters of human history. And it is my duty to answer the rest of the questions too. Also, in the final analysis, for a person like me who does not habitually write books, the provocation to write a book like this must come from something that is intensely personal. It is also my duty to explain this angle.
I am, of all things, a Civil Engineer by training, with also a degree in Law, teaching and working professionally in the interface area of the two disciplines. I am also into active politics, in the Bharatiya Janata Party to be specific, where I head the West Bengal state unit. I have had no formal training in historical, political or sociological research. My interest in the subject primarily stems from the fact that I find the contemporary history and politics of Bengal a fascinating subject, and also that I am Hindu, and my parents came from East Bengal, though I have lived most of my life in Kolkata or Calcutta. My grandfather on my father’s side was a Naib, a sort of Zamindar’s manager (the term is explained in the text) in Satgaon, a tiny village near Brahmanbaria, a subdivisional (now a district of Bangladesh) town in the erstwhile district of Tipperah in East Bengal. My father, a physicist by training, and then a foreman in Survey of India’s Mathematical Instruments Office, had been living in Calcutta for many years when I was born, and my immediate family did not suffer in any significant way as a result of the partition of Bengal and the resultant exodus.
My only claim to any kind of skill in this subject is that certain aspects of the exodus have been troubling me since my childhood, and I have tried to read up all I could on the subject. As I have said earlier, there is precious little, and quite a bit of it in Bangla, which being my mother tongue I had no difficulty with.
As I am not trained or equipped to write History I shall not claim that this book constitutes History. It could perhaps qualify as a political essay. I can however, justifiably contend that it contains an organised presentation of a large number of hitherto unpublished facts, and some published only in Bangla. It also contains inferences from facts, mostly my own, but also of others from published works, interspersed with the facts. And finally, it contains a full chapter on the hiding of history, and why and how this was done.
Now, what happened to trigger my interest in the subject was that when I was a child of eight or so, I had an occasion to pass through the Sealdah railway station of Calcutta sometime in 1952 or 1953. The Sealdah railway terminus was the hub of the railway network that then connected Calcutta to East Bengal, and the foyer and the forecourt of station in those days was something that would put even the present-day squalor of my home town to shame. I saw, with those eyes that only a child has, an emaciated family of some six or seven huddled in a space of about forty square feet in which the mother was trying to nurse a howling baby (the udder must have been dry for several days, I realised much later) while at the same time trying to cook some gruel from vegetable peelings on a fuel of semi-combustible garbage and pieces of rubber tyres. The rest of the family (a middle-aged man, a few naked boys and girls) lounged about listlessly, all within the said forty square feet, within a short distance of where they (and others) had relieved themselves. To this day I hold in my olfactory memory the putrid smells of the smoke from the cooking of the rotting vegetable, the stale urine, the smouldering garbage, the pungent burning-rubber smoke, the all-pervasive decay.
I was with my father, so I asked him who these people were. He said they were ‘refugees’, and upon some more insistent questioning from a precocious kid, let it be known, in steps and with some irritation (he was what is known in India as a ‘secular’ person) that they had been driven out of East Bengal because they were Hindus in a land of Muslims and had nowhere to go and were therefore here at the station.
I then asked him a question that totally discomfited him in a way I found rather strange, and he told me very brusquely to shut up. I was taken aback, for he was normally a very gentle person, and certainly not inclined to speak to his eight-year-old son that way. I did promptly shut up, but the question refused to go away. Now today, well into my fifties, I realise that whatever might have been the answer to the question, one can neither turn the clock back nor try to do what should have been done fifty years ago. On the other hand, it is totally dishonest, stupid, and even downright dangerous, to pretend that such things never happened. And yet that is what the country, including the East Bengali Hindus themselves, have been doing, for the sake of something that passes in India by the names of ‘communal harmony’ and ‘secularism’.
I realise that assailing this holy ghost of ‘communal harmony’ and 'secularism' may result immediately in my being dubbed ‘communal’ or ‘anti-Muslim’. Being called ‘communal’ by those who subscribe to the Left-Nehruvian concept of 'secularism' is something that I am prepared to live with, because I do not subscribe to that concept. However, in reply to the second possible charge I have searched my heart and have come up with the answer that I am not anti-Muslim. On the other hand I am decidedly anti-anti-Hindu. If that term did not exist before then I claim full credit for coining it.
To these champions of communal harmony I have quite a few questions to put:
Can ‘communal harmony’ justify denying mass-scale state-sponsored persecution, ethnic cleansing, arson, rape, murder and mayhem and the pauperisation of some eight million people – in fact denying history?
Should communal harmony encourage collective forgetfulness of a sordid chapter in the life of a people?
Would anyone, in the name of promoting German-Israeli or Jewish-Gentile goodwill, seriously consider denying that the holocaust took place? Or, in the interest of good relations between Blacks and Whites, hide the stories of slavery and the unimaginable human rights violations against Blacks that took place in the U. S. South in the years of racial segregation and in South Africa during the apartheid era?
Is it not infinitely more preferable in such cases to come out with what happened, analyse the reasons (including the reasons for denial, if any), and then say, in the manner of the wall at the former concentration camp at Dachau : “Plus Jamais, Nie Wieder, Nikogda Bolshiy, Never Again”?
Is it not one of the purposes of writing History to learn lessons for the future?
And is it not possible, if such lessons are not learnt, that History might truly repeat itself, and some future generation of Hindus of West Bengal at some date in the future might find themselves in the same plight, with nowhere further west to go?
I think it is quite possible. Some signs are already visible. Hence this book.
“Khoma jetha kheen durbolota
He rudro, nishthur jeno hote pari totha
Tomar adeshey. Jeno roshonay momo
Shottobakko jholi uthe khorokhorgoshomo
Tomar ingitey. Jeno raakhi tobo maan
Tomar bicharashoney loye nij sthan
Onnay je kore ar onnay je shohe
Tobo ghrina tare jeno trinoshomo dohe”
(Where forgiveness is but weakness, O Lord,
May I have the strength, by your command, to be merciless
May the truth flash from my mouth, like a cutlass, at your bidding.
May I do you honour by doing justice, as you would have done.
Let your divine ire burn those that do wrong
and also those that suffer wrongs in silence)
Klaivyam masmagamah Partha na etat tvayee upapadyate
Kshudram hridayadaurvalyam tyakta uttishthata parantapa
There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one's native land
- Euripedes, 431 B.C
This is a strange story of persecution, ethnic cleansing based on religion, related politics and en masse delusion, partly self-induced. As stories of persecutions in recent times go, the story is quite horrible, though by no means unparalleled. The Jews had been subject to much worse persecution in Europe through the ages, which reached its climax in Hitler’s Germany ; so had the Blacks in the segregation-era U. S. South and in apartheid-era South Africa, the Armenians in Turkey, Native Americans in the United States, Aborigenes in Australia. What Pol Pot, the Maoist dictator, did to his fellow Cambodians was many times more horrendous. The phrase ‘ethnic cleansing’ was coined during the expulsion of Bosnian or Albanian Muslims from the Serb-dominated areas of Bosnia or Kosovo, in the Nineteen-nineties. That ethnic cleansing was also quite horrible. Politics, mainly of self-aggrandizement of a few petty (and petty-minded) leaders at the cost of a hapless multitude is at the root of all these, and is an unfortunate, though essential, element. Also, not at all unusual.
It is in the delusional element that this story takes the cake. Certainly very few times in human history, probably never, have a group of people been subjected to mass destruction, eviction, arson, pillage, murder, bestiality, mayhem and massacre, and especially rape and brutalisation of their womenfolk, and thereafter have been told, partly by some of their own compatriots and leaders but also by others, that all this never happened. That in the interest of something very laudable called ‘communal harmony’, this is best forgotten, the faster the better, so that once the generation that went through it dies away, there would remain no records and no memory, neither smriti nor shruti. Then there is self-created or self-magnified guilt. If it happened at all, it was the victims’ own fault, because the victims (when they were not victims) didn’t talk nicely to the poor rapists and murderers (when they were not rapists and murderers), made them stand outside the house while they talked to them (Musolmandere amra daoay uthte dei nai, niche dara karaiya katha kaitam) ; aren’t rape and murder just punishment for such behaviour? Finally there is transfer of guilt. If there was anyone to blame for this it was not the people who took part in the mayhem and rape, but the people who gave refuge to the victims, because the refuge they gave was not good enough. That the villains were only apparently so, and the victims were damned anyway. That the real blame belonged not to the perpetrators, but to those who had led them astray (namely the British), and taught them to hate people who did not profess the same religion. That copious tears ought to be shed for the people after they were dispossessed and beaten, but looking at who had beaten and dispossessed them, and how, was verboten. All in the name of communal harmony, of course.
In short this is a story of standing logic and common sense on its head ; and of hiding the truth, passing off half-truths as the truth, adding a lot of garbage to the truth. The result of all this is that the exodus of Hindus from East Bengal does not figure in the list of great refugee movements of the world, although some eight million moved out – more than the present population of Switzerland. Even an approximate figure is not officially available. On the other hand, much smaller refugee movements such as those of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda and Timor have found a place in the annals of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Yes, there was one phase of movement which has found a place in the records. It is the exodus of Bengali Hindus and Muslims from erstwhile East Pakistan to India (mainly West Bengal) in the wake of Pakistani crackdown during the Bangladesh Liberation War. But not the exodus of the Hindus over the preceding twenty-three years.
But let us put first things first and take a look at the protagonists.
Bengalis are a people who speak the language Bengali, or Bangla, and had been living in Bengal, a province of the erstwhile British India. Calcutta was the capital of Bengal, and the city also used to double as the capital of British India till 1911 when it lost that honour to New Delhi. They still live there, that is to say in the land mass which once formed Bengal, with some serious redistribution of population with which this book is vitally concerned. The only difference is that there is no longer any place called Bengal. What was once Bengal is now divided principally into two parts, the Indian state of West Bengal and the Sovereign Republic of Bangladesh.
It cannot be said that the Bengalis as a people, are not worthy of note. It has been said that they are possessed of considerable intellectual prowess, alertness and openness of mind. It has also been said that they are irritable, indolent, argumentative, and tend to defy authority without any reason at all. Going by quite objective standards however, quite a few Bengalis have made their prominent marks in this world. Of the five ethnic Indians who have so far been awarded the Nobel Prize, namely Rabindra Nath Tagore, C.V.Raman, Hargobind Khorana, S. Chandrasekhar and Amartya Sen, (not counting Mother Teresa) two are Bengalis – Bengali Hindus actually, the first and the last. The third and the fourth are full-blooded Indians as well as Indian-born, though they later became U.S. citizens. Apart from these Nobel Laureates, Bengal can boast of such intellectual giants in different walks of life as the monk Swami Vivekananda, the novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the philosopher and mystic Sri Aurobindo, the scientists Jagadis Chandra Bose and Satyendra Nath Bose, the archaeologist Rakhaldas Banerjee, the jurist Radha Binode Pal, to name but very few.
One feature that distinguishes Bengalis is that they are unusually proud of, and exhibit an extraordinary attachment to their language, Bangla. The Bangla language is one of the several North Indian tongues descended from Prakrit and Sanskrit, and is written in a script that is very close to Devnagri, the script in which Hindi is written. The script is shared by the Assamese and Manipuri languages also. The language had absorbed a large number of Arabic and Persian words along the way, but retains its essential Sanskrit base. The language is a soft and mellifluous one, and its vowels are pronounced through rounded lips.
The Bengalis of the province of Bengal were however, not a monolithic lot, but were vertically divided by religion. According to the 1941 census 53.4 per cent of the Bengalis were Muslims and the rest Hindus, with a minuscule proportion of Buddhists and Christians thrown in. The province was divided into five administrative divisions, which were further subdivided into districts, as follows : Presidency division, consisting of the districts of 24-Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad, Jessore and Khulna and the Presidency town of Calcutta ; Burdwan division, with the districts of Howrah, Hooghly, Midnapore, Bankura, Burdwan and Birbhum ; Rajshahi division, with the districts of Rajshahi, Pabna, Malda, Dinajpur, Bogra, Rangpur, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling ; Dacca division, with the districts of Dacca, Faridpur, Barisal and Mymensingh (the largest district in British India) ; and Chittagong division with the districts of Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Noakhali and Tipperah. Apart from these districts of Bengal, the people of Sylhet district of Assam, adjoining the Tipperah and Mymensingh districts of Bengal, those of the princely state of Cooch Behar adjoining Jalpaiguri and Rangpur, and a large number among the people of the princely state of Tripura, and among those of the districts of Manbhum and Singhbhum in Bihar also largely spoke Bangla, and therefore were Bengalis. A map of the erstwhile province of Bengal, as it existed till the midnight of 14th August 1947 is at Fig. 1. The Bangla-speaking areas outside Bengal are also shown in the same map.
M A P - F I G.1
There was a vague and unofficial division of the province into three parts : East, West and North. West included the Presidency and Burdwan divisions ; North, the Rajshahi division ; and East, the Dacca and Chittagong divisions. There were substantial differences in the geography and the culture of the three parts. The West, particularly Burdwan division, had no navigable rivers, and some parts of the division were semi-arid ; however, the division had very large reserves of coal in its Ranigunge coalfields which had sired a large number of heavy industries in the region, including an integrated steel plant at Burnpur. The North was bounded by two great rivers, Padma and Jamuna (different from the Jumna or Yamuna which flows by Delhi and Agra ; this Jamuna is the Bengali incarnation of the mighty Brahmaputra of Assam). The region was criss-crossed by a number of swift-flowing tributaries of the two rivers. The East, as opposed to the two, was a low-lying flood plain, being a delta created by three huge rivers : Ganga, a snow-fed river, rechristened after entering Bengal as Padma; Brahmaputra, ditto, Jamuna ; and Meghna, a short but wide river fed only by rain, but from some of the rainiest places in the world, including Cherrapunjee. Certainly the major rivers, and practically all their tributaries and distributaries were navigable right through the year. In fact the usual means of locomotion in British East Bengal used to be the country boat, the nouka.
By some quirk of demography, West Bengal was Hindu-majority while East and North Bengal were Muslim-majority. This is quite paradoxical, if one considers the balance between the two religions in the South Asian subcontinent. If one travelled from West to East along the vast land mass known as Indo-Gangetic plain (Aryavarta) in those pre-partition days, when there were some Hindus and some Muslims in every part of the plain, one would have observed that the proportion of Muslims in the population would go on reducing as one went east. Thus, the North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and Sind were overwhelmingly Muslim ; Punjab was balanced, with a Muslim majority tapering off as one went from Attock to Ambala, west to east within the province ; and the United Provinces and Bihar were overwhelmingly Hindu. Then how is it that suddenly the pattern reversed itself in East and North Bengal, and then again fell into place in the easternmost province of British India, namely Assam? This question had perplexed Syed Mujtabaa Ali who had come to the conclusion that this was due to the arrival of Arab traders in the coastal towns of East Bengal, in the Chittagong-Barisal stretch who had settled down and brought and spread their faith in much the same way as they did in the Malabar region of present-day Kerala, or in Malaysia or Indonesia. Annada Sankar Ray writes in his Jukto Bonger Sriti (Memoirs of United Bengal) that a tradition existed in Chittagong of writing Bangla in Arabic script. He attributes it to maritime trade relations between Chittagong and Arabia from the pre-Islamic period.
The theory of Islam being spread by this trade-and-contact route, rather than by the conquest-and-conversion route, is plausible, and also attractive, but is probably not correct. Plausible, because a similar phenomenon was noticed in the case of a number of Portuguese who had settled down in those parts, and had created Roman Catholic pockets. Buddhadeb Bose writes in the first part of his autobiography Amar Chhelebela (Bengali) that he had seen a person of almost pure Portuguese blood in the coastal town of Noakhali in the 1920s who spoke the usual Noakhali dialect. Gopal Haldar, in his reminiscences of pre-partition Noakhali mentions two villages adjoining Noakhali town called Shahebghata (literally, wharf of the Europeans) and Ezbelia (Isabella?), inhabited by ordinary-looking folk but of the Catholic faith, and with names like Gonsalves and Fernandes. This theory, on the other hand, is probably not correct, because firstly, it cannot explain how faraway places in North Bengal, such as Rangpur and Dinajpur became Muslim-majority, while places more accessible on the riverine route, such as Lower Assam, did not ; also why the Portuguese, who were no less proselytizers than the Arabs, could not spread their faith. Finally, the theory is probably not correct because there is a better explanation.
That explanation is that this region, along with large parts of the rest of India and places as far west and north as modern-day Afghanistan and Xinjiang, had become entirely Buddhist, and by the sixth century or so this Buddhism had also become adulterated with diverse forms of animism, occult practices, promiscuity, and the like, something in the nature of what is known in Hinduism as vamachara, and had degenerated into a loose faith. The great Acharya Sankara set out on foot from faraway Kerala to set right this state of affairs and in a life of only 32 years got the country firmly back to the Hindu fold. It is possible that the Acharya could not reach the eastern parts of Bengal because of the relative inaccessibility of the delta. In fact the delta of Eastern Bengal was known in legend as Pandavavarjita Desha -- the land that even the Pandavas avoided. The population therefore remained Buddhist-Animist, and easily converted to Islam when the marauders from the west came to Bengal. Extensive ruins of Buddhist monasteries are found at Paharpur and Mahasthangarh in the northern parts of present-day Bangladesh. The Buddhist priest Dipankar Srigyan had set out from a village called Bajrajogini near Dacca to convert the whole of Tibet to Buddhism. Till today Hindu Bengalis, when they choose to be abusive, refer to Muslims by the term Neray (a diminutive of Naraa, meaning shaven-headed). And a lot of Bengali Muslims do tonsure their heads, which is believed to be a custom inherited by them from the Buddhist viharas (monasteries) which their ancestors atttended. All these bear eloquent testimony to the hold of Buddhism in East Bengal.
Assam, on the other hand, remained Hindu and did not convert to Islam because of the preachings of the great Vaishnavite guru Shankara Deva (not the same as the sage of the same name from Kerala) who gave a firm faith within the Hindu fold to the Assamese. In fact the Ahoms, who came from Thailand to settle in and rule Upper Assam, embraced Hinduism and remained Hindu.
The Muslims of East Bengal are therefore, in all probability, converts mostly from Buddhism-Animism and not from Hinduism. This view is also held by the eminent historian Vincent Smith, among others. The argument finds great support from the fact that Buddhism has yielded elsewhere, as it did in East Bengal, much more easily to Islam than Sanatan (Orthodox) Hinduism. Thus once-Buddhist Afghanistan and Xinjiang eventually became totally Muslim, while Hindu India did not. Similarly, Buddhist East Bengal became Muslim-majority, while lands to the west, which had become Hindu under the influence of Sankara remained Hindu.
Ashok Mitra of the Indian Civil Service has advanced a very different theory which he attributes to his Gurus in Anthropology and Demography, respectively Jatindra Mohan Datta and Sailendra Nath Sengupta. According to him these two gentlemen worked out the total number of Muslims and Christians that had come to India from outside upto the 17th century. They then extrapolated this figure to 1951 using the prevailing rate of increase in population. Deducting the result from the total number of Muslims in India and Pakistan they came to the conclusion, among others, that ninety-five percent of the Bengali Muslims had been Hindus in the last, that is the nineteenth century. This is very interesting, but leads to a number of total absurdities. First, it is inconceivable that the number of Hindus converting to Islam would be more in the British age than in the Moghul or Nawabi age. There were several incentives to convert during those earlier ages, while there were only disincentives during the British times, at least upto the beginning of this century. Secondly any estimate of the total number of Muslims who entered India might be made, if at all, with some difficulty, but to estimate how many of them entered Bengal seems impossible. How they surmounted this obstacle is not mentioned in Ashok Mitra’s book. Thirdly, this theory does not explain the anomaly of sudden increase in Muslim population in East Bengal as one goes from West to East.. Lastly, it presupposes that the rate of growth of population is the same among Hindus and Muslims whereas in fact it is not so ; the latter was always more than the former. Ashok Mitra does not endorse the conclusions of his Gurus, but cites them without comment. Neither Syed Mujtabaa Ali nor Annada Sankar Ray are confident that their views are correct or even supported by a substantial historical school.
M.R.Akhtar Mukul, a prominent present-day Bangladeshi intellectual, has tried an explanation in his book 'Purbapurusher Sandhane' (in Bangla, meaning 'In Search of Our Ancestors') . In this book also he has supported the contention that the Muslims of East and North Bengal are mostly converts from Buddhists. He has commented upon the absence of recorded history of Bengalis in the period between the decline of Buddhism in India and the coming of Sufi saints to Bengal. Finally he has also concluded that the simple appeal of the Sufis, who preached a form of Islam in which Allah, the Muslim God, was looked upon as an object of love rather than fear, proved to be irresistible to the massses of Eastern Bengal. These masses, according to him, were at the lower end of the caste spectrum under the Brahminical hierarchy, and were an oppressed lot. They eagerly embraced the egalitarianism of Islam, and that is how Eastern Bengal became Muslim majority.
While the theory is basically in tune with the likely theory postulated earlier, Mukul has not been explicit as to whether the masses first converted from Buddhism to Hinduism, and then to Islam or directly from Buddhism to Islam. His emphasis on the presumed Brahminical oppression suggests the first, while in all probability the second is what had actually happened. In his analysis as well as the interview that this author had with him (see Chapter 10) Mukul had also betrayed a strong dislike for Hinduism, or what he calls the 'Brahminical religion'. From the the annihilation of Buddhism in the plains of India (which has been referred to earlier in connection with the travels of Acharya Sankara) he has conjectured that Buddhists were also annihilated all over India, without revealing any basis for such a presumption, and without taking any account of the fact that ruins of Buddhist shrines, like Mahasthangarh in North Bengal or Nalanda in Bihar, had existed through the Hindu period, to this day without being vandalised. And last of all, his theory does not explain why what happened in Eastern Bengal did not happen in western part of Bengal, Magadh or Mithila regions (now parts of the Indian state of Bihar) or Avadh, Tirhut, or Rohilkhand (now parts of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh) - after all the Sufis could not have reached Eastern Bengal without passing through these regions, and there is no reason why the Sufis would not have tried their proselytisation in these parts. What, then, is the reason why the people responded to the Sufis in Eastern Bengal while they did not do so in such large numbers in Western Bengal, Magadh, Mithila, Avadh or Rohilkhand? The only plausible reason appears to be the extremely tenacious hold of Sanatan Dharma, as opposed to the looseness of the Buddhist-animist faith.
It appears that the subject has not been adequately researched. It is doubtless a very interesting topic of demographic research but the results, whatever they may be, may cause trouble, which may explain the reluctance to research.
The pattern of population in pre-1947 Bengal was roughly as follows : the province had one huge city and its industrial-commercial hub, its capital Calcutta. The rest of the province was known as moffussil, a region generally looked down upon by the inhabitants of the big city. In this region there were a few minor towns, such as Dacca, Chittagong and Darjeeling, but the rest was predominantly rural. As already said, the western part of the province, including Calcutta, was Hindu-majority while the north and the east were predominantly Muslim. Even here there was an interesting pattern. The towns of even the east and the north, such as Dacca, Mymensingh, Chittagong, and Rajshahi, were all Hindu-dominated. Meghnad Saha in a speech before the Indian Parliament had said “ . . . the city of Dacca, the biggest city in Eastern Pakistan, it had a population of 200,000 before partition. 70 per cent of it were Hindus --- 140,000. They owned 80 percent of the houses there. . . . . I know it because I come from Dacca”. The same position is stated by Annada Sankar Ray. The countryside on the other hand, was overwhelmingly Muslim.
Bhabatosh Dutt writes of the vibrant life the Hindus had in the pre-partition East Bengal towns. “In Daulatpur (a small town in Khulna district where he spent a part of his boyhood) a great attraction for us boys was the ‘Boikali’ or ‘Thakurer Shital’, sweets and coconut milk distributed at the temple of Dadhivamana every evening during the month of Baisakh (mid-April to mid-May) . . . . College students used to celebrate Saraswati Puja with great pomp and pageantry, and used to decorate the temple with branches of trees and flowers”. About Dacca, where he used to live in the suburb of Wari, he writes “Durga Puja was not celebrated in Dacca in public pandals as it is now done in Calcutta. We used to go to Moishundi, Sutrapur and the Ramakrishna Mission beyond Tikatuli to see Durga Puja. But the main puja in Vaishnavite Dacca was not Durga Puja but the famed Jhulan and Janmashtami processions taken out from Nawabpur and Islampur. The most memorable part of these two processions were the shong (clowns) that used to be at their heads and used to abuse each other”. When he moved to Burdwan in West Bengal to teach at the Raj College in 1933 he found it a great comedown from the rich and vibrant cultural life of the towns of East Bengal.
The Hindus of East Bengal were great promoters of education. Every major town in East Bengal could boast of a school or a college founded by private charity of Hindus. After partition the names of these institutions were not changed, but simply abbreviated, with the result that the names of their founders were virtually lost. Thus, Brajamohan College of Barisal, Anandamohan College of Mymensingh and Murarichand College of Sylhet respectively became faceless, meaningless, B.M. College, A.M. College and M.C. College.
The land tenancy system in British Bengal was the familiar Zamindari system established by the ‘Permanent Settlement’ of Lord Cornwallis, whereby land revenue was to be collected from cultivators or ryots by Zamindars or Landlords, and deposited with the district collector by sunset on a particular day, failing which the right to the Zamindari would lapse, and the entire fief of the Zamindar would be put to auction. Later the system was further formalised by enactment of the Bengal Tenancy Act. Most, though by no means all, of the Zamindars even in the east and the north were Hindus, and the major Zamindars, whether Hindu or Muslim, were among the most respected members of their respective communities. Some of these Zamindars, such as those of Dacca or Burdwan, were big enough to be called Nawab or Maharajah, depending on whether they were Muslim or Hindu respectively.
In terms of occupation and distribution of wealth there was great imbalance. While there were a substantial number of Muslim Zamindars, the professions and the lower echelons of the civil services were overwhelmingly Hindu (the higher echelons were largely British) and that too confined to three higher castes of Brahmin, Kayastha, and Baidya. The Probashi magazine in the 1930s, a respected Bengali monthly of those days, published a survey which showed that it was in only two occupations out of some twenty-odd that Muslim outnumbered Hindus : the common cultivator and the beggar. Thus there was a distinct middle class among the Hindus, but only the rich and the poor among the Muslims.
Now who was responsible for the majority community, namely the Muslims, being so far backward compared to the Hindus? Certainly not the Hindus, although that is an impression cleverly sought to be created by a section of post-partition Hindus as a part of the delusional exercise. The fact of the matter was (here we are talking about the all-India position) that the Muslims, upon being overthrown by the British from the power that they had enjoyed during the last seven hundred years or so, chose to withdraw into a collective cocoon, and doggedly refused to accept western thoughts. The Hindus, on the other hand, with their tradition of plurality of culture, eagerly embraced what was given to them by way of western culture by the British – both the good and the bad. As a result, when the British wanted to recruit Indians to man the lower ranks of the burgeoning bureaucracy, for which a rudimentary knowledge of the English language was essential, only Hindus were available. There were some exceptions to this rule, such as Sir Syed Ahmed’s establishing of the Aligarh Muslim University, but by and large Muslim leaders advocated a retrogressive path and encouraged all believers to shun western thoughts.
Was the position in Bengal any different than this all-India picture? It appears that it was, in some respects at least. It appears that the Bengali Muslim was slightly ashamed to be Bengali. The Bengali Muslim spoke Muslim Bangla, which differed slightly (in those days) from standard Bangla in the large number of Arabic and Persian words thrown in. This is not to say that standard Bangla did not have Arabic and Persian words. It had many, but Muslim Bangla had quite a few more, particularly in regard to salutations and familial relationships, and in fields that had anything to do with religion. One tell-tale word is the word for water, which to all Bengali Hindus is Jol, and to all Bengali Muslims is Pani. Both variants of the language was replete with Arabic and Persian words such as Ain-Kanoon (Law), Purdah (Curtain), Munshi (Clerk). A Hindu meeting another would greet him by saying Namoshkar, and would address a younger person in a letter as Kalyanieshu, while a Muslim would say Salaam Alaiqum and Doabareshu under similar situations. To a Hindu one’s mother’s sister would be called Mashi, father’s sister Pishi, and elder sister’s husband Jamaibabu, while to a Muslim they would respectively be called Khala, Fufa and Dulhabhai. However the schism between the two variants of the language was not such that one community could not understand the other.
The Bengali Muslim in those days was embarrassed of the fact that he spoke Bangla, and not Urdu which was the written language of all Muslims of the Aryavarta, the entire stretch of North India from Bihar to the Northwest frontier, and the written and spoken language of the Muslims of the United Provinces. Part of the reason for the embarrassment was the fact that Bangla, even the Muslim variant, has its foundations solidly in the Indian classical language Sanskrit, and is written in a typical North Indian script closely related to Devnagri (in which Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi and Nepali are written), and is therefore essentially Hindu. Urdu, on the other hand, is actually Persian words put in Hindi grammar (quite like Yiddish, which is Hebrew words into German grammar, and Afrikaans, Bantu words into Dutch grammar) and written in the Qoranic or Arabic script, and is, therefore, considered essentially Muslim. In his inimitable work of humour in Bangla Birinchi Baba, Rajshekhar Bose writes of a humble Muslim coachman Bachhiraddi, who hailed from Faridpur (a small town in East Bengal in the district of the same name). Bachhiraddi claimed that his real name was “Mredam Khan” (an imposing but improbable name), and he was not really from Faridpur but from “Arabia (also known as Turkh), where everyone wore Lungis and spoke Urdu” (an absurd statement). In this ridiculous, confused and pathetic statement of an illiterate coachman lay the shame of being a Bengali Muslim of those days. This shame was further accentuated by the horizontal division of Bengali Muslim society into Ashraf and Atrap, which has been described later in this chapter.
Rafiuddin Ahmed, a Bengali Muslim himself, is even more forthright. In his short but important work ‘The Bengal Muslims 1871-1906 : A Quest for Identity’ he writes “A dominant feature of the nineteenth-century Islamisation was the attempted rejection of virtually all that was Bengali in the life of a Muslim as being incompatible with the ideas and principles of Islam. The preachers’ conception of Islamic polity was based on a vague notion of Middle Eastern values, and it was their dream so to transform the lives of the ordinary Muslims that they conformed exclusively to this trans-Indian pattern”. This is actually in keeping with the conflicts that Islam has engendered among the converted peoples, something observed with astounding clarity by the famous author Sir Vidia S. Naipaul (see Chapter 11 for a complete quotation).
The language problem of the Bengali Muslims sometimes gave rise to strange results. Annada Sankar Ray writes of the electoral contest between the patrician Urdu-speaking Khwaja Nazimuddin and the plebian Bangla dialect-speaking Fazlul Haq. Khwaja Nazimuddin, according to Annada Sankar, spoke atrocious Bangla, and just for that reason lost to Fazlul Haq despite having the backing of the powerful governor of Bengal, Sir John Anderson.
The two communities stood strictly parallel and separate like the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. There was very limited interaction between the two at the social level . There were said to be some exceptions, notably in Sylhet, probably as a result of higher literacy there among Muslims. This author had heard from her mother that when her family were the tenants of a Muslim houseowner in Sylhet town, one of the wives of the houseowner was a regular visitor to their house. Nirad C. Chaudhuri observed in his ‘Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’ that in his childhood he found Hindu society to be indifferent to Muslims, but as early as in 1907 hostilities developed, and there was talk of attacks by Muslims upon Hindus at Kishorganj and Kalikachchha. Among the economically stronger and the culturally more thriving Hindus, even touching a Muslim was considered sinful, to be washed away with cowdung and holy water from the River Ganga (following the exodus of Hindus from East Bengal, the apologists for the Muslims have tried to explain that mass rape, murder and mayhem was just punishment for such behaviour). To a Muslim a Hindu was an infidel, a non-believer who indulged in the hateful practice of idolatry, and also economically an exploiter and oppressor. Beef, which the Muslims ate with gusto, was the embodiment of everything sinful to the Hindus, because it involved killing of the cow which the Hindus considered to be their mother. Both communities ate goat meat, but the Hindu had to have the goat slaughtered by severing the head from the body in one chop, while the Muslim had to have it Halal, a process in which the throat of the goat is slit and it is left to die bleeding. To the Hindu the Muslim was mlechchha or Jobon (Yavan), Neray, to the Muslim the Hindu was kafer, na-pak, malaun (all derogatory terms, like Nigger, Kike, or Polack in the United States, used to denote Americans of African, Jewish or Polish ancestry).
Chaudhuri further describes his own revelations later in life, when he was surprised to find that he himself, in spite of having come from deep inside Muslim-majority East Bengal, had only limited knowledge of their society. He recalls an encounter with rural Muslim clerics, whom he calls ‘the very set of men who were the most active promoters of Muslim group-consciousness’. This was when he was the secretary to Sarat Chandra Bose, elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose, and the president of the Congress in Bengal in the late thirties, and the Congress was trying to carry out a ‘Mass Contact Movement’ in order to endear itself to the Muslim masses of Bengal. He describes the encounter thus : “One day I saw a procession of Muslim divines trooping into Sarat babu’s house. I was quite familiar with the modern Muslim dress, but had no idea that these learned Muslims wore different clothes. They did, for they had green gowns on and big turbans on their heads. . . . . . even at Kishorganj in my young days I had never seen such figures. Their faces were grave, even stern. One face struck me very forcibly. It was pinched and peevish, but of an incredible ferocity. The eyes were large, black and burning, and in that emaciated face they looked even blacker and larger. His parrot-green gown, too was more resplendent than the others, but being of very cheap satin looked garish. He looked like an ill-dressed Robespierre, the sea-green Incorruptible. . . .”
It almost appeared that whenever the two communities showed any signs of coming closer, somebody or other rose to prise them apart. Titu Meer, a Muslim chieftain who won some fame in the 1830s trying to resist British troops from a fortress built of bamboos, went around teaching Muslims to have Arabic names, grow four-finger-long beards, and wear lungis instead of dhotis so that they would stand apart from the Hindus. Apparently not all Muslims listened to him then – Annada Sankar Ray mentions that as late as in 1937 he had found Muslim gentlemen wearing dhotis in Kushtia, a town in present-day Bangladesh. This is unheard of today in Bangladesh and extremely rare in West Bengal. Moulana Akram Khan, a converted Hindu Brahmin, editor of a Bangla magazine called Mohammadi, tried to doctor standard Bangla spelling so as to give it a Muslim flavour.
This is not to say that there was none who tried to bring the two communities together, only that they were too feeble, too few and too far between. It must be said that because of the basic plurality of the Hindu religion such persons were more numerous among the Hindus, although there were quite a few Muslims too. One such person was the poet Rabindranath Tagore who was also a medium-sized Zamindar. Almost all the cultivators in his Zamindaries of Patisar and Shahzadpur were Muslim. It was he who, upon his taking over as Zamindar, abolished segregation in the seating arrangements at official functions. He had said, in his inaugural address to his tenantry, that the Sheikhs (meaning Muslims, which was synonymous in the context with the poor cultivators) have to be saved from the clutches of the Sahas (meaning the Hindu moneylending class). On the political front the Congress party, and Fazlul Haq’s Krishak Proja Party, though generally identified with Hindus and Muslims respectively, tried to preach amity, however half-heartedly or ineffectively, between the communities, while the Muslim League was unabashedly anti-Hindu. The Hindu Mahasabha, led by Syama Prasad Mookerjee was a pro-Hindu party, but did not preach anti-Muslimism in any way (following independence it had been an irresistible temptation for the Nehruvian-secularist and negationist writers to equate Hindu Mahasabha with the Muslim League – more on this subject later).
There were a handful of Muslims in the field of literature and education who tried their best in this respect. Syed Mujtabaa Ali has already been mentioned. The poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, the Hindusthani classical music maestro Alauddin Khan, the educationists Kazi Abdul Wadud and Rezaul Karim, the publisher Abdul Aziz Al-Aman and many others – all of them tried to preach brotherhood and amity in their own way. One notable figure in this regard was S.Wajed Ali. One of his very poignant stories describes his wonderment when, after returning to a neighbourhood he had lived in many years ago, he heard a grocer reading the Ramayana to his son exactly the same way (he described it as a Snake-charmer's voice) he heard it many years ago. His comment was "The same tradition carries on, unbroken". In his Collection of Essays one finds a rare clarity of vision, an unusual catholicity of outlook. He does not mince words in attacking the religious bigots known as 'Kathmollahs', the purdah system, the vitriolic attack by the fundamentalists upon the Hindus, even the belief that to attain salvation there is no other way but to embrace Islam.
Although the fields of education, art and culture was dominated by the Hindus, and the backwardness of the Muslims was manifest, yet when a rare Muslim attained prominence in these fields the Hindus did not grudge them appreciation. Abul Mansur Ahmad, a prominent politician of the pre-independence and East Pakistan era and later a Cabinet Minister in Pakistan's Central Government led by H.S.Suhrawardy, (more on this gentleman in Chapter 3 onwards) recalled the period of his teaching at National School at Mymensingh in the 1920s. During this period he used to sport a beard, and wear a Lungi and a cap, and yet his high caste Hindu students would touch his feet when they met him on the streets - such was his popularity as a teacher. Abul Mansur Ahmad was also full of praise for a number of Hindu gentlemen in high stations for their catholicity of outlook. He mentions a tour by Jatindra Narayan Acharya Chaudhuri, Zamindar of Muktagachha (a very important Zamindari) to his village when he was only a boy. News of Abul Mansur's precocity (he had spoken insolently to the Zamindar's manager, because that manager had spoken similarly to Mansur's father and uncle) had reached the Zamindar's ears, and the Zamindar sent for him. Abul however refused to go - an unimaginable offence in those days, and remarked that the Zamindar could come to him if he wished to. The Zamindar was however vastly amused at this, and compared Mansur to the Hindu God Krishna, who as a boy had slain his uncle, the tyrant king Kangsa of Mathura. Abul Mansur Ahmad mentions a number of similar instances in which his daring but rightful stand was vindicated by his Hindu superiors through their sense of justice and fair play.
The sad part of the story is that people like Syed Mujtabaa Ali, Kazi Nazrul Islam Alauddin Khan, Kazi Abdul Wadud, Rezaul Karim, Abdul Aziz Al-Aman, S.Wajed Ali and Abul Mansur Ahmad were not the rule but the exception. A hundred of these well-meaning Muslim intellectuals were not equal to one fire-breathing Moulvi who could inflame passions among the faithful and against the infidels.
The mistrust that existed between the communities was bad enough, but it was fanned to the maximum extent possible by the British in pursuance of their ‘divide and rule’ policy. The activities of people like Sir Bamfylde Fuller, sometime governor of the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, have been described in the next chapter which will give some idea of the misdeeds of the British in this field. However the picture that historians in the post-independence Nehruvian-secularist and negationist era mentioned above have tried to draw – that the two communities were living in perfect friendship and harmony till the big bad wolf, namely the British, landed among them, is just a lot of wishful thinking, and probably worse. Equally unrealistic is their overemphasis on the existence of certain deities (such as Bonbibi of the Sundarbans, Satyapir, etc.) worshipped by both communities, and of certain minuscule in-between communities, such as Baul, Kortabhoja, Sahebdhoni and others.
A caveat must be entered at this stage. Because the two communities in Bengal grew and functioned separately or did not trust each other does not necessarily mean that the relation between the two were always hostile. In fact for most of the time it was neither friendly nor hostile – which is normal among men who mind their own businesses. However, and this is a very important however, it was possible to inflame communal passions among Muslims in the name of their religion very easily, and this was done very frequently. This was anything but easy among Hindus. The reason for this difference is twofold. Firstly, because of traditions and the no-alternative nature of Islam – Islam was spread by conquest, whereas Hinduism was spread by assimilation ; and also if one were a Muslim one believed in the teachings of the religion all the way – unlike in Hinduism, there are no grey areas. And secondly worship for Muslims being a community affair, and a religious compulsion five times every day at the local mosque, it was easy to address a large number, especially on Fridays, without making any special arrangements. It was this logistical advantage and this forum that were unabashedly made use of by the Hindu-baiting politicians, which ultimately resulted in the Hindus having to leave East Bengal.
As if this vertical division was not bad enough, both societies were further stratified horizontally, and that too in not one but two ways, that is socially and economically. The bane of Hindu society, caste distinctions, were the basis of the social division in that society. At the very top were the three upper castes, Brahmin, Kayastha and Baidya, followed by the intermediate castes such as Baishya Saha, Mahishya, Aguri etc., and finally at the bottom the lower castes such as Kaibarta, Napit, Dhopa, Bagdi, Hari, Dom etc.. An impression has gained ground that Bengali Muslims are a completely homogeneous lot but that is very far from the truth. Although practically all Hanafi Sunnis, the entire Muslim society was horizontally divided (and probably still is, if the writer Syed Mustafa Siraz is to be believed) between Ashraf (people who claim, rightly or wrongly, Afghan, Turkish, Persian or at least Northwest Indian ancestry) and Atrap (Muslims who are unadulterated Bengalis). Upper-caste converted Hindus also tried, and often succeeded in getting themselves classified as Ashraf. The names used for the corresponding groups in Northern India are, respectively, Sharif and Ajlaf or Arzal. There were, and still are, other vague and regional caste distinctions among the Bengali Muslims, such as Gerosti, Badia, Jola (Julaha), Sheikh, Syed, Moghul, Pathan, Khondokar, Nikiri, etc. There are separate mosques for the different groups in many villages, and marriage across some of the caste barriers are very rare. Needless to say, the Ashraf are the upper caste. Some of them look down upon the Atrap to such an extent as to use for them the extremely derogatory term, Pati Neray – in fact an Ashraf Muslim minister of post-partition West Bengal used to use it for an Atrap colleague. This was the reason for Rajshekhar Bose’s poor Atrap Bachhiraddi’s claim that he was not a Bengali from Faridpur, but from Arabia (and therefore Ashraf), where everyone spoke Urdu!
As for the economic division, Hindu society had three tiers : Borolok (literally ‘big’ or rich men), Moddhobitto Bhodrolok (literally ‘middle class gentlemen’), and Chhotolok or Baaje Lok (literally small, or insignificant men). Zamindars have already been described. They formed bulk of the rich or Borolok class. Apart from the Zamindars there was also a small, but very powerful group of big businessmen and industrialists ( such as Sir R. N. Mookerjee of Martin Burn fame, the Ship Chandlers and Stevedores of Calcutta Port, etc.), Barristers, and ICS men among the rich Hindu Bengalis. Although the term ‘Bhodrolok’ included the rich, it was especially reserved for the substantial middle class of Hindu Bengalis, the source of its literature, art, science and culture. These Bhodrolok were largely a salaried class doing clerical work at different tiers with the Government and the British ‘Merchant Offices’, but there was a fair number of professionals, mostly teachers, doctors and lawyers, among them. This salaried-professional bias was so strong in this community that small businessmen were actually looked down upon, and considered not quite Bhodrolok. The nouveau riche among them had a special name, Naboshakh. The rest, encompassing artisans, cultivators, blue-collar workers and the lot were lumped into the chhotolok or baaje lok category.
The Bhodrolok class was a fairly talented lot, and the Bengali intellectual giants born in the nineteenth century practically all came from this class, though there were quite a few from the Borolok class also. Raja Rammohun Roy, the social reformer who abolished sutee or widow-burning and established the Brahmo Samaj (a monotheistic faith in a formless God within the Hindu fold, founded on the Upanishads), and the great Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore were both from the Borolok class. The rest – the social reformer and educationist Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the freedom fighters Surendra Nath Banerjee, C. R. Das, J. M. Sengupta, the seer Ramakrishna Paramahansa, the religious reformer Swami Vivekananda, the novelist and composer of the Vande Mataram Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the educationist Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, the scientists Sir J.C. Bose Sir P.C. Ray and S. N. Bose – to name only a few, were all born to this class. All these gentlemen were fairly evenly divided between East and West Bengal. There were quite a few ladies too, such a the poets Aru and Taru Dutt, Kamini Roy, prosewriters Sukhalata Rao, Seeta Devi, Shanta Devi, Maitreyee Devi, the doctor Kadambini Ganguly, and others. The ‘Nightingale of India’, Sarojini Naidu (nee Chattopadhyay), distinguished poetess and politician, was also a full-blooded Bengali, though she was educated in Urdu at Hyderabad, and wrote in English.
As opposed to this picture of Hindu society, there was no middle class worth the name among the Muslims. There were the Zamindars like the Nawabs of Dacca or Comilla, rolling in wealth and luxury ; and there was the ryot or chashi, the common cultivator, living from hand to mouth. There were relatively few barristers, advocates or doctors, and practically no major entrepreneurs among Bengali Muslims. Even among non-Bengali Muslims operating in Bengal the only significant name was Ispahani. The number of white collar Muslims working for the government, though not totally insignificant, was much smaller than that of Hindus, primarily because of lack of English education. As for private service, except for enterprises owned by their co-religionists such as Ispahani, their number was very small.
Similarly, the number of leading intellectuals among the Bengali Muslims was very much smaller than that among the Hindu Bhadralok. The novelist Meer Mosharruff Hossain, the educationist Haji Mohammed Mohsin, the essayist Kazi Abdul Wadud, poets Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bande Ali Mian, Ghulam Mustafa, Jasimuddin, S.Wajed Ali and, of course, Syed Mujtabaa Ali mentioned earlier, are worthy of special note. Unlike among the Hindu intellectuals mentioned, there was not a single religious reformer among the Bengali Muslims. Likewise, there were very few intellectuals among their women. Jahanara Chaudhuri and Sakhawat Begum may be mentioned as exceptions.
This was the general picture. For most of the time peace prevailed among the two communities but sometimes the peace got a little uneasy. Occasional hostilities were reported, generally beginning with some insignificant event, such as catcalling or beating of drums within the hearing of a mosque or the teasing of some young girl of the other community. Each one of these quickly escalated into a communal riot which was promptly taken advantage of by the lumpen until put down by the police. Dacca town had become notorious for almost annual riots, probably because the two communities were more or less evenly balanced. They often used to take place in the wake of the once-famous Janmashtami processions of Dacca, when the drum-beating by the Hindus supposedly disturbed the Muslims at their prayers in their mosques. The victims of the riots were invariably innocent people who had happened to be in the wrong locality at the wrong moment. The usual crimes committed in the course of these riots were torching and other destruction of property, stabbing, a few murders ; and of course, almost invariably, rape and brutalisation of Hindu women.
Still, nobody thought of leaving home or migrating. The landscape of East Bengal, with its incredibly green paddy and jute fields and its wide, wide rivers, beels and haors (depressions in which huge water bodies were created by the monsoon rains) stretching away to the horizon, the beat of the Dhak at Durga Puja time, the lilting tunes of Bhaoaiya and Jaari Gaan (folk music), had been indelibly etched into the hearts of the East Bengal Hindu. This was his Desh, his Baari, his very own native land. Except for the few directly affected by them, the riots were considered mere irritants by the vast multitude of Hindus in East Bengal. They merely served to heighten the mistrust between the two communities. Nobody, almost without exception, among the twelve-million-strong Hindu community of East Bengal realised what sort of a powder keg they were sitting upon. Until 1946 and the Noakhali carnage.
 Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) Poet of extraordinary profundity, founder of Visva-Bharati University, first Indian Nobel Laureate (Literature, 1913) for his English translation of his own Gitanjali (Song Offerings) in Bangla, one of the best-known Indians the world over.
 Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (1888-1970) Second Indian Nobel Laureate (Physics, 1930) for discovery of Raman Effect in the molecular scattering of light.
 Hargobind Khorana (b.1922) Indian-born U.S. geneticist. Nobel Laureate (Medicine/Physiology, 1968)
 Subramanyam Chandrasekhar (1910-1995) Indian-born U.S. astrophysicist. Nobel Laureate (Physics, 1983)
 Amartya Sen (b. 1933) last Indian Nobel Laureate (Economics, 1998) famous for his Welfare Economics and his study of famines
 Mother Teresa ((nee Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) (1910-1997), Albanian-born Indian Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity at Calcutta. Nobel Laureate (Peace, 1979).
 Swami Vivekananda (nee Narendra Nath Datta)(1863-1902) Hindu sanyasin or monk, disciple of Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, founder of the Ramakrishna Math (monastery) and Mission and the Ramakrishna order of monks, who won world acclaim from his address at the Chicago Parliament of Religions, 1893 and practically singlehandedly introduced the profundity of Hinduism to the western world. He restored the self-confidence of the Hindus in the face of European political dominance
 Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (or Chattopadhyaya) (1838-1894) also called Rishi Bankim, one of the greatest prosewriters in Bangla, author of such classics as Kapalkundala, Ananadamath, Debi Chaudhurani, and many more, and of course of the immortal Vande Mataram, which in Sanskrit means ‘Hail Mother(land)’. The song is partly in Sanskrit and partly Bangla. The song had provided inspiration not only to the freedom fighters of Bengal who had chosen the path of violence, but also to the mainstream freedom movement in India under the aegis of the Congress. The song had been given the status of an associate National Anthem in India after independence, but only the Sanskrit part, because it was considered that the Bangla part refers to idol worship and might offend the Muslims. Subsequently Indian secularists have gone one step ahead and started decrying the whole song on the supposed ground that it is anti-minority. However the whole song still continues to inspire patriotism in a multitude of Indians, including minorities.
 Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghose) (1872-1950), Revolutionary-turned-mystic and philosopher, considered a saint by many. Suspected of responsibility for terrorist acts in Bengal, he was arrested (1908) and prosecuted by the British but later acquitted. While in prison, he underwent a spiritual experience. When released, he abandoned politics, renounced violence, and retired (1910) to the French possession of Pondicherry in southern India, where he studied Yoga, attracted a devoted group of disciples, and formed an ashram, or religious community, to further spiritual growth.
 Jagadis Chandra Bose (1858-1937) Physicist, famed for his work on the measurement of very minute responses from plants to external stimuli which was developed upon later by Bio-Physicists, and on the quasi-optical properties of very short radio waves which made significant contributions to solid state physics.
 Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974) Mathematician and Theoretical Physicist, known for his contributions to Statistical Mechanics in collaboration with Albert Einstein, known as Bose-Einstein Statistics. Postulated the existence of elementary particles called Bosons.
 Rakhaldas Banerjee (1885-1930) Archaeologist extraordinary, associated with the discovery of the ruins of Moenjodaro (now in Sind, Pakistan), the cradle of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
 Radha Binode Pal, Jurist of international acclaim, Member, Tokyo Tribunal for the trial of Japanese war criminals after World War II.
Syed Mujtabaa Ali (1904-1974) Eminent Bengali litterateur, scholar, linguist, alumnus of Santiniketan, disciple of Rabindranath Tagore. Ali, although an East Bengali Muslim, chose to live alone and die in India, while his family stayed on the other side of the border. Ali had spent considerable lengths of time in Germany (mainly doing research at Bonn and Heidelberg) in the days of the Weimar republic, and in Afghanistan during King Amanullah’s modernisation drive and the subsequent fundamentalist revolt. His works (in Bangla) contain substantial chronicles of the periods. With proficiency in no less than eight languages (Bangla, English, German, French, Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit) and a smattering of quite a few more, widely travelled, and with his formidable erudition, Ali was one of the nearest things Bengal has had to a world citizen.
 Annada Sankar Ray (b. 1909) A writer of distinction in Bangla, with contributions also to Oriya, is an ex-member of the Indian Civil Service. His observation here, as also elsewhere in this book, is from his Jukto Bonger Sriti (Memories of United Bengal), a small but important book published in 1989 containing autobiographical sketches of his stay at various places in East Bengal while serving in the ICS. While possessed of considerable literary skill and power of observation, Ray, unfortunately suffers from total lack of objectivity and tends to lapse into a state full of sentimental wishful thinking whenever he gets down to analyse the subject of Hindu-Muslim relations. Not unpredictably, he has been lapped up by the Indian ‘Secularists’.
 Jukto Bonger Sriti (Memories of United Bengal) (Bangla), Mitra & Ghosh, Calcutta, 2nd Ed.1990, p. 61
 Buddhadeb Bose, A Bengali poet and prosewriter of considerable distinction, spent his early life in Noakhali town and his college days in Dacca.
 Noakhalir Mati o Manush (Bangla, The Soil and the People of Noakhali), Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sinha Ed., Gyan Prakashan, Calcutta,1st Ed., 1991, p.167
 According to the epic Mahabharata, the five brothers Pandavas lost a game of dice with their cousins, the one hundred Kauravas, lost their kingdom and wandered all over India. There are very few parts of India that they did not visit. Pandavavarjita means areas so remote that even the Pandavas could not visit them.
 Vincent A. Smith, The Oxford History of India, 4th Ed., 10th Impression 1992, p. 801
 Ashok Mitra (1917-1999), a member of the Indian Civil Service, and an important Demographer, was the Census Commissioner of India. The quotations and references here are from his autobiography Tin Kuri Dosh (literally three score and ten in Bangla)in which he has recorded very detailed and astute observations. Although a self-confessed Communist sympathiser in his early days, there is remarkable objectivity in his remarks on the subjects. Important : He is not to be confused with the Economist of the same name who was the Finance Minister of West Bengal for some time and became famous for his remark “I am not a gentleman, I am a Communist”
 Indian Civil Service (ICS) was a cadre of bureaucrats which formed the ‘steel frame of British administration in India’. People of this service, about a thousand in number of whom half were British and the other half Indian, manned all the key Government posts in British India. They were selected through a very rigorous process, and were very powerful, very handsomely paid, and considered above suspicion. A number of them have left their mark in fields quite unrelated to colonial administration. Writings of three of them, Annada Sankar Ray, Ashok Mitra and Hiranmay Banerjee, have been used extensively as source material in this book.
 Tin Kuri Dosh (Three score and ten) (Bangla), Dey’s Publishing, Calcutta, Part II, 1st ed., 1993, p.106
 Sailendra Nath Sengupta was the Deputy Director of the State Statistical Bureau, and Jatindra Mohan Datta an Advocate and an Encyclopaediac. Ashok Mitra was coached in the relevant subjects by them in 1949 when he took charge of Census Operations.
 'Purbapurusher Sandhane' (In Search of Our Ancestors) (Bangla), Ononna, Dacca, 1st Ed., 2001
 Sufis are a mystical sect of Muslims who believe that human life is like a journey (safar) in search of God, and the ultimate objective of the traveller is to attain that perfect knowledge of God (ma'rifah) which is diffused through all things. . . . the unprejudiced student of their system will observe that Tasawwuf or Sufism is but a Muslim adaptation of the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophers (Dictionary of Islam by Thomas Patrick Hughes, see Bibliography)
 Meghnad Saha (1893-1956). An outstanding physicist, with original contributions to Astrophysics in his theory of Thermal Ionisation and its application to the Interpretation of Stellar Spectra. Saha hailed from Dacca city and moved to Calcutta after independence, and became one of the very few true champions the East Bengal refugees had ever known. He was elected to the Lok Sabha (Lower House), of the Indian Parliament from North-West Calcutta on a congress ticket in 1952, and held that seat till his death in 1956. Saha also served for some time on India’s Planning Commission.
 Bhabatosh Dutt (1911-1997) celebrated professor of Economics of Presidency College, Calcutta, teacher of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, spent his boyhood in Daulatpur (District Khulna) and in Dacca, and has recorded his reminscences in his autobiographical sketch Aat Doshok (literally 'Eight Decades' in Bangla), Pratikshan Publications Private Ltd., Calcutta 1st Ed., 1988
 Rajshekhar Bose (1880-1960) (pseudonym Parashuram) a Bengali humorist and litterateur with an unparalleled brand of very dry humour . Bose trained as a chemical technologist and held the top post in Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works, a pioneering Indian-owned venture, for many years. He also has to his credit a concise Bengali edition of the classic Mahabharata, and a Bengali dictionary, Chalantika.
 A Lungi is a wraparound worn by men below the waist, usually of checquered cotton, similar to a Sarong of Indonesia. As opposed to this, a Dhoti is a much longer piece of cloth, also worn by men below the waist, but wrapped separately around the two legs, and the tail passed between them and tucked in at the back. In Bengal the former was a hallmark of Muslims, the latter of Hindus. Nowadays a lot of Hindus wear lungis, but very few Muslims in West Bengal wear dhotis, and none in Bangladesh. This terminology is peculiar to North India, especially Bengal, and does not apply to South India.
 The Bengal Muslims 1871-1906 : A Quest for Identity, by Rafiuddin Ahmed, Oxford University Press, 2nd Ed., India Paperback 2nd Impression, p. 106
 Khwaja (also Sir) Nazimuddin, a scion of the Nawab family of Dacca, whose ancestors had come from Kashmir as traders and settled down in Dacca, eventually to become major Zamindars big enough to be called Nawabs. The family spoke, and probably still do, only Urdu and not Bangla. Nazimuddin, a prominent Muslim League leader had been a minister in Fazlul Haque’s coalition ministry of 1937, and Premier in the Muslim League ministry of 1943. He became the Prime Minister of Pakistan after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan.
 Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq (1873-1962) , also called Sher-e-Bangal (Tiger of Bengal),Premier of Bengal heading the Krishak Proja Party - Muslim League coalition in 1937-41, and the Progressive Democratic Coalition (also called the Shyama-Haq coalition) in 1941-43. Although supporting the Muslim League’s Pakistan resolution in 1940, Haq was a rarity among Muslim politicians of Bengal of his time who could look upon Bengalis as Bengalis, and not as Hindus or Muslims. After partition he became the rallying point of all opponents of the League in erstwhile East Pakistan, and sailed to a landslide victory in 1954 as the head of a United Front to become the Chief Minister of East Pakistan. The next year he made a trip to Calcutta where he made a speech advocating the reunion of the two Bengals. On return he was deposed but was later rehabilitated and taken as a Minister in the Pakistan central cabinet of Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, and was made the Governor of East Pakistan in 1956.
 Nirad C. Chaudhuri (1897-1999), centenarian, sometime secretary to political leader Sarat Chandra Bose, sometime broadcaster, and above all a prolific writer of nonfiction in Bangla and English. His celebrated works in English include Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, Continent of Circe, Thy hand, Great Anarch, and Clive of India. His writing is said to be coloured by his very strong Anglophilia (he had been living in Oxford for quite some time before his death) but is nevertheless very important. His great failing is said to be his tendency to show off his knowledge and erudition (which, however, were truly formidable). Excerpts from Chaudhuri in this book are from his Autobiography of an Unknown Indian and Thy Hand, Great Anarch.
 Kishorganj is a subdivisional town in erstwhile Mymensingh district where Nirad C. Chaudhuri was born and spent his childhood. Kalikachchha is a village in the Brahmanbaria subdivision of erstwhile Tipperah district where Chaudhuri’s mother came from. Coincidentally, this author’s mother also came from the same village.
 For a fuller and concurring view of the gap between the two religions in the subcontinent see ‘Freedom at Midnight’ by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, 1st Ed., Simon and Schuster, New York, 1975. pp. 36-42
 Thy Hand, Great Anarch, 1st Ed., Chatto & Windus, London, 1987. p. 469
 Sarat Chandra Bose (1889-1950) a leading barrister of the Calcutta High Court, philanthropist, one of the foremost Congressites of undivided Bengal. Although Bose occupied a premier position in the politics of the province for a long time he could leave little impression owing to his lack of political foresight. He died a broken man after independence.
 Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-?) known throughout India as ‘Netaji’ (The Leader), was indeed a leader with unbelievable charisma. His greatest achievements were all after he left the shores of India. Although he never had any formal military training, he organised out of British Indian POWs in Japanese camps in South-east Asia, the Indian National Army or Azad Hind Fauj, which fought the allied armies and along with the Japanese drove up from Burma (now Myanmar) to set foot on Indian soil at Mairang in Manipur on March 18, 1944. Meanwhile reverses were suffered by the Japanese, and severe strain on his supply lines forced him to retreat South and East. He was last seen at Taihoku, Taiwan, on August 19, 1945 boarding a plane. The official version is that shortly thereafter he died in a crash. This is not believed by many, and there are good reasons to think that he was taken prisoner by Russians somewhere in the Soviet Far East, and killed while in captivity. A bachelor till late in life, he married his secretary, the Austrian-born Emily Schenckl, before leaving Germany.
 'Babu' (or Baboo) is a suffix attached to the first name of a Bengali Hindu gentleman. Bengali Muslims never use it. The term was formerly used also as prefix to the full name of such a gentleman, e.g. Babu Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya. The word eventually also came to mean 'a clerk' because a large number of Bengali Hindus used to work as clerks. The word is gradually going out of use now.
 The Hindu Mahasabha was founded by Dr B.S.Moonje and was the principal party in British India to speak for Hindu interests, although the bulk of the Hindu support went to the Congress. It died a slow death after independence, and now exists only in name. Syama Prasad Mookerjee left this party in 1948 and formed the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in 1951. The principal pro-Hindu party in today’s India, and the principal party in the ruling coalition now in 2000, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is descended from this Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
 Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976), known as ‘Bidrohi Kobi’ (the rebel poet) was one of the most important Bengali Muslim litterateurs of all times. Born at Churulia, District Burdwan, West Bengal, Nazrul is famed for his fiery yet lyrical verse, his easy assimilation of Arabic and Persian words into Bangla, and his appeal cutting totally across religious lines. Nazrul preached Hindu-Muslim amity all his life, and is equally revered in present-day West Bengal and Bangladesh. He also fought in the First World War in Mesopotamia in the Bengali regiment. He spent the last years of his life as a vegetable, having been affected by an incurable brain disorder, and died in Dacca.
 S.Wajed Ali (1890-1951), a West Bengali Muslim from a distinguished family from Hooghly, and a Barrister and writer. One of his sons is Ahmed Ali, the famous photographer, and Ahmed Ali's daughter is Nafisa Ali Sodhi, sometime swimming champion and film actress. Wajed Ali's writings show an astounding clarity of thought, and ought to receive more recognition in promoting Hindu-Muslim amity.
 S. Wajed Ali Rochonaboli (Collection)(Bangla), Syed Akram Hussain Ed., 1st Ed., Bangla Academy, Dacca, Bangladesh, 1985
 Amar Dekha Rajneetir Ponchas Bochhor (Fifty Years of Politics, as I saw it) (Bangla) by Abul Mansur Ahmad, 8th Ed., Khoshroz Kitab Mahal, Dacca, Bangladesh, 1999, see pp. 11, 19, 27, 29, 77.
 Syed Mustafa Siraz, Contemporary powerful Bengali Muslim writer from Murshidabad, West Bengal. In Salma, a very poignant short story, he describes how the three Ashraf wives of the storyteller look down upon Salma, the fourth wife, who is Atrap.
 Jukto Bonger Sriti, ibid. p. 9
 Sir Rajendra Nath Mookerjee an outstanding industrialist who rose from a very humble and rural beginning to hold, under his Managing Agency Martin Burn Ltd., such giant and diverse industries as Indian Iron and Steel Co., Indian Standard Wagon Co., Burn & Co., Hooghly Docking and Engineering, several light railway companies, collieries, tea estates etc. As a pioneer among Indian industrialists he is considered in the same league as Sir Jamshetji Tata and Ghanshyam Das Birla, the founders of the house of Tatas and Birlas. Unfortunately, unlike the latter, his house failed to keep pace with the times and disintegrated when hit by a recession in the 1960s.
 A Barrister is a lawyer who has been ‘called to the bar’ from one of the ‘Inns of the Court’ of London, and has to adhere to an ancient and strict code of conduct. There are four such inns, namely Lincoln’s, Gray’s, Inner Temple and Middle Temple. Bengal has had a long love affair with this institution and still sends a few boys and girls each year to London to get trained for this purpose. As opposed to Barristers, indigenously trained lawyers were put into different classes such as Advocates, Pleaders, Vakils, Mukhtars etc. All these distinctions have now been abolished in India.
 Mirza Abol Hasan Ispahani, Scion of wealthy one-time Calcutta commercial and financial empire, M.M.Ispahani Ltd., one of Jinnah's’ closest personal friends in the party, a major backer and financier of the Muslim League. Ispahani’s role in the purchase and distribution of rice during the great Bengal famine of 1943, made possible through the largesse of Suhrawardy, was a shameful chapter in the history of the province at the time. The Ispahani empire continues, now based in Karachi.