Chapter 4


From the close of the war events all over India began moving with astounding rapidity. In Britain the Conservatives were defeated at the polls by the Labour Party, and the victorious Churchill had to make room for the quiet Clement Attlee. There was a mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy at Bombay on February 16, 1946 followed by that in the Royal Indian Air Force at Drigh Road, near Karachi. These two events completely shook the British in their faith in the undying loyalty of their Indian troops. In March 1947 Lord Wavell was replaced by Lord Mountbatten as the Viceroy, and the ordinary Lady Wavell by the truly remarkable Lady Edwina Mountbatten as Vicereine.

Meanwhile on September 2, 1946 the so-called Interim Government, consisting of ministers from both the Congress and the Muslim League, took office, in which Liaquat Ali Khan chose and got the Finance portfolio. He promptly turned out to be a complete stonewall to all proposals of the Congress, and the Interim Government was a government only in name. It was Lord Wavell, and later Mountbatten, the Viceroy, who both reigned and ruled.

The history of this period is well documented by authoritative persons such as Alan Campbell-Johnson, V.P.Menon, Penderel Moon, Leonard Mosley and others, and it is not necessary to recount the same except to the extent germane to the theme of this book. On June 3, 1947 the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Rt. Hon. Clement Attlee, rose in the House of Commons to announce the acceptance by the Government of the scheme to partition the country, and to table a statement by His Majesty’s Government to that effect. On June 20 the Bengal Legislative Assembly passed a motion for the partition of the province into East and West Bengal.

The decision to partition the province Bengal was a personal victory for Syama Prasad Mookerjee who had been indefatigably campaigning for such partition. The treatment that the Hindus got in the hands of the Muslims in East Pakistan after partition amply demonstrated his foresight in doing so. Jinnah was aghast at the proposal for partition and said that it was ‘a sinister move actuated by spite and bitterness’
[1]. At one point Mountbatten asked Jinnah about his views on Suhrawardy’s idea of ‘sovereign, independent Bengal’ and Jinnah said in reply without hesitation, “I should be delighted. What is the use of Bengal without Calcutta? They had much better remain united and independent. I am sure they would be on friendly terms with us.”[2] Stanley Wolpert, author of ‘Jinnah of Pakistan’ observes that Liaquat Ali also agreed with Jinnah on this question and remarked to Sir Eric Mieville[3], “that he was in no way worried about Bengal because he was convinced in his own mind that the province would never divide”[4]. Obviously the expectation was that Muslim-majority independent Bengal, with its great city of Calcutta, would eventually get rid of its Hindu minority and become a part, or at least a satellite, of Pakistan. It is this dream of theirs that was shattered by Syama Prasad. Some years later when Nehru has remarked to Syama Prasad that he and his party had consented to the partition of the country, he had retorted “You partitioned India ; I partitioned Pakistan”[5].

This ‘sovereign, independent Bengal’ was the brainchild of a few Hindu leaders of the Bengal Congress who had sided with those leaders of the League who were staunchly opposed to partition of the province. Among these Hindu leaders the foremost was Sarat Chandra Bose ; among the Muslim League leaders none other than Suhrawardy, together with Abul Hashim, said to be a ‘progressive’ among the Leaguers in Bengal. Sarat Bose by this time had left the Congress (something that he did not do even when his brother Subhas left the party to form his Forward Bloc) and launched a party called the ‘Socialist Republican Party’. These gentlemen, in all their wisdom, thought of a sovereign, independent Bengal, which of course would have a Muslim majority.

The plan for sovereign independent Bengal was hatched in April 1947. According to Abul Hashim it would be a state where Hindus and Muslims would have equal rights and equal opportunity to conduct themselves in accordance with their own beliefs. A committee for preparation of a draft declaration for the formation of such a state was constituted at the residence of Suhrawardy in a meeting attended by Nazimuddin, Fazlur Rahman, Kiran Sankar Ray, Nalini Ranjan Sarker, Satya Baksi and others. The drafting was really done by Sarat Chandra Bose, who conceived it as a ‘Socialist Republic’. Mountbatten and Burrows both considered the scheme with interest, and it was at their instance that the term ‘Socialist’ was omitted from the draft. The draft was finalised and signed by Sarat Bose and Abul Hashim on May 20. According to this draft, the state would first be ruled by an interim government in which the Prime Minister would be Muslim and the Home Minister Hindu. Later there would be a Constituent Assembly with 16 Muslim and 14 Hindu members.

What aberration overtook these supposedly sagacious, politically experienced men like Sarat Bose and Kiran Sankar Ray to join forces with a man like Suhrawardy who, just eight months ago had unleashed such untold horror on the Hindus of Calcutta and Noakhali? With Kiran Sankar Ray it was quite possibly his yearning to retain his extensive Zamindari at Teota in the district of Dacca – he knew for sure that the Muslims would make short shrift of him and his Zamindari (as they actually did) once Muslim majority East Bengal came into being, while he might have a fighting chance in sovereign Bengal. As for Sarat Bose, it was even more inexplicable. He was a West Bengali, very firmly entrenched in Calcutta. Was it a desperate measure to regain political ground in the province that he had lost through erroneous political decisions and lack of foresight? With Suhrawardy it was clearly the fact that he too was a West Bengali, and would not stand much chance of getting as much prominence in East Bengal (the Premiership of East Bengal went to Nazimuddin) as he might possibly get in United Bengal. It was also said that he dearly loved the city of Calcutta. For all the wrong reasons, of course.

Be that as it may, and Providence be thanked, there was to be no Muslim-majority Sovereign Independent United Bengal. Hindu opinion was very firmly against it. The Amrita Bazar Patrika, a nationalist English daily of Calcutta, ran an opinion poll towards the end of April 1947, which revealed that as many as 98% of the Hindus wanted partition of the province. Had there been a Muslim-majority Sovereign United Bengal as planned by Bose and Hashim, the plight of all Bengali Hindus today would have been like the Sindhi Hindus, with no part of the country to call their own.

Bengal was eventually partitioned at the hands of an English Barrister of distinction, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the reason for whose choice was his lack of any connection with India
[6]. Sir Cyril was assisted by four other members of the Boundary Commission Bijon Mukherjee, C.C.Biswas, M.A.Rahman and M.M.Akram, all of them lawyers. As the names tell, the first two were Hindus, the last two Muslims, and there was practically nothing that they agreed upon, with the result that the award, eventually published on August 17, 1947, two days after independence, was entirely the handiwork of Sir Cyril alone. One point is to be noted in respect of the terms of reference of the Commission : the Commission was required to partition the province on the basis of Muslim-majority and Non-Muslim-majority areas, not on the basis of Muslim-majority and Hindu-majority areas.

As was to be expected, neither the Congress (meaning the Hindus) nor the League (meaning the Muslims) were happy with the award. West Bengal got thirty-six per cent of the land area and thirty-five per cent of the population. Only sixteen per cent of the total Muslim population was left in West Bengal, but a whopping forty-two per cent of the Hindu population in East Bengal, numbering some thirteen million. Non-Muslim-majority Chittagong Hill Tracts was given to Pakistan on the grounds that its approach was only through Muslim-majority Chittagong. The League desperately wanted Calcutta in Pakistan, and their supporters had started believing that the province would be partitioned along the Hooghly River. Bhabatosh Dutt mentions Muslim professors of Islamia College, Calcutta (now Maulana Azad College) who wrote in their option forms “Pakistan, preferably Calcutta’. One of them had tried to console Dutt by saying ‘at least you are going to have Howrah’
[7]. However, even before the Radcliffe award was out it became clear that Calcutta was going to remain in India.

The population of East Bengal, according to the 1941 census, was 28 % Hindu, 70 % Muslim and 2 % others, mainly Buddhists in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and a handful of Christians in the coastal districts and among the Garo tribesmen in the foothills of Mymensingh. As opposed to this, according to the 1991 census the population of present-day Bangladesh is 10 % Hindu, 88 % Muslim. And it is in these figures that the terrible injustice done to the Bengali Hindus, quite a bit of it by themselves, lies.

The geography of partition (see Chapter 1, figure 1) was very interesting. The whole of Dacca and Chittagong divisions went to Pakistan, and the whole of Burdwan division to West Bengal. The bulk of Presidency division, including the city of Calcutta remained in India, but most of the district of Jessore, and a part of the district of Nadia went to Pakistan. Most of Rajshahi division, went to Pakistan but the northern districts of Darjeeling and most of the districts of Jalpaiguri and Malda and a part of Dinajpur remained in India. These divisions were done on the basis of religious majority in each thana (area governed by each police station) and on the ‘principle of contiguity’. The princely state of Cooch Behar, minus some of the ‘enclaves’ (explained later in this chapter) remained in India and became part of West Bengal. The Bangla-speaking Sylhet district of Assam was subjected to an unnatural referendum (again explained later in this chapter) according to which most of the district opted for Pakistan, except for three thanas, namely Ratabari, Patharkandi, Badarpur and a part of Karimganj thana which opted for India and became part of the Indian state of Assam. The result was what has been shown in Figure 2.

West Pakistan took away a neat chunk of territory along the western fringe of undivided India, and created no further problems other than coming in the way of the tiny Indo-Afghan or Indo-Iranian trade. East Pakistan was quite another matter. Without meaning any disrespect, it created a cartographical monstrosity, a deep ulcer on the right flank of India. It practically cut off the then-existing state of Assam (now generally referred to as the Seven Sisters of the North-East, namely the states of rump Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura) – this region remained connected to the rest of India by the thin umbilical cord of the 30-kilometre-wide Siliguri corridor. It broke West Bengal into two parts, a small northern part consisting of the districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar, and the large southern part consisting of the rest of the districts (these two parts were later on joined up during the states re-organisation of 1957). It made a total joke of the transportation system of East and North Bengal and Assam. It created anomalies like the exchange of Murshidabad and Khulna districts, the award of the Non-Muslim-majority Chittagong Hill Tracts to Muslim-majority Pakistan, and hitherto unheard-of problems like that of the North Bengal enclaves. Each one of these aspects requires explanation.

First, the referendum in Sylhet. Sylhet, the proper Bangla name of which was Srihotto, lies along the foot of the Khasi and Jaintia hills of the present-day Indian state of Meghalaya, the North Cachar and Mikir Hills of Assam, and the hills of the Indian state of Tripura. The rain-laden south-east monsoon winds get their first hit on these hills after cruising up from the Bay of Bengal over the low plains of present-day Bangladesh, and consequently it rains very heavily in these parts all the year round. All that water then runs down Sylhet district and out through the Meghna River, while in the process creating huge water bodies known as Haors – so huge that the boatmen crossing them have to navigate by the position of stars. This feature had given Sylhet a seafaring tradition despite being far away from the sea, and it translated itself into an adventurousness not known among many Bengalis from other Bangla-speaking parts of the country.

The district, even at the time of partition, was a rich one in mineral and agricultural produce, with tea estates along the Tripura foothills and a cement plant at Chhatak, run with limestone and coal from the Khasi Hills. Later on abundant reserves of Natural Gas were discovered. The density of population was however, much more than that in the Brahmaputra valley.

Consequently, several things happened. First, unlike in other parts, Muslims in this district took to liberal education. Secondly, they emigrated in large numbers to different parts of the globe (today parts around Canary Wharf, especially Brick Lane, in the Docklands of London are inhabited entirely by Sylheti Muslims), in the process developing a catholicity of outlook which gave the district a much better tradition of Hindu-Muslim amity than other parts. Thirdly the Sylhetis, particularly the Hindus among them, managed to get a disproportionately large share in the state machinery of Assam.

The reason for this is very interesting. The province of Assam in the British days consisted of three parts – the Assamese-speaking Brahmaputra valley, the Bangla-speaking Surma valley (synonymous with Sylhet) and the hill districts. The people in the hills kept pretty much to themselves and seldom ventured out of the hills. The Brahmaputra valley was relatively thinly populated as compared to Sylhet, and extremely rich in natural resources, such as a very fertile soil, abundant forest wealth, tea plantations and the only proven deposit of oil discovered upto the tiime of independence. The people therefore became quite affluent, and naturally rather less inclined towards Government Service. In fact the state of the valley attracted settlers from elsewhere, mainly land-hungry Muslim agriculturists from East Bengal. This was further encouraged by a conscious policy of Muslimisation of the valley followed during the rule of Premier Mohammed Saadullah. The bloody ethnic strife that plagued the valley in the nineteen-eighties was the result of this Muslimisation half-a century ago. That, however, is a different story. Readers interested in this aspect of history of the subcontinent are referred to Sanjoy Hazarika's book, 'Rites of Passage'

It is this affluence of the Assamese from the Brahmaputra valley and the consequent disinclination towards Government Service that was responsible for the dominance of Sylhetis from the Surma valley in the Assam government during British rule. In India service in the government has always been equated with power, and there was no exception here. With their domination of the government the Sylhetis became powerful, and flaunted their superiority over the Assamese from the Brahmaputra valley. This was, naturally, not liked by the Assamease, nor by the Assam Congress which was dominated by Assamese-speaking leaders led by Gopinath Bardoloi, then the Premier and the first Chief Minister of the state after independence.

There never was any talk of partitioning Assam, a Hindu-majority province with a large tribal population, some of whom were Christian, some Hindu, and the rest following their traditional religions. However, as a result of Sylhet district being Bangla-speaking, marginally Muslim majority, and contiguous to the Muslim majority districts of Mymensingh and Tipperah of East Bengal, it was declared in the Statement made by His Majesty’s Government on June 3, 1947 that a referendum would be held in the district to determine whether the people wished to go to Pakistan or to India. A similar referendum was also held in the North-West Frontier Province. It should be noted that the critical factor in opting for these referendums was contiguity to the land mass which would later become Pakistan. There were other Muslim-dominated districts or parts of districts in the country, such as Bahraich or Moradabad in the United Provinces or Calicut in Madras Presidency, but nobody ever dreamt of such districts going to Pakistan.

Now, there was a strange catch in the whole process. The Assam Congress, led by Gopinath Bardoloi and his group, wanted the district to go to Pakistan so that the hegemony of their group would be assured in the rump province of Assam after independence. Maulana Azad obliquely acknowledges this when he says, in the context of the ‘grouping plan’ of the Cabinet Mission, that the objection to the plan within the Congress came from certain leaders from Assam who ‘were possessed by an inexplicable fear of Bengalis’

To be fair to Bardoloi, this is not quite correct. In all probability Bardoloi was more afraid of Muslim domination of the province (which Maulana Azad would, understandably, be chary of mentioning) rather than Bengali domination, and not without reason. He had seen with his own eyes what Saadullah had done to his province, and correctly apprehended that verysoon the sparsely populated Brahmaputra valley would be overrun by land-hungry Muslims from East Bengal who would be encouraged by their Sylheti co-religionists. This was not an impossibility, and the result would have been loss of Assam for India. Debdas Ghosal
[10], who spent his childhood at their Zamindari at Ramharir Char, near Goalpara town, Assam, still shudders when he remembers the gestures made by their Muslim peasants agitating for inclusion of the district in Pakistan. Although there never was any question of Goalpara going to Pakistan, it was a border district with a large Muslim minority, and the Muslim League decided to show their might even here to intimidate the Hindus. To do that they got the peasants to go around all over the Ghosal estate, with freshly-severed cows’ heads on stakes dripping blood, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar, Ladke Lenge Pakistan’. Bardoloi’s fears, therefore were quite justified. His great mistake was that he decided to throw away the baby with the bath-water, without sparing a thought for the Hindus of Sylhet.

The League of course wanted the district in Pakistan. This issue thus became one of the rarest things in those days in which the League and the official leadership of the Congress cooperated, albeit covertly. This is doubly remarkable because of the fact that in spite of the district being Muslim-majority, the League was not confident of a victory here
[11]. The position was however substantially altered when the Assam Congress came forward to help the League, albeit largely through inaction.

This they did in several ways. First, the provincial leadership refused to extend any substantial help in the form of money, men, propaganda material or even moral support to the district leadership. Secondly, they connived with the League in disenfranchising the tea estate labourers on the grounds that they were not Sylhetis, or ‘sons of the soil’. These tea estate labourers were mostly ‘indentured labour’ from among the hardy people of the tribal areas of Bihar (now Jharkhand), and had been living on the gardens for at least two generations. There was therefore no reason why they should not vote, but in effect they were not allowed to do so. For the record it appears that the Congress did claim that the voters in the Labour and the Trade and Commerce constituencies – meaning mainly the tea labour – should be allowed to vote, but no effort was put in to carry through this very reasonable demand, and the demand failed. The district leadership of the Congress of course raised holy hell, but they had no access to the all-India leaders. The result, finally, was that the voting was done in the General, Mohammedan and Indian Christian categories
[12]. A third method was physically preventing the Hindus from voting, with the state machinery looking the other way. Subodh Lal Shome[13] recalls that roadblocks had been erected by the Muslim League volunteers at a number of places in the rural areas around Chhatak to prevent Hindus from travelling to the nearest town to vote, and the Congress government of Bardoloi did nothing to ensure a free and fair election. A Hindu police officer by the name of Purkayastha took it upon himself to intervene and remove these without orders and even resorted to firing. However very few officers were capable of such daring.

The indefatigable Syama Prasad Mookerjee entered the fray, toured the district, and persuaded Hindu Sylhetis all over Bengal to travel to Sylhet and vote at the referendum. Some of them came from as far away as Delhi and Burma. It is believed that because of their different culture, a section of the Muslim population also voted for India ; and had there been a little effort on the part of the Assam Congress, the district would not have been lost to India.. Ultimately however, the disenfranchisement tipped the scales. Sylhet went to Pakistan, with a relatively thin majority, 239,619 to 184,041
[14]. Only three thanas, namely Ratabari, Patharkandi, Badarpur and a part of Karimganj thana remained in India.

Next, the transportation system. Road transport in those days was in a state of infancy, but railways and inland water transport were both highly developed in East Bengal and Assam. Most of East Bengal and Assam were covered by the metre gauge network of Bengal Assam Railway, and there was a well-organised system of ferries where the rivers had not been bridged. For example to go to Guwahati (then Gauhati) from Calcutta one had to board a broad gauge train from Sealdah terminal, and change to a metre gauge train either at Parbatipur or at Santahar junctions. This metre gauge train would take one to Amingaon where one would have to cross the mighty Brahmaputra in a ferry to reach Guwahati on the south bank of the river. From Guwahati again another line stretched away to Upper Assam via Lumding junction to serve the extensive tea estates and India’s lone oilfield there. A branch would take off from Lumding and pass through ‘Hill section’ of the Mikir and North Cachar Hills through Badarpur, Kulaura, Akhaura and Laksam junctions on to Chittagong port. This branch, considered an engineering feat in those days, was constructed to export a part of the Assam tea through Chittagong port. The bulk of the tea and the jute grown in Assam and East Bengal was transported by inland water transport down the Brahmaputra, Jamuna and Meghna, through the distributaries in the Sundarban deltas, on to Calcutta port to be shipped abroad, or to the jute mills dotting the sides of the River Hooghly, to be processed there. It was a beautifully well-coordinated, well-orchestrated, mutually complementary system of rail and inland waterway, by which huge quantities of merchandise were transported in the most economical and environment-friendly manner, while providing employment to a large number of Indian personnel, both Hindu and Muslim.

Partition of the province undid the system in one stroke. The jute fields were left in Pakistan, the jute mills in India. A major stretch of the railway network between Calcutta and Guwahati and between Calcutta and Siliguri was intercepted in Pakistani territory, so that in order to travel or ship goods from India to India it became necessary to travel though the unfriendly country of East Pakistan. The line taking off from Lumding junction entered Pakistan at Karimganj shortly after descending from the hills, and the huge expenditure incurred in its construction became largely pointless. Chittagong port was of course in Pakistan, and so was the inland waterway route over the Jamuna and Meghna rivers and a major part of the Sundarban river system. The extent to which India continues to suffer to this day because of Bangladesh not permitting transit through their territory between Indian terminals would be clear from the following table. The pre-partition distances given are approximate.

It should however be mentioned that Bangladesh does permit inland water transport to ply between Calcutta and Guwahati and between Calcutta and Karimganj over Bangladeshi rivers. There is also considerable road traffic (involving transhipment at borders - Indian and Bangladeshi trucks are not allowed into each other's territory) as well as a small volume of rail traffic between India and Bangladesh, but no traffic from India to India through Bangladesh.

India very hurriedly put together a rail network known as the Assam Rail Link by joining up and upgrading minor metre-gauge branch lines in the Dooars area of northern West Bengal. This line was yet another engineering feat, but continued to be very unsatisfactory till the Brahmaputra was bridged across at Pandu in 1967, and the Ganga over the Farakka Barrage in 1971, and the line was converted to broad gauge eventually. In the pre-partition days rail travel from Sealdah to Guwahati took about twenty-four hours, with one ferry crossing. After partition, and over the Assam rail link this went up to about forty-two hours, including two ferry crossings. Only after the completion of the two bridges and conversion of the entire line upto Guwahati to broad gauge has it come down to its pre-partition duration. Surface travel to Silchar, and especially Agartala, from Calcutta are still extremely arduous, and even poor people are forced to travel by air paying fares which, despite subsidies, can go up per head to a man’s earnings of a fortnight.

As a result of the award of Radcliffe as many as five districts had to be partitioned. These were Nadia, Jessore, Malda, Dinajpur and Jalpaiguri. Moreover, Muslim-majority Murshidabad district was given to India in consideration of the fact that the headwaters of the Bhagirathi river (which later becomes the Hooghly as it flows by Calcutta) were in this district, and without control on these waters India would not be able to ensure the navigability of Calcutta port.

In exchange Hindu-majority Khulna district went to Pakistan. Buddhist-majority Chittagong Hill Tracts also went to Pakistan, on the grounds that access to this district was possible only through Muslim-majority Chittagong.

Mountbatten did not want the Radcliffe award to be published before India became independent, and therefore some of these districts had two independence days – one on 15th August, with the rest of the nation, and the other on 17th when the fate of the district was finally decided. Thus the Indian tricolour was hoisted at Khulna, and Rangamati (Chittagong Hill Tracts) and the Pakistani crescent-and-star at Berhampore and Krishnagore (headquarters of Murshidabad and Nadia) on 15th August, to be reversed two days later.

The enclaves of North Bengal are another strange story. As far as known to the author no such thing exists anywhere else in the world. These are basically islands of Indian territory in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) or Bangladeshi territory in India. The Indian enclaves among these were, at the time of Radcliffe, under the administration of local Sardars (Chieftains) who had been granted Jahgirs (fiefdoms) by the Maharaja of Cooch Behar. Later on, when the British annexed North Bengal but let Cooch Behar remain as a ‘Native State’, these became islands of Cooch Behar state in British India in the district of Rangpur. When Cooch Behar acceded to India the enclaves became Indian islands in Pakistan. Similarly there were islands of British India in Cooch Behar state, and wherever these were Muslim-majority they went to Pakistan, and became Pakistani enclaves or islands in independent India. There are now 111 such Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India. Because, generally speaking, Muslims had no difficulty in living in India but the same was not true of Hindus living in Pakistan or Bangladesh, as we shall see later in this book, the enclaves eventually became populated entirely by Muslims. The sensible thing under the circumstances was to have the enclaves exchanged between the two countries. There was a clause to this effect in the Indira-Mujib treaty of 1972, but to this day this has not been given effect to. This results in serious law and order problems from time to time, and gives rise to demands for providing corridors to these enclaves through foreign territory. Such a problem arose with South Berubari enclave and with providing the Teen Bigha corridor. These enclaves are now the refuge of smugglers, cattle thieves and assorted other cross-border criminals, and will continue to remain so till they are exchanged.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts are densely forested hills bordering the eastern fringe of the district of Chittagong. The hills are contiguous to the Lushai Hills (now Mizoram) of India and the Arakan hills of Burma (now Myanmar). The population was sparse and consisted largely of Buddhist Chakma tribesmen who are a Mongoloid people, and speak a dialect of the Tibeto-Burman family. It was expected that the tracts would go to India, and the Indian tricolour was hoisted at the headquarters of the tracts at Rangamati on 15th August 1947. Two days later however, the Radcliffe award was announced, and the tricolour was replaced by the crescent-and-star Pakistani flag. The only approach to the Tracts was through the coastal plains of Chittagong district, and it is on these grounds that the Tracts went to Pakistan.

Subsequently the Tracts had an interesting history. There were consistent efforts at converting the tribesmen to Islam and settling Muslims from the overpopulated plains of East Pakistan in the Tracts. This embittered relations between Bengali Muslims and the Buddhist Chakmas, to such an extent that during the Bangladesh liberation war Raja Tridib Roy, ‘king’ of the Chakmas, sided with the Pakistanis. He went over to Pakistan after their defeat, and served for some time as the Pakistani ambassador to Argentina. Meanwhile relations between the Chakmas and the Bangladeshi Muslims did not improve, and the policy of Islamisation and settling of Muslims in the Tracts continued. Bangladesh, unlike India, does not have a policy of preservation of the culture of ethnic minorities, and the Chakmas, threatened with being swamped by Bengali Muslim culture rebelled and carried on insurgency for some time.

Now on to Calcutta on the morning of 15th August 1947.

Things had not been very quiet in the weeks preceding independence in Calcutta, though it must be said that compared to Punjab it was an abode of peace. A spate of rioting had started in Calcutta from July 31, in protest of which Gandhi stated a 'fast unto death'. This, unlike the East Bengal killings, was real rioting, with both sides hurting each other. This rioting abated shortly thereafter, but continued in a sporadic manner till well after independence. As late as on 1st September, Sachindra Mitra, a Congress leader, was stabbed to death by Muslim goons in front of Nakhoda Mosque (the biggest mosque in Calcutta) while leading a procession whose slogan was Hindu-Muslim ek ho (Hindus and Muslims unite). Similarly three other Congressmen, namely Smritish Banerjee, Sushil Dasgupta, and Bireswar Ghosh were mercilessly killed by Muslims around this time while preaching Hindu-Muslim amity
[15]. Anti-Hindu violence in Eastern Bengal had also started around the same time. The story of Ila Banerjee, a lonely widow of 86 now living in Vrindavan, formerly of village Barandipara, Jessore, has been described later in this chapter.

At Calcutta however, Independence Day dawned without any incidents and amid large-scale jubilation. Hindu and Muslim embraced each other on the streets, sprinkled rose water on each other. Shops were decked in flowers and festoons. A mob stormed Government House, the residence of the Governor of Bengal modeled on Keddleston Hall, the country seat of Lord Curzon. They were not exactly violent, but to them patriotism took the form of vandalism. They poked at paintings of British administrators with the pointy ends of their umbrellas and disfigured them. By then Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari had taken oath as the Governor, and Dr. P.C.Ghosh as the Chief Minister. Suhrawardy was still in his beloved Calcutta.

The person whom the independence movement made the most famous, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, should have been at New Delhi on this day, smiling benignly as the Union Jack gave way to the Indian tricolour. Yet he is not. He has been sent to Calcutta by the Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten as his ‘one-man boundary force’. In this, the Governor-General’s request has been endorsed by none other than the infamous Suhrawardy and his sidekick Usman who want Gandhi to ‘save Calcutta’s Muslims’. Suhrawardy’s claim on Gandhi is typical of the man : “After all the Muslims have as much a claim on you as the Hindus. You have always said you are as much of us as of the Hindus.”

Gandhi on this day is found camping at Hydari Manzil, an abandoned mansion in Beliaghata, then a suburb of Calcutta, with Suhrawardy in tow. Suhrawardy meanwhile has been heckled a number of times, probably jostled and perhaps spat upon, but not seriously manhandled. Gandhi is fasting and holding prayer meetings, praying for the return of Hindu-Muslim amity. Mountbatten has called him the one-man boundary force. Later, in the evening he would tour the Muslim parts of the city in a car chauffeured by Suhrawardy.

The previous day Suhrawardy has expressed ‘genuine regret’ for his role in ’Direct Action’ and the Great Calcutta Killings
[17], almost exactly a year after he and Nazimuddin made their rabid speeches at the Maidan that started the bloodbath. Some ten thousand people have come to see Gandhi that day at Beliaghata. Were there some in that crowd wondering whether the Indian Penal Code should now be rewritten to make an expression of ‘genuine regret’ sufficient penalty for plotting the mass murder of tens of thousands of innocent people on grounds of their religion? And that too while remaining at the head of a Government! People had been sent to the gallows for lesser crimes at Nuremberg only a year ago!

Gandhi’s magic did work wonders however, and there were no further untoward incidents in Calcutta. Yet, some questions survive. Why did he not camp at Amritsar or Ferozepore, not to speak of Lahore or Montgomery, where the situation was a million times worse than that at Calcutta? In fact in Calcutta, even before the arrival of Gandhi things had quieted down to a great extent, and only sporadic cases of stabbing or arson were heard of. On the other hand in Punjab the Pakistanis were sending down trainloads of Hindu and Sikh corpses, and the Hindus and Sikhs were retaliating with similar gestures. Did Gandhi think that he stood a much better chance of influencing the mild and sentimental Bengalis rather than the martial and hardheaded Punjabis? At any rate the ultimate reason could have been only that he knew he stood no chance of succeeding in Punjab. Therefore, like the astute politician that he was, he chose not to attempt what he could not possibly achieve. Politics, after all, is merely the art of the possible!

While in West Pakistan rivers of blood were flowing on both sides of the border, East Pakistan was still largely quiet and tranquil immediately following partition. Leela Mazumdar
[18] traveled to Assam by train through East Pakistan (or East Bengal) in September 1947, entering that country at Darshana, crossing the mighty Padma over the Hardinge Bridge, changing to the metre gauge railway system at Santahar, on to Bogra, Lalmonirhat and back again into Indian territory at Gitaldaha in Assam. She observed people entraining with beaming faces at Sealdah station, leaving for their Baari (home village) in East Bengal. They had not yet realised that their Baari was in a foreign country, that in a few years they would require a passport and a visa to visit the village where their families had been living for the last, maybe, twenty generations. They also knew not what the future had in store for them, by way of persecution, ethnic cleansing and eventually losing all memory of a home village, or Baari.

Ashok Mitra sent his six-year-old only daughter with the school party to Loreto Convent, Darjeeling (a very upmarket residential school run by Irish Catholic nuns) and saw her off at Sealdah station. This was in early 1949, and she traveled by largely the same route, leaving India at Darshana, and re-entering at Haldibari. Mitra mentions the ambience then to be absolutely quiet and peaceful, and also that a number of Pakistani girls boarded the train at different places in East Pakistan to go to the same school
[19]. It was obviously not all that peaceful in other parts of East Pakistan, as has been described by various people, especially Hiranmay Banerjee.

V.P.Menon’s remarks on the exodus of refugees from Pakistan are very revealing, and deserve to be quoted in full. Menon writes
[20] : “It has been estimated that up to the middle of 1948 about 5,500,000 non-Muslims were brought across the border from West Punjab and other provinces of Western Pakistan. About the same number of Muslims moved into Pakistan from East Punjab (including the East Punjab states), Delhi, the United Provinces, Ajmer-Merwara, Alwar, Bharatpur, Gwalior and Indore. During the same period about 1,250,000 non-Muslims crossed the border from Eastern Pakistan into West Bengal. These figures do not of course take into account about 400,000 non-Muslims who later migrated to India from Sind. There is today hardly a Hindu or Sikh to be found in Western Pakistan. . . . . . The communal exodus from East Bengal in the early stages after partition was but a trickle. It assumed critical proportions much later, and then the Hindus from East Bengal also had to undergo severe hardships and privation. In fact it was when the West Pakistan officials had established themselves in East Bengal that the exodus of Hindus began in earnest. It has always been my belief that the East Bengal Muslims, if left to themselves, would have been content to live with their Hindu brethren as one family, and that it was the policy of the West Pakistan officials that was responsible for the mass exodus of Hindus from East Bengal. The flood of refugees had already strained the resources of the West Bengal Government, while more and more continue to come across the border (this was in 1957 - author). If this influx is not stopped and mutual goodwill and understanding are not established, this issue is bound to overshadow any other that faces the Indian and Pakistan Governments.”

Menon had always been a scrupulously honest person, and this is manifest from the passage quoted above : he has carefully separated what he knows for a fact from what he believes to be true. His belief, namely that the West Pakistanis alone, or even primarily, are responsible for the persecution of Hindus in East Bengal, is widely shared today in both West Bengal and Bangladesh, and is expressed whenever this uncomfortable subject comes up, which is not very often. The question is, is the belief correct? And the answer is no, though it contains a lot of truth. Granted that the presence of the West Pakistani officials, and more than that, of the Urdu-speaking Bihari Muslims, had a lot to do with the persecution and killing of Hindus in East Bengal, by no means can it be contended that the East Bengali Muslims themselves were free of blame, as we shall see in the course of this book. In fact what we have seen so far does not at all corroborate this belief. Neither the leaders of persecution, such as Suhrawardy, Nazimuddin or Sarwar, nor their followers, such as the marauding mobs of Noakhali in 1946, or Barisal in 1950, were anything except Bengali Muslims. At the most it can be said that there is a larger percentage of Hindu-haters among Urdu-speaking Muslims than among Bangla speaking ones.

Not only so, but there is a time-dependent and personal element as well, as has been sought to be expounded below. In order to study this aspect in some depth, it is now proposed to enter into a short discussion on the complex relationships that exist between Bengali Muslims and other communities, notably Bengali Hindus.

The root of V.P.Menon’s belief, also shared by others, probably lies, at least partly, in the following syllogism :

(i) The majority Bengali Muslims of East Bengal love their language very much, so much so that they fought against their religious compatriots from West Pakistan, all the way from the uprising of 21st February 1952 till the Bangladesh liberation war (true).
(ii) The minority Bengali Hindus of East Bengal are equally fond of their language, and supported that fight wholeheartedly (true).
(iii) It must, therefore, follow that the former must necessarily be fond of the latter, though occasionally they may get swayed otherwise.

The question now is, whether the third proposition is true or false?

The truth is that for the Bengali Muslim multitude it is sometimes partly true and sometimes false, depending on how the average Bengali Muslim is feeling at a given point of time. It is never completely true, but sometimes it is almost completely false. The relationship between the two communities, described earlier in Chapter 1, has always been rather complex, quite different from the simple, fierce hatred the average Indian Punjabi and Pakistani Punjabi have for each other even today. The Bengali Muslim has always been torn between his two identities, the Bengali one and the pan-Islamic one (see Chapter1, also Rafiuddin Ahmed’s ‘The Bengal Muslim’
[21]). The more the erudition of an individual, the more has been this state of his being torn, until it reaches the stage of unbearable anguish in people like Syed Mujtabaa Ali, Dr. Muhammad Shaheedullah, S. Wajed Ali or Rezaul Karim. The Bengali Hindu has never had this problem, his loyalty was always cent per cent with Bengal ; and therefore his attitude towards the Muslim has not varied. On the other hand, in the Bengali Muslim, in times like during the Noakhali carnage the pan-Islamism completely dominated, while the Bangladesh Liberation War was fought entirely on his Bengali identity.

This state of being torn between two identities, it has to be said, is an essential feature of all peoples who have been converted to Islam, that is to say all non-Arab Muslims. This has been stated with remarkable clarity by the famous author Sir Vidia S. Naipaul in the prologue to his book 'Beyond Belief : Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples', of which a quotation is given in Chapter 11. This tearing depends not only on the erudition of the individual but also on the pre-Islamic or co-Islamic culture of the people. Here the Bengali Muslim could be termed as singularly unfortunate, burdened as he is with the wealth of literature - written mostly by Hindus - from the Chorjapod of the 11th century A.D. down to the incredible poetry of Rabindranath Tagore and the twentieth century writers, among whom there are quite a few Muslims too. This anguish of the erudite Bengali Muslim is not shared by, say, the Waziri or the Mohmand, simple, warlike, mostly illiterate mountain tribes of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province.

Then there is the personal factor. Some, like the liberal Muslim politicians such as Fazlul Haq and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (in his later years), definitely bore no animosity towards the Hindus, and helped them in whatever way they could. Others, like Abdul Monem Khan (Governor of East Pakistan, 1962-69) of the past, those of fundamentalist groups like Khaksar and Al-Badr of the liberation struggle days, and Golam Azam of the present, are quite the opposite. A very large number are ambivalent to different degrees, being just mildly disapproving of some of the habits of Hindus, such as their idol worship, or their eating of turtles. Such people would never go to the extent of actively hurting Hindus, but would not lift a finger either to protest against persecution of Hindus, nor mind enjoying the fruits of Hindu exodus. A very common method used by this ambivalent multitude for clearing their collective consciences was to tell themselves that nobody hurt the Hindus – they were leaving because they could not have their pre-independence position of pre-eminence, and they resented the fact that the Muslims were now their equals. In nurturing this belief they were helped, sadly enough, by the ‘secular’ Hindus of India – more on this subject in Chapter 10. But, even among the liberals among the Bengali Muslims, very, very few would go to the extent of publicly acknowledging the wrong done to the Hindus ; and still fewer of restoring the Hindus’ property back to them. One of these ‘still fewer’ happens to be Taslima Nasrin, which is basically why the entire fundamentalist establishment of Bangladesh has ganged up against her.

It must also be remembered that there were a substantial number of pro-Pakistan elements among the Bengali Muslims even while Bengali feelings ran the highest during the liberation war. The crimes against humanity committed by organisations like Al-Badr, Razakar and by people like the Imam of the Burra Masjid of Mymensingh (described by Taslima Nasrin in her Lojja – see chapter 9) were the handiwork of Bengali Muslims alone. The presence of the ‘Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee’ (Committee for the eradication of the killers and (Pakistani) stooges of 1971) in Bangladesh to this day show that they survive, and also that liberal Bangladeshi Muslims are alive to their existence and consider them a threat to their polity. This is why it has to be said that the proposition is never completely true for the multitude.

Next, there is, in the Bengali Muslim, an insatiable lust for land, which must be considered to understand the Muslim attitude towards Hindus. The bulk of the Bengali Muslims to this day are peasants, the majority of them landless agricultural labourers. In the pre-partition days a large number of Hindus in East Bengal were absentee landlords, living off a land that was tilled by his Muslim peasants. Following partition the land-hungry Muslim saw an Allah-sent opportunity to possess, legally, huge tracts of land belonging to the Hindus. Santosh Kumar Chanda
[22] mentions a common method of possessing Hindu land. At a time when the Hindus were suffering from extreme insecurity, some Muslims would appear as their protectors in exchange of land, to be sold of to them for a pittance. Then after some time they would disappear, and their place would be taken by another bunch of similar protectors who would ask for some more land. It was of course known that eventually the Hindu would leave, but the idea was to take over as much of his land with proper documentation for as little money as possible.

Finally, the irresistible appeal that Bengali Hindu women have for the Muslim male is a factor that must never be overlooked. This truth received official recognition from the aforementioned Governor Burrows, when he quipped with unspeakable cynicism and callousness that it was only natural that Hindu women would naturally be raped by the hundreds in Noakhali because they were prettier than their Muslim sisters. Muslim folk music from Mymensingh expresses a prayer to Allah : may Allah be so kind that the singer could marry the two semri (or chhemri, slang for young girls) who flank the Hindus’ Durga idol – the semri being none other than Lakshmi and Saraswati, the Hindu Goddesses respectively of wealth and learning
[23]. The yearning to possess a Hindu woman drove Bengali Muslims to extraordinary lengths. And the things that stood in the way of this possessing were the Hindu male and the Hindu religion. These, therefore, needed to be removed.

A real-life story would be in order at this jumcture. Nupur Saha (nee Palchaudhuri), a stunningly beautiful woman, got sent away to her aunt in India at the age of nine from her village in Bhojeswar, Madaripur, Faridpur because she was getting to be of age, and soon would become prey to Muslim males around. This, in spite of the fact that her father, Bijoy Palchaudhuri, was a 'Basic Democrat' (a kind of legislator in the constitutional system devised by Ayub Khan), and was more fortunately placed than most Hindus in regard to security of womenfolk.

This is not to say that the average Bengali Muslim was a land-grabber and a rapist. There are many examples of Hindus being saved from sure death by the efforts of Bengali Muslims from all levels of society, sometimes at the risk of their own lives. This is merely to point a finger at a relationship between two communities that is, at once, exceedingly complex and ever fluctuating. The traits mentioned above were there and are there in the Bengali Muslim. They cannot be wished away in the name of communal harmony, or by a one-sided view which only sees the good deeds that the Muslims did for the Hindus’ sake.

A few words on the group generally known as ‘Bihari Muslims’ would be in order. As the name states, they were primarily Muslims from Bihar, but also include Muslims from the Eastern parts of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (U.P., formerly United Provinces) and assorted Urdu-speaking Muslims from West Bengal. They emigrated in large numbers to East Pakistan in the days after 1947, and settled down mostly in the industrial towns such as Narayangunge and Chittagong, and the Railway towns of Santahar and Saidpur. They did not mix at all with the native Bengali Muslims, and in fact there was positive ill-feeling in certain parts of East Pakistan between the communities. Nrisingha Pati Changdar, a survivor of the Santahar train massacre (see Chapter 6) recalls that Bengali Muslims of the area around Santahar used to be quite scared of the Biharis. It is these Biharis who, rather than the West Pakistanis, committed most of the atrocities on Hindus, barring those of 1971.

When the Bangladesh liberation struggle started the Biharis, to a man, supported the Pakistanis, and became their most trusted lieutenants. After Pakistan lost the war they all wanted to get back to rump Pakistan. Now Pakistan did a neat volte-face and declared that it did not recognise any obligation to repatriate anyone of ‘East Pakistani domicile’ to West Pakistan. So the Biharis were caught neatly in a cleft stick. The Bangladeshi Muslims’ animosity towards them was really intense, and even the pro-Pakistanis among the former could not come out in the open in defence of them. The result was that they began to get a taste of what they had practising on the Hindus so far. There were pogroms against them too, and they shut themselves into ghettoes such as Mirpur and Mohammedpur in Dacca. And dreaming of escaping to Pakistan.

But Pakistan was a thousand miles away, and they had to cross that much of Indian territory to reach there. Some of them tried even that, so bad was their state in Bengali Bangladesh. A few eventually succeeded, finally getting their dream shattered from landing up in slums like Orangi in Karachi where a murderous fight raged among Pathans, Mohajirs and Sindhis – they added a fourth element there, because even the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs from western U.P. did not accept them as equals, and they continued to be called Biharis. Then they found an old refuge : India. And in particular the familiar states of Bihar and West Bengal. Thus they came full circle : having traveled from India driven by Hindu persecution or in the hope of finding an Islamic haven they settled down in East Pakistan and made room for themselves by butchering and driving out the Bengali Hindus. Then they lost their Pakistan and came back in large numbers to the state populated by the selfsame Bengali Hindus whose brethren they had once butchered and driven out.

And what did the Bengali Hindus of West Bengal do when they began to infiltrate into their state ? Very strangely, they pretended it was not happening, and looked the other way. Leftist politicos there with shady connections and Bihari Muslim roots
[24], gave refuge to the infiltrators, gave them ration cards and identities and even Indian passports and settled them clandestinely on government land. Bihar itself was no different, and the same thing happened there. Then those who were secure brought in more, and with the numbers came Pakistani agents. With the result that today areas like Metiabruz and Rajabazar in Calcutta are Pakistani-Bihari ghettoes, and the demography of as many as four districts in Bihar – Purnea, Katihar, Araria and Kishanganj – has altered drastically in favour of Muslims.

How can a state suffer such a thing? It can, if it gets infected by something called Indian secularism, or more specifically the Left-Nehruvian interpretation of it, and love of the Muslim vote bank. This is developed further in Chapter10.

[1] The Transfer of Power in India, ibid., p. 355

[2] Jinnah of Pakistan, ibid. p. 322

[3] Sir Eric Mieville, member of Lord Mountbatten’s staff, earlier Private Secretary to Lord Willingdon, Viceroy of India.

[4] Jinnah of Pakistan, ibid. p. 323

127 Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee : A great life greatly lived : Article by K.R.Malkani, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Eminent Parliamentarians Monograph Series, Lok Sabha Secretariat, 1990, p. 32

[6] Jinnah of Pakistan, ibid. p. 332

[7] Aat Doshok, ibid. p.119

[8] Rites of Passage, by Sanjoy Hazarika, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 1st Ed., 2000, p. 73-74

[9] India Wins Freedom, ibid. p. 184

[10] (b. 1941), Electrical Engineer, Potomac, Maryland, U.S.A., interviewed October 2000.

[11] The Transfer of Power in India, ibid., p. 388

[12] ibid.

[13] (b. 1904), Retired Cement Technologist, ex-Manager, Assam Bengal Cement Co. Chhatak, Sylhet, interviewed January 21, 2000.

[14] ibid.

[15] Deshbhag, Deshtyag, (in Bangla, meaning Partition, Exodus), by Sandip Banerjee, Anushtup, Calcutta, 1st Ed., 1994, p. 51

[16] The question may arise as to why Suhrawardy, who had gone to such lengths to achieve Pakistan, was not in Dacca but in Calcutta on this day. Several theories are advanced, many of them based on Suhrawardy's West Bengali origin and his love for the city that had given him so many pleasures. However there are strong grounds to believe that he owned a lot of Benami property in the city which he was trying to dispose of before going to Pakistan. Benami means a system of ownership of property in India whereby the real owner is different from the ostensible owner (Benamdar). The system has now been abolished.

[17]Amrita Bazar Patrika (English daily of Calcutta, now ceased publication) 17th August, 1947, quoted in Deshbhag, Deshtyag ibid. . Amrita Bazar Patrika was the premier nationalist English daily from Calcutta in those days. It has since discontinued publication.

[18] Bengali authoress of repute, famous for her children’s stories and humour, aunt of Satyajit Ray, the famous filmmaker. She also worked as a broadcaster for All India Radio for some time. The reference here is to her autobiographical sketch Pakdandi (in Bangla), Ananda Publishers, Calcutta, 1st Ed., 1986, p. 322.

[19] Tin Kuri Dosh, ibid., part III, p. 91

[20] The Transfer of Power in India, ibid., p. 431, 435

[21] The Bengal Muslims 1871-1906 : A Quest for Identity, by Rafiuddin Ahmed, ibid.

[22] Interviewed at different times, 2000-2001

[23] Lest any Indian ‘Secular’ Hindu should doubt this, the song (in local dialect) began with the words “Hindugo Dugga Puza, Balpata bhai buza buza . . . .” (The Hindus’ Durga Puja is just a lot of bael leaves) and goes on to say “Daine bae duita semri poira ase Daccai sari/ Allahe zodi doya korto Nikah kortam tare . . .” ( Right and left of her [the Durga idol] two young girls in Daccai saris are standing – if only Allah was kind to me I would have married them).

[24] Typical of such politicos is a minister in the Left Front Government in West Bengal who is suspected of having resettled thousands of such infiltrators in West Bengal