Chapter 7


The post-1950, post-Nehru-Liaquat pact, post-Patel period was a time of a gradual squeeze-out for the Hindus. By this time those of the middle class, upper-caste Hindus who had not left earlier realised that sooner or later they would have to leave. The Muslims also realised it, and further realised that their co-religionists would be quite safe in West Bengal, and there was no reason why they should leave. The result was that the exchange of property mechanism, which was working well, though on terms somewhat inequitable to Hindus, now stopped totally. The Muslims also stopped buying Hindu property - none would be so foolish as to buy property that would be his for free anyway. When such property was going for a pittance there were some who bought such property to have a proper title.

The Pakistani government, from the very beginning, had begun a legislative process to dispossess and disentitle the Hindus of their property. This has been continued in its Bangladeshi incarnation too. A very exhaustive description and analysis of this process has been made by Dr. Dilip De in a contemporary book Matir Bhetore Kalo Haat : Shotru (Orpito) Sompotti Ain o Bangladesher Sonkhaloghu, and the serious reader of the legal aspect is referred to that book.. Dr. De (pronounced Day, with a soft d) is a Hindu, a paediatrician by profession, who trained in Ireland, and worked for quite some time in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East before settling down to practise in his home town of Chittagong, Bangladesh. The book is bilingual - Bangla and English, and is also named "A Dark Hand Inside My Land : The Enemy (Vested) Property Act, and the Minorities in Bangladesh"
[1]. There is a lot of melodrama in the book, especially in the sketches which are visualised by the author himself, and a lot of emotion too, and one may be tempted not to take it seriously. This mistake should not be made. This is a serious work, very well researched, very painstakingly written, and a very bold book at that.

Some of the important legislations enacted by the East Pakistani Government and discussed by Dr. De in his book are enumerated below with short comments against each where applicable

The East Bengal (Emergency) Requisition of Property Act 1948 (Act XIII)

The East Bengal Evacuees (Administration of Property) Act 1949 (Act VIII)

The East Bengal Evacuees (Restoration of Possession) Act 1951 (Act XXIII) : This was enacted as a sequel to the Nehru-Liaquat Pact, and sought to restore property to Hindus who had left for India and were now returning to East Pakistan. As has been observed in the foregoing, this act was hardly, if ever, put to use.

The East Bengal Evacuees (Administration of Immovable Property) Act 1951 (Act XXIV) : This act was also enacted as a sequel to the Nehru-Liaquat Pact, but operated as an exception to Act XXIII. The act laid down that the provisions of restoration would not apply to any immovable property belonging to Hindus who had left for India on account of communal disturbances if, after they had left, the property had been acquired or requisitioned by the government for a public purpose. No compensation was ever paid to the Hindus whose property was thus acquired or requisitioned.

The East Pakistan Disturbed Persons (Rehabilitation) Ordinance 1964 (Ordinance I) :. In January 1964 a hair, said to be of Prophet Mohammed, and kept as a holy relic in the Hazratbal Mosque at Srinagar, Kashmir, India was said to be missing. Kashmir is at least a thousand miles away from East Bengal, but anti-Hindu rioting immediately broke out in the latter. As usual, Hindu men were murdered, Hindu houses were torched, Hindu temples were ransacked and of course, Hindu women were raped. Taking advantage of the general panic among the Hindus, and their flight to India, a large number of Hindu-owned properties were occupied by their Muslim neighbours. The ordinance was promulgated ostensibly with a view to restore possession to such Hindus. The holy relic was eventually found but, because of unofficial pressure, very few Hindus could come forward to take advantage of the law to regain their possession.

This is not all. The law had a mischievous provision that no Hindu could sell his land or property without the permission of the Government. Again, the ostensible purpose of this was to ensure that no Muslim could take advantage of the helpless state of a Hindu and buy off his property for a pittance, but the result of it in real life was quite different, and it cannot be said that that result was unintended. This law took away, in so many words, the Hindu's right to sell his own property. So what actually happened was that the hapless Hindu, who had decided to emigrate to India anyway, was deprived of whatever little money he could have got in exchange for his property. There were a small number of Muslims who, out of their innate sense of justice, were prepared to pay what they thought would be a fair price for Hindu property. The Ordinance ruled this out too.

In the result, the property of the fleeing Hindus was taken over by the Government by exercise of another provision in the same law which laid down as follows :

"When the person found to be in possession of any such property before the civil disturbance of January 1964 is not traceable, the District Judge may order such property to be to be put under the management of the Evacuee Property Management Board under Section 3 of The East Bengal Evacuees (Administration of Immovable Property) Act 1951".

It is not difficult to guess that the majority of Hindus were not traceable ; and, as they say, the law took its own course.

The Defence of Pakistan Ordinance 1965 (Ordinance XXIII)
The Enemy Property (Custody and Registration) Order 1965
The Enemy Property General Notification no. 1199 of 1965
The East Pakistan Enemy Property (Lands and Buildings) Administration and Disposal Order 1966
The East Pakistan Enemy Property (Continuance of Emergency Provisions) Ordinance 1969 (Ordinance I) :

These were the laws and orders in which the last vestiges of looking upon Hindus as equal citizens of Pakistan (as Jinnah had promised them in his 14th August 1947 speech at Karachi) were finally dropped by the Pakistani state. Such equality had never existed de facto - now it ceased to exist even de jure. As can be seen from their names, none of these were legislations in the ordinary course, taken through the steps of a notification and a parliamentary debate, even among President Ayub Khan's pet parliamentarians called 'Basic Democrats'. On the other hand these were purely executive orders or fiats[3].

The background of these laws lay in the first all-out war between India and Pakistan. The 1948 war in Kashmir was never owned up by Pakistan who maintained that it was 'Kashmiri freedom fighters' fighting the Indian Army. In mid-1965 U.S.made Patton tanks with Pakistani markings were found to be moving in Indian Territory in the 'Rann of Cutch'
[4] area adjoining the border between Gujarat in India and Sind in West Pakistan. Diplomatic wranglings followed, and gave way to full-scale fighting from September 6, 1965. The scene shifted from the Rann of Cutch to the deserts of Rajasthan and the plains of Punjab. The Indian Army advanced to the Ichhogil canal, a few kilometres short of Lahore and held the great city of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in its sights. Eventually the war ended at the mediation of the Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin who persuaded the Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and the Pakistani President Ayub Khan to come to Tashkent and sign an accord. Lal Bahadur Shastri died the very night from a heart attack after the accord was signed.

By an unwritten, unspoken agreement between India and Pakistan the fighting was not taken to the Eastern frontier, but the East Pakistani Hindus, caught perpetually in a cleft stick, were not spared. The draconian laws and orders named above (hereafter called the Enemy Property laws) sought to finish them off economically. In respect of the East Pakistani Hindus who had fled to India earlier, these laws also sought to extinguish the slightest hope that they might be nurturing in their minds of returning to the land of their birth. To apprehend the enormity of the injustice done to the Hindus, consider the following few provisions of the laws, paraphrased in plain English :

1. Any East Pakistani Hindu who had moved to India before 6th September 1965 was an 'Enemy'.
2. Any property in which an Enemy had any share at all was to be classed as 'Enemy Property'
3. All Enemy Property would automatically vest in a Custodian appointed by the Government, and no transaction in respect of any such property would be permitted.
4. In case of any property jointly owned by an Enemy and a Pakistani citizen, the property would have to be partitioned and the part owned by the Enemy vested in the Custodian, BUT
5. This rule would not apply to property jointly owned by a Indian Muslim and a Pakistani citizen. Generally no property of any Indian Muslim was to be classed as Enemy property

The last provision is extremely interesting. It meant clearly that even during a stage of hostility between the two countries Pakistan did not consider Indian Muslims to be their enemies. A necessary corollary of this, even otherwise obvious, must be that they did not trust their own Hindus to be loyal citizens. With such a provision staring them in the face the Hindus of East Pakistan finally lost their de jure equality before law. They could not now legally seek the protection of the state if and when set upon by Pakistani, or even Indian, Muslim goons, land grabbers or rapists. The situation bears an uncanny resemblance to an essential provision of the German state as envisioned by Adolf Hitler, and recorded in his Mein Kampf (English translation) : " . . . . No Jew, therefore, can be a member of the state".

The legal consequence of this statute, being express bias of the state against a sizeable group of its natural-born citizens who had done the state no harm, and whose only fault was that they professed a religion different from that of the state and refused to convert to the state religion, must surely be classed as a Human Rights violation of the grossest kind. This conclusion is further reinforced by the subsequent conduct of the Pakistani state. In fact the hostilities which brought on such draconian legislation were largely over before the month of September 1965 was out. Yet the juggernaut of the legislative machinery of the Jihad-crazed Pakistani state rolled on, as if the state had finally come to realise what a security risk the Hindus are, and was taking the necessary, long-overdue steps in the right direction. All the laws and orders after the Defence of Pakistan Ordinance of 6th September 1965 were promulgated or issued after the cessation of hostilities. Not only so, but when some of the laws and orders had lapsed or were about to lapse, they were given a fresh lease of life by the 1969 Ordinance.

While a detailed discussion on the various features and implications of the laws would be out of scope here, a short reference to some of the particularly unjust features would be in order. There are two schools of inheritance law among the Hindus. Of these the Hindus of Bengal were traditionally governed by the school called Dayabhaga, while those of other parts of India are generally governed by the other school called Mitakshara. Under Dayabhaga Law ancestral property passes on to the eldest available generation, and during the lifetime of that generation the subsequent generation has no right, title or interest. For example, upon a man's death ancestral property inherited by him will pass on to his sons, and during the lifetime of such a son his sons (grandsons of the deceased) will have no right, title or interest. Mitakshara inheritance is a lot more complicated, in which a child, upon his being conceived (not even born), becomes a co-owner of ancestral property together with his brothers, cousins, father, uncles, grandfather and grand-uncles.

This being the position, when the owner of a particular property is a Hindu who is also resident on the property, there should arise no question of the same being declared Enemy property simply because his son resides in India. Yet this is what the law sought and managed to do. Further there was the repulsive provision that this would not apply to either Indian or Pakistani Muslims.

This is not all. It was a custom with wealthy Hindus of Bengal to construct temples on a part of their land, and make the deity in the temple the owner of that part of the land. In India a Hindu deity, legally speaking, is considered 'an artificial person who can sue and can be sued' - of course through a natural person, who is designated as the 'next friend'. Such deities can therefore possess property, including land. In Bengal such land, together with the structures standing thereon, is called Debuttar land, and the next friend placed in charge is called the Shebait. The post of Shebait was hereditary, and this was a recognised method of ensuring, among other things, that at least one brother in the family resided on the land even if all the rest had emigrated. There was no question of such Debuttar land being declared Enemy property even under the provision of the draconian laws, and yet that is another thing that the East Pakistani rulers forcibly did. As a result huge tracts of Debuttar land covering temples, cultivable land kept apart for supporting the Shebait, land for Shmashan (Cremation Ground), etc. were illegally vested in the state, and often obliquely passed into private Muslim hands

The Awami League government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed hinted in the late 1990s that these legislations would be repealed, and introduced a bill for the purpose. Jatiya Sangsad, the Bangladesh Parliament, on 8th April 2001 unanimously adopted "The Vested Property Return Bill 2001".

However, according to informed persons, the Act is not likely to be as effective as it may seem to be at first sight, nor perhaps it is intended to be so. In particular, this Act will be of no help to Hindus who had to flee to India to escape from the Pakistani mass murderers. A letter to the editor of the daily 'The Statesman' of Calcutta, from Bimal Pramanik, published in that daily on May 28, 2001 is very illuminating. This letter was written in response to a post-editorial article by Parmanand, Hony. Director, South Asian Studies Foundation, and published in the same daily on May 9, 2001. An excerpt from the letter is given below.

"According to clause (Section) 2(e) of the Vested Property Return Bill 2001, the term 'owner' has been defined as a 'person whose property has been enlisted as vested property or his successor or successor-in-interest provided the owner or his successor or successor-in-interest is a citizen of Bangladesh without any break and a permanent resident of Bangladesh'.

In terms of Clause (Section) 10(8)(d)(i) of the act (bill), whether the person is a citizen of Bangladesh will be decided In accordance with the Bangladesh Citizenship (Temporary Provisions) Order 1972 (P.O. no. 149 of 1972). In terms of clause 2 of this order of 1972 a person will be considered a citizen of Bangladesh 'if he/she or his/her father or grandfather was born in Bangladesh and if he/she stayed in Bangladesh uninterruptedly upto 25th March 1971 or thereafter, or if he/she styed in Bangladesh on 25th March 1971 and thereafter uninterruptedly as a permanent resident of Bangladesh'.

If these provisions are scrutinised carefully we find that the persons whose properties were listed as enemy properties/vested properties will not be entitled to get back their properties if they or their successor or successor-in-interest had left Bangladesh before 25th March 1971 and returned to Bangladesh after it became a sovereign country. As such the properties which were wrongfully or illegally vested in the government will be returned to their legal owners if and only if they were 'citizens' of Bangladesh. Moreover the citizens who had been victims of enemy property/vested property act and who were compelled to leave the country in between September 1965 and April 2001 will not be covered by this bill when promulgated as an act".

Mr. Pramanik, the writer of this letter, is with the Centre for Studies in Indo-Bangladesh Relations, Calcutta, and is a knowledgeable person on the subject. The letter raises serious doubts about the effectiveness of the new legislation, and leads one to suspect that it is merely cosmetic.. One thing is, however, clear as crystal. None of the Hindus who left East Pakistan between 1950 and 1971 because of the bestialities will get anything back at all.

Legislation apart, what was life like for the Hindu in the years for which the country was known as East Pakistan ? Generally the eventless life of second-class citizens, punctuated occasionally by anti-Hindu pogroms.

Sukomal Talukdar, of Bhabanipur, Hathazari, Chittagong, and later of Chittagong town, now a U.S.citizen, recalls instances of abject discrimination against Hindus that he faced as a student in school and college in East Pakistan. Some of his fellow Muslim students, probably under the instigations of teachers, tried to talk him into converting to Islam. Although students of both communities wrote their examination papers in Bangla, it was easily possible, from the semantics used, to determine whether a particular paper came from a Hindu or a Muslim student. Words like Jol (water), or familial relationships like Mashi (mother’s sister) or Pishi (father’s sister) were dead giveaways, because Muslims invariably used the words ‘Pani’, ‘Khala’ and ‘Fufa’ in these cases. Once a Muslim teacher or examiner was sure that the paper had been written by a Hindu, they would find some excuse not to give good marks on that paper. In Notre Dame College, Dacca, a prestigious institution run by Catholic priests, he remembers how, in a Chemistry practical class, a fellow Muslim student had been given a much higher grade for almost identical work done by both of them.

Subodh Lal Shome lived in Chhatak, near Sylhet town, and worked as the Manager of the Assam Bengal Cement Company. The company was an Indian-owned one, with its headquarters at Calcutta, having been founded by Sardar Inder Singh, father of Sardar Baldev Singh, the first and legendary Defence Minister of India, and the butt of many jokes. Shome remained an Indian citizen, and continued to shuttle between Chhatak and Calcutta where he had kept his family. This is what he had to say about a Hindu's life in East Pakistan

"After the 1950 riots most Hindus went away to India. Those who stayed back because of economic reasons or because they could not bear to give up their property made their peace with the situation and came to terms with the fact that henceforth they would have to live amidst insecurity and humiliation. Even these people had mostly sent their womenfolk away to India.

The rich cultural life that they had once upon a time was now completely a thing of the past. Any sort of ostentation, especially beating of the Dhak (an indigenous drum) during Hindu festivals, such as Rath, Durga Puja or Janmashtami were ruled out for fear of inviting Muslim wrath. Most of them took to wearing Lungis instead of Dhotis so that they could not be marked as Hindus. Still it must be said that life in Sylhet district was relatively peaceful for the Hindus compared to what it was in other districts of East Bengal. Personally for me, because the industry I ran was vital for the economy of East Pakistan, the authorities treated me with kid gloves. The position of most Hindus was however very different. The tragic case of Bijoy Madhab Gupta comes to my mind.

On October 7, 1958 there was a coup in Pakistan in which General Ayub Khan, the head of Pakistani land forces, usurped power and proclaimed Martial Law throughout Pakistan. All civil liberties were suspended, and Courts of Justice were replaced by courts presided over by military officers. These courts used to dispense summary justice in the manner of Courts-Martial, without any regard to principles such as presumption of innocence of the accused or benefit of doubt. The presiding officers of these courts were mostly West Pakistani army officers, and generally very anti-Hindu. Some people saw in this system of justice an opportunity to get even with the Hindus and to grab their property.

Bijoy Madhab Gupta was a very wealthy Hindu of Sylhet town who had chosen to stay on there. He owned a number of tea estates, and the Sylhet Electricity Supply Company. He was a person of very aristocratic lineage and bearing, and was looked up to in various ways, especially by the Hindus of Sylhet. Naturally he also gave rise to a lot of envy, especially among Muslims who thought that no Hindu had a right to be so prosperous in Pakistan.

After the proclamation of Martial Law, a Muslim Mukhtar of Sylhet complained to the Martial Law Authorities that Gupta was an Indian agent, and the Sylhet Electricity Supply Company was charging arbitrary rates for power, thus robbing the public, while at the same time cheating the government of taxes. Gupta was immediately arrested together with three of his officers, all Hindus, and put on summary trial. The very next day the verdict was pronounced. Gupta was fined fourteen thousand Rupees and sentenced to fourteen years of imprisonment. Not only so, but he was to be taken to jail in handcuffs, with a rope tied round his waist and made to walk through the town in full view of the townspeople. Motin Choudhury, a Muslim tea estate owner, and a friend of Gupta could prevail upon the Martial law administrator to save Gupta this ultimate humiliation. After this incident a large number of Hindus took fright and left for India."

Anil Kumar Sen
[8], a Consulting Engineer of Calcutta, had studied in Khulna and served in the Military Engineer Services during the Second World War. After the war he settled down in Calcutta, but his parents remained in Khulna town where they had a house of their own. In 1956 they wrote to Sen that it was no longer possible for them to continue to live at Khulna, and Sen must take them to India.

Sen travelled to Khulna and found them in a totally distraught condition. They kept on begging him not to spend a day longer than necessary in Pakistan, but to take them to India immediately. At this time there was a small but steady stream of Hindus leaving Pakistan, and all of them were badly harassed by the Ansars at the border at Benapol. Sen had been in the same class in school with Abdus Sabur Khan, a very influential East Pakistani politician from Khulna. He approached Khan with a request for safe passage for his parents and himself. Khan obliged him and arranged for a jeep in which the entire family could cross the border without incident.

Sen's parents were witnesses to a new technique of planting insecurity among Hindus. Some Mollahs would go inside a Hindu area, pick out a derelict building (there were many such buildings abandoned by Hindus fleeing to India) and declare that it was the site of an ancient Mosque that the Hindu zamindars had destroyed. They would then start offering Namaz there and holding congregations. Next they would complain that the Hindu women's ringing of bells and blowing of conchshells was interfering with their Namaz, and it better stop, or else. In those days every Hindu household would have an image of Lokkhi (Lakshmi), the Goddess of wealth, and it was de rigeur for every Bengali Hindu housewife to do a ritual worship of the Goddess every nightfall to the accompaniment of clanging of a bell, blowing a conchshell and burning incense. Interfering with this very essential activity made them very nervous and hastened their exit.

While he was in the process of winding up their establishment at Khulna, Sen was witness to a very heartrending scene. One morning he saw a very young girl, no more than thirteen or fourteen, moving about aimlessly along the lane, clutching an infant to her bosom. From her looks she seemed to be from a well-to-do family. As soon as they called after her she fell unconscious. They brought her in and gave her some hot milk. When the girl came to she would not open her mouth till she was sure that the people surrounding her were Hindus. Then the words came tumbling out of her. She and the infant, her brother, were the only survivors of a Hindu family of ten. All others had been murdered by their Muslim neighbours. She somehow managed to escape, and travelled by night, hiding during the day in ponds full of water hyacinth, just keeping her and her brother's nose above the water. She had been walking like this for the last two nights and had had no food, and only dirty pond water to drink. The Sen family adopted her, and she and her brother came to India with the Sens.

Although it is out of the scope of this book to go into the plight of the East Bengali Hindus who came over to West Bengal, it has to be said that their plight was worse than miserable. The post-1950 refugees could not get any property in West Bengal in exchange, and many of them had come with only the clothes on their backs. Those among them who had none to fall back upon had to live like subhumans in Refugee colonies and camps, surviving on cash doles and petty trade. It is they who became the denizens of the forecourt of Sealdah station that this author had seen and mentioned in the preface. The worst sufferers were the widows and unaccompanied women. A traditional Hindu widow is, almost by definition, a weak helpless creature who is supposed to be looked after by her parents (so long as they are alive) and by her children. Those who have neither parents nor children to take care of them is either supported by relatives from sheer pity, or left to the elements of nature. Some among the older among them went to Varanasi (Banaras) or Vrindavan - they have been described in Chapter 4. Some among the younger took to prostitution, some to begging. Women who were financially comfortable in East Bengal, who had never imagined they would have to address strangers, were forced almost overnight to peddle petty items like plastic combs and pickles and joss-sticks from house to house, or to take up work as domestic help.

The melancholy streak that generally pervades Bengali psyche and literature found full expression at the sight of these refugees, and innumerable short stories, novels and quite a few films were written or made on them, among them such famous tear-jerkers such as Ritwick Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka Tara (Star hidden behind a cloud). All such literature or films however carefully avoided any reference to the root cause of their malady, what had caused them their present state : Islamic persecution of minority Hindus in East Bengal.

For the most objective treatment of the post-exodus plight of East Bengali refugees in India the reader is referred to Prafulla Kumar Chakravarti's 'The Marginal Men', mentioned in the bibliography.

Meanwhile the Hindus who stayed back carried on with their desultory existence, perpetually in fear of yet another pogrom. They did not have to wait long. A major pogrom took place in 1964 upon the report of the loss of Prophet Mohammed's hair from the Hazratbal mosque in Kashmir, India, of which a mention has already been made. East Bengali Hindus did not have the remotest connection with the incident - Kashmir is thousands of kilometres away from East Bengal. But the loss of the relic was a serious matter, Jihad had to be waged, and murderous religious fervour had to be vented on someone, and what better object can there be than the helpless East Bengali Hindus? So there was the usual wave of torching, murders, and of course, rape of Hindu women. The Governor of East Pakistan at the time was Abdul Monem Khan, a known Hindu-baiter, and he added his bit both by apathy and by active, if silent, encouragement to butchery.

According to Asit Roy
[9], the entire lot of Hindus in his ancestral village of Mainam, near Naogaon in Rajshahi were wiped out. Only two little girls, his cousins, who had wrapped themselves in cloth and hid below a cot survived.

Sukomal Talukdar was a student of East Pakistan University of Engineering and Technology (EPUET), earlier known as the Ahsanullah Engineering College. After the Hazratbal incident harrassment of Hindu students started in right earnest at the university. The Hindu students’ hostel used to be pelted with stones every night. Students owing alliegence to the Jamaat-e-Islami openly used to call the Hindus Indian spies. One of his fellow students, Subhas Roy from Narayangunge, came to be known as a ‘targetted person’ because he was said to have been in love with a Muslim girl. He used to go to see his parents every weekend and travelled by bus from Dacca to Narayangunge. Once he came to Sukomal and told him that during one of these bus journeys he had been threatened with death. Within a fortnight of this conversation, while the fever of the Hazratbal incident was still on, some people came to his hostel, dragged him out and killed him. There were about two hundred Muslim students, and some thirty Hindus in the same class. Of these two hundred Muslims only one – Mohsin Ahmed – said any words of sympathy. The rest, though attending the same class, and spending most of the day with the Hindu students, were completely indifferent to the plight of the latter. However Mohsin told Sukomal and other Hindu students to go away to India if they could manage it, because the situation was fast getting out of control. Even after the fever subsided, the total atmosphere was absolutely demoralising. Sukomal finally crossed over to India by a clandestine route across the River Gomati on the Tripura border by paying Rs 50 to an agent, came to Calcutta via Agartala, and managed to enroll himself in Bengal Engineering College in West Bengal in the same class as this author.

The middle-class among the Hindus, the upper and middle castes, kept on trying to emigrate to India, even at the cost of losing their jobs, and of course, their property. Most of them sent their college-going children, especially girls, to India. When they gave their girls in marriage they invariably chose grooms from India, so that they could in this way develop a leg in their eventual refuge. The lower castes, the really economically weak classes, such as Namahshudra, Kaibarta, Bagdi, Matua and others, did not have any of these options and stayed on in the name of whatever God they worshipped. The majority among the tiny Bengali Christian and Buddhist communities, mostly Catholics from Barisal and Noakhali, and Mahayana Buddhists from Chittagong respectively, also emigrated, though a few stayed back. The former settled down in the Taltola area of Calcutta, and thence spread out to the rest of India. The latter, with names like Barua, Kalita and Mutsuddi, stuck with their fellow Hindu Chittagong crowd in India, and became indistinguishable from them except for the Buddhist rituals which they practised privately. This community has intermarried extensively with Hindus in West Bengal, and may cease to exist separately from the Hindus very soon.

An interesting sidelight about the Buddhists must be mentioned. Sukomal Talukdar recalls that there were a few Buddhist villages around his village, but he had noted that the extent to which the Buddhists were harrassed by the Muslims was much less than that in the case of Hindus. He did not know the reason for this, but could attribute this only to the fact that the Buddhists ate beef like the Muslims. Furthermore, although the Mahayana Buddhists were idol worshippers, their worship was much less ostentatious than that of the Hindus, particularly in the fact that there was no beating of drums involved.

The plight of the Hindu still in East Bengal, ever apprehensive about the next pogrom, reminds one of the state of mind of the African-American adolescent girl in Tallahatchie county, Mississippi in the early 1950s, following the discovery of the bullet-ridden body of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African-American boy who had allegedly whistled at a white girl.

“Before Emmett Till’s murder I had known the fear of hunger, hell and the Devil. But now there was a new fear known to me – the fear of killed just because I was black. This was the worst of my fears. I knew that once I got food the fear of starving to death would leave. I also was told that if I were a good girl, I wouldn’t have to fear the Devil or hell. But I didn’t know what one had to do or not do as a Negro not to be killed.”

Anne Moody’s girl could not become white, but the Hindu in East Bengal had a choice. He could convert, and continue to live in East Bengal without fear. In this regard one fact stands out. Among those who stayed back, barring a few stray exceptions, the Hindus as well as members of the small communities, despite all pressures and persuasion, staunchly refused to convert to Islam.

[1] Matir Bhetore Kalo Haat : Shotru (Orpito) Sompotti Ain o Bangladesher Sonkhaloghu/ A Dark Hand Inside My Land : The Enemy (Vested) Property Act, and the Minorities in Bangladesh (Bilingual, in Bangla and English) by Dr. Dilip De, Shoili Prokasan, Chittagong, Bangladesh, !st Ed., 1999

[2] ibid. p. 271-278

[3] ibid. p. 392-410

[4] Cutch is the North-westernmost part of the Indian state of Gujarat, bordering the Pakistani province of Sind. The Rann of Cutch is a low salty basin that surrounds the land mass. The Rann is inundated by the sea every monsoon. When dry it is a totally arid wasteland, and home to the Wild Ass, an animal extinct from other parts of the world.

[5] Matir Bhetore Kalo Haat etc. ibid. p 40-41
[6] ibid. p. 183-184

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

[8] (b. 1910) Consulting Engineer, Calcutta. Interviewed April 1999
[9] (b. 1933) Ex-employee, Durgapur Steel Plant. Interviewed August 2000.

[10] Coming of Age in Mississippi, by Anne Moody, 1st Ed., Doubleday, 1968, p. 129