Calcutta Riots -12th February 1946

Few events of the 1940s are still as contested as the large scale communal riots in August 1946. What do people remember of it? What was reported at the time? Contradictions, and contested accounts are not unusual.

The human tragedy of it all is undeniable though as is the fact that Calcutta and even India as a whole was never the same again.

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Earlier Communal Riots

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

Jinnah Split

[…]

Socially, Indian Moslems are a solid, self-conscious minority group (just less than  one-fourth of India’s population) ; Hindus are a loosely-bound, sect-split,  caste-stratified majority (three-fourths).

Hindus are the wealthier group. In general, Hindus are landowners, capitalists,  shopkeepers, professionals, employers ; Moslems are peasants, artisans, laborers.

In Bengal, where Hindus are only 43% of the population, they pay 85% of the taxes.

One of the main reasons for this difference is that usury, which accounts for far more  profit in India than trade, is forbidden to Moslems by religious law.

[…]

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Dec. 4, 1939)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

A religious massacre was the last thing we were prepared for

Independence did not come to South Asia as a single, identifiable event in 1947, though that is way most South Asians like to remember it. The slow, painful process of dismantling British India began with the great Calcutta riots and ended with the genocide in Punjab.

I was nine in 1946 and relatively new to Calcutta. Even at that age I could sense that the people around me had had enough of ‘shock’ and trauma. First, there had been the fear of Japanese bombing in the last days of the war, which had taken my mother, my younger brother and myself to a quieter city in the nearby state of Bihar, while my father had stayed back to work in Calcutta. The bombing was nothing to write home about, but it created tremendous panic all around and there was an exodus from Calcutta. Now we were back at the city, the war was over, and freedom was round the corner. But for a small outbreak of plague in 1946, Calcutta was limping back to normal.

Then there was the famine of 1942, precipitated by British wartime policies. Its memory was still fresh and Calcutta wore the scars of it. People no longer died of hunger in public view, but begging and fighting for food with street dogs near garbage bins was not uncommon. The memory of thousands of people slowly dying of hunger, without any resistance or violence, often in front of shops full of edibles, was still fresh in the minds of the Calcuttans. Most victims were peasants, many of them Muslims. They died without ransacking a single grocery, restaurant or sweetmeat shop. Whoever thought they would fight like tigers when it came to religious nationalism? A religious massacre was the last thing we were prepared for.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 1-2 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

Clashes before the killings

Clashes and riots had been know to take place when someone, deliberately or otherwise, squirted dye over a Muhammadan.

Eugenie Fraser, wife of a jute mill manager, Titaghur, Holi 1944

(source:page 114 of Eugenie Fraser: “A home by the Hooghly. A jute Wallahs Wife” .Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing  1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Eugenie Fraser)

they were caught up in a skirmish

He had two weeks at home before going back to Sandwich and prepared to go the Far East. He didn’t know what he was going to be doing there. Rumour had it was that they were going to build another Mulberry Harbour but that was all speculation. The same unit was soon shipped to Bombay and then went on to Calcutta. At Howrah Bridge they were caught up in a skirmish between the Muslims on one side of the river, and Hindus on the other. He thinks it was Ramadan. He wondered why they had been asked to try and keep them apart, when both sides had guns! Bullets were flying so quickly that the British soldiers could all have been massacred easily (there were only about 20 soldiers he thinks). And eventually the CO agreed with him and withdrew his men. Apparently the skirmish was almost an annual event. A bit like the Orange parade troubles. It happened when a Muslim festival was a bit too up-close for the other side to tolerate.

Edward Ernest Joseph Fairhall , Royal Engineers, Calcutta, 1945

(source: A4027943 From Balderton to Scotland, France and the Far East at BBC WW2 People’s War’ on http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/ Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)

“British pigs” go home

Beginning to catch us up was the political undercurrent, the unrest, Mr. Gandhi’s Congress Party with Pandit Nehru at the helm were making themselves heard and no more so than in Calcutta. “Gandhi Wallahs”, we called them, dressed in pure white dhoti clothing with hats to match were squaring up to Mr. Jinnah’s Muslim League Party. There were riots in the major cities of India and we the Brits were caught up in the middle of it all. “British pigs” go home they were saying and we were bewildered. We had just prevented the Japs from the big take over of their country. Mind you, we were too young at the time to worry too much about any Indian political intrigue. We were more concerned about getting home, though the prospect of that happening now, was remote.

Cliford Wood, Royal Air Force wireless operator, Calcutta, 1944

(source: A4254103 AN RAF WIRELESS OPERATOR ON THE BURMA FRONT (Part 3 of 3) at BBC WW2 People’s War’ on http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/ Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)

‘I had never seen such devastation’

[Nikhil Chakravartty had given up his studies to turn to a new career in journalism and by accident he walked into a Muslim political meeting. It was only the presence of mind of some Muslim journalists which saved his life – he was quickly ushered out and allowed to make good his escape to the safety of the Indian Communist Party headquarters where he was marooned for three days.]

I had never seen such devastation. Without a war hundreds of people were lying dead on the roadside – and still the fires burned all over the place. Many shops were being looted and many houses were burned down. On the third day I came back home where I found to my horror an old Muslim washerman being beaten up — civilised people who knew him were doing it.

Nikhil Chakravartty, Journalist, Calcutta, November 1945
 (source: page 135 of Trevor Royle: “The Last Days of the Raj” London: Michael Joseph, 1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Trevor Royle 1989)

Muslim agitation

In 1946, the news came out that India would get her freedom the following year. Mr Jinnah had earlier formed the Muslim League and much shouting was going on from the Muslims. Slogans of all kinds were invented, but I did not, at the time, understand Mr Jinnah’s object in detail. The general impression was: that all the noise was based on the idea that the Muslims should get equal representation in the new independent Indian Government.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, Calcutta 1946
(source: page 211 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

Kanme bidi, muhme pan, Ladke lenge Pakistan

As the tough negotiations for transfer of power began to heat up and communalise the political atmosphere, in front of our eyes the slum dwellers turned into active supporters of the Muslim League. They began to fly the green flag of the party and, sometimes, take out small processions accompanied by much frenzied drum beating. Many of the enthusiasts were middle-aged and looked very poor and innocuous in their tattered clothes, even while shouting aggressive, martial slogans. Their newfound politics did not change our distant but friendly social equation with them. We, the children, were not afraid of them, and when we teased them, they smiled. They would passionately shout their slogans and we the kids would reply in our tinny voices: Kanme bidi, muhme pan, Ladke lenge Pakistan. In any case, their fierce slogans seemed totally incongruous with their betel nut chewing, easy style.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 2 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

 

 

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16 August 1946 – Day of Direct Action

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

‘You will see the meaning when the day comes.’

At a meeting in the Assembly, Mr Jinnah announced that 16th August 1946, should be a ‘Direct Action Day’ for the Muslim League. When asked what he meant by ‘Direct Action Day,’ his reply was short and sweet: ‘You will see the meaning when the day comes.’ Nothing more seemed to have been asked; no kind of preventive action against any disturbance was taken.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, Calcutta summer 1946
(source: page 211 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

The way to the Day of Direct action

The unequivocal acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan by the Congress Working Committee led to an immediate response from the Viceroy. On 12 August, Jawaharlal was invited by him to form an interim Government at the Centre in the following terms:

His Excellency the Viceroy, with the approval of His Majesty’s

Government has invited the President of the Congress to make

proposals for the immediate formation of an interim Government

and the President of the Congress has accepted the invitation.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru will shortly visit New Delhi to discuss this

proposal with His Excellency the Viceroy.

Mr Jinnah issued a statement the same day on which he said that ‘the latest resolution of the Congress Working Committee passed at Wardha on 10 August does not carry us anywhere because it is only a repetition of the Congress stand taken by them from the very beginning, only put in a different phraseology’. He rejected Jawaharlal’s invitation to cooperate in the formation of an interim Government. Later, on 15 August, Jawaharlal met Mr Jinnah at his house. Nothing however came out of their discussion and the situation rapidly deteriorated.

When the League Council met at the end of July and decided to resort to direct action, it also authorised Mr Jinnah to take any action he liked in pursuance of the programme. Mr Jinnah declared 16 August the Direct Action Day, but he did not make it clear what the programme would be. It was generally thought that there would be another meeting of the Muslim League Council to work out the details but this did not take place. On the other hand, I noticed in Calcutta that a strange situation was developing. In the past, political parties had observed special days by organising hartals, taking out processions and holding meetings. The League’s Direct Action Day seemed to be of a different type. In Calcutta, I found a general feeling that on 16 August, the Muslim League would attack Congressmen and loot Congress property. Further panic was created when the Bengal Government decided to declare 16 August a public holiday. The Congress Party in the Bengal Assembly protested against this decision and when this proved ineffective, walked out in protest against the Government’s policy in giving effect to a party decision through the use of Government machinery.  There was a general sense of anxiety in Calcutta which was heightened by the fact that the Government was under the control of the Muslim league and Mr. H.S.Suhrawardy was the Chief Minister.

Maulana Azad, president of Indian National Congress. Calcutta, 1946
(source pages 168-69 Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad: “India Wins Freedom” London: Orient Longman, 1988.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Orient Longman 1988)

Announcement of direct action day

The overt act that split India began in the streets of Calcutta. But the decision was made in Bombay. It was a one-man decision, and the man who made it was cool, calculating, unreligious. This determination to establish a separate Islamic state came not—as one might have expected—from some Muslim divine in archaic robes and flowing heard, but from a thoroughly Westernized, English-educated attorney-at-law with a clean-shaven face and razor-sharp mind. Mahomed Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League and architect of Pakistan, had for many years worked at the side of Nehru and Gandhi for a free, united India, until in the evening of his life he broke sharply with his past to achieve a separate Pakistan.

Jinnah lived to see himself ruler of the world’s largest Islamic nation before he died in September 1948, at the age of seventy-two, but I think of him as reaching his pinnacle of power two years before his death, when freedom-with-unity appeared on the verge of becoming a reality and he took the momentous steps that crushed all hopes for a united India.

Jinnah’s Press conference at his Bombay home on Malabar Hill, in late July 1946, marked the public turning point. It was so unusual for the Quaid-i-Azam, or ‘Great Leader’, to call a Press  conference that both foreign and Indian reporters rushed eagerly to attend it. Nor were they disappointed: Jinnah intimated—rather boldly—the coming of Direct Action Day. Two and a half Weeks later this day touched off a chain of events that led, after

twelve explosive months, to a divided India and the violent disruptions of the Great Migration.

Until then most of us had thought the differences between the Congress Party and the Muslim League would somehow be resolved and that freedom would bring a united nation, Jinnah’s arguments for division were all familiar: that the Muslims in India were outnumbered three to one by Hindus and would be crushed under Hindu domination; that Hindus worshipped the cow while Muslims ate the cow; that religion, customs, culture all made Muslims different from Hindus.

Opponents of the two-nation theory maintained that Hindus and Muslims could not be so different, since there was no racial difference. Ninety-five per cent of India’s Muslims were Just converted Hindus. Even Mr Jinnah, they were fond of pointing out, had a Hindu grandfather.

For my part, I believe that die tragic weakness of the Indian leaders during this crucial period was their failure to take a firm Stand against the forces of Indian feudalism. A spellbinder with slogans found it all too easy to galvanize the pent-up suffering of centuries into one powerful current of religious hatred. That this was done by an ambitious lawyer in Western dress and of un-orthodox habits makes it all the clearer that religion was used like a document plucked from a briefcase.

There was a good deal of the successful lawyer about Jinnah that midsummer morning of the press conference, as he stood on the steps of his spacious veranda receiving the reporters. A pencil-thin monochrome in grey and silver, with perfectly tailored suit and tie and socks precisely matching his hair, his manner with us was courteous but formal. As he fitted his monocle to his eye and began to speak, there was something consciously theatrical about Mr Jinnah—reminiscent of that most un-Islamic chapter of his past when he was a Shakespearean actor in England.

His statement to the Press was in the form of a monologue, delivered in an icy voice, which was a forecast of fiery events to come. ‘We are preparing to launch a struggle. We have chalked out a plan.’ We reporters, although we sat around Jinnah in a close circle, had almost to stop our breathing to hear his curiously hushed words. He had decided to boycott the Constituent Assembly. He was rejecting in its entirety the British plan for transfer of power to an interim government which would combine both the League and the Congress. He lashed out against the ‘Hindu-dominated Congress’ in his flat, chilled monotone. It seemed clear, now the bondage to the British was drawing to an end, that the was free to concentrate ail his fire against the opposite party.

‘We are forced in our own self-protection to abandon constitutional methods.’ His thin lips slit into a frigid smile. ‘The decision we have taken is a very grave one.’ If the Muslims were not granted their separate Pakistan they would launch ‘direct action’.

The phrase caught all of us. What form would direct action take, we all wanted to know. ‘Go to the Congress and ask them their plans,’ Mr Jinnah snapped. ‘When they take you into their confidence I will take you into mine.’

There was silence for a moment, broken only by the cooing of pigeons hopping over Jinnah’s shaven lawn. Then he added in the same toneless voice, so strangely unmatched to his words; ‘Why do you expect me alone to sit with folded hands? I also am going to make trouble.’

Next day the Quaid-i-Azam [Jinnah] changed out of his double-breasted
suit and put on Muslim dress and fez for die Muslim masses. Standing on a platform liberally decorated with enlargements of his portrait, he announced that the sixteenth of August, two and a half weeks hence, would be ‘Direct Action Day’. His vituperation against die Congress was acidly explicit. ‘If you want peace, we do not want war,’ he declared. ‘If you want war we accept your offer unhesitatingly. We will either have a divided India or a destroyed India.’ And the Muslim Leaguers Jumped up on their sears and tossed their fezzes in the air.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Bombay, lat July 1946
(source: pages 25-27 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

Run-up to direct action

It was a battle between politicians now. The papers blazed with accusations from both sides—League and Congress equally intolerant in their attacks. The opposing streams of fiery words had a terrible effect on die emotional Indian people. Passions mounted during the crucial fortnight; Direct Action Day dawned in an atmosphere of dread and foreboding.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 27 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

 

she felt they were preparing for some religious procession

On August 16, our domestic help told my mother that while walking to our place through the slum, she had seen some of the residents assembling and sharpening knives and sticks. As this was not as uncommon sight during Muharram, she felt they were preparing for some religious procession. She did not even know that the Muslim League had declared a Direct Action Day in support of its demand for Pakistan. No one took the declaration seriously till suddenly in late morning, before our unbelieving eyes, Calcutta exploded. Mobs that had collected in front of the slum began to beat up Hindus; in the distance we could see houses being set on fire and looted. That was my first exposure to the politics of slums in South Asia and rioting as a crucial component of that politics.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 2 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

TheHindu community conspired to pre-empt this move

When the Quaid-i-Azam called for the Direct Action Day, the well-organized Hindu community conspired to pre-empt this move. They were supported by the British Inspector-General of Police.

Roquyya Jafri, Position. Calcutta, 1946

(source  Roquyya Jafri : “A model of political rectitude.” http://www.dawn.com/2003/09/08/op.htm)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Roquyya Jafri)

 

 

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16-19 August 1946 – Great Calcutta Killings

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

A serious rioting has broken out in our locality

Sir,

Since last night a serious rioting has broken out in our locality + it has become impossible for the inhabitants of the locality to stir out of their houses.  We are absolutely helpless + getting no protection from the local police.

Sop I seek your protection + hope you will kindly arrange for some armed guard at my house.

[…]

Pankaja Kumar Ganguly, Public Pprosecutor 24 Parganas,, Calcutta, 17th August 1947

(source: personal scrapbook kept by Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart O.B.E., I.C.S. seen on 20-Dec-2005 / Reproduced by courtesy of Mrs. Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart)

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

Direct Action

India suffered the biggest Moslem-Hindu riot in its history. Moslem League Boss Mohamed Ali Jinnah had picked the 18th day of Ramadan for “Direct Action Day” against Britain’s plan for Indian independence (which does not satisfy the Moslems’ old demand for a separate Pakistan). Though direct, the action was supposed to be peaceful. But before the disastrous day was over, blood soaked the melting asphalt of sweltering Calcutta’s streets.

Rioting Moslems went after Hindus with guns, knives and clubs, looted shops, stoned newspaper offices, set fire to Calcutta’s British business district. Hindus retaliated by firing Moslem mosques and miles of Moslem slums. Thousands of homeless families roamed the city in search of safety and food (most markets had been pilfered or closed). Police blotters were filled with stories of women raped, mutilated and burned alive. Indian police, backed by British Spitfire scouting planes and armored cars, battled mobs of both actions. Cried Hindu Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (who is trying to form an interim government despite the Moslems’ refusal to enter it): “Either direct action knocks the Government over, or the Government knocks direct action over.”

By the 21st day of Ramadan, direct action had killed some 3,000 people and wounded thousands more. Said one weary police officer: “All we can do is move the bodies to one side of the street.” Vultures tore into the rapidly putrefying corpses (among them, the bodies of many women & children).

Like other Indian leaders, Jinnah denounced the “fratricidal war.” But most observers wondered how Jinnah could fail to know what would happen when he called for “direct action.” Shortly before the riots broke out, his own news agency (Orient Press) reported that Jinnah, anticipating violence, was sleeping on the floor these nights—to toughen up for a possible sojourn in jail.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York, Aug. 26, 1946)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

The Start of the’Day of Direct Action’

On 16th August, in the morning from about 6.00 am, gatherings of Muslims, 200-400 strong and armed with lathis wended their way towards the Calcutta Maidan, marching like soldiers, four abreast. They gathered at the foot of the Ochterlony Monument. Fiery speeches were made, chiefly directed against the Hindus, but the Hindus did not turn out to listen to the speeches. However, what happened to them in their homes and shops was quite another matter.

Here mobs of people, dressed in all kinds of costumes, had begun plundering, raping, burning and killing the Hindus! Private houses and shops were set on fire. The usually peaceful Hindus were so taken aback by this sudden onslaught that they totally failed to protect themselves. They had hoped for protection and relief from the Police.

No help came, however. Though the Police were out in great force, the attacks were so widespread, that they were totally outnumbered. The raping, robbing and arson went on throughout the day, but a strange fact remained: not a single Muslim shop or house suffered any molestation!

The leaders of the different mobs of Muslims carried on the lapels of their coats Mr Jinnah’s sign: the crescent moon and star. It was obvious who stood behind the horrible thing. In my office throughout the day, I heard news of the terrible happenings from all parts of the city, especially the Hindu localities.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, 16th August 1946
(source: page 211 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

 “There is a Mussulman shopkeeper standing in front of me…”

Later in that year came what is still known in Calcutta as ‘The Great Killing’, when Hindus and Muslims, on the verge of Independence, killed one another by the thousand. Corpses lay rotting in the streets or were crammed down the man-holes to block the drains. Now it was crowds fleeing from Calcutta who drifted helplessly down the road past the compound, ‘At this moment,’ Father D. wrote, “there is a Mussulman shopkeeper standing in front of me, weeping intermittently, of course, and telling me that his father has been killed by the Punjabis, his shop looted, and that he wants me to help him to get to his country. The worst of it is that it is impossible to help to any good, and it is impossible to know whether he is telling the truth or not. But I think he must be, for he says he is willing to go over and eat rice.” At the end of his letter he adds, “My Mussulman has just come across from the kitchen, quite replete and most grateful, and he has gone off leaving me most thankful that I did not send him away uncared for.”

Friends of Father Douglass, Missionaries and Charity workers in Behala, Calcutta, 1946.
(Source: Father Douglas of Behala. London, 1952 / Reproduced by courtesy of Oxford University Press)
 “Poor Gangaram’s face was crawling with flies and cockroaches!”

 

When Jinnah launched his Direct Action Day we were in Poona. The full horror of the mass killings which took place in Calcutta did not hit us until we got back to Delhi. My friend Stella had fled after finding the head of her peon on her desk.

“Poor Gangaram’s face was crawling with flies and cockroaches! My papers were soaked in blood, a whole month’s work destroyed! There was blood everywhere.  Taya, you won’t believe it, the streets were full of bodies. And the police were doing nothing, absolutely nothing., just looking the other way. It was unbelievable! Unbelievable!” Estimates of the dead ranged form four thousand five hundred to thirty thousand. The Muslim Chief Minister of Bengal had planned the massacre. By the third day, Calcutta’s tax drivers, most of whom were Sikhs, had organised themselves and, with the help of Hindus, went on the rampage, killing Muslims in retaliation. It was an inexcusably long week before the British Governor, an ex-trade-union official, called in the army.

 

Taya Zinkin, Wife of an ICS Officer. Calcutta, Summer 1946
(source: Taya Zinkin “French Memsahib”Stoke Abbott: Thomas Harmsworth Publishing 1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Taya Zinkin)

People had been jumping over our walls,…

 

“We were not suppose to go out into the streets, but I went anyway.  Then I saw the bodies on the streets, stabbed, beaten, lying there is strange positions in their dried blood.  We had been behind our safe walls.  We knew that there had been rioting.  People had been jumping over our walls, first a Hindu, then a Muslim.  You see, our compound was between Moti Jhil, which was mainly Muslim then, and Tengra with the potteries and tanneries.  That was Hindu.  We took in each one and helped him to escape safely. When I went out in the streets — only then I saw the death that was following them.  “

 

Sister Teresa, Teacher at Loretto School. Calcutta, August 1946
(source: Anne Sebba: “Mother Teresa 1910-1997 Beyond the Image”London: Orion, 1998)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Anne Sebba)

Nanda Lal’s Teashop

Most of what I learned about that day came from a little tea-shop keeper in Calcutta, where the explosion began. As soon as I heard of the incredible events taking place, I had flown from Bombay to Calcutta. The disruption of normal city life was so great that it was some time before I could make my way to the ruined heart of the bazaar district. Hunting for a survivor who had been an eye-witness to the first stroke of direct action, I found Nanda Lal, in the wreckage of his teashop.

Nanda Lal’s little ‘East Bengal Cabin’, at 36 Harrison Road, was located in one of those potential trouble spots where a by-lane of Muslim shops crossed the Hindu-dominated thoroughfare.

Nanda Lal was a Hindu and wore the traditional dhoti, twisted diaperlike between his legs. A patch of grizzled hair stood out on his walnut-coloured chest, and a narrow silver amulet gleamed on his thin upper arm. Like many Bengalis, he was fairly well educated and spoke a little English.

The ‘East Bengal Cabin’, with its elongated oven fronting the pavement, looked much like an Asiatic version of a Nedick’s stand. The Hindu clerks of the Minerva Banking Corporation opposite were frequent customers, as were the boarders in the ‘Happy Home Boarding House’ near-by. Although Nanda Lal was in the protective shadow of these impressive Hindu establishments, the Muslim quarter began just round the comer in Mirzapore Street, too close for security,

On the morning of August 16th, Nanda Lal started his oven and set out his tray of sweetmeats as usual. When his little son came out with the jars of mango pickle and chutney, he commented to the child that the streets looked reassuringly quiet. The sacred cows that roam freely through the thoroughfares of Calcutta were sleeping as usual in the middle of the car tracks, and rose to their feet reluctantly, as they always did, when the first tramcar of the day clanged down Harrison Road.

It was the sight of that first tram that confirmed Nanda Lal’s fears that this day was to be unlike all other days. Normally it was so crowded that they bulged from the platform and clung to the doorsteps and back of the car. Today there was hardly a passenger on board.

Then things began happening so quickly that Nanda Lal could hardly recall them in sequence. But he did remember quite clearly the seven lorries that came thundering down Harrison Road, Men armed with brickbats and bottles began leaping out of the lorries—’Muslim ‘goondas’, or gangsters, Nanda Lal decided, since they immediately fell to tearing up Hindu shops. Some rushed into the furniture store next to the ‘Happy Home’ and began tossing mattresses and furniture into the street. Others ran toward the ‘Bengal Cabin’, but Nanda Lal was fastening up the blinds by now, shouting to his son to run back into the house, straining to bar the windows and close the door.

He could hear a pelting sound beating up the street, the hammering noise of a hail of stones. He was too busy getting the •windows barred to take much notice of the fact that he was hit in several places and his leg and head were bleeding. He managed to get inside by the time the ruffians reached his shop; he could hear them banging against his door as he double-barred it from the inside; then he raced across the inner courtyard.

The court was edged with tenements and closed from the outside by a wall. Nanda Lal could hear goondas climbing the wall, shouting; ‘Beat them up! Beat them up!’ A head rose over the wall, and then several figures started pulling themselves up into view. But by that time some of Nanda Lal’s numerous relatives, who lived in his flat, had taken up a counter-offensive from the terrace and the invaders were driven back under a shower of flower pots.

In the breathing spell offered by this successful move, two of his wife’s uncles ran down and helped Nanda Lal build a barricade at the foot of the stairs which would jam shut the door leading to  their flat. Whatever benches and tables they could lay their hands on, they piled against the door and at the foot of the stairs. Nanda Lal snatched three bicycles from the vestibule and jammed them in amidst the furniture. Then they all ran up to the top floor of the flat, where the women of the bouse were huddled in the upper hallway.

Nanda Lal peeped cautiously out of a window. Never had he seen the streets so filled with clawing, surging mobs. In front of the Happy Home, some broken rickshaws had been added to the heap of mattresses, and flames were rising from the pile. When the wind shifted the smoke, Nanda Lal could glimpse figures on the bank steps shaking up pop bottles and hurling them into the crowds’—the bottles bursting like hand grenades when they landed. Flames were racing through the dress goods swinging from racks in front of the ‘Goddess of Plenty’ dress shop and through the crowded living quarters behind the rows of shops.

Nanda Lal suspected that much of this was the organized work of goondas. In India ‘goondaism’ is a profession; goondas abound in a port city such as Calcutta, where they do a brisk trade in smuggling but may also be hired for strike-breaking or religious outbreaks.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: pages 27-9 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

The battle for Ripon College

Later in die morning Nanda Lal climbed to the roof. Looking down, he saw boys, wearing the green arm-bands of Muslim League volunteers, weaving their way through the crowds and heading toward Ripon College. Drawn in a new direction, the entire mob began pressing down Harrison Road toward the college.

Like all Indian colleges, Ripon had long been a crucible of seething politics. With the recent emphasis on Hindu-Muslim differences, the religious fanaticism infecting politics had had explosive effects on the students. The violent fighting at the fortress-like base of the college, one street away, was hidden from Nanda Lal’s view, but he could see a desperate battle in progress on the roof. The skirmish centred about the orange, green, and white tri-colour of the Congress Parly, which had been raised on the flagpole by Hindu students early that morning. Through the struggling knots of youngsters he could catch flashes of green as the opposition beat their way to the pole with their own Muslim League flag.

Finally the green banner, with its Islamic star and crescent, shot to the top of the pole, and the muddled shouting of the mob below changed to an articulate roar. ‘Allah ho Akbar.’ (‘God is great’)—the slogan which the Mussulman uses impartially in prayer and in battle—swept through the streets.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 30 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

Gunfire is rare in Indian riots

The streets and by-lanes were throbbing with cries of ‘Jai Hind.’ (‘Victory to a united India’) from the Hindus, and ‘Pakistan zindabad.’ (‘Long live Pakistan’) from the Muslims. Suddenly this clash of slogans was punctuated by a new staccato sound. A rattle of bullets from the window of an apartment opposite the college brought cold terror to the heart of Nanda Lal. Gunfire is rare in Indian riots. A new frenzy swept the throng and the riot overflowed the bounds of Harrison Road. Through the entire city the terror and arson spread, through the crowded bazaars, the teeming chawls and tenements.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 30  Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

Beseiged upstairs

During the terrible days that followed, Nanda Lal huddled with his family and relatives in the upper hallway. Sometimes bricks and stones crashed through the windows of the outside rooms. The children cried a great deal; they were hungry as well as terrified.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 30-1 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

The rescue of nine Hindu college girls

One night Nanda Lal had the opportunity to help in the rescue of nine Hindu college girls. He was astonished that one of his Muslim neighbours approached him on this project. He had completely forgotten, he told me, that Mussulmans could be benevolent human beings. The evacuation plan was worked out by the proprietor of the Gulzar Shawl Repair Company, whose back alley adjoined that of the ‘East Bengal Cabin’. Disguised as Muslims in the burkas with which orthodox Mohammedan women veil themselves from head to toe, the college girls were smuggled through the Muslim quarter and into a Hindu area. The Shawl Repair Company provided the burkas, and Nanda Lal’s help was enlisted in this joint humanitarian project because his courtyard . connected Muslim and Hindu streets and furnished the girls with a good refuge to don their disguises.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 31 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

Grandmother was made of sterner stuff

When the communal riots broke out on August 16, 1946, our area took on a slightly haunted look as if the violence would affect our lives and we had to be prepared for emergencies. There were no Hindus left here once the riots reached their peak, except us.

Grandfather was determined to move out to the Great Eastern Hotel till the madness died down but grandmother was made of sterner stuff. She refused to budge from her own house and preferred to deploy armed guards near our gate. The threats of local Muslims passing by in tongas did not unnerve her in the least. Her will prevailed and we stayed back at No. 6.

Samir Mukerjee. Schoolboy. Calcutta, August 1946
(source: Samir Mukerjee: Keep the faith & the friends. The Telegraph: 31Oct2003)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Samir Mukerjee)

“I was at a loss to understand what was ‘going on’”

Although I often recall, not without considerable nostalgia, the old Calcutta days, I cannot forget the terrible toll of lives lost during the pre-independence riots in West Bengal. I can vividly recall witnessing, at first hand, a man being beaten to death by a ‘lathi’ wielding mob-just outside our verandah at Megna , being just a chokra at the time, I was at a loss to understand what was ‘going on’ and could only listen wide-eyed to the conversations of the ‘bhuda lok’ who would, at times, speak in whispers !  Protected, to a fair degree, by the compound’s walls I would lie awake at night listening to the shouting gangs, seeing the flickering tights from fires, and even the sound of gun-fire close by – all very frightening for all concerned, and especially so for those poor souls in the bazzars.

Kenneth Miln, son of a ‘jute wallah’. Jagatdal/Calcutta, 1945-49
(source: Letter sent to us  by Mr Kenneth Miln himself, July 2006/ Reproduced by courtesy of Kenneth Miln)
A Hindu milkman

A Hindu milkman was chased by miscreants in front of our house and while he was climbing over our gate to jump into our compound, he was repeatedly stabbed. This caused some commotion in the area.

Samir Mukerjee. Schoolboy. Calcutta, August 1946
(source: Samir Mukerjee: Keep the faith & the friends. The Telegraph: 31Oct2003)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Samir Mukerjee)

… a black day in the history of India

16 August was a black day in the history of India. Mob violence unprecedented in the history of India plunged the great city of Calcutta into an orgy of Bloodshed, murder and terror.  Hundreds of lives were lost. Thousands were injured and property worth crores of rupees was destroyed. Processions were taken out by the League, which began to loot and commit acts of arson. Soon the whole city was in the grip of goondas of both the communities.

Sarat Chandra Bose had gone to the Governor and asked him to take immediate action to bring the situation under control. He also told the Governor that he and I were required to go to Delhi for a meeting of the Working Committee. The Governor told him that he would send the military to escort us to the airport. I waited for some time but nobody arrived. I then started on my own. The streets were deserted and the city had the appearance of death. As I was passing through Strand Road, I found that a number of cartmen, and darwans were standing with staves in their hands. They attempted to attack my car. Even when my driver shouted that this was the car of th Conress president, they paid little heed.  However I got to Dum Dum with great difficulty just a few minutes before the plan was due to leave. I fond there a large contingent of the military waiting in trucks. When I asked why they were not helping to restore order, the replied their orders were to stand ready but not to take any action. Throughout Calcutta, the military and the police were standing by but remained inactive while innocent mn and women were being killed.

Maulana Azad, president of Indian National Congress. Calcutta, 1946
(source page 169 Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad: “India Wins Freedom” London: Orient Longman, 1988.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Orient Longman 1988)

 

In no time, there were about 200 families on the lawns.

The YMCA building had a high wall separating it from the middle-class Hindu localities to its right. The workers at the YMCA – gardeners, guards, and cooks, both Hindus and Muslims – quickly put up ladders there and brought in the frightened residents. In no time, there were about 200 families on the lawns. The main door of the building was closed. That effectively contained violence in the immediate neighbourhood.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 2-3 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

the streets belonged to the mobs

But the streets belonged to the mobs. I could see in the mobs familiar faces, now trying to look very heroic. But they also seemed to have found a chance to give petty greed a new ideological packaging and a new, a more ambitious range. They would beat up the Hindu passers-by, depriving them of their money and watches and, in one or two cases, even knifing them.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 3 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

A Looting in Bentinck Street

On my return home from the office, I had a cup of tea and decided to go and have a look at the holocaust. I proceeded up past Government House, Esplanade East to the crossings of Chowringhee, Dharamtola and Bentinck Streets. There I saw the first Police squad. They had a Police motor truck with them and all were armed with revolvers, but they just stood looking at the plundering being done and took NO action whatsoever!

Suddenly, the mob began to hack the padlocks of a Hindu shop on Bentinck Street. I knew the owner of the shop, a poor Hindu, who had worked himself up from a street hawker of pan bidi to a more-or-less prosperous shopkeeper. He was not present, having fled for personal safety after padlocking his shop – a general store full of all kinds of grocery and tin provisions, plus cigars, cigarettes, tobacco, etc.

In a few minutes the axe they used had broken the padlocks and the expanding iron doors were pulled aside, with the plunderers, in full cry, running away with the contents. I had, while the breaking in was going on, gone over to the Police squad and remonstrated them for their inactivity.

On my threatening ‘more will be heard of this,’ they drove the truck over to the shop and arrested about a dozen looters, their arms full of loot. Among them was an Anglo-Indian, of a ne’er-do-well type. The Police drove away with them, leaving the shop wide open and no Police to guard the shop.

I pulled the expanding iron doors together at once. As locking them was impossible, I stood with my back to the doors. The would-be looters formed a half-circle in front of the shop and began abusing and taunting me. They had not the pluck to attack me, however. I waited, expecting some Police would come back to the crossing again. Instead, a large mob of Muslims, under an old, bearded leader with Jinnah’s crest on his coat, turned up.

There were about 200-300 of them. The old fellow came up to me and asked why I stood there protecting the shop which had been broken into by Muslim looters. ‘You better go away,’ he said.

‘Do you mean to tell me that it’s the order of Mr Jinnah to carry on in the way things have been going on all day?’ He gave me an angry look. I continued, however: ‘If it’s not your Mr Jinnah’s order of the day, by his direct-action method, then YOU show me YOU can guard this shop from further looting and I will go away.’

About half a dozen of his followers had worked their way behind me while this interlude took place. Though I heard no order given by the old leader, he must have done so by a wink of his eye, because, the next second, about five or six lathi blows rained down on my bare head! God must have provided me with a fairly thick skull, because, though each blow had a stunning effect, I did not fall, but withstood the terrible blows!

Of course, my scalp was cut by each blow and blood streamed down my face and neck. How many more blows I could have taken without dropping must be left to conjecture. The proverbial Indian superstition saved my life, however, for, suddenly, one of the attackers cried out:

‘ We are not hitting a man! He must be a spirit or he would have collapsed!’

On that, they ceased belaboring me and, though beaten badly, I walked away – a thing I had never done before!

Discretion was the better part of valour in that instance. Firstly, I was not fighting fit; and, secondly, there were not only the half-dozen who had assaulted me, but 200-300 behind them! As I slowly walked away, I turned and sadly looked back. The shop was again full of looters, running away with my poor friend’s goods. There is no doubt in my mind that the seemingly orderly mobs who kept going and coming along the streets were, in fact, there for the purpose of protecting the looters!

On my way home I called at the Norwegian Reading Room. The Reverend and Mrs Koleros were very shocked upon seeing the bloody mess I was in and wanted to attend to me at once. I declined their kindness because I had merely gone there to use them for evidence should I need it.

On arrival in my apartment, I smeared my head with soda powder, and then went under the shower. It burned fearfully, but no-one could tell what impurities might have been on those lathis. After having washed blood and soda off well, I dressed again, tied the four corners of a handkerchief and put it on as a cap to conceal my cut and bloody scalp. Then I went out again, which was then about 7.00 pm.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, 16th August 1946
(source: pages 211-213 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

The street was littered with dead bodies

I came out and walked down Dharamtola. It’s hard to describe the sights that met my eyes. Dead bodies lay here and there – poor Hindus who had tried to protect their shops and belongings! Fire was smouldering here and there where the looters had set fire to the empty shops and houses!

I turned onto Willisby Street. Most of that street consisted of furniture shops. The street was littered with dead bodies and burned furniture! I saw Hindu women lying nude in the gutter with bamboo poles stuck up their wombs! If it had been done before or after death, who could say. The place was desolation and ruin everywhere! It was a terrible, fearsome sight!

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, 16th August 1946
(source: page 213 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

‘We certainly did not feel safe’

We certainly did not feel safe and would have been attacked if the mobs had turned against us. There were Muslims coming off the ships in the Hooghly and walking up Clive Street, not knowing that anything terrible was happening. Before they had gone a few paces they were set upon by Hindus yelling ‘Jai Hind’ who then butchered them on our doorstep. My husband phoned the police and got a police sergeant who was in a terrible state of hysteria and said there was nothing he could do. The Muslims and the Hindus were looting the city, he said, and setting it on fire and people were murdering one another. That was completely obvious to us; we saw it all. We lived in a Hindu area and at night, all night long, the people in the go-downs round about shouted almost like jackals, ‘Jai Hind’. In a high-pitched tone, it was really very frightening, the whole night long, ‘Jai Hind’. It was horrible, it really was.

Sheila Coldwell, wife of a management agency employee, Calcutta, August 1946
 (source: page 136-137 of Trevor Royle: “The Last Days of the Raj” London: Michael Joseph, 1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Trevor Royle 1989)

 

 

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The Authorities’ actions

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

Policemen in mufti

My father’s friend, A.H.M.S. Doha was the deputy commissioner of police (south) and he took the trouble of sending us policemen in mufti at night to guard our house. They allayed our fears to a very large extent and we were very grateful to our Muslim friends for appreciating our dilemma and emerging as models of reassurance.

Samir Mukerjee. Schoolboy. Calcutta, August 1946
(source: Samir Mukerjee: Keep the faith & the friends. The Telegraph: 31Oct2003)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Samir Mukerjee)

The radio worsened things

The radio worsened things. Being government-controlled, it gave censored news. Though even that was fearsome, few believed what they heard. They relied on even more fearsome rumours, especially since, in other respects, the information given over the radio did not fit what they themselves were seeing. These rumours further intimidated the residents of mixed localities, and minorities began to move out of them, ghettoising the city even more.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages3  of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

police openly partisan

We also found the police openly partisan.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages  of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

 

 

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Defence Associations

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

‘Hey, Mister, what’s wrong with you Hindus?’

[…] I went out again, which was then about 7.00 pm.

I proceeded to the Bristol Hotel. There I called up a very influential Hindu on the phone: ‘Hey, Mister, what’s wrong with you Hindus? Have you become demoralized, or are you all a lot of cowards? Are you going to lie down while the Muslims kill you all?’

‘Is that you, Hansen?’ came the reply.

‘Don’t worry, old boy. Wait an hour or so and you will see that we Hindus are not cowards!’

[…]

I retraced my steps back to Chowringhee and down towards Government House. It was about 8.30 pm. Suddenly, from the south, up along Red Road, came lorries, buses, taxis and private cars – all loaded with Hindu warriors: Sikhs, Rajputs, Jats and other up-country Hindus, all armed with a medley of miscellaneous weapons. They all drove past Government House towards the northern part of town, towards the Muslim centres at Canning and Calootola Streets, Zakaria Street, etc. I followed on foot.

When I got to the above-mentioned streets, a terrible sight met my shocked eyes! The Hindus were taking their revenge and every Muslim they could find was slaughtered mercilessly! Blood flowed like water in the gutters, but no dead bodies were lying about. They had opened the manholes of the sewers and as the Muslims were being caught and slain, they were flung down there. About 10,000 to 15,000 Muslims were disposed of during that horrible night!

When day dawned, the Hindus had won the day, but the man they sought most of all – the Muslim Sheriff of Calcutta – had escaped. It was later learned that he, as a loyal lieutenant of Mr Jinnah, had stood behind the whole, disgusting deed, and had hidden himself in the control room of the central Police Office.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, 16th August 1946
(source: pages 213-214 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

The Fight-Back

Estimates of the dead ranged form four thousand five hundred to thirty thousand. The Muslim Chief Minister of Bengal had planned the massacre. By the third day, Calcutta’s tax drivers, most of whom were Sikhs, had organised themselves and, with the help of Hindus, went on the rampage, killing Muslims in retaliation. It was an inexcusably long week before the British Governor, an ex-trade-union official, called in the army.

The Calcutta Killings triggered off a pendulum of retaliation which kept swinging, with escalating horror, to culminated, almost to the day , a year later in the partition riots.

In the end, more Muslims than Hindus and Sikhs  had been killed in Calcutta. So Hindus were attacked in Noakhali, a remote district in East Bengal.

Taya Zinkin, Wife of an ICS Officer. Calcutta, Summer 1946
(source: Taya Zinkin “French Memsahib”Stoke Abbott: Thomas Harmsworth Publishing 1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Taya Zinkin)

the Hindus had organised themselves and begun to counter-attack

Within two or three days the Hindus had organised themselves and begun to counter-attack. Earlier they were a majority but only theoretically. Thanks to the riots, they began to see themselves as part of a larger formation and, for the first time, we were treated to the spectacle of a Hindu nation emerging in Calcutta. The lower caste musclemen and the criminal elements, apart from castes with low-status vocations such as butchers, blacksmiths and fishermen, and even upcountry Hindus, Sikhs and Nepali Gurkhas, previously considered social outcasts or outsiders, became the heroic protectors of middle-class, sedentary, upper-caste Bengali Hindus. What the Hindu nationalists could not do over the previous one hundred years, the Direct Action Day had done. Many years later, when I read that international wars created nations, it did not sound a cliché. I knew exactly what it meant.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages  of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

Badurbagan Sporting Club

There was a neighbourhood football club, Badurbagan Sporting Club, which occasionally used to visit the YMCA to play friendly matches with us. Usually it was football, but sometimes cricket and basketball too. They always were a much better team and defeated us virtually every time, except in basketball. We had a natural advantage in basketball, because they did not play it much. But they were also an exceedingly friendly lot and we used to love their company. The members were mostly in their teens and they all belonged to the Hindu neighbourhood diagonally opposite our home and sandwiched between two non-Bengali-speaking Muslim communities. The riots turned the club into a new kind of formation. They became the protectors of their community and some of them openly and proudly turned into killers. The community, too, began to look at them as self-sacrificing heroes.

Such new heroes mushroomed all over Calcutta, the reprisals they visited on the Muslims were savage.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 3-4  of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

literally stoned to death

[…], the reprisals they [self defence groups] visited on the Muslims were savage. We saw an old Muslim driving a horse-drawn carriage being literally stoned to death. It was a devastating experience.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 4 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

no hostility between the communities within the building

The YMCA building now had to house, on another floor, a huge number of Muslim families. Strangely, there was no hostility between the communities within the building, among either the riot victims or those serving them.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 4 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

…, so I remained as one dead,…

On the following days, 17th-20th of August 1946, many Muslims suffered with their lives. One poor fellow, who had hidden away in some building on Dalhousie Square near Clive Street, came running out as I passed. Some Hindus saw him and came to the attack at once. Poor fellow threw himself at my feet for protection, but 1 could do nothing for him.

They dragged him away from between my legs and smashed his head with such violence that his blood splashed onto my legs! I had to pass on as if nothing had happened because they did not interfere with Europeans as long as they kept to themselves.

On the following day – as far as I remember, it was 19th August – an elderly Muslim came running from Bankshall Street onto Hare Street, not twenty yards in front of me. He was knocked down for dead and dragged to a sewer grating so his life’s blood could flow down there. On passing, I noticed he was still breathing, so I went into the Reserve Bank and rang for an ambulance. They came and removed him and he recovered.

He came to my office about two weeks later and thanked me, saying: ‘When you bent down over me, I recognized you, but was afraid to move for fear I might be assaulted again. I even heard you call to the guard at the Bank to send for an ambulance, so I remained as one dead until it arrived.’

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, 19th August 1946
(source: page 215 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

 

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Working for Peace

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

A couple of times he was threatened with death

My father showed remarkable courage all through those days. A couple of times he was threatened with death. Twice, he was shot at, once when he had aggressively asked the police to be firmer with the rioters. Indian police had not yet been toughened up by their encounters with militants of all hues and could still be relied upon to miss.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 4 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

A local peace committee

During the 1946 riots mentioned above, grandfather along with our neighbours became members of a local peace committee. Some of these meetings were held in grandfather’s library where a representative from Bishop’s College and Father Dotaine from St. Xavier’s Hindu Hostel opposite our house were invariably present. We used to hear the names of Khokababu and Lal Mian, influential lower-rung Muslim leaders in our area, bandied about by our elders.

Samir Mukerjee. Schoolboy. Calcutta, August 1946
(source: Samir Mukerjee: Keep the faith & the friends. The Telegraph: 31Oct2003)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Samir Mukerjee)

 

 

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19 August 1946 – British troops enter Calcutta to end the riots

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

‘…we wept tears of joy and pride’

They [the British troops] marched down Clive Street and they were singing ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’. I may be accused of sentimentality but we wept tears of joy and pride and a great thankfulness engulfed us.

Sheila Coldwell, wife of a management agency employee, Calcutta, August 1946
 (source: page 136-137 of Trevor Royle: “The Last Days of the Raj” London: Michael Joseph, 1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Trevor Royle 1989)

‘the most unpleasant part of my military service’

For the first couple of days we didn’t know what was happening or who was doing all the mischief. During the day it was quite calm on the surface but it was at night that the troubles would start. There was a lot of arson, a lot of shouting and my battalion was fully stretched: we used to patrol the whole night through to try to control the situation . . . the main thing was that it was a communal riot, one community wanted the other out because by then partition was expected and it was anticipated that the whole of Bengal would go to Pakistan.

Das, Indian Army Officer (of the Rajputana Rifles) commanding a Punjab battalion, Calcutta August 1946
 (source: page 135-136 of Trevor Royle: “The Last Days of the Raj” London: Michael Joseph, 1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Trevor Royle 1989)

doing riot duties

In 1945 I was shipped to India to join my unit, who were being re enforced after great losses in Burma, then came the atom bomb and everything changed, for the beter I guess, because I am here today.With the ceasation of the war, we were back to regular army training, and then came the trouble with Ghandi etc, and rioting began between the different religious sects, and our duties changed to trying to prevent this awful blood letting period.The worst of which happened in Calcutta in 1946, to which we were shipped. When this finally stopped we went back to our barracks in Rawalpindi, where we remained, still doing riot duties until Britain gave India her independance in 1947.My regiment was the first British army unit withdrawn from India and returned to England on the Georgic in August 1947.

Jim Cameron , Army, Calcutta, August 1946

(source: A2169399 India’s independance at BBC WW2 People’s War’ on http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/ Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)

Three military tanks rolled through

On the fourth day Nanda Lal noted that the weapons in the street fighting had grown heavier. Soda-water bottles had given way to iron staves, and unfortunately the neighbourhood had a plentiful supply of rails from the fence surrounding the near-by Shraddhananda Park. Finally, as the skirmish of the iron pikes readied its fiercest, a convoy of three military tanks rolled through and machine-gunned the mobs, and along with them the police made their belated appearance.

The police had refused to come out without military escort. In the past their loyalty had been to the King and they had quelled demonstrations in which their own countrymen, both Hindu and Muslim, were demanding Independence, and now they feared their own people might turn against them. When the militia was at last ordered out—and when Muslim and Hindu leaders finally set aside their own differences and made joint appeals—the riots began dying down.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 31 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

 

 

 

 

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Gandhi fasts for peace

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

it electrified the city

The riots would not have stopped easily in Calcutta but for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He undertook a fast unto death in one of the worse affected localities of the city. No one thought the fast would work. Some of our elders in school were openly sarcastic. But it did work. In fact, it electrified the city. The detractors, of course, continued to say that had he not fasted, the Muslims would have been taught a tougher lesson. But even they were silenced by the turn of events.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 4 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

The many roles of H.S. Suhrawardy

One person who moved closer to Gandhi at the time was H.S. Suhrawardy, leader of the Muslim League and Chief Minister of Bengal. In many ways, he had precipitated the riots, not perhaps because he wanted a bloodbath, but because his constituency was mainly immigrant non-Bengali labourers, the lower-middle classes, and the lumpen proletariat. This support base was a potent political force but always volatile and uncontrollable, always waiting to be hijacked for violent causes. Suhrawardy had to depend on them and on his populist and demagogic skills because he was an aristocratic, Urdu-speaking Bengali leader coming from an illustrious, cultivated family that had no knowledge of the predominantly peasant community of Bengali Muslims. His credentials for being a leader of Bengali Muslims were never foolproof. Bengalis may not like this, but he had picked up some of his mobilisation strategies from the militant nationalist leader and Bengal’s mythic hero, Subhash Chandra Bose. My suspicion is that he wanted a controlled mayhem, to show his political power to the British authorities, the Indian National Congress, and the Muslim League leadership. It turned out to be a full-scale massacre.

Suhrawardy, however, was a man of courage. Journalist Nikhil Chakravarty once told me how, once he joined Gandhi’s peace effort, Suhrawardy confronted rioting mobs unarmed and single-handed in his distinctive patriarchal style. I remember him visiting our place once or twice to meet my father who also was a part of the peace effort.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 4-5  of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

Without caring for his personal safety

On August 16, 1946, the Calcutta Muslim League organized a public meeting to protest against the betrayal of the Muslims in which Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Governor-General Lord Louis Mountbatten were jointly involved. But many of those who had gone to attend the meeting did not return home. They were either killed, or abducted, or forced to take refuge in some nearby safe places. One of my own brothers (late Syed Warris Ali) was among those caught in that dangerous mayhem. But to our immense relief, he was rescued and delivered at our Calcutta home by chief minister Suhrawardy himself.

Without caring for his personal safety, Suhrawardy helped hundreds of stranded Muslims and also Hindus who needed protection. He did not distinguish between Muslims and Hindus. Anyone who needed help in that dangerous situation received due help and assistance.

Roquyya Jafri, Position. Calcutta, 1946

(source  Roquyya Jafri : “A model of political rectitude.” http://www.dawn.com/2003/09/08/op.htm)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Roquyya Jafri)

 

 

 

 

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After the riots

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

The Throne stood empty
Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart, I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service) District Magistrate 24 Parganas, Calcutta, 1947

(source: personal scrapbook kept by Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart O.B.E., I.C.S. seen on 20-Dec-2005 / Reproduced by courtesy of Mrs. Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart)

The Throne stood empty (rejections)
Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart, I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service) District Magistrate 24 Parganas, Calcutta, 30 September 1946

(source: personal scrapbook kept by Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart O.B.E., I.C.S. seen on 20-Dec-2005 / Reproduced by courtesy of Mrs. Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart)

Report on the Killings
Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart, I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service) District Magistrate 24 Parganas, Calcutta, 2nd September1946

(source: personal scrapbook kept by Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart O.B.E., I.C.S. seen on 20-Dec-2005 / Reproduced by courtesy of Mrs. Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart)

 

The following respectable gentlemen have been arrested
Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart, I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service) District Magistrate 24 Parganas, Calcutta, 10th September 1946

(source: personal scrapbook kept by Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart O.B.E., I.C.S. seen on 20-Dec-2005 / Reproduced by courtesy of Mrs. Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart)

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

The Time Current Affair Test

back in TIME after a four-year absence due to wartime economies

(This test covers the period June 1 through September 20, 1946)

Prepared by ALVIN C. EURICH, Stanford University ELMO C. WILSON, University of Minnesota

Co-Authors of the Cooperative Contemporary Affairs Test for the American Council on  Education

(Copyright 1946 by TIME Inc.)

This test is to help TIME readers and their friends check their knowledge of current  affairs. In recording answers, make no marks at all opposite questions. Use one of the  answer sheets printed with the test: sheets for four persons are provided. After taking  the test, you can check your replies against the correct answers printed on the last page  of this test, entering the number of your right answers as your score on your answer  sheet. On recent TIME tests college students’ scores have averaged 35, senior high school students’ scores have averaged 40, junior high school students’ scores have averaged 35.  This test is given under the honor system—no peeking.

HOW TO SCORE

For each of the text questions, five possible answers are given. You are to select the  best answer and put its number on the answer sheet next to the number of that question.  Example:

[…]

  1. But in Calcutta and Bombay corpses littered the streets as Hindus battled fiery Moslems who want:
  2. An end to the caste system.
  3. “Asia for the Asians” through an alliance with China, Siam, Indo-China.
  4. Britain to go on running India.
  5. Gandhi to rule all India.
  6. The separate state of Pakistan.
(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Oct. 14, 1946)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

After the Killing

THE Government of Bengal has failed lamentably in Judgment and executive ability. By forcing a general holiday on the public on the Muslim League’s day of direct action it has brought about the consequences that many feared. Their fears were vigorously set out by the Opposition, in the Legislative Council, and would have been vigorously set out and supported by a large vote in the’ Assembly had the Chair not rejected an adjournment motion. From early on Friday there was violence in the streets, which increased rapidly in the early afternoon as processions made their way to the big demonstrations on the maidan.   Ruffians in the crowd armed with lathis knocked pedestrians and by-standers about, bands of ruffians ran about the city in lorries to assault people and smash up property.

The full story of what happened cannot be told yet. The sum of tragedy known at the time of writing is over 270 killed, more than 1,600 injured, about 900 buildings on fire, much looting in many parts of the city. Direct Action Day has given the city two days of horror. Violence was feared, though not on so unrestrained a scale, when the Government decided on action that was certain to produce inflamatory language and communal clashes in the streets. There was however some assurance from those arranging the demonstration that it would be peaceful and orderly, though when a holiday was announced and explained as a precaution against clashes in the streets that might lead to larger disturbances it was obvious that Ministers themselves were dubious. That being so, it was incumbent on them to take precautions against a breakdown of civic order. This, it was expected, would be done. The degree of their failure, to think and act rightly is visible all over Calcutta today.

(source: The Statesman. Calcutta/Delhi, August 18, 1946)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with The Statesman)

Disgrace Abounding

ON Calcutta’s horrible ordeal we gave verdict two days ago. Owing however to the difficulties of producing and distributing a newspaper in the stricken city, that verdict could not reach all our readers. We condemned unsparingly the Bengal Government for lamentable failure in Judgment and executive ability.

That verdict we repeat. The origin of the appalling carnage and loss in the capital of a great Province, we believe the worst communal rioting in India’s history, was a political demonstration by the Muslim League- Bengal’s is a Muslim League Ministry. No other major Indian Province possesses one—for Sind hardly counts, being small and politically peculiar. Of all India’s provincial Ministries, the Bengal Ministry, therefore, as the outstanding League Ministry, should have been the most scrupulous in ensuring that such a political demonstration caused no disturbance. Maintenance of law and order is any Ministry’s prime obligation, and the obligation on the Bengal Ministry, in fulfilment of the League’s declared policy of keeping “Direct Action Day” peaceful, was unique.

But instead of fulfilling this, it undeniably, by confused acts of omission and provocation, contributed rather than otherwise to the horrible events which have occurred. No balanced person would charge it with having deliberately planned a catastrophe of such magnitude. Nevertheless in retrospect, its conduct before the riots stands open to inference—not only by its political opponents—that it was divided in mind on whether rioting of some sort would be good or bad. Whatever truth such ugly inference may contain, the Ministry’s utter, hideous failure, to prevent what, for its own honour’s sake and that of its party, it should have been at particular pains to avoid, is in any case blatant. It has fallen down shamefully in what should be the main task of any Administration worth the name. The bloody shambles to which this country’s largest city has been reduced IS an abounding disgrace.

(source: The Statesman. Calcutta/Delhi, August 20,1946)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with The Statesman)

Curfew

SOME cheerful historians have been known on festive occasions to maintain that had Columbus not discovered America all would be well with international relations, and all well in politics if Guy Fawkes had not thoughtlessly been prevented from blowing up Parliament. They may hold similarly that if William the Norman had not conquered England the world would not know what a curfew was. Designed to put fires out at a reasonable hour, for safety, it has become a contrivance for keeping citizens in, for safety. India has suffered a lot of it, of recent weeks. In the disturbances of the time darkness and late hours are favourable to evil-doers, so to lessen their occaisional mischief the virtuous and the base alike are kept off the streets. In Bombay some localities had a 24-hour curfew for some days, a depressing restraint on the classes of citizens who of an evening are always ready to go anywhere within reason, but not home.

Calcutta has had a long discipline with rare intermissions for festal purposes. Now the curfew goes. If, that is, the citizens behave themselves.  The curfew has brought blessings. It gave a tidy end to some people’s daily worries, especially hostesses’, enabling them to push their guests off betimes after dinner lest they should violate the regulation. Guests too had the corresponding benefit. In this way the curfew has eased social relations, and there are those who wish it had lasted until after the Christmas season. Now a rapid reconstruction of the way of life will be necessary for many.

(source: The Statesman. Calcutta/Delhi, December 12, 1946)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with The Statesman)

Cows in Clive Street

Except for an occasional murder, quiet returned to stricken Calcutta last week, but fear lingered. The death toll of last fortnight’s Hindu-Moslem rioting, which may never be finally totaled, exceeded 4,000. While the city’s poor went hungry, food rotted on loading platforms. Both Hindus and Moslems, afraid of hostile neighbors, jammed the huge Howrah railway station, mobbed the trains.

TIME Correspondent Dave Richardson cabled: “Calcutta’s three millions will take some time to be convinced that terrorism is really over. They act as though they had been through a terrific bombing and expect another soon. Nine out of ten business houses and shops which survived plundering are still closed tightly.

“The drivers of the few taxis which have returned to the streets cast furtive looks at the countless charred, gutted vehicles, and will not go near the recently dangerous areas for any price. Even though most of the bodies have been taken away, the unholy sweet stench of death lingers in many neighborhoods. Streets are still stained with blood. Cows wander aimlessly through Clive Street—the Wall Street of India—stopping in the shadow of its high buildings to munch at scattered garbage.”

“Direct Action Day,” proclaimed by Moslem League Boss Mohamed Ali Jinnah, touched off the disaster. But much blame for what actually happened was shifted to Huseyn Shabad Suhrawardy, head of the Bengal provincial government. Chief Minister Suhrawardy, 52, is a slick, Oxford-educated Moslem who has a bad reputation for black-marketeering in his hunger-ridden province. Instead of warning against violence on “Direct Action Day,” Suhrawardy proclaimed a holiday in Bengal, which had the effect of putting his followers on the streets; and he threatened Bengal’s secession from India if the Moslems were not placated by the British.

Meanwhile the Viceroy, Viscount Wavell, appointed the Executive Council which is to take over next month from the present “caretaker” government, pending India’s full dominion status. Five of the 14 seats were reserved for Moslems, but since Jinnah’s Moslem League has refused to participate, Wavell appointed nonLeague Moslems. One of these, Sir Shafa’at Ahmad Khan, who clung to his British title and resigned from the League three weeks ago, was attacked apparently by co-religionists at Simla at week’s end, stabbed seven times, hospitalized.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York, Sep. 2, 1946)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

the place was covered in vultures

We were then posted to Taunggyi in the Shan States for a few months and finally drove to Rangoon where we enshipped for Calcutta. On arrival it was the end of the Calcutta riots and the place was covered in vultures who could not take-off because they were so over-fed. After a week or so we entrained for Deolali, where I remained until April 1947 before getting a ship back to the UK. On disembarking at Southampton, we were issued with a set of civilian clothes and at last arrived home in May 1947.

Peter James Morley, Bombardier, Calcutta, late 1946

(source: A5242556 A Bombardier in Burma at BBC WW2 People’s War’ on http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/ Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)

…a young Muslim was found floating out on dead bodies…

The municipality had to open the iron gratings at the outflow of the sewers near the Salt Lakes and, for days, they kept fishing dead bodies out of there. On the fifth day, a young Muslim was found floating out on dead bodies, still alive, though badly beaten up about his head. He must have been taken for dead before he was flung in.

He was carried off to the hospital, and though everything was done to try to revive him, he died two days later without regaining consciousness. Maybe it was better so. If he had been conscious during any part of his involuntary passage through the miles of sewers, no-one knows.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, August 1946
(source: page 214 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

for days an old woman sat in front of our home

Even when such gory events did not take place, we were not allowed to forget the riots. I remember that for days an old woman sat every day for hours on the footpath in front of our home and cried for her son who had died in the violence.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 4  of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

The family was traumatised

The family, however, was traumatised. The bloodshed and the cruelty affected everyone, but above all my father and younger brother Manish. They did not eat for days and were visibly depressed. My mother proved sturdier. She cried a lot but also kept life going. On the other hand, when my father fell seriously ill after a few weeks, the doctors diagnosed the illness as induced by that depression.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 4 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

they were the worst victims as well as the clear victors in the battle of faiths

Ours was not the only family so affected. We were Christians and could perhaps, to that extent, take a slightly more distant, non-partisan, moral position. But our names did not give any clue to our faith and my parents used to be very nervous when we brothers walked to our school just round the corner. Later on, when I heard accounts of the riots from my friends, they sounded roughly similar. Only most of them sounded terribly partisan. They claimed on behalf of their newly defined community, simultaneously and incongruously, that they were the worst victims as well as the clear victors in the battle of faiths.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 4 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

When peace returned to Calcutta

When peace returned to Calcutta on the fifth day, the streets were a rubble of broken bricks and bottles, bloated remains of cows, and charred wrecks of automobiles and victorias rising above the strewn figures of the dead. The human toll had reached six thousand according to official count, and sixteen thousand according to unofficial sources. In this great city, as large as Detroit, vast areas were dark with ruin and black with the wings of vultures that hovered impartially over the Hindu and Muslim dead.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 31-2 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

Thousands began fleeing Calcutta

Thousands began fleeing Calcutta. For days the bridge over the Hooghly river, one of the longest Steel spans in the world, was a one-way current of men, women, children, and domestic animals, headed toward the Howrah railway station. Finding the trains could not carry them all, the people settled down to wait on the concrete floor, dividing themselves automatically into Hindu and Muslim camps. Under the gloomy cavern of the depot the Hindu portion of the human carpet was easily recognizable by its white cows, each encircled lovingly by the family to which it belonged. As each train came in, throngs of people scrambled wildly Over the gates, hoping to cling on somehow and be carried to villages where they hoped they would be safe.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 32 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

toward unity

Trade-unions and peasant organizations threw their weight toward unity. It is significant that throughout the worst of the disruption in Bengal, five million Hindu and Muslim sharecroppers campaigned together in tile Tebhaga movement for long-overdue land reforms. Wherever there was constructive leadership toward some goal of social betterment, religious strife dwindled to the vanishing point.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: pages 32-3 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

Muharram revellers came to our garden

During Muharram, some of the revellers came to our garden with their flaming torches and danced for us. It was such a relief to see them in a mood of entertainment. This gesture on their part removed the fear psychosis which all of us could have been victims of during those turbulent months.

Samir Mukerjee. Schoolboy. Calcutta, late 1946
(source: Samir Mukerjee: Keep the faith & the friends. The Telegraph: 31Oct2003)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Samir Mukerjee)

New friend during the trouble

This is the time when K.G. Morshed, ICS, our next-door neighbour, came to our rescue. He suggested that his two sons who were also at St. Xavier’s should accompany us in the car taking us to school. The Muslims wouldn’t dare intimidate us with the Morshed brothers acting as protectors. We went to school regularly through the raging riots without ever being harmed.

The Morsheds became lifelong friends and we were in constant touch with each other till we left for England to continue our studies. The Morshed boys, Akhtar and Kaiser, joined us for badminton and volleyball almost everyday and we rounded off the evening by sitting in the garden, under a star-studded sky, drinking Byron’s lemonade and ice- cream soda and imbibing the smells of well-watered flowerbeds.

Another Muslim boy who joined us at this period from the neighbourhood was Abdul Khaleque. His uncle, Maulvi Mohammad Ameen, lived in a red brick house with a character of its own, where we once had kebabs sitting on the roof. Today the same building houses the Central Model School and all traces of Khaleque’s family have been obliterated.

At this time, Hitty Banerjee from my brother’s class added to our numbers. Another recruit to our group was Butu Das, also from St. Xavier’s and capable of remarkable feats on the badminton court. All of us used to assemble in the downstairs office room where we talked our heads off and discussed plans for the future as if we were imbued with tremendous foresight.

The Bilkul Bekaar Society came into existence like this, reflecting our feelings and subdued aspirations. Our regular sittings now acquired a respectable name. This was a time for day-dreaming and building castles in the air. It was Kaiser Morshed whose eloquence made our deliberations that much more exciting.

Ever so often we used to treat each other to home-made delicacies. If the Morshed brothers and Khaleque brought biryani and kebabs, we produced payesh or ice-cream and a variety of Bengali sweets prepared with great care by my grandmother. All of us wore bow-ties and had ourselves photographed in the garden before gorging ourselves on the succulent fare.

How self-sufficient our own world seemed, insulated from the wiles and cacophony of the adult world, where children could be excited by the sound of their own voices and express their feelings with gay abandon.

Samir Mukerjee. Schoolboy. Calcutta, late 1946
(source: Samir Mukerjee: Keep the faith & the friends. The Telegraph: 31Oct2003)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Samir Mukerjee)

Stabbing became the preferred mode of warfare

Stabbing an unaware member of the other community became the preferred mode of warfare. I still remember the widowed mother of two teenaged school children who were stabbed to death crying and requesting the army to shoot her dead.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 5 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

to fight for their faith to the last slum dweller

Looking back, Calcutta riots reconfirmed that while the poor as a class may not be prone to bigotry, urban slums are often the first to embrace compensatory or defensive ideas of a generic community offered by fanatics and demagogues. The slums are the natural bastions of people with broken community ties and nostalgic memories about faith grounded in such ties. When they develop new loyalties in the cities, there is a touch of desperation in these loyalties and a different kind of ardour associated with them. These new loyalties are then systematically endorsed by fearful, prosperous members of the same community, themselves unwilling to risk their lives, but willing to fight for their faith to the last slum dweller.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 5 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

Killing to Partition

16 August was to signal the beginning of the Great Killing in Calcutta. It lasted four days and, according to official estimates, took toll of five thousand lives along with fifteen thousand wounded. The conflagration signalled the outbreak of a civil war which culminated in the horror of the partition killings. Hindus were the principal victims in Calcutta, but in the Bihar flare-up which followed Muslims were the main sufferers. These outbreaks were succeeded by further holocausts in Chittagong and Noakhali in East Bengal, and in the United Provinces. The ghastly pattern repeated itself in various parts of India and Jinnah’s was the prime responsibility for this blood bath.

It is curious that the British at that time should have taken no action against Jinnah for openly inciting the Calcutta killings: one of Jinnah’s sympathetic biographers reveals that he expected to be arrested at any moment, and in similar circumstances Nehru or Patel would have received short shrift. Did the government fail to move because Jinnah’s direct action was aimed at the Hindus and not against the British ? There can be no other explanation.

Wavell had invited Nehru to form an interim government on 12 August, four days before the Great Calcutta Killing, but it was only on 2 September that Nehru took office as prime minister.

Subsequent events followed the inevitable pattern. In October the League entered the interim government, not as a gesture of consolidation but to break it from within. Wavell and Nehru were soon made to realize that the only alternative to governing was going. The British, unable to govern, had to go. The Congress, unable to govern alongside the League, had to agree to partition and let the Muslims go their own way.

Frank Moraes, Journalist for Times of India. Calcutta, early 1940s
(source: page 145 of Moraes, Frank. Witness to an era : India 1920 to the present day. London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Frank Moraes 1973)

I expected to see that Mr Jinnah had been arrested

For days after 1 expected to see that Mr Jinnah had been arrested, but nothing happened. Why and wherefore, it is beyond me to elaborate on. Later, the order came for Lord Wavell, the then Viceroy, to divide India. This he apparently refused to do and was recalled to England.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, August 1946
(source: page 215 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

Suspicious activities at the Jeddah pilgrims office

For about a month after the awful bloodbath in Calcutta, I noticed inhabitants of East Bengal (Muslims only) kept coming into Calcutta in batches of eight to ten at a time. They visited the Jeddah pilgrims office on Esplanade East, stayed only for the day, then departed in the evening carrying bundles of various kinds. As it was not the pilgrim season, I phoned the Police Headquarters concerning my observations. They, however, found nothing strange in these visits and did nothing. My suspicion later proved correct.

Then, suddenly one day, the news began to come: the Muslims had begun to murder the Hindu population at Noakhali in East Bengal [Bangladesh today]. They were well-armed and outnumbered the Hindus. How many were actually murdered is not easy to calculate. As a result, the new Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, divided India into Hindustan and Pakistan.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, September 1946
(source: page 215 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

I cannot give an estimate of the number senselessly slain

Not being a politician and not being personally interested, I cannot give an estimate of the number senselessly slain on both sides throughout the disturbances. But at a rough guess, more than a million must have been exterminated, with many more displaced from their homes!

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, 1946
(source: page 216 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)
I am of the opinion that dividing India […] was a great blunder

Personally, I am of the opinion that dividing India into two separate countries was a great blunder of Lord Mountbatten. India had been ruled as one country for centuries, and Muslims and Hindus had lived side by side all over the land. Yes, there had been small outbursts between the two communities at religious festivals and the like, but not on the scale that had now broken out.

The Muslims in Pakistan were, in my opinion, the first and worst offenders. They seemed to think it was their right to begin exterminating the Hindus who lived inside their borders. The Hindus again, as in the case of Calcutta, at first accepted the situation with calmness, appealing to their Muslim brethren to desist from such senseless and inhuman slaughter. But in the end, when their prayers went unheeded, they were compelled to retaliate. So, in its own good time, they began to kill Muslims in the districts where they were outnumbered. It was especially in Bihar that the Muslims suffered severely.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, September 1946
(source: page 215 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

 

 

 

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The Spens Commission

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

 

 

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10 October 1946 – Noakhali Killings

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

Noakhali …it is not cricket!
A.S. Ray, I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service) District Magistrate Mymensingh, Mymensingh, October 1946

(source: personal scrapbook kept by Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart O.B.E., I.C.S. seen on 20-Dec-2005 / Reproduced by courtesy of Mrs. Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart)

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

Noakhali

THE British House of Commons has shown its concern over the violence in East Bengal but has not, we think, been so served as to understand how Bengal and many other parts of India are thinking and feeling. A report from the Governor of the Province was read, and Mr Henderson, India’s Under-Secretary of State, made an amplifying statement. Both fell far below what was needed. What was said could not have conveyed to the House any sense of the horror felt about what has happened for the last 12 days. Only in Mr Nicholson’s pertinacious and praiseworthy questionings was this emotion to some extent reflected.

In present conditions no one can hope to estimate with any accuracy, the casualties inside a large area seething with violence. Perhaps no one ever will. The statistics with which to begin an investigation are primitive. But not many in East Bengal or in Calcutta, where a thousand or more refugees come every day bringing their own stories, will credit officialdom’s reckoning of the dead as certainly below four figures, and probably low down in three.   More acceptable is the figure of 30,000 refugees in Government relief centres that is only part of the whole. Over a large area ordinary life has been disrupted. Arson, looting, murder, abduction of women, forced conversions and forced marriages are everywhere and by every investigator spoken of as the characteristics of the lawlessness. There is in common much more evidence of these crimes against women than the Commons were permitted to learn.

(source: The Statesman. Calcutta/Delhi, October 24, 1946)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with The Statesman)

Written in Blood

What was Mohamed Ali Jinnah up to? In a sharp reversal of his policy of last July the  lean, leathery Moslem League leader agreed last week to nominate five men to the  All-India Congress presided over by his archrival, Pandit Nehru. But he had named  third-raters: in New Delhi, prominent Moslems boasted that the League had joined the  coalition with the idea of breaking it up.

That peace had not accompanied coalition soon became evident. In an ill-timed visit to  North-West Frontier Province, Nehru was met at Peshawar airdrome by 5,000 Moslem  sympathizers, armed with spears and guns. His caravan of armored cars was stoned. Tribesmen insulted him by walking out on his speeches. Enraged, the Pandit called them  “pitiful pensioners,” an allusion to the fact that Britain pays them annual tribal  subsidies to be nice. Gleefully, the League’s newspaper Dawn editorialized that the  Pandit should be made “honorary propaganda secretary of the Moslem League.”

Meanwhile, saber-swinging mobs in the Noakhali district of east Bengal, where Moslems  outnumber Hindus 5-to-1, burned, looted and massacred on a scale surpassing even the  recent Calcutta riots. In eight days an estimated 5,000 were killed, with scores of Hindu  girls abducted.

An alarmed Mohandas K. Gandhi offered advice to the women which, for a vegetarian, seemed  surprising: the only way they could avoid dishonor, he said, was to bite their tongues or  hold their breath until they died.* If that would not work, he snapped, let them take  poison. He was feeling crotchety, anyway, and “thoroughly ashamed” of an error he had  made in a letter, calling the Moslem League “the authoritative representative” (of an  overwhelming majority of Indian Moslems), instead of “the most authoritative  representative.” Peevishly, he muttered that a man who made such mistakes probably would  not live to be 125, after all.

*In Chicago, the American Medical Association’s quidnunctious Dr. Morris Fishbein doubted  the efficacy of the Gandhi suicide technique.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Oct. 28, 1946)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

Rapes in Noakhali

Noakhali stands out in the saga of communal atrocities because, for the first time in such riots, women were raped. Even during the mutiny not a single British women was raped; killed yes, raped never.  […] . The news of the Noakhali rapes spread across India like wild-fire. “They raped mothers in front of their children, then made them eat beef and converted them to Islam. What is to become of the poor things now?” Kitty’s husband had returned from Noakhali where Mridula Sarabhai was opening a rehabilitation center for these raped women. Kitty was beside herself.” You see, Taya, even if the husband is alive he will have nothing to d with her. She is  polluted for life, not just deiled, polluted. No Hindu rite can purify her. Outcast, abandoned, an object of revulsion, an innocent victim. I admire Mridula for her initiative but I cannot see how these poor women can ever go back to their families.” Probably less than three hundred had been raped but half a dozen would have been enough, so enormous was the outrage. Women are held in great respect in India.

Taya Zinkin, Wife of an ICS Officer. Calcutta, Summer 1946
(source: Taya Zinkin “French Memsahib”Stoke Abbott: Thomas Harmsworth Publishing 1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Taya Zinkin)

She is polluted for life, not just defiled, polluted.

“They raped mothers in front of their children, then made them eat beef and converted them to Islam. What is to become of the poor things now?” Kitty’s husband had returned from Noakhali where Mridula Sarabhai was opening a rehabilitation center for these raped women. Kitty was beside herself.” You see, Taya, even if the husband is alive he will have nothing to do with her. She is polluted for life, not just defiled, polluted. No Hindu rite can purify her. Outcast, abandoned, an object of revulsion, an innocent victim. I admire Mridula for her initiative but I cannot see how these poor women can ever go back to their families.” Probably less than three hundred had been raped but half a dozen would have been enough, so enormous was the outrage. Women are held in great respect in India.

Taya Zinkin, wife of an ICS Officer, Summer 1947
(Source: Taya Zinkin: “French Memsahib”Stoke Abbott: Thomas Harmsworth Publishing 1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Taya Zinkin)

Calcutta was too tired to react

Just when the riots began to subside, came in reports of communal violence from East Bengal. Once again, rumours and hearsay made matters worse. Whatever semblance of sanity had survived the Calcutta massacre disappeared after the stories of Noakhali and Sylhet reached other parts of eastern India. Calcutta was too tired to react, but parts of Bihar did.

Ashis Nandy. Schoolboy, Calcutta, 1946

(source pages 5 of Ashis Nandy: “Death of an Empire” in Persimmon. Asian Literature, Arts and Culture (Volume III, Number 1, New York, Spring 200r also http://www.sarai.net/journal/02PDF/03morphologies/ 04death_empire.pdf  pp 14-20 Sarai Reader 2002: The Cities of Everyday Life.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Ashis Nandy)

 

 

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Gandhi’s visit to Noakhali

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

“Walk Alone”

Correspondents assigned to the East Bengal tour of Mohandas K. Gandhi have been holed up  for the past fortnight in the remote Moslem village of Shrirampore. To get to the nearest  telegraph office, they had to walk 30 miles. Even after this extraordinary effort, most  of their dispatches missed the point: while deadlock and deterioration attended  Hindu-Moslem relations at the London Conference, at New Delhi and elsewhere, Gandhi had  turned his back on politics, was seeking a solution on another plane. A few weeks ago he  was quietly advising on every move of the Congress Party. Now he was so uninterested that  no one bothered him with details of the momentous London talks. To a correspondent he  said:

“I find myself in the midst of exaggeration and falsity. I am unable to discover the  truth. Truth and nonviolence, by which I swear and which have sustained me for 60 years,  seem to fail to show the attributes I have ascribed to them. … I see no light through  the impenetrable darkness. I find that my theories of nonviolence do not answer in the  matter of Hindu-Moslem relations. I have come here to discover a new technique.”

How to Cross a Bridge. At Shrirampore, in a region called Noakhali, he settled down in a  small, tin-roofed cottage in a dense tropical forest surrounded by ponds, coconut and  betel palm groves and paddy fields. He dismissed his retinue of ipo people except for a  stenographer and a teacher, who thought Gandhi at 77 not too old to learn Bengali. Often  at Shrirampore Gandhi sang Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekla Chalo (Walk Alone). Out one day for  his afternoon walk, Gandhi tried to cross a bamboo-stick bridge, slipped and was saved  from a splash by his teacher. Murmured Gandhi (who rarely misses a chance at homely  symbolism): “Crossing bamboo bridges requires great skill. … I shall try to acquire it  by practicing.”

To bridge the gap between Hindu and Moslem, the Mahatma each day visited at least one  Moslem family to discuss the spiritual causes behind communal strife. More & more Moslems  (including 20 special bodyguards) were attending his prayer meetings. All the doctors in  the section were Hindus and had fled during the rioting; Gandhi, whose medical theories  include sunbaths, hip baths, milk and fruit-juice diets was tending the Moslem sick.

Asked how long he would stay in this retirement, Gandhi said: “There is no limit. … It  may even be a lifetime. My object is to make Hindus and Moslems brothers and sisters. I  can but make an attempt, success can be granted only by God. I shall do or die in Noakhali . . . even if all the Hindus go away, I shall be the solitary Hindu in  Noakhali.”

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Dec. 16, 1946)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

Reprieve from Disaster

Down a jungle walk on Bengal’s marshy coast last week, two Indian political leaders  stalked solemnly away from Mohandas K. Gandhi’s tin-roofed hut, burned out in recent  communal rioting. They were Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and President Acharya Kripalani of  the All-India Congress Party. Hindu women blew conch shells, and thousands of devotees  showered the two leaders with flowers.

Well might Nehru and Kripalani look solemn. As India seemed to teeter on the brink of  bloodshed, they were returning to New Delhi, to face the Congress organization’s toughest  problem: to accept or reject the British version of how the Constituent Assembly should  be run (TIME, Dec. 16). With Nehru and Kripalani went Gandhi’s blessing and advice. They  would  not say whether the Mahatma had recommended concessions that might win Mohamed Ali Jinnah’s Moslem League to Assembly participation.

Next day, Gandhi renewed his spiritual campaign against India’s bitter communal feuding.  At 7:35 on the morning of Jan. 2, clasping a long bamboo pole in his right hand and  flanked by four companions, Gandhi set out on a walking tour of Bengal’s Noakhali district. On his “last and greatest” experiment, the Mahatma said he would visit 26  Moslem villages, would seek to rekindle the lamp of “neigh-borliness” quenched in that  area (and in much of India) by blood.

Few dared hope that Gandhi’s saintly pilgrimage would influence more than a handful of  Moslems. But few, doubted this week that it was his New Year’s advice which Nehru and  Kripalani ex pressed in a Congress resolution that gave a well-hedged “yes” to the  British pro posal, and opened the door to Jinnah for a face-saving entry into the  Assembly.

Third Alternative. The British Cabinet Mission had divided India’s eleven provinces into  three groups for drafting provincial constitutions, and had made it clear last month that  each group must vote as a whole on each draft. Group A was incontestably Hindu; Group B  lumped Moslem-dominated Punjab and Sind together with the Congress-dominated North-West  Frontier; Group C paired Bengal and Assam, where 36 million Moslems live with 34 million  non-Moslems. Congress held out for a prov-ince-by-province vote within each group, which  would assure it of a dominant voice in eight drafts instead of six. Mohamed Ali Jinnah  sat tight with the British; under the group-voting plan, he had a slight edge over  Congress in Groups B and C. The apparent Hindu choices: acceptance, or an immediate  showdown with the British and the Moslem League.

The ameliorating resolution was in part political doubletalk. It accepted the group  voting plan, but asserted: “In the event of any attempt at . . . compulsion, a province  or a part of a province has the right to take such action necessary as to give effect to  the wishes of the people concerned.” Since the British plan was only for  constitution-drafting, this represented little change except to give the Congress Party a  future out if some Congress provinces or districts later proved recalcitrant.

Anti-British Revolution. Like most compromises, the resolution satisfied no one  completely (it was passed 99-to-52—the narrowest victory the Congress High Command has  won in the working committee). Least of all did it please Jai Prakash Narain, 44, head of  the Congress Party Socialists, who favors an anti-British revolution, has called Jinnah a  British stooge. Last week he told the students and faculty of the Hindu University of  Benares: “In the coming fight, Congress will not have the same objects as in past struggles. Congress workers will not go to jail. Instead, they will have strength enough  this time to do the arresting themselves. When the revolution starts, our strategy will  be to capture all Government offices and institutions and establish a People’s Raj. British governors and pro-British officials should be jailed. . . .”

A year ago this speech would have landed Narain himself in jail. Now the British are  powerless to stop his rabble-rousing without the consent of the Congress Ministry of the  United Provinces. The very fact that Narain remains free to speak as he does underscores  the fact that the British are virtually throwing themselves out of India.

“Steel Frame.” From New Delhi, TIME Correspondent Robert Neville reported: “The British  position in India is weakening so fast that in a few months’ time the British will be  unable to impose their will here a day longer, leaving Congress sitting pretty. Eighty-five per cent of the British personnel of the Indian Civil Service have indicated  their intention of leaving soon, and 80% of the British officers of the Indian Army are  leaving.

“In the press, both League and Congress are very violent, and speeches of leaders on both  sides are continually inciting bloodshed. At last week’s Hindu Mahasabha* Session at  Gorakhpur, the mention of Nehru’s name was greeted with shouts of ‘Traitor!’ At the  conclusion of a violent speech, a member of the audience climbed on the platform, cut his  hand, and offered blood then & there. The recent Sind election campaign generally  consisted of speeches of vilification, one community v. another.

“In other words, there is little give-&-take these days in Indian public life. Instead of  one Government, there are two. The Government’s Moslem League members do not even answer  the queries of Congress members, and refuse cooperation and coordination. The Government  of India is simply running down. No decisions are being taken, no policies are being  formulated, all actions are postponed. Unabashed communalism in the Government of India’s  secretariat has almost ruined that once efficient civil service. Permanent secretaries  refusing to subscribe to the political and religious views of communal-minded Cabinet  ministers are soon transferred or retired. The frank purpose of many Pakistan-minded  Government servants is to undermine the central administration.

“Topping this, there is also an elaborate spy system throughout the secretariat, where  the Government servants of one department report for the heads of other departments.  There are Moslem League cells throughout the secretariat, and often the League’s paper Dawn reprints secret letters and memoranda taken from Government files. The League’s  avowed purpose, to sabotage the Interim Government, is being rapidly achieved.”

If Narain, Jinnah and their followers continued to pour oil on the troubled flames, even  Mohandas K. Gandhi’s genius for “neighborliness”—political and personal—might not be  enough.

* The militant, Hindu communal organization, which considers the Congress Party too  lenient toward the Moslem League.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Jan. 13, 1947)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

With Gandhi in Noakhali

22 Ferozshah Road

New Delhi, India

February 16, 1947

Mr Walter S Rogers

Institute of Current World Affairs

522 Fifth Avenue

New York 18, New York

Dear Mr Rogers,

Two weeks ago I traveled for five days in order to walk for an hour with Gandhi.

The journey was worth the effort. It was revealing to watch Gandhi throwing himself during this critical season into the remoteness of East Bengal’s Noakhali district for a barefooted village-to-village pilgrimage in search of Hindu-Muslim amity. Here was a 77-year-old ascetic, rising above the physical ordeal, immersed in a peculiarly Indian approach to the cleavage that threatens the country.

The region in which Gandhi has secluded himself is deep in the Ganges- Brahmaputra delta; one of the least accessible flat lands of India. To reach his party, I traveled by air, rail, steamer, bicycle, and on foot.

Hardly a wheel turns in this teeming, jute-and-rice-growing delta. I saw no motorable road. The bullock cart, one of India’s truest symbols, does not exist here. The civilisation is amphibious, as fields are always flooded between April and October. In the wet season little remains above water except occasional ribbons of bund and isolated village clumps marked by coconut palms, bamboos, and betel trees. People stay at home or, at best, move about in hand-hewn skiffs. Though some of their crops grow under water, they farm mostly in the winter dry season.

Here, in an entirely rural area about forty miles square, are jammed nearly two and half million people: 1,400 per square mile or more than two per acre. Eighty per cent of these peasants are Muslims. Apart from a few wealthy families they “have nothing but their numbers”, in the words of one senior Muslim official.

Impoverished cultivators racially indistinguishable from their Hindu neighbors, they suffered severely in the 1943 Bengal famine. The tiny Hindu minority in this region is divided into two groups, of whom the more numerous are also peasants and low caste village artisans. With the upper crust of landlords, moneylenders, grain merchants, and lawyers, peasants of both communities had shared little sympathy for many years past, I judged.

In this closely-packed, rupee-starved, isolated district, terror struck last fall in the wake of vicious riots in Calcutta and other Indian cities. It was the first real flare-up in a rural area. Roving bands paddled over the flooded fields from village to village, killing Hindus, looting and burning their property, abducting some women, and registering conversions from Hinduism to Islam. Many of those murdered and robbed were the wealthy who had incurred the peasants’s ire in 1943. The movement took a communal twist, however, from politicians (since disowned by the Muslim League) who led the village crowds with the cry of Pakistan. In some villages mobs burned huts even of outcastes.

The upheaval swept over about half the district. Perhaps a million people were caught up in the turmoil, and refugees eventually were counted in tens of thousands. This was bad enough. But the effect was multiplied a thousand-fold across the breadth of Hindu India by exaggerated, inflammatory reports of what had occurred.

This was the pitch of feeling in India when Gandhi decided to go to East Bengal himself. A few days before he left Delhi, Mildred and I walked with him for half an hour in the sweepers’ settlement where he stayed and talked of the wave of mass fratricide which was then rolling over the country. Although he denied letting emotions affect his judgement, we sensed a feeling of frustration, if not of failure. This had nothing to do with the validity of the creed of non-violence itself. Its truth, he repeated, could never be challenged. But he could not be happy with the way in which his teachings were being flouted.

To test the applicability of his faith, therefore, he went  to the heart of the trouble. He chose East Bengal, and when people asked why he had not gone to Bihar province where the damage was greater and the culprits were Hindus, he replied that the people of Bihar had repented. Besides, he said, he could control the government and people of Bihar from Noakhali, but had no special powers over the people of Noakhali.

In a tiny village that suddenly acquired fame, bustling visitors, police attendants, press observers and even telegraph facilities, the old man settled into a hut and began meeting people, hearing their stories and assessing the task ahead of him. Finally, early in January, he began the trek that will take its place in the Gandhi epic as the East Bengal March.

By now he has established a routine. Rising at four, he  finishes his morning prayers, takes a glass of hot water containing honey, and works at correspondence for two hours or so until dawn. At 7:30 he sets off on the day’s walk across newly plowed dew-soaked fields to the next village on his itinerary.

The Gandhi march is an astonishing sight. With a staff in one hand and the other on his granddaughter’s shoulder, the old man briskly takes the lead as the sun breaks over the horizon. He usually wraps himself in a hand- woven shawl, as the January mornings are cold enough for him to see his breath. But he walks barefooted despite chilblains. This is a fashion he started in order to relieve a blister, but continued because he liked the idea of walking as Indian pilgrims normally travel.

Clustered about him is his immediate party: his Bengali interpreter, a professor of geography at Calcutta university; a Sikh attendant who fawns as much as Gandhi will permit; a retired engineer-turned-swamy and one or two youths. The dozen Indian press men who are following this trek, walk behind. Sometimes this little body of the faithful, like other truth- seekers before them, sing of God as they walk. His name here is Ram. A squad of policemen, detailed (against repeated protests from Gandhi) by Muslim League Premier H S Suhrawardy to accompany and protect the Gandhi party, mix with the group.

As the sun begins to climb, villagers from places along the way join the trek. They come by twos and fours or by dozens and scores, swelling the crowd as the snows swell India’s rivers in spring. They press in on the old man, while their children dance around the edges of the moving body. Here, if I ever saw one, is a pilgrimage. Here is the Indian –and the world’s idea of sainthood: a little old man who has renounced personal possessions, walking with bare feet on the cold earth in search of a great human ideal.

Sometimes a new arrival drops to the ground in front of Gandhi in an effort to touch those feet, but the big Sikh gently lifts up the man. As Gandhi nears the day’s destination, another crowd from that village surges toward him, singing their own hymns, waiting to greet and welcome him. They lead him to his new hut, where three or four peasant women give him the special Bengal greeting, a high, warbling trill that I have heard nowhere else.

This is the Gandhi march, one of two highlights of the Mahatma’s day and the act that has caught the imagination of many co-nationalists, and particularly co-religionists. After arriving at the new village, Gandhi rests while his granddaughter bathes his feet. He meets his hosts. Then, at 9:30 he gets a massage and bath, and at 11 he takes a meagre lunch which is usually a boiled paste of scraped and ground vegetables, moistened with a glassful of hot milk. After another rest (during which he indulges himself in his widely known ‘nature cure’ consisting of mud plasters on his forehead and stomach), Gandhi works at correspondence and interviews until time for evening prayers.

In his daily prayer meeting Gandhi meets the world; this is his best platform. Welcoming all who will come to his open-air meeting, he proceeds through a ritual that reveals his eclectic faith. One by one, the audience hears an extract from Buddhist scriptures (suggested by a Japanese monk who stayed at Gandhi’s ashram until he was interned at Pearl Harbor); several recitations from revered Hindu writings; ashramite vows (truth, nonviolence, nonstealing, celibacy, nonpossession, removal of untouchability, etc.); readings from the Quran; a Zend Avesta (Zoroastrian) quotation; a hymn which may be Hindi, Bengali, or some Christian song in translation; and a joyous tuneful recital of the name of Ram, to the accompaniment in cadence of hand clapping.

This devotional exercise is followed each day by a talk in which Gandhi gives expression to almost any thought exercising his mind. Listeners may hear of village sanitation, women in purdah, Hindu-Muslim relations, reactions to the latest Muslim League resolution, a hint as to what new course the Congress will adopt, and observations on London’s policy. Taken together, reports of these after-prayer talks furnish perhaps the best guide to the trend of Gandhian thought. These reports, I might add, are authentic.

While his Bengali interpreter translates his remarks to the village crowd, Gandhi sits crosslegged on his small platform, penning out the authorized English version of what he has said in Hindi. He writes in third person an refers to himself by his initial. “Addressing the prayer gathering at Bansq this evening, G. said…”

After the prayers, Gandhi takes another brisk walk. Except on his weekly day of silence, he uses this exercise period to talk with villagers and visitors who half-trot at his side. Then Gandhi returns to his hut for another footpath and more correspondence and interviews. Later one of the Indian pressmen arrives to read the day’s news to him. Gandhi usually sleeps at about 9 o’ clock.

Gandhi’s decision to bury himself in this nearly-unreachable corner of India at a critical hour in India’s destiny distresses even some of his closest associates. Speaking for them, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote Gandhi a few weeks ago in this vein: “One hardly knows what to say to you. You are needed in Noakhali, but you are also needed in Delhi, in Wardha, and everywhere.”

Yet in the opinion of his associates nothing in the outside world will draw Gandhi from his immersion in rural East Bengal so long as he feels his task there unfinished. They know of course, that many people fail to understand why he stays there.

Two answers may be suggested. Politically, Gandhi has concluded that Hindu-Muslim bitterness threatens to postpone Indian freedom, and perhaps undercuts the role India might otherwise play in Asia. Having failed to bring the two communities together through high-level negotiation, he is testing his nonviolence and seeking a solution at the familiar village level. As a Hindu, moreover, he is incapable of ignoring the threat to his culture that arises from forced conversions. Wherever they occur, he must stamp them out.

The first objective, obviously, can be attained only  by winning the support of Muslims. Gandhi has consciously set out to do this. As the primary step, he is working to lift Hindu-Muslim relations from a religious to a political plane.

Time after time, Gandhi has told Bengali prayer audiences that Hindus and Muslims must settle their dispute or be saddled with long-continued foreign rule. He seems to expect an early end of domination by war- weakened Britain, but to fear genuinely that internal dissension might open the door to some other agent of foreign imperialism, perhaps in the guise of a UNO trusteeship.

Gandhi assures his listeners that freedom is theirs to  grasp, if they will but take it. This is true, he argues, both at the government level and in the villages. At the top, he suggests that popular pressure can shape any existing provincial ministry into a true Indian government. To give emphasis to this point, he deals at governmental level just with League Premier Suhrawardy, whose politics, he opposes. Neither the British governor nor the British army commander found Gandhi willing to accept their help; all his requests go directly to the Muslim League ministry.

He entreats people to support this government because it is Indian, or to turn it out for a better Indian government. Let the ministry call its rule Pakistan or anything else, he urges with persuasive Gandhian argument; he would not oppose it so long as it protected the people’s fundamental rights. (He always stipulates that Pakistan should not be sought until India is free and that it should assure friendliness to its Indian neighbours). This is his appeal to Muslims on the ideological level.

What progress has he made with this doctrine? Gandhi himself has never underestimated the task. Writing to a relative in December, he explained: “My present mission is the most complicated and difficult one of my life. I can sing with cent per cent truth: ‘The night is dark and I am far from home; Lead Thou Me on.’ I have never experienced such darkness in my life before. The nights seem to be pretty long. The only consolation is that I feel neither baffled nor disappointed. I am prepared for any eventuality. ‘Do or die’ has to be put to test here. ‘Do’ here means Hindus and Mussalmans should learn to live together in peace and amity. Otherwise, I should die in the attempt. It is really a difficult task. God’s will be done.”

I walked with Gandhi and sat at his feet during prayers in the twelfth week of his stay in East Bengal and the fourth week of his village-to-village pilgrimage. No difficult incidents had then occurred for many days. Carefully watching faces in the gathering of 700 villagers at the prayers, I thought I detected a spirit of neutrality mixed with curiosity. Some Muslims glared at the Ramdhun praise, but I saw none leave the open-air meeting. They stood passively during the ritual, listened quietly to the after-prayer talk and its translation, and then went away. But Hindus trailed along for the evening walk.

Even an advance from expressed opposition to neutral silence is progress. Given the months that Gandhi might be prepared to stay in the area, the process may go further. Gandhi’s personality is strong and vibrant. By direct contact he can often win over the unfriendly and the uninterested.

He is unquestionably deriving from his present experience a fresh, sensitive responsiveness to village, mentality: this will stand him in good stead in judging the mood of the country for future action. Yet in the week-by-week degeneration of political prospects, one could wish with many of his followers that Gandhi might apply his mind and heart to a national settlement which would bring inter-party co-operation without incurring what he calls appeasement at the cost of honor.

No such tangled analysis is necessary in respect to  Gandhi’s religious mission in East Bengal. Here he is Defender of the Faith, and Hindus across India recognise him as such. Witness the frequent references to the well-known reformer, Shankar Acharya. This Hindu saint of the eighth century reputedly walked barefooted to the four corners of India in a pilgrimage to free Brahmanism from the smothering embrace of Buddhism. When Hindus today draw analogies between his march and Gandhi’s, they demonstrate their fear that Islam, too may be capable of a bear’s hug.

To the relief of one Noakhali village Gandhi sent a Muslim member of his ashram, Miss Amtus Salam. She found the local Muslims still acting aggressively toward their neighbors. In the Gandhian tradition she decided not to eat until Muslims returned a sacrificial sword which during the October upheaval had been looted from a Hindu home. Now, a fast concentrates very heavy social pressure on its objects, as Indians have long since learned.

The sword was never found. Possibly it had been dropped into a pond. Whatever had happened, the nervous Muslim residents were almost ready to agree to anything when Gandhi arrived in that village on the 25th day of Miss Salam’s fast. Her doctor reported that life was ebbing. After hours of discussion (which reporters said Gandhi took as seriously as the Cabinet Delegation negotiations) Gandhi persuaded the village leaders to sign a written promise that they would never molest Hindus again. Then he put the whole issue into a capsule.

According to a report which I believe is the self-written authorised version: “Gandhiji explained the significance underlying the demand for the return of the stolen sword. What was being demanded, he said, was freedom for the minority community to practice their religion and worship their gods in any manner usual with them, and freedom to pursue their normal avocations. Gandhiji laid special emphasis on religious toleration. The essence of Miss Salam’s demand, he told the Muslims, was an assurance that they would use all their influence to see that no member of the Hindu community was obstructed from performing his religious rites and worship in any manner he liked.”

In other prayer talks Gandhi returned frequently to this theme. People had told him, he stated one day, that if Muslims asked Hindus to accept Islam if they wanted to save themselves or their property, and if Hindus responded, there was no compulsion. What Gandhi wanted to say, according to the approved report, “was that this was acceptance of Islam under the threat of force. Conversion, Gandhiji held, was made of sterner stuff. The statement reminded him of the days when Christian missionaries, so called, used to buy children in days of famine and bring them up as Christians. This was surely no acceptance of Christianity. Similarly, the acceptance of Islam, to be real and valid, should be wholly voluntary and must be based on proper knowledge of two faiths: one’s own and the one presented for acceptance. This was the view Gandhi had held all his life. He did not believe in conversion as an institution.”

Sincerely yours

Phillips Talbot

Phillips Talbot, South Asia correspondent of the Chicago Daily, New Delhi, 16th February, 1947
(source:Rediff on the Net  http://www.rediff.com/freedom/gandhi.htm, 08.Oct 2003)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Phillips Talbot)

Convertible

In a country where deep political and religious convictions often lead to bloodshed,  74-year-old Abul Kasem Fuzlul Huq has a singularly open mind. Huq can be converted, and  in the grip of conversion, can convert others. He can also be re-converted.

As president of the Moslem League, in 1916-19, 1921, pot-bellied Huq had helped to  inflame Moslems with their first dream of Pakistan. But in 1943, when he lost the  premiership of Bengal Province he was converted to the predominantly Hindu All-India Congress, turned like a tiger on the League and its president Mohamed Ali Jinnah.

Last summer, Huq failed to get a big Interim Government job despite a Congress recommendation, was naturally disappointed. When 200 Moslem students, armed with sticks and knives, politely urged him to rejoin the glorious fight for Pakistan, Huq was converted again. He made a new try for his old job as Bengal Premier, also launched a  campaign to stop Mohandas Gandhi’s “neighborly” preaching in Bengal. Cried Huq: “I am  surprised to see Moslems in Noakhali tolerating Gandhi peacefully!”

Then Huq lost the Bengal election, and Gandhi invited him down to discuss Huq’s view that  Bihar Province needed the Mahatma more than Bengal. There, at Noakhali, old Huq had his  supreme moment. He converted Gandhi, sent the Hindu saint packing off on a Bihar side  trip. Huq announced that the Mahatma had converted him, too. Said Huq to a meeting of  Moslems: “I intend to spend the rest of my life preaching good will among Hindus and  Moslems.”

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Mar. 17, 1947)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

The Boss

Gandhi’s toes were blistered. As he walked the flower-strewn paddyfield paths of eastern Bengal last week, through lines of Hindus and Moslems who wept and knelt to touch his bandaged feet, other Hindus and Moslems in distant Bombay chopped at each other with long knives. Twenty-two people died in the Bombay riots, including some Untouchables who were caught in the middle.

While Gandhi preached love and nonviolence to the Bengalis, an old jailbird named Vallabhbhai Patel, who calls himself “a blind follower of Gandhiji” and whom the British Raj had imprisoned eight of the past 16 years, had 40 Indian Communists, whom he hates, clapped into jail.

In short, everything was as usual in India, where the people are more fertile than the land and the paradoxes are more fertile than the people. India’s pullulating contradictions obscured the view at a moment when it was more important than ever that the world understand what was going on in the seething subcontinent.

Princes & Paupers. On the 17th anniversary of the Indian Congress’ Purna Swaraj (complete independence) resolution of Jan. 26, 1930, India was almost completely free of Britain but in danger of lapsing into anarchy. The infant country faced these problems, among others:

¶ Hatred between the Hindu and Moslem communities, which flared last August into the Great Calcutta Killing when 6,000 died, has now hardened into a grim struggle over Pakistan.

¶Rising prices and falling production have intensified the conflict between millions of the poorest and some of the richest people in the world. Strikes are bubbling all over India. Communist power is rising. The Congress Party is likely to split into right and left groups and the Moslems face a similar division.

¶While Gandhi continues to attack industrialization, some of his most devoted followers go ahead with plans to make India the industrial heart of Asia.

¶Freedom for India does not affect the princely states, where 93 million (25%) Indians live. These are more or less despotically ruled by an anachronistic group of princes who have, on the average, 11 titles, 5.8 wives, 12.6 children and 3.4 Rolls-Royces. Sooner or later a free Indian nation will have to deal with them; right now the Communists are advocating expulsion of the princes.

Power Is the Spur. To bring under control this vast interplay of seemingly irresistible forces and immovable bodies would take more than the fanaticism of Moslem Leaguer Mohamed AH Jinnah, more than Jawaharlal Nehru’s eloquent idealism, more, perhaps, than Gandhi’s combination of mysticism and manipulation. India needed an organizer. It had one. Gandhi listened to God and passed on his political ideas to Vallabhbhai (rhymes with “I’ll have pie”) Patel; Patel, after listening to Gandhi, translated those ideas into intensely practical politics.

Patel has no pretensions to saintliness or eloquence or fanaticism. He is, in American terms, the Political Boss. Wealthy Hindu and Parsi industrialists (like C. H. Bhabha, Patel’s son’s employer, who has just become Works, Mines and Power Minister) thrust huge campaign funds into his hands. With their money, Congress Party patronage, and ceaseless work, he has built a machine that touches every one of India’s conflicts. In every fight his objective is the same—power for India.

As Home and Information Minister of the new Central Government, as boss of the Congress Party, Patel represents what cohesive power Free India has. This cinder-eyed schemer is not the best, the worst, the wisest or the most typical of India’s leaders, but he is the easiest to understand, and on him, more than on any man, except Gandhi, depends India’s chance of surviving the gathering storms.

Interrupted Rubber. The first movement Patel ever organized was a student revolt against a teacher he accused of profiteering in pencils and paper. Later, Patel went to London, studied law 16 hours a day, topped the list in a bar examination and headed back for his beloved India without stopping to tour the Continent. He has never left India since.

His legal career was mainly defending murderers and bandits and frightening district magistrates with his caustic tongue. One magistrate, hearing that Patel was expanding his practice, moved his court to a town out of Patel’s reach. In later years Gandhi found in Patel “motherly qualities” that eyes less inspired than the Mahatma’s never saw. Today, Patel is coldly pleased when his enemies call him “the Iron Dictator” and “Herr Vallabhbhai.” Enemies and friends tell an anecdote of his criminal law days. He had just put his wife in a Bombay hospital, returned to Ahmedabad to argue a murder case. He was on his feet when a telegram arrived. He read that his wife had died, put the telegram into his pocket and went on with his argument as if he had never been interrupted.

In 1915 Patel was playing bridge in Ahmedabad’s Gujerat Club when he first saw his fellow lawyer Gandhi, fresh from agitational triumphs in South Africa. At that time Patel dressed in fancy Western clothes and affected the manners of the most pukka sahib Briton. When his eyes fell upon Gandhi, Patel interrupted his game long enough to make a few scathing remarks. A year later he joined Gandhi’s movement.

By 1927, when Patel had become the mayor of Ahmedabad, unofficial capital of Gujerati-speaking India, his extraordinary skill as an organizer showed itself for the first time during the great Gujerat floods. Everything broke down—transport, communications, all methods of distribution. The general Indian attitude used to be to regard such catastrophes as acts of God What little relief there was usually came from a British Government which took its good time to relieve distress. Patel initiated an unheard-of fund-raising drive for the relief of the flood victims. Supplies were moved into the flood areas by hundreds of volunteers wading through waist-deep water, carrying boxes and sacks on their heads. When lumber was required for constructing small bridges or building houses, Patel arranged for it all without making a single approach to the Government. It seemed a miracle to Indians when all the lumber arrived on the scene in the needed sizes. By the time the Bombay provincial representatives got there, no official assistance was needed.

Nothing like it had ever been seen before in India. Here at last was organization by and for Indians.

Somber Masterpiece. Now that India seems to require miracles of organization if its Government is to survive, Indians recall Patel’s organizational masterpiece, the Bardoli no-tax campaign of 1928. Despite the fact that crops had been bad for several years in the Bardoli district, a 25% tax increase was ordered by the Government assessors. This was precisely the opportunity Gandhi had been waiting for to launch the first real experiment in mass civil disobedience.

Patel took charge. Dressed in simple dhoti and shirt, he trudged from village to village, day after day, exhorting the peasants at every stop to stand fast and pay no taxes. “Some of you are afraid your land will be confiscated,” he said in one speech. “What is confiscation? Will they take away your lands to England?” In another speech he set forth the principle that was to govern every Congress struggle of the future: “Every home must be a Congress office and every soul a Congress organization.” Under Patel’s orders the peasants’ buffaloes, which the Government might have taken, were brought right into the peasants’ houses. No servants would work for the Government collectors. Nobody would sell them food or give them water. Some property was, of course, confiscated and sold, but bidders were few. In all Bardoli not one rupee was collected in direct taxes.

A stunned Government finally asked Gandhi for terms. The upshot was a 6¼%, not a 25%, increase in taxes. Patel emerged from Bardoli with a new and exalted status. He received the unofficial title of “Sardar,” meaning captain or leader, which he has carried ever since. (Lawyer K. F. Narriman was the first to call Patel “Sardar”; years later he and Patel quarreled and the Sardar forced Narriman out of Bombay politics.)

Money Makes the Mare Go. After Bardoli, Patel became recognized as the Congress Party’s chief organizer and disciplinarian. He checked up on what Gandhi’s followers ate, drank and wore. He passed on the party lists in provincial elections. He approved party-sponsored legislation, and personally drafted much of it. No detail was too unimportant or sordid for Boss Patel. Recently he took charge of negotiations between the Congress Party Ministry in Bombay and the Western Indian Turf Association, which wanted to renew its license for the Bombay racetrack. Patel, who has never seen a horse race, knew what the traffic would bear. He upped the license fee from half a million rupees to three million.

Although he has handled millions in party funds, Patel has no personal love of money. With his daughter Maniben, who acts as his secretary (she has accompanied him on most of his sojourns in British prisons), he now lives in a little suite in his son Dahyabhai’s Bombay house. He eats little, drinks no alcohol, quit smoking when he first went to jail. In recent years he has had serious stomach trouble. His only exercise is a walk when he rises, at 4:30 a.m. His only recreation is bouncing a ball across the room to his grandchildren. He has never seen a movie. He cares little about the world outside his country. Of 300 books in his Bombay library, every one is by an Indian, mostly about India.

Patel’s closest friend is probably Ghanshyam Das Birla, jute and cotton magnate, who boycotts his own textile mills by wearing khadi (homespun).* Though Birla dotes on Gandhi, he dreams of an industrialized India. (Birla has contracts with Britain’s Nuffield for an India-assembled automobile called the Hindustan Ten.) India’s liberals and leftists are stridently suspicious of Patel’s friendship with Birla and the other big industrialists, but Birla insists that he seeks no Government favors. Says he: “I already have all the money I need.”

Bedside Talks. Last week, sicker than usual, Patel stayed in bed. Few other 71-year-old men would call it a rest. From his visitors and from the distant effects of his bold and subtle schemes, it was apparent that in Patel’s mind, at least, India was no chaos, but a puzzle to be fitted together with thought and patience.

Arthur Henderson, Under Secretary of State for India, came in for final talks on the liquidation of those superlatively damned and praised institutions, the Indian Civil and Police Services. The question boiled down to a matter of severance pay; the 850 remaining British members wanted to get out. It was up to Patel to find the new men who, with the 750 Indians in the two Services, would rule India.* Nehru called twice. He and Patel have a deep bond of mutual attachment to Gandhi and to Indian independence. Otherwise, politically and temperamentally, they are antipodal. Two subjects almost certainly mentioned in Nehru’s bedside talks with Patel were the Moslems and the Marxists.

The Moslem League’s Jinnah, also exhausted by the crisis and the long trip from the London conference (TIME, Dec. 16), was at Karachi struggling with a problem which Patel had fashioned for him. By meeting most of Jinnah’s demands, Patel had passed back to the Moslems the decisions on whether or not they would enter the Constituent Assembly, which reconvenes this week. Patel, who has said that he could end communal strife in Congress Party provinces in six months, wanted a settlement; if he could get one, time would work in his favor in the struggle for control of India. He had the police power and his Hindus had the majority.

New Techniques. A settlement of the communal issue, even if it was temporary, would allow Patel to turn his attention to the growing labor strife. Late last summer, when a famine impended, a Communist-led strike had tied up south India railroads; a nationwide 25-day postal strike in July was also Communist-inspired. Two weeks ago Karachi dock workers walked off ten grain ships for ten days to get a wage of 94¢ daily. As a result of the stoppage, the rice ration in New Delhi was cut from twelve to eight ounces. In New Delhi 100,000 children were out of school because of a teachers’ strike (87% of Indians are illiterate). In southwestern India even the aboriginal Warli tribesmen refused to perform farm work, tried to chase landlords off the land.

The worst recent labor flare-up came last fortnight at Cawnpore, where militant Communist-and Socialist-led workers have developed some new bargaining techniques. They locked a labor inspector in an office and made a factory manager stand bareheaded in the sun for four hours until he agreed to reinstate four discharged employees. When the district magistrate ordered the arrest of 100 labor leaders, workers marched in protest, women in front. Police used lathis. Workers threw stones. When the police opened fire, six were killed. Last week 100,000 Cawnpore workers were still out.

As if in answer to the strike wave, police last week raided Communist headquarters throughout India. Patel’s Home Ministry denied that it had ordered the raids, but few familiar with the workings of the Criminal Intelligence Department believed that it was coincidence that brought police simultaneously to Red headquarters in Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Lucknow and seven other cities. India’s Communist leader, smart, tousled Puran Chandra Joshi, followed the Moscow line by blaming the British for the raids.

The raiders were more thorough than bright. They searched homes as well as offices, spent 5½ hours going through the files of one Delhi office. A police official turned up a copy of Molotov’s famous Paris speech of Aug. 5. He did not like what he read. “Who is this man?” he snapped. But Molotov was present only in spirit.

In spite of recent Communist gains, the Socialists, led by lithe, 44-year-old Jai Prakash Narain, are still the strongest group in the Congress Party’s left wing. Narain went to the Universities of California, Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State, became a convert to Communism in Chicago, where he sat up late talking to intellectuals. Returning to India, he soon abandoned Communism for Socialism because the Communists tried to impose a Moscow-dictated line on India. Narain’s estimated 1,000,000 followers (out of India’s 4,000,000 industrial workers) do not include Narain’s wife. She says: “I am faithful to Jai Prakash domestically, but to Gandhiji politically.”

Which Way? Fidelity to Gandhiji was still the dominant note in Indian politics. But what did it mean in practical terms? Gandhi, in steaming Bengal, talked of love, and sang:

If they answer not to thy call, walk alone, If they are afraid and cower mutely, facing the wall, O thou of evil luck, Open thy mind and speak out alone.

Patel would not walk alone if he could help it. He was obviously trying to base the new Indian nation on a compromise of the communal issue, a mildly rightist line in the labor split—plus full use of the police power (which Gandhi deplored but Organizer Patel did not). When the British Cabinet Mission reminded Patel last spring that he might be sent to jail again for defying the Raj, Patel replied calmly: “My bags are packed.” That is the way he understands the game, and that is the way he plays it, in & out of power.

The strong, repressive arm of law & order would be no permanent solution in a country where the average per capita wage is 5¢ a day and a quarter of the population of Bombay and Calcutta sleep on the streets. But the other horn of the dilemma is unrestrained freedom for communal and class conflict which, in a weak, new state, might disastrously degenerate into chaos. Patel is obviously going to try it his way. The Boss has performed miracles of organization before.

*Khadi is the official Congress uniform, supposed to symbolize Gandhi’s cottage industry drive and to emphasize Congress leaders’ connection with the toiling masses. But hand spinning is so inefficient that a khadi outfit costs as much as a good suit of English tweeds. *To Indians there are few if any callings higher than the Civil Service. A recent movie ad, stressing its subject’s sacrificial devotion to her art, said: “She turned down an I.C.S. man to become a movie star!”

(source: TIME Magazine, New York, Jan. 27, 1947)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

 

 

          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

Calcutta was only the beginning of a chain reaction of riot

But fast as the refugees fled, they could not keep ahead of the swiftly spreading tide of disaster. Calcutta was only the beginning of a chain reaction of riot, counter-riot, and reprisal which stormed through India for an entire year.

The next link in the chain was the Noakhali area in south-eastern Bengal. Here in the uncharted recesses of swampy lowlands and hyacinth-choked bayous I talked with Hindus who had abandoned their villages en masse and fled to the river banks. They had strange tales to tell of forced conversion to Islam, of being compelled to throw the images of their gods into the water and to eat the meat of the sacred cow. One woman wept hysterically as she told me how her home was ‘polluted’ by Muslim goondas, who placed raw meat on the window sills.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 32 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

Gandhi to Noakhali

Gandhi—though he was far too old to endure such hardship—went to Noakhali and tramped on foot through marshes and Jungle trying to restore confidence to the villagers.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 32 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

Gandhi’s Missions of Peace

Mahatma Gandhi, the great peace-loving saint of India, was shocked beyond despair. He went on a peace mission throughout Noakhali, wandering on foot from village to village. It showed how much he was loved by both Muslims and Hindus, for they rallied around him, attended his prayer meetings; and, before he had completed his tour, peace reigned again in Noakhali and East Bengal. When the killing was at its height in Bihar, he toured there also in defence of the Muslims and put an end to the slaughter.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, 1946
(source: page 216 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)

Gandhi in Noakhali

Mahatma Gandhi came out of his self-imposed semi retirement. Leaving the Sweeper’s Colony, his Delhi residence, he went to Bengal. His inner Voice told him not to fast unto death. Nobody was in the mood to listen. He announced he would go on a half fast, eating six hundred calories a day, until the killing stopped. On that daily ration, to hundred calories short of the vital minimum for those in bed, he set out for the villages of East Bengal, by train, by boat, on foot, preaching brotherly love. Village after the village had been devastated, houses burnt. Children roamed, orphaned, terrified. Gandhi eventually settled in a Moslem village and announced he would die there.  After a whole month on half fast the Killing stopped.  Hindu Muslim unity was restored.

“I have been rescued from the jaws of death”, he wrote to Mira Bhen, his adopted daughter. When sectarian killings flared up again, Gandhi continued to walk the villages, this time without success.

“Mine will prove a voice in the wilderness but I cannot remain silent.  I have no desire to prolong my lif thene.  I wish to die in harness, taking the name of God with my last breath,” he wrote an prophetic despair.  In the rest of India communal tension rose as rioting spread, first to the N. W. S. P. M. then to the Punjab, but Bengal remained quiet.  Gandhi’s pilgrimage had not been in vain.  In barely, extraordinary as it seems unrest retrospect, life went on its usual.

Taya Zinkin, Wife of an ICS Officer. Calcutta, Summer 1946
(source: Taya Zinkin “French Memsahib”Stoke Abbott: Thomas Harmsworth Publishing 1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Taya Zinkin)

 

 

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Bihar Killings

          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta_________________________

 

 

          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___

Convertible

In a country where deep political and religious convictions often lead to bloodshed,  74-year-old Abul Kasem Fuzlul Huq has a singularly open mind. Huq can be converted, and  in the grip of conversion, can convert others. He can also be re-converted.

As president of the Moslem League, in 1916-19, 1921, pot-bellied Huq had helped to  inflame Moslems with their first dream of Pakistan. But in 1943, when he lost the  premiership of Bengal Province he was converted to the predominantly Hindu All-India Congress, turned like a tiger on the League and its president Mohamed Ali Jinnah.

Last summer, Huq failed to get a big Interim Government job despite a Congress recommendation, was naturally disappointed. When 200 Moslem students, armed with sticks and knives, politely urged him to rejoin the glorious fight for Pakistan, Huq was converted again. He made a new try for his old job as Bengal Premier, also launched a  campaign to stop Mohandas Gandhi’s “neighborly” preaching in Bengal. Cried Huq: “I am  surprised to see Moslems in Noakhali tolerating Gandhi peacefully!”

Then Huq lost the Bengal election, and Gandhi invited him down to discuss Huq’s view that  Bihar Province needed the Mahatma more than Bengal. There, at Noakhali, old Huq had his  supreme moment. He converted Gandhi, sent the Hindu saint packing off on a Bihar side  trip. Huq announced that the Mahatma had converted him, too. Said Huq to a meeting of  Moslems: “I intend to spend the rest of my life preaching good will among Hindus and  Moslems.”

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Mar. 17, 1947)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

 

 

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Revenge in Bihar

To avenge Noakhali, Muslims were butchered in Bihar. Maurice used to say that communal rioting only stops when casualties are equal on both sides.

Taya Zinkin, Wife of an ICS Officer. Calcutta, Summer 1946
(source: Taya Zinkin “French Memsahib”Stoke Abbott: Thomas Harmsworth Publishing 1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Taya Zinkin)

Riots and Partition

But between these small islands of Hindu-Muslim co-operation were the burning villages, die blazing fanaticisms. The sparks of Bengal flew westward to the state of Bihar, where Hindus wreaked merciless vengeance on the Muslim minority. The flames of Bihar fanned out to the Punjab and touched off explosions that dwarfed even the Calcutta riots.

Months of violence sharpened the divisions, emphasized Jinnah’s arguments, achieved partition. On August 15, 1947, exactly one day less than a year after Nanda Lal had seen direct action break out on his doorstep, a bleeding Pakistan was carved out of the body of a bleeding India.

Margaret Bourke-White, journalist and travelwriter. Calcutta, 1946
(source: page 32 Margaret Bourke-White: Interview with India. London: The Travel Book Club, 1951)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Margaret Bourke-White 1951)

 

 

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29 May 1947 – Renewed Communal Violence

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Hindu v. Moslem riots

[…]. Hindu v. Moslem riots broke out in Bombay and  Calcutta, took a toll of more than 90 lives during the week.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Apr. 7, 1947)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

To Our Readers: Edgar Baker of TIME-LIFE International,…

Edgar Baker of TIME-LIFE International, publishers and distributors of our overseas  editions, returned last week from a six months’ business trip to the South Pacific,  Malaya and India, where he experienced the usual quota of unexpected surprises and contradictions.

In India, for instance, he found that sending telegrams was a fruitless occupation because the operators were likely to mail the message to its city of delivery, where  another operator retyped it on a telegraph form—both operators then pocketing the difference. On the other hand many of India’s top Hindu and Moslem leaders went out of  their way to tell Baker that, in or out of jail, they would not be without their weekly  copy of TIME.

[…]

In India, where Baker spent three months and traveled 15,000 miles by air, dockside  strikes and irregular mail delivery from TIME’s branch printing plant in Cairo had  accumulated quantities of unsold newsstand copies of TIME. They were stacked in a warehouse in the Moslem section of Calcutta and TLI’s distributor, a Hindu like most  Indian businessmen, did not dare try to recover them. Baker located a bearer who was a  Christian and helped load the back copies of TIME into a truck himself. Later, the bearer, “a likeable, inoffensive little chap,” was kidnapped by a band of Moslems who  mistook him for a Hindu and wanted to kill him. He finally convinced them that he was a  Roman Catholic by showing his crucifix and answering some questions about the Bible put  by a mission-bred Moslem.

Incidents like this, combined with the economic uncertainty that India’s impending  partition has produced, made it almost impossible to do business there. Nevertheless,  Baker eventually managed to straighten out TLI’s Indian affairs. In the future, readers  in Indonesia and India, like TIME’s growing audience of readers elsewhere overseas, will  be receiving their copies of TIME within a few days of our distribution date in the U.S.

Cordially,

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Aug. 11, 1947)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

 

 

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July 1947 – Jinnah & Gandhi Peace-Appeals are dropped from planes over the city

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August 1947 – Gandhi stays with Suhrawardy at Baliaghata

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Competitive Massacre

[…]

The rest of India was relatively quiet. In once turbulent Calcutta, Mohandas K. Gandhi, still striving for Hindu-Moslem unity, was able to write of the situation there: “One might almost say the joy of fraternization is leaping up from hour to hour.”

[…]

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Sep. 8, 1947)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

Flowers for the Empress

In his little wooden hut in Calcutta, 78-year-old Mohandas K. Gandhi last week drank a glass of sweetened lime juice, thus ending a 73-hour fast (his first since 1943) in protest against communal violence. Half an hour later a dozen Hindu and Moslem youths came to beg Gandhi’s forgiveness for rioting, solemnly promised not to do it again. At his bare brown feet the penitents placed big bundles containing knives, rifles, a much-used Sten gun and a dozen U.S.-made hand grenades.

The old Mahatma magic had worked well in Calcutta. Just after 62 people had been killed, 400 injured, in 24 hours, Gandhi had announced that he would not eat until “sanity returned to Calcutta.” (Aside he said: “As usual I shall permit myself to add salt and soda bicarbonate to the water I may wish to drink during the fast.”) Anxious Calcuttans read about the Mahatma’s pulse rate, his blood pressure (both diastolic and systolic) and the acetone and albumen in his urine; they stopped rioting.

At week’s end, having warned Calcuttans that next time he would fast to death if they did not behave, Gandhi turned his pacifying powers to a far more difficult test. He headed for the Punjab, scene of the bloodiest communal killings of all India.

Near Rohri in Pakistan several hundred Moslems stopped a train, hauled out 13 Sikhs, clubbed them to death with hockey sticks. An Indian Army courier told how, in the remote Shakirgarh district of Pakistan, a small Hindu military force had found only 1,500 known survivors from a community of 120,000 Sikhs. He estimated that over 100,000 had been butchered, caught between a howling Moslem mob and the flooded Ravi river.

Famine and disease threatened to follow in the wake of the carnage. In the Punjab, traditionally India’s granary, fields lay unharvested for hundreds of miles on either side of the border, as farmers ran away or hid. In Lahore only one or two banks stayed open because the clerks had gone back to Madras. Throughout Pakistan there was little commercial activity. Hindu and Sikh merchants, engineers and mechanics had joined in the general exodus.

In the refugee camps, where thousands huddled in filth and existed on one eighth of a pancake a day, many now shouted “Bring back the British Raj!” And in Lahore somebody hung flowers on the statue of Queen Victoria.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York, Sep. 15, 1947)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

 

 

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he was dubbed as a traitor

When Pakistan came into being, Bengal was faced with extensive riots. Suhrawardy stayed back in Calcutta to help the riot- affected people. The irony was that when he wanted to come to Pakistan, he was dubbed as a traitor and was not allowed to enter Pakistan.

Roquyya Jafri, Position. Calcutta, 1946

(source  Roquyya Jafri : “A model of political rectitude.” http://www.dawn.com/2003/09/08/op.htm)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Roquyya Jafri)

 

 

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1948 – Assassination of Gandhi

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November 1948 – Muharram Disturbances

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February-March 1950 – Communal violence

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“I Am Helpless”

A few weeks ago, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and India’s Jawaharlal Nehru were hurling threats of war at each other. This week, the Pakistan-India crisis had grown so grave that it was no longer possible for responsible men to talk carelessly. The Prime Ministers were meeting in New Delhi “in the hope,” said Liaquat Ali Khan, “that we shall, with our united efforts . . . remove all misunderstandings which have created tension between our two countries.”

Rioting between Hindus and Moslems had broken out again in Bengal. There was more burning and looting than killing, but the pattern was frighteningly like that of 1946. As in 1946, some of the worst scenes took place in filthy, plague-ridden Calcutta.

Half a Million Hindus. From a population of some 2,000,000 before partition, Calcutta had in two years become packed with about 7,000,000 people. Biggest addition: the Hindu refugees from Eastern Pakistan, who last week were still crowding in. Five thousand Hindus were camped in Calcutta’s Sealdah railroad station, ragged, stupefied and sick. In spite of efforts of relief workers there were 70 new cases of cholera, typhoid and dysentery every day. A volunteer made the rounds taking down depositions from refugees. One emaciated little man dictated haltingly: “My name is Harun Donath Pal. I lived in the village of Subhodpur. My house has been burned and my two sisters and my aunt are lost. My property has been looted. I have nothing and I am helpless.” He signed the deposition with his thumbprint.

Trains brought 5,000 Hindus daily to Calcutta. On foot, other thousands trudged from the east. In little more than a month, half a million Hindus had come to West Bengal and most of them to teeming Calcutta.

Blood for Blood. The inevitable happened. Hindu sidewalk orators, telling wild stories of atrocities against refugees, urged the people to “avenge” their Hindu brothers in Pakistan. Shouting “Blood for blood,” Hindu mobs rushed through the city burning, looting and killing.

Even Europeans, usually not molested in communal troubles, were not safe. Alexander Leslie Cameron, 49, president of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, and one of the leading British businessmen in India, tried to protect a friend’s Moslem bearer from a mob, was himself beaten to death.

Meanwhile, terrified Moslems had themselves become refugees, huddled together in camps while they waited for a chance to make their way to East Pakistan. One camp, on the Park Circus recreation area in central Calcutta, held more than 10,000 Moslems. Every now & then a group of Hindus slipped up to the camp, threw bombs into the refugee area.

Gallup Poll. Calcutta’s riots were one more triumph for the extremist Hindu Mahasabha Party, which opposes Nehru, accuses him of appeasing Pakistan. Even politicians who have been Nehru’s friends have begun to turn against him on the Pakistan issue. Oldtime Congress Leader Tushar Kanti Ghosh used his daily paper, Amrita Bazar, to flail Nehru and urge war. He asked readers.for their opinions, got 200,000 replies, 87% of which favored armed attack or “police action” against

Pakistan. Snorted Nehru: “It is fantastic to have a Gallup poll on war.”

Nevertheless, the strength of the Mahasabha war party was growing, and it would take all the skill that Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan could muster to bring peace out of the terror that stalked Bengal.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York, Apr. 10, 1950)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

“Let It Be War . . .”

India and Pakistan were snarling and snapping at each other like mastiffs spoiling for a  fight.

Among long-lying bones of contention between the two nations are the Kashmir territorial  dispute and a bitter trade war (TIME, Jan. 9), but last week the rivals glowered over  Bengal. In that northeastern region, divided between Pakistan’s East Bengal and India’s  West Bengal, there has been more than a month of savage rioting. Though no one has yet  computed total casualties and damage, a swarm of Hindu refugees has fled from Moslem  terror in East Bengal (where 29 million Moslems live with 13 million Hindus), while Hindu  mobs have struck back at Moslems in West Bengal (where 17 million Hindus live with 5  million Moslems).

“Shadow of Tragedy.” “Barbarian neighbor!” barked the Indian press, charging Pakistan  with a plot of annihilation against Hindus. Angry Pakistan headlines bayed: “Over 10,000  [Moslems] killed—harrowing tales of murder, arson and loot!”

Before New Delhi’s packed, impassioned Parliament, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru  reviewed events in Bengal. “The country,” he said, “has lived under the shadow of  tragedy.” Pakistan, he continued, had grossly exaggerated casualties in West Bengal: only  34 Moslems had died and 146 had been injured. But in East Bengal, “a kind of iron  curtain” had fallen; behind it, charged Nehru, Pakistan authorities had incited riots in  which 600 to 1,000 Hindus had perished while 43,000 had been hounded across the border  into India.

The Prime Minister declared that he had failed to win Pakistan’s agreement to a joint  fact-finding commission. Then he solemnly warned: “If tragedies occur in Pakistan … we  cannot remain indifferent to them . . . Peace and good will are not going to come by superficial arrangement when these deepseated causes of trouble and conflict continue …  If the methods we have suggested are not agreed to, it may be that we shall have to adopt  other methods. I am deeply troubled . . .”

“Machinations of Enemies.” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan blamed the  disorders on “the machinations of the sworn enemies of Pakistan.” His opposition to  Nehru’s proposed fact-finding commission was based on the official argument that such a commission would merely “entangle both governments in the barbed wire of controversy.”  Then, when Nehru suggested that both leaders tour Bengal together, as they had toured the  stricken Punjab in 1947, he again refused. Previous experience, said Liaquat Ali, “did  not indicate that such a move would have any substantial results.”

Bombay’s sensational Free Press Journal shrilly said what many excited Hindus seemed to  be thinking: “Let it be war with Pakistan if Pakistan wants it that way.”

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Mar. 6, 1950)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

Fish Story

Although relations between India and Pakistan have greatly improved, each country is  still quick to take offense at criticism by its neighbor’s press. Last fortnight India’s  New Delhi-Calcutta Statesman (circ. 80,000) ran a report about poisoned fish in the  rivers of East Bengal, now part of Pakistan. Said the Statesman: “We hear [that] 75% of  the [East Bengal] population have .. . ceased to take fish for fear of being poisoned and  are meanwhile doing poojah [prayers] to their gods to see if haply this scourge may be removed. We should be more pleased to hear that some prompt steps had been taken to  remedy the disaster …”

Last week the East Bengal government took prompt steps to deny the charges: “Incorrect  reports … no such complaint . . .” In their anger, the Pakistani officials had failed  to notice that the Statesman’s fish story appeared in the column, “Seventy-Five Years Ago  Today.”

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Jun. 19, 1950)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)

 

 

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———————————————————————————————————————————————————–Gandhiji Curfew Imposed In Kashmir Ahead Of Independence Protest 108apples hwh-stn1943 jAlbert-Einstein-Meets-Jawaharlal-Nehru-1949-300x241 Jawaharlal-Nehru-Mahatma-Gandhi-and-Sardar-Vallabhbhai-Patel-1946 Pt.Madan Mohan Malviya&Gandhiji Pt.Madan Mohan Malviya (3) Rabindranath_with_Einstein hwh_1905 red netaji books1 Shabda- Takat TajMahal Spiritual Say Somnath_temple-View2 0-Sayajirao_Gaekwad_III,_Maharaja_of_Baroda,_1919 kamgar_din_0001 kashividyapith-1 440px-Abdul_Ghafar_Khan,_Nehru,_and_Sardar_Patel_1946 Mountbatten Rice_Field farmers (4) farmers (2) farmers faStop_Farmer_Suicide farm Effects-of-Fiscal-Deficit 4DrRajendrPrasad 1971Oxcart-train1947 200px-Subhas_Chandra_Bose 200px-Fujiwara_Kikan SardarPatel jIndo_US

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