Colonialism, Politics Of Language And Partition Of Bengal PART IX
By Nurul Kabir
September 9, 2013
HOWEVER, after the outbreak of the riot, the Kolkata police, which were extremely dominated by Hindu officers and constables, did not show much enthusiasm to quell the situation. Instead, many of them allegedly sided with, some psychologically and others physically, their Hindu co-religionists. Notably, in the Kolkata city of six million people at that time, there was ‘only a 1,200-man police force, of whom only 63 were Muslims.’ Besides, ‘[o]f the officers, with the exception of one Deputy Commissioner and one Officer-in-Charge, the remainder were Hindus.’ [Mohammad HR Talukder (ed), Memoirs of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy with a Brief Account of His Life and Work, University Press Limited, Dhaka, 1987, p 25.]
The sequence of events suggests that the Suhrawardy and his ministry were not adequately aware of the Hindu preparedness to begin a riot against the Muslims, or face one if imposed on the Hindus. The inspector general of police, an Englishman, reportedly told chief minister Suhrawardy that he himself was unaware of the preparation of the riot by the extremist Hindu forces as ‘all the Intelligence Branches of the police were manned by only Hindus’ and ‘they betrayed the government’. [Kamrudin Ahmad, p 71] Later, Sir Francis Tuker, a member of the ‘Calcutta Riot Enquiry Commission’, wrote in his memoirs, While Memory Serves, ‘Hindu Mahasabha was at the root [of the riot], but Hindu police dominated the Intelligence Branch and Criminal Investigation Branch of the police who kept the government in darkness.’ [Tuker is cited in Kamrudin Ahmad, ibid, p 72]
However, in order to contain the situation, Suhrawardy sat in the control room of the police headquarters round the clock and ‘dispatched truck loads of armed constables but they never reached their destination’. Forced by the circumstance, even in the face of protests from the Hindu leaders and initial reluctance of the office of the British governor, he ‘recruited 1,200 trained Muslim Panjabi Sepahis to keep a balance in the police force’, which eventually quelled the riot in Kolkata.
Suhrawardy must have hired the Muslim constables, keeping in mind the horrible consequences of the ‘anti-Muslim riot’ that took place in India in 1926, in which the Muslims of Kolkata were slaughtered allegedly due to the inaction against the Hindu rioters by the armed police ‘manned almost entirely’ by the Hindus. [The anti-Muslim riot of 1926 broke out in Lahore, and subsequently spread out all over India, after a judge of the Lahore High Court, Justice Kunwar Daleep Singh, acquitted a Muslim who allegedly murdered a Hindu writer, Rajpal, for his book Rangila Rasool. While writing on the problems of polygamy, Rajpal contemptuously referred to the life of the Prophet of Islam, hurting the religious sentiments of the Muslims of India.]
However, the Hindu elite in general, and the leaders of the Bengal Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha in particular, squarely blamed Suhrawardy and the Muslim League for the communal riot in Kolkata in 1946. Suhrawardy did not mention anything about the Hindu allegations against him in his memoirs, but history records that two of his Bengal Muslim League colleagues, otherwise his bitter critics, defended him against the allegations.
MA Hassan Ispahani, an erstwhile member of the Bengal Legislative Assembly from the Muslim League, told the House ‘soon after’ the communal carnage: ‘I would have been the first person to advocate the public hanging of Mr. Suhrawardy, the Chief Minister of Bengal, if it was his intention to bring about the killing of a few Hindus and to sacrifice thousands of Muslims (sic) women and children in their homes in return. Only a fool and not Suhrawardy could have completed such a move.’ [MAH Ispahani, Qaid-E-Azam Jinnah: As I Knew Him, Forward Publications Trust, Karachi, 1966, p 193.] Ispahani rather praised Suhrawardy’s role in quelling the riot in Kolkata. He writes, ‘I have not seen a man work so hard and act so swiftly to try and control a conflagration as Suhrawardy did.’ [ibid] In this regard, he accused ‘the Congress and Hindu Mahasabha leadership’ of non-cooperation with Suhrawardy to contain the communal conflict, for the latter ‘at first…had refused to give ear to Suhrawardy’s appeal to join hands with him and the Muslim League in an effort to bring human passions, which had run riot, under control.’ [ibid]
Abul Hashim of the Bengal Muslim League, who was also not an admirer of Suhrawardy, recognised that the latter ‘risking his life, moved round the city in his car by day and by night.’ [Abul Hashim, op-cit, p 134]
Be that as it may, the Muslims living in the Kolkata had undergone the most painful experiences during the communal riots. British historian Hodson rightly points out, ‘If the Muslims gave the provocation and started the holocaust, they were certainly its worst victims, for they were in minority in the city.’ [HV Hodson, The Great Divide: Britain-India-Pakistan, Hutchinson & Co, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1969, p 167.] Notably, the Muslims constituted only 24 per cent of total population of Kolkata those days.
The Kolkata killings had its repercussion in East Bengal. Kamruddin Ahmed writes, ‘in an anti-Hindu riot [in Noakhali] on August 29, eighty-six Hindus including a family of a local Hindu Zamindar were killed.’ [Kamruddin Ahmad, A Socio Political History of Bengal and the Birth of Bangladesh, Fourth edition, Inside Library, Dhaka, 1975, p 73.] The attacks on Hindus continued for a couple of days more, causing more deaths of Hindus in Noakhali.
Kamruddin Ahmad writes that this was an unfortunate ‘reaction to mass killing of Noakhali Dock Workers in Khidirpur’ of West Bengal during the Kolkata riots. In this regard, Suhrawardy writes that the ‘Hindus had invaded Muslim mosques and killed the congregation at their prayers, including the imams and muezzins who came from the district of Noakhali’, and as a result, ‘the Muslims of Noakhali burned a number of Hindu villages, about 282 people were killed and four women were abducted of whom three were subsequently restored’.
The Kolkata-based communalist Hindu press projected the tragic Noakhali massacre in so many exaggerated ways, and that too, mixing imaginary stories with the facts, that it provoked widespread killing of Muslims by the Hindus in Patna of Bihar. Suhrawardy writes in his memoirs: ‘The Amrita Bazar Patrika and other Congress [news]papers flashed a statement by the secretary of the Bengal Provincial Committee that 50,000 Hindus had been killed and numberless women abducted. Excited by such reports, the Hindus massacred and humiliated the Muslims in Garhmukteshwar in the United Provinces and throughout the province of Bihar where they are believed to have been killed as many as 100,000 Muslims — men, women and children — with unbelievable savagery. The Hindu mobs in Bihar roamed the countryside for four days, killing, burning, looting, raping, mutilating, in the apparently justified believe that the Government of Bihar and the Hindu police were behind them.’ [Suhrawardy in Mohammad HR Talukder (ed.), Memoirs of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy with a Brief Account of His Life and Work, University Press Limited, Dhaka, 1987, p 105]
Meanwhile, Gandhi had started from Delhi to visit Noakhali to establish peace there. He was told about the Bihar carnage in Kolkata and urged by a group of ‘young Muslim men’ to visit Bihar first. Gandhi refused to do so, on the ground that ‘when he left Delhi for Noakhali there was no riot in Bihar and he could not change his mind midway’. [ibid] Kamruddin Ahmad writes that on his refusal to go to Bihar, the young Muslim group in question indirectly accused Gandhi of ‘hypocrisy’ for they believed that ‘he was trying to divert the attention of the world from the Bihar killing’ to that of Noakhali. Gandhi’s ‘smiling’ response to the accusation was that ‘history, rather than those young men, would judge my action’. Gandhi, along with his secretary Mahadev Desai, granddaughter Munni Gandhi and his granddaughter-in-law Abha Gandhi, reached Dattapara of Noakhali on November 14, 1946 and stayed there as ‘guests of the government of Bengal’. Abul Hashim writes that Gandhi ‘walked from village to village and revived the morale of the Hindus’. He, however, was upset with the fact that Gandhi did not visit Kolkata and Patna. In this regard, Hashim writes with a note of anguish: ‘Mr. Gandhi’s visit to Noakhali focused world attention on atrocities committed by the Muslims of Noakhali and Comilla on the Hindu minorities of the two districts. In Calcutta and Bihar riots, the majority of the victims were Muslims. Mr. Gandhi did not visit Calcutta and Patna.’ [Abul Hashim, In Retrospect, p 136]
To be continued.
URL of Part 8: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/sudhakar-group-and-maulana-muniruzzaman-islamabadi-interpreted-islam-in-bangla-to-‘cleanse-the-faith-of-islam’-from-the-influences-of-hinduism-and-christianity---part-8/d/13965