By Wajahat Masood
(Translated from Urdu by Sohail Arshad, New Age Islam)
The basic reason behind the exchange of populations was the riots between the Muslim and the Hindu-Sikh population before and after Partition. Undoubtedly the riots were not a part of the freedom struggle. The oft-repeated sentence –‘won freedom by sacrificing millions of lives’ included in our textbooks are devoid of truth. The decision of the independence had been taken in the last days of 1947 at the conference table and the plan of independence was officially announced on June 3, 1947. Most of the incidents of rioting occurred after that date.
Independence was being gained from the British and the riots were raging between different religious groups in India. The connection of the riots of 1946-47 with the freedom struggle is out of the question.
This is not the time to fix the fundamental responsibility of the riots. Nonetheless, some facts and views need to be presented so that the student of history can do further research in this light. Hindu-Muslim and Muslim-Sikh riots occurred in different phases. The riots in the Muslim majority region of East Bengal started in Calcutta on August 16, 1946. Riots engulfed Novakhali of East Bengal on Oct 10, 1946. The majority population there was Muslim. The riots in the adjacent state of Bihar where the Hindus were in majority started on Oct.25, 1946. The riots in the north-eastern areas such as Rawalpindi, Taxila, Wah, Quetta, Jhelum and Gujar Khan started on March 4, 1947 and gradually moved towards central Punjab. The riots in the eastern Punjab started towards the end of June 1947 and continued till September, rather mid-October 1947.In eastern Punjab the Muslims were in minority. In the central provinces of India (such as Delhi, Panipat, Gurgaon, Lucknow, Meerut, Bulandshahr, Budayun, Muzaffar Nagar) where the Muslims were dominant over the Hindus economically and culturally but in minority numerically, the riots started in July-August 1947. It is significant that several southern states in India where the Muslim population was negligible did not see any communal strife.
The Muslim League had announced in its annual convention in Mumbai on July 29 that a country wide campaign in favour of demand for Pakistan would be started. Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardi was the Prime Minister of the Muslim League government in Bengal. The capital of Bengal was Calcutta where the Hindus were in majority. Though Qaid-e-Azam had given the hint of a peaceful demonstration while announcing Direct Action, he was in an aggressive mood while replying to the journalists. According to reports, Qaid-e-Azam had said,” We shall have India divided or India destroyed.”
The governor of Bengal Fredrick John Brose, in his confidential letter (IOR:L/P&J/8/655f.f95.96-107) written on August 22, 1946 to the Viceroy Lord Wavell gave some details of the events that occurred August 16, 1947 onwards. According to him the Muslim League had organised a meeting at the Ochterlony Monument in Calcutta at 4 P.M. which was supposed to be addressed by Prime Minister Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardi and Khwaja Nazimuddin. However, the reports of tensions had started pouring in in the police headquarters from as early as 10 in the morning. The Muslim League activists were forcing the shops to shut down. Most of the people coming towards the place of meeting were carrying lathis, rods and spears. Muslim League ministers had distributed petrol coupons to the office bearers of the Muslim League so that the houses and shops of Hindus could be burnt. The rations enough for ten thousand workers for a month had been stored.
While addressing the meeting, both Suherwardi and Nazim spoke of peace and riots in the same breath. Suharwardi even made the statement, “We shall not allow the police and the army to intervene.” The illiterate and already agitated mob interpreted it as ‘there will be no one stopping them.” Khwaja Nazim thought it necessary to tell the audience that in the skirmishes since morning, all the injured were Muslims.
As the meeting was over, a one-Lakh strong mob spread in the populated lanes and by-lanes of Calcutta. By the end of the day, four to five thousand Hindus had been killed. Prime Minister Suhrawardi himself was seated in the police control room. In the presence of the Prime Minister, the commissioner of Police was unable to issue appropriate orders. The Governor John Brose was not in favour of straining relations with the Prime Minister. Finally the army was called in on August 21, 1946.
By then, according to a report in the American weekly Time on August 22, 1946, “The streets of Calcutta were strewn with dead bodies. The drains had become jammed by human blood and pieces of human bodies. Swollen dead bodies were floating in the river Hooghly. The bodies of rickshaw pullers were lying on their rickshaws. Smoke was rising from the dead bodies of the wronged women.”
After the initial fighting, the riots became bilateral. Now, there was no distinction between Hindus and Muslims.
The fire lit by the Direct Action Day kept burning. The next big incident of communal strife took place in Nowakhali (which is now a part of Bangladesh). The riots which started in this predominantly Muslim area were called “the planned wrath of the Muslim mob” by the newspapers. Soon the fire of the riots spread in Roypur, Laxmipur, Begumganj, Sandip, Faridganj and Chandpur. The Hindu newspapers reported the death toll in thousands. The Muslim newspapers denied the occurrence of any riots in the first place. The official death toll was 200. However, after the riots, a Hindu in Nowakhali was hard to come by.
URL of Part 2 of the Series: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/objectives-resolution-and-secularism--part-2--maulana-shabbir-ahmad-usmani-was-the-pioneer-of-non-state-militantism-in-pakistan/d/9509
URL of Part 4 of the Series: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/wajahat-masood-tr.-new-age-islam/objectives-resolution-and-secularism--part-4--jinnah’s-secularism-was-undermined-by-the-mullahs/d/9539
URL of Part 5 of the Series: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/wajahat-masood-tr.-new-age-islam/objectives-resolution-and-secularism----part-5--muslim-league-used-manzilgah-mosque-in-the-same-way-as-bjp-used-babri-masjid-for-political-gains/d/9552
URL of Part 6 of the Series: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/wajahat-masood-tr.-new-age-islam/objectives-resolution-and-secularism----part-6--jinnah-sought-support-of-ahmadi-spiritual-head-for-the-establishment-of-pakistan/d/9569
URL of Part 7 of the Series: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/wajahat-masood-tr.-new-age-islam/objectives-resolution-and-secularism-7--maulana-shabbir-ahmad-usmani’s-prophetic-dream-about-jinnah/d/9576
URL of Part 8 of the Series: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/wajahat-masood-tr-new-age-islam/objectives-resolution-and-secularism—part-8--jafri-conference-demands-inclusion-of-shias-in-pakistan’s-legislative-body/d/9599
URL of part 9 of the Series: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/wajahat-masood--tr-new-age-islam/objectives-resolution-and-secularism—9--maulana-maudoodi-did-not-care-if-muslims-in-india-were-treated-like-malechchas-and-shudras/d/9621
URL of Part 10 of the Series: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/wajahat-masood-tr-new-age-islam/objectives-resolution-and-secularism—-part-10--newly-formed-pakistan-had-ample-opportunities-for-muslim-officers/d/9635