The template of starting as a peaceful demonstration with provocative slogans, proceeding to violent attacks, cry victim, and whitewashing their crimes is repetitive of what Bengal witnessed on the Direct Action Day. Delhi riots follows the same pattern.
- Aravindalochanan Govindan
While reading the portions related to Direct Action Day "My People, Uprooted: A Saga of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal" by Tathagata Roy, I was surprised by the similarity of the events of that riot with those of recent Delhi riots. The gameplan for the day of riots had been circulated among Muslims of the city by word of mouth. The pro-League newspaper ‘Dawn’ of Karachi on August 16, 1946 published an advertisemen which gave a call to use of force as being the only way to achieve what the Muslims want.
S.N.Usman, the Mayor of Calcutta and the Secretary of the Calcutta Muslim League circulated a leaflet in Bangla which read “Kafer! Toder dhongsher aar deri nei! Sarbik hotyakando ghotbe!” (“Infidels! Your end is not far off! There will be a massacre!”).
The black day began with a large public meeting of the Muslim League in the Calcutta Maidan. Muslim workers from Howrah’s Jute Mills began pouring into the city headed toward Ochterlony’s needle monument for the mammoth meeting to ‘celebrate’ Direct Action day”. No one from any non-Muslim press was present at the meeting. Suhrawardy who was then the Premier of Bengal said that he would see how the British could make Mr. Nehru rule Bengal. Direct Action day would prove to the first step towards the Muslim struggle for emancipation.
The crowd included a large number of Muslim goondahs (hoodlums) and that their ranks swelled as the meeting ended. They made for the shopping centres of the town where they at once set to loot Hindu shops and houses. They then spread out, howling their battle cries “Allaho Akbar, Pakistan Zindabad, Muslim League Zindabad, Lekar Rahenge Pakistan, Ladke Lenge Pakistan".
At about 10 A.M. a gun shop on Chowringhee was looted. The mob fanned out and started setting upon Hindus all over the city. In the South Port Police area there was a small Oriya Hindu pocket in a Muslim majority area. Some 300 of the Oriyas were butchered in fifteen minutes. It was a patient, painstaking process in which marauders ferreted out Hindus and killed them in cold blood, usually by stabbing or bashing their heads. The marauders were not just goondahs. Quite a few college students among them, crazed by spirit of Jihad participated in murders.
A hapless Bengali Hindu family had just alighted from a train at Sealdah station and were trying to find their way home. The rioters caught up with them, stripped a fifteen-year-old girl to nothing, and made her stand at the crossroads in full view of the world.
Then the torching began. Hindu-inhabited areas such as the southern part of Amherst Street, Bortola, Jorasanko were in flames in no time. The fires burnt right through the night, punctuated by the war-cries of “Allaho Akbar, Ladke Lenge Pakistan”. The process continued unabated the next day. An Additional Judge of Alipore Court was killed while trying to save a little boy who was fleeing for his life from the goondahs. Until midmorning of this day, that is the 17th there was no sign of any policemen anywhere.
From the next day (August 18), muslim goons started getting a taste of their own medicine. The lead was taken by Hindu Kalwars from Bihar and U.P., who were then joined by Sikhs and Hindu Bengalis. Armed with crowbars, swords and other weapons they set out to avenge the killings. In this they showed an incredible ferocity that was not hitherto known to exist in them. As with Hindu dwellings, there was also widespread torching in Muslim areas.
Suhrawardy was probably not prepared for any reprisals from Hindus whom he must have taken as followers of Gandhi, and therefore necessarily incapable of violence. The massacre of Muslims in retaliation therefore took him by complete surprise. It is primarily these reprisals that forced him to call a halt to the devilry that he had, by unspeakable abuse of state power, unleashed. Meanwhile the atrocities rolled on to the 19th, by which time the Hindus had more than evened the score. A senior Imperial Police officer told that on the 18th Suhrawardy was found sitting forlornly at the Lalbazar control room table, mumbling to himself ‘My poor, innocent Muslims’!
No official estimate is available for the number of deaths. The reason for which is probably that killings were started by officialdom. Lord Wavell had remarked that with 3,000 dead and 17,000 injured more people lost their lives in the Calcutta Killings than in Battle of Plassey. The number of dead was presumably determined by body count, and it is here that the estimates varied, because a large number of bodies had been thrown into the River Hooghly, or in the canals that pass through the city, or were pushed into manholes.
Jinnah, asked about the killings by a foreign news agency later in August showed no signs of regret, replying “If Congress regimes are going to suppress and persecute the Mussalmans, it will be very difficult to control disturbances”.
Mizanur Rahaman is an important contemporary literary person of Dacca cannot, by any of his other writings, be called a particularly communal or partisan Muslim, and yet in his writing there is a constant effort to whitewash the guilt of the Muslim League in the killings. He describes a conversation between himself and some of his Hindu classmates, in which he describes the call for ‘Direct Action’ to be one of a strike against the British. He has tried to establish that rioting started not after Suhrawardy's Maidan speech, but early in the morning, and Muslims were casualties from the very beginning. And he has laid the blame for riots squarely on Bihari community of Calcutta absolving both Bengali Hindus & Muslims.
Their template of starting as a peaceful demonstration with provocative slogans, proceeding to violent attacks, cry victim when attack and whitewashing their crimes is repetitive. If the govt allows large peaceful demonstrations like Shaheen Bagh, they are bound to end with riots. And irrespective of your hopes for "aman ki asha", the other side will not back off from their violent means till you make them realize that you can strike them back with more ferocity.
(The article is a compilation of tweets of the author)