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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

The Legacy of the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh – Part V

By Rabindranath Trivedi - for Asian Tribune from Dhaka

Part-V: Pundit Nehru, Indira Gandhi Visit Bongoan Refugee Camps in March 1950

Dhaka , 21 July, ( Pundit Nehru visited West Bengal on March 6, 1950 along with Mridula Saravai and daughter Indira Gandhi (Later Prime Minister of India). He visited Bongaon along with Chief Minister Dr Bidhan Roy and Indira Gandhi and saw for herself the pitiable condition of the Hindus of East Bengal. (this experience on Hindu exodus from East Bengal may help Indiraji in 1971). In a public meeting at Bongaon, Pundit Nehru said “partition of the country brought many evils at its train...”

Later on March 10, 1950 Pundit Nehru wrote a letter to Liaquat Ali Khan stating that,’ I returned from Calcutta last night after four days stay there. These four days were very exhausting, not physically so, for I am used to physical exertion. They were exhausting for other reasons. As more and more facts came to my knowledge and the effect that those facts and occurrences had produced on people’s minds, I was greatly depressed ... I had suggested to you that you and I should visit East and West Bengal.... I am so anxious to do something in my individual capacity that I have been thinking repeatedly of visiting some of these places, not as Prime Minister but as a private individual... I would gladly give up my Prime Minister ship and go to East and West Bengal entirely as a private citizen and stay for while there...When I was in Calcutta, I had a message from Basanti Devi ( Mrs.. C.R. Das) saying that she would like to go to Dacca, if her visit could do any good... Perhaps you know that her family originally came from Dacca. Her suggestion was that she might go there with her daughter (Mrs. Arpana Roy, mother of Sirdhartha Shankar Roy) and one or two companions and stay quietly in Dacca for a while, hoping that her presence itself and meeting a few old friends might be helpful. ”

On the same Prime Minister J L Nehru in a cabled message to Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan mentioned that ‘The Dacca trouble started on February 10th by a procession and a meeting of secretariat employees. Fiery speeches were delivered and immediately after, arson, looting and killing commenced. It is significant that government servants should have taken the lead and organised this.”

A number of correspondences were exchanged between Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan. Meanwhile, it is learnt that Indian Army in disguise entered East Bengal with the consent of President Rajendra Prosad and Ballav Bhai Patel. Prime Minister was in dark. Pakistan could guess the consequences, the Bangla press and Pakistani print media, as usual, carried the palm for its inventive genius and vitriolic and malicious attacks. India issued a note of warning, Indian army was silently withdrawn, and Pakistan did not say anything regarding the presence of Indian forces.’ Prime Minister Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru asked Pakistan to stop the communal disturbances; otherwise he would take ‘other steps’ this warning produced good results. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali of Pakistan visited India, and the famous “Delhi Pact”, commonly known as “Nehru-Liaquat Agreement”, was signed on April 8, 1950.

Dr, Shyama Prosad Mukhopaddhya, a prominent Leader of Bengal and Central cabinet member, in a statement to the parliament on April 14, 1950 expressed his deep anguish said: I am not, however, dealing today with general India-Pakistan relation, for the circumstances that have the led to my resignation are primarily concerned with the treatment of minorities in Pakistan, specially in East Bengal..... When the partition of India became inevitable, I played a very large part in creating public opinion in favor of the partition of Bengal, for I felt that if that was not done, the whole of Bengal and also perhaps Assam would fall into Pakistan. At that time little knowing that I would join the first Central Cabinet, I along with Others, gave assurances to the Hindus of East Bengal, stating that if they suffered at the hands of the future Pakistan Government, if they were denied elementary rights of citizenship, if their lives and honor were jeopardized or attacked, Free India would not remain an idle spectator and their just cause would be boldly taken up by the government and people of India.... Let us not forget that the Hindus of East Bengal are entitled to the protection of India, not on humanitarian considerations alone, but by virtue of their sufferings and sacrifices, made cheerfully for generations, but for laying the foundation of India’s political freedom and intellectual-progress. It is the united voice of the leaders that are dead and of the youth that smilingly walked upon the gallows for India’s cause that calls for justice and fairplay at the hands of Free India today.... The recent Agreement, (Nehru-Liaquat Pact), to my mind, offers no solution to the basic problem. The evil is far deeper and no patchwork can lead to peace.

The establishment of a homogeneous Islamic state is Pakistan’s creed and plant extermination of Hindus and Sikhs and expropriation of their properties constitute its settled policy. As a result of this policy, life for the minorities in Pakistan has become “nasty, brutish and shore”.

Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, as usual, indulged in saber-rattling during the early months of 1950 by mobilizing troops for war until the two Prime Ministers signed on April 8 the historic Nehru-Liaquat Pact to assure the minorities of complete equality of citizenship irrespective of religion, a full sense of security in respect of life, culture and property, and personal honor, freedom of movement within each country, and freedom of occupation, speech, and worship, subject to law and morality.

Prof.Rangalal Sen writes:" In this situation the Pakistan Government enforced the East Bengal Evacuees (Administration of Property) Act VIII of 1949. The East Bengal evacuees (Restoration of Possession)Act XXIII of 1951 and the East Bengal Evacuees (Administration of Immoveable Property) Act XXIV of 1951. .. It would be relevant to state here that when in the wake of the communal riots of 1950 a two-way movement of the migrants was in progress, the Nehru-Liaquat Pact was concluded. The pact provided for restoration of the lands of the deserters of both countries for the implementation of its provisions accordingly, the government of India promulgated an Ordinance without delay and subsequently an evacuee property Act IX of 1951 was passed... The Indian Prime Minister Mr Jawaharlal Nehru was more interested in the implementation of these rules in his country. He did not consider it his business to see that a similar enactment was implemented in East Pakistan for restoration of the properties of the evacuee Hindus.”

Law Minister Jogendra Madan Lal Fled to Calcutta

The letter of resignation of Jogendra Nath Mandal, gives a comprehensive observation of the origin and development of the pogroms of 1950 by a person in considerable de jure authority and freedom of movement. Jogendra Nath Mandal, from Barisal, was a leader of the depressed classes who was snared into a partnership with the Muslim League during the pre-independence years. Once Pakistan was achieved the Muslim League showed its true colors. Even so, Mandal stuck to them for quite some time, having been made Pakistan's Central minister for Law and Labor. However, the pogrom of 1950 was too much even for him. He fled to India, and from there sent his resignation to Liaquat Ali. As the letter reveals, the economic reason pointed out by Ashok Mitra was but one of the many reasons for the 1950 pogroms.

Mandal mentions it last of all. Meanwhile Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, the legendary physician, had replaced Prafulla Chandra Ghosh as the Chief Minister of West Bengal. Dr. Roy was a go-getter par excellence, and was capable of taking very hard decisions, and also of owning up if something went wrong. He also had formidable powers of persuasion. He immediately mobilized the police force and the military to quell the disturbances in West Bengal.

As the District Magistrate of 24-Parganas the bulk of the work had to be done by Hiranmay Banerjee. In a very short time the situation was brought under control and atrocities against Muslims ceased in West Bengal. But both Banerjee and Dr. Roy apprehended that the converse would not cease so easily in East Bengal, and in fact it did not.

A meeting was arranged between the Chief Secretaries of the two Bengals. Sukumar Sen of the ICS (Later India’s first Chief Election Commissioner) was the Chief Secretary of West Bengal at the time, and he traveled to Dacca, and came back with very bad news. He said that an enormous refugee influx was in the offing, whose number could go up to a million.

While at Dacca he had to witness a curious incident. On February 7, 1950 a large group of Muslim women in bloodstained clothes were paraded before him inside the Secretariat. According to the letter of resignation of Jogendra Nath Mandal, Pakistan's central minister for Law and Labor, on February 10, a woman was painted in red to show that her breasts had been cut off by a Hindu mob in Calcutta, and taken round the East Bengal secretariat. Immediately the secretatriat employees struck work, and came out baying for revenge against the Hindus. All this while Sukumar Sen was closeted with his East Bengal counterpart in the secretariat. The secretariat employees then went in a procession to Victoria Park where rabid anti-Hindu speeches were made. The mob then fanned out and began to loot Hindu shops and killing Hindus indiscriminately. Mandal arrived at Dacca from Karachi the same day, and came to know that all these atrocities had been committed in the presence of high police officials. He could, however, do nothing, and as will be seen later, was forced to resign and flee to India.

When this was the state of a minister of Pakistan's central cabinet, the state of the Hindu on the street can easily be imagined.

As apprehended, the exodus began soon enough. It was a deluge of humanity, driven out of their home and hearth of centuries by unimaginable inhumanity, perpetrated in the name of Jihad, and of establishing in East Pakistan Dar-ul-Islam, meaning, ironically, Land of Peace.

Unlike what Shamsuddin did after the Noakhali carnage,no Islamic cleric in Pakistan appears to have gone on record to state that what was being done was against the tenets of their religion. And if any cleric in India said so it could have only been from an instinct for survival and did not have the slightest effect on the East Pakistanis.

What brought about all these mayhem?

The Kalshira incident has already been mentioned, but the most dominant factor seems to have been the encouragement given by the official media.

On February 6 and 7, Radio Pakistan gave a direct call to prepare and take action by a repeated announcement: "Brethren! You have heard about the inhuman atrocities that are now being perpetrated on our brother Muslims in India and West Bengal! Will you not gather strength"? Radio Pakistan further announced that 10,000 Muslims had already been killed in Calcutta, and a local daily, Pashban, increased this figure to 100,000. Later, at the time of signing of the Nehru-Liaquat pact Radio Pakistan corrected these figures of the number of Muslims killed at Calcutta to ??twenty.

Some of the worst atrocities took place in the coastal district of Barisal, also known as Backergunge, now consisting of the districts of Barisal, Bhola, Pirojpur, Barguna, Patuakhali and Jhalakati of present-day Bangladesh. Barisal is literally a maze of perennial rivers, canals and water courses, with the result that it was one of the very few districts of British India without an inch of Railway line.

To reach Barisal from the provincial capital of Calcutta one had to take a train to Khulna, and at Khulna board a steamer for an overnight voyage to Barisal. The soil of the district is incredibly fertile, and being close to the sea, conducive to cultivation of coconut, a cash crop. Everybody in the district who had even a chhitak (about 45 square feet) of land would grow paddy and coconut in profusion, without any fertiliser, with the minimum of labor.

As a result, the people of the district were relatively well-to-do, the Hindus more so because of their white-collar occupations coupled with their landed wealth. Barisal was the abode of the intellectual clans of the Guha Thakurta-s and the Ghosh Dastidar-s of Banaripara and Gabha villages respectively. It also had a strongBaidyacommunity, with the names of Sengupta and Dasgupta, the only caste of doctors to be found anywhere in Hindu India. These people followed the hereditary practice of Ayurveda, the ancient Hindu science of medicine, which had given the world legendary physicians like Susruta and Charaka, and pathbreaking drugs such as Sarpagandha (Rawoulfia Serpentina), one of the first drugs to combat hypertension.

The Baidyas had migrated in large numbers to cities like Calcutta and Dacca, and had become a very urbane and sophisticated people, a large number among whom followed intellectual pursuits. The district was also the home of a large number of lower-caste Namahsudras and Kaibartas who were into fishing and allied trades.The scythe of Islamic persecution cut across the entire lot of all these communities. Because of the topography of the area, and the distance from the Indian border it was relatively more difficult for these people to get away from the marauders.

Consequently some of the most heartrending tales were heard from these parts. Sandip Banerjee describes one such incident. In an interview with Sukumar Mukherjee of Calcutta, formerly of village Rajpur, near Jhalakati, Banerjee was told that at the time of partition Sukumar was working in Calcutta. He tried, but failed to persuade his father to leave his village and migrate to India and live with him. His father’s argument was typical : ‘If we have lived with the British so long why shouldn’t we be able to live with the Muslims? They’re not more alien than the British, are they?’

When the Nachol Movement was organized by the communist cadres in East Bengal. None could say how many people were killed in the Nachol Movement in January 1950. It is said that several hundred Santhalis were killed and 1400 were arrested. As in Hajong area, in Nachol the deserted lands of the Santhalis were quickly distributed to Muslim refugees. Many Santhalis who returned later were homeless. Mrs. Ila Mitra, a communist leader, known as Ila Rani to the Santhalis, who organised the movement there was arrested and tortured and produced before the Magistrate at Rajshahi charged with waging war against the state of Pakistan.

The statement of Ila Mitra was a real barbarous image of the Muslim League Government of East Bengal. Badruddin Omar, a former professor of Rajshahi University and left- political thinker and author of a number of books, mentioned Ila Mitra’s statement in his book ‘Purba Banglar Bhasa Andolon o Tat Kalin Rajniti’ p.-292 (Language Movement and contemporary politics in East Bengal.)

Missing Citizens Of East Bengal (1947 – 71)

Statistical information relating to the influx of refugees from East Bengal into India since Partition, 15 August 1947 to 24 March 1971, and the causes of migration are mentioned below.

* (Source: Statistical information relating to the Influx of Refugees from East Bengal Into India till 31st October, 1971, issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Labor and Rehabilitation, November 1971, 25A, Shakespeare Sarani, Calcutta-17).

There are no available government documents in Bangladesh regarding migration of minority population, especially to India.

Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired civil servant, author and columnist.

- To Be Continued –

- Asian Tribune –

Also Read:

Part-1: The plight of Hindus In East Bengal in 1940’s

Part-II: Mahatma Gandhi Visited Noakhali In October 1946

Part-III: Aftermath Of Mahatmaji And Quid-E-Azam Father Figures of Two Republics

Part- IV: Riot In East Bengal In 1950

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