Horrors of partition of Bengal: Coming to terms with the unforgiving reality of pogrom of Hindus

Recalling the partition horror stories always brings a lump to the throat and one simply can’t fathom the extent of madness that gripped people during that time of apparent civility,

Horrors of partition of Bengal: Coming to terms with the unforgiving reality of pogrom of Hindus

Seventy-six years ago, as the British, our previous colonizers, returned to their homes, Bharat had to face yet another dark phase. This was a consequence of the partition, which had fractured our land in the east and northwest. The purpose of this essay is not to dwell on the facts surrounding the partition but to focus on Direct Action Day and its aftermath in Noakhali.

The difficult times commenced with the Direct Action Day in Calcutta on 16 August, 1946. Marxist historiography made its best attempt to remove religious connotations from the incident, but the truth remains that the 18th day of Ramadan was selected for Direct Action Day due to its significance in relation to the Battle of Badr.


Let us begin by looking at how it began.

In July 1946, Muhammad Ali Jinnah held a press conference at his home in Bombay, declaring that the Muslim League was “preparing to launch a struggle” and that they “had chalked out a plan” (Halfway to Freedom by Margaret Bourke-White, page 26). On the following page of the same book, Jinnah is quoted as talking about “direct action” and warning of “bringing trouble.” The same book further informs us that the very next day, Jinnah stated as follows, indicating that August 16, 1946, would be observed as Direct Action Day:

“We will either have a divided India divided or a destroyed India.”

Jinnah had unmistakably warned of every conceivable unconstitutional step on Direct Action Day (referred to as DAD from now on). The working committee of the Muslim League made sure to explain DAD to Muslims across the country (Great Divide; Britain, India, Pakistan by V Hodson, page 166). The mentioned author, Hodson, has also specifically cited the Report to Viceroy Lord Wavell (The British Library IOR: L/P&J/8/655 f.f. 95, 96–107), stating that Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy requested the Governor of Bengal, Sir Frederick Burrows, to declare a public holiday on DAD.


It was undeniably a malicious intention. Remember, Jinnah mentioned the destruction of India and the adoption of unconstitutional methods on DAD. This notion is additionally corroborated by Suhrawardy’s statement in his speech on 16 August, 1946, delivered at 2:00 PM (India: A History by John Keay, page 505). In the same speech, Suhrawardy clearly indicated that he had made arrangements to keep the police and army at bay. This detail is also mentioned in Frederick Burrows’ Report to Viceroy Lord Wavell.

What becomes even more intriguing is that the Communists of Bengal, including Jyoti Basu former chief minister of West Bengal), took anti-Hindu stances during this period. I am referring to the book Brothers Against the Raj to highlight the actions of the communists during the DAD period, including those of the veteran Jyoti Basu. Hashim, the secretary of the Muslim League and a key figure behind the rise of Suhrawardy mentions in his memoir Let Us Go To The War that he received assistance from Nikhil Chakravartti, a young communist, in setting up the program. Hashim identified himself as an “Islamic Socialist.” Jyoti Basu, along with two other CPI MLAs, attended the Muslim League meeting on Direct Action Day (16 August, 1946), which involved anti-Hindu speeches and led to violence. In fact, Jyoti Basu even shared the stage with Suhrawardy.


Now, let’s rewind three days from DAD to 13 August, 1946. Jyoti Basu had issued a press statement declaring that the CPI would back the strike in Muslim areas and oppose it in Hindu areas. Why would he take such a stance if he had no intention of harming Hindus or inciting riots? (Refer to: Noakhali Monograph by Shantanu Singha). Now, let’s take a step forward and examine the events of 17 August, 1946, involving communist participation.

Syed Farooqui, the president of the Garden Reach Textile Workers’ Union, and Elian Mistry, killed Hindu mill workers in the compound of Kesoram Cotton Mills in the Lichubagan area of Metiabruz (Source: The Sickle & the Crescent: Communists, Muslim League and India’s Partition by Sunanda Sanyal & Soumya Basu).

Let’s return to 13 August, 1946, once more. The “Star of India,” Muslim League’s mouthpiece, had issued detailed instructions to all Muslims for the DAD, inflaming religious sentiments and preparing for a confrontation akin to the “Battle of Badr” (Source: India’s Partition: The Story of Imperialism in Retreat). The notice declared that processions would initiate from various parts of Calcutta, Howrah, Hooghly, Metiabruz, and 24 Parganas, converging at the base of the Ochterlony Monument for a joint mass rally presided over by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. Muslim League branches were advised to assign three workers to each mosque in every ward, tasked with explaining the League’s action plan before the Jumma prayers.

Furthermore, it is important to note that special prayers were organised in every mosque on Friday after the Jumma prayers for the liberation of Muslim India.

The notice drew divine inspiration from the Quran, emphasizing the coincidence of DAD with the holy month of Ramadan, asserting that the upcoming protests were akin to an allegory of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) conquest of Mecca and the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven in Arabia (Source: The Star of India, 12 August, 1946; enclosed in SJ Fletcher, American Consul General, to Secretary of State, Despatch No. 1033, August 20, 1946, 845.00/8-2246 CS/HH, SDCF).

It was very clear that Pakistan Movement was nothing less than a war against the Kafirs.

Aside from this, it is not only challenging but nearly impossible to ignore the fact that Suhrawardy was, indeed, the leader of a group of thugs and controlled the Calcutta Underworld with a strong hatred towards Hindus (Source: A Letter written to a senior British officer stationed at Fort William after the “Great Calcutta Killings” by a senior intelligence operative). One must read the entire letter in the provided link above, which distinctly highlights the following two points:

  1. Hindus had heavy losses
  2. It seemed a plan to not let the army control the situation.

Suhrawardy during his speech on 16 August, 1946, gave lots of provocative slogans. One of them was:

“Maar ke lenge Pakistan, lad ke lenge Pakistan,

le kar rahenge Pakistan, Allahu Akhbar, nara-itakhbir”.

Translation: We will kill and fight to create Pakistan, we are determined to create Pakistan.

Former governor of West Bengal, Tathagata Roy is one scholar living in our age, whom I look upon with utmost esteem when it comes to issues around Bengal in the partition period. I’m quoting from his work verbatim to elaborate upon the happenings:

The constables of the Calcutta Police were, as a rule, recruited according to what was known as the A.B.C.D. rule – which meant that they were drawn all from the districts of Arrah, Balia, Chhapra and Deoria. These are districts around the boundary of the United Provinces and Bihar, in the area generally known as Bhojpur. People from this area are well-built, tough, and loyal – almost ideal police constable material. There was just one problem that Suhrawardy had with them. They were all devout Hindus, and moreover, worshippers of Lord Hanuman, the Hindu God who personifies strength, manliness and undying loyalty to his master, Lord Rama. They, therefore, could not be trusted to carry out the designs that Suhrawardy had in mind.

In order to get round this problem Suhrawardy turned to Niaz Mohammed Khan, the ICS officer who, while District Magistrate of Midnapore, had carried out (Bengal Governor) Herbert’s nefarious designs of crackdown on the participants in the Quit India movement. The idea was to Muslimise the Calcutta Police. Why the Calcutta Police in particular? Because Calcutta had already been chosen by the Muslim League as the theatre of the bloodbath that had been scheduled on 16th August 1946, in what they would call ‘Direct Action’.

Niaz Mohammed Khan, under Suhrawardy’s orders journeyed to the Northwest to recruit Punjabi Muslim and Pathan constables for the Calcutta Police. Pathans are Pashto-speaking Muslim tribesmen inhabiting the barren hills of the frontier, and are divided into a large number of tribes such as Afridi, Mohmand, Waziri, Khattak, Yusufzai etc. Blood feuds among them between different tribes or different groups in the same tribe are still very common. These tribes are by nature extremely fierce and cruel – in fact they had been extensively used in British jails in India for application of third-degree methods.

Under the benign leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgar party a considerable number of them had become mellowed and come closer to the Indian mainstream, but this had made little difference to the people away from towns like Peshawar and Kohat. There was another feature that should be mentioned. Because their womenfolk were all kept in strict purdah– the Pathans are first cousins of the present-day Afghan Taliban–these rural Pathans had no respect for women, nor were they accustomed to seeing women out in the open.

According to accounts of British police and intelligence officers, special coupons for gallons of petrol were issued in the names of Muslim League ministers, and this petrol was utilised to create petrol bombs by Muslim League thugs. The reports also indicate that one month’s worth of food ration was withdrawn and stockpiled to sustain 10,000 Muslim League musclemen and goons.

While Jinnah, on one hand, desired a fractured or divided India, the Hindu Mahasabha consistently advocated for a united India. This fact becomes evident from the documentation presented by Suranjan Das in his book Communal Riots in Bengal, 1905–1947. He writes:

“During the pre-riot days the Hindu Mahasabha organized a number of rallies in Dacca to advocate the cause of Akhand Hindusthan and condemn the recent legislative measures of the Huq ministry. Akhand Hindusthan was a plea for a united India.”

According to eyewitness accounts, trucks descended Harrison Road in Calcutta, carrying armed Muslim men wielding brickbats and bottles as weapons to assault Hindu-owned shops. The intention to harm Hindus was evident (Source: Halfway to Freedom by Margaret Bourke-White). The Muslim League deliberately hindered the police and occupied the Control Room (Refer to: A City Feeding on Itself: Testimonies and Histories of ‘Direct Action’ Day by Debjani Sengupta).

There is plenty to write about the DAD (perhaps, I will address it in detail in the next article in the series focusing on the Gopal Chandra Mukhopadhyay episode), but I will quickly move on to the Noakhali Genocide.

However, I took some time and words as mentioned above to set the perspective for understanding where it all began as madness, eventually leading to Noakhali.

After the pogrom of Hindus in and around the DAD, anti-Hindu sentiment was very high in the land of the great Rabindranath Thakur. Kali Prasanna Mukherjee has documented in his book, Behind the Partition Of The Country, about anti-Hindu poems that began after the DAD.

I’m putting a few facts from “Proceedings of the Bengal Legislative Assembly (PBLA). Vol 77. Bengal Legislative Assembly” in the passages below.

On 29 August, 1946, which was the day of Eid al-Fitr, a group of Hindu fishermen were brutally attacked with deadly weapons while fishing in the Feni River. While many propaganda pieces have propagated stories of a pogrom carried out by Hindus on a sacred day like Eid al-Fitr, the records present a different image. Devi Prasanna Guha, the son of a Congress Leader, was murdered, and one of his brothers along with a servant were assaulted. The Congress office in front of his house was set ablaze. One Chandra Karmakar was killed near Jamalpur, Jamini Dey was killed near Ghoshbag, Ashu Sen was severely assaulted at Tajumiarhat, and Rajkumar Choudhury was brutally attacked on his way home.

The pogrom against Hindus had begun.

Apart from the seven Hindu families of Kanur Char at Karpara, the house of Jadav Majumdar was looted, with properties worth Rs 1,500 stolen. Nakul Majumdar was brutally assaulted. The houses of Prasanna Chakraborty, Nabin Nath, and Radha Charan were also looted. The Nath family of Latipur suffered severe injuries.

Hindu temples were also targeted on what they consider the sacred day of Eid al-Fitr.

They slaughtered a calf and threw its remains inside the temple of the family deity of Harendra Ghosh of Raipur, desecrating it as well.

They repeated the same act at the Shiva Temple of Dr Jadunath Majumdar of Chandipur. They desecrated the household shrines of Nagendra Majumdar and Rajkumar Choudhury of Dadpur, stealing the deity’s Murtis (sacred images).

The images of Durga Devi in the temples of Ishwar Chandra Pathak of Kethuri, Kedareshwar Chakraborty of Merkachar, Ananta Kumar De of Angrapara, and Prasanna Mohan Chakraborty of Tatarkhil were mutilated.

Their behaviour was no different from marauders like Ghori and Ghazani. What a shame!

According to Governor Burrows, the root cause of the violence in Bazar, Ramganj, was the provocative speech delivered by Gholam Sarwar. The businesses of Surendra N Bose and Rajendra Choudhury, the former president of the Noakhali Bar and a prominent Hindu Mahasabha leader, were targeted (Refer to: Communalism in Bengal: From Famine To Noakhali, 1943-47 by Rakesh Batabyal, page 277).

Now, let’s delve into a few eyewitness accounts extracted from the aforementioned book. According to those accounts, the mob was shouting:

“We want Hindu Blood, we want Sanyasi’s head, we want Rai Saheb’s head.”

Golam Sarwar was himself leading a mob of around 700 Muslims. They were shouting: “Hindur rakta chai…

The Muslims of Noakhali were bloodthirsty.

Once again, drawing from eyewitness accounts within the same source, we learn that the rioters were coaxing people out of their homes by assuring safety through the oath of the Quran.

However, it’s disheartening to see the hypocrisy. They resorted to deceit to brutally kill someone in the name of the Holy Quran, yet they retaliated by burning cities when non-believers desecrated the Quran.

The gruesome fate of Rajen Babu’s beheaded body brought them immense pleasure. Understandable, given that there was a special reward for his “head.” One can only imagine the satisfaction those rioters derived from repeatedly stabbing the young IB officer Ankit Sharma.

Returning to the same source, we discover that on 11 January, 1947, the Roychowdhurys’ corpses were unearthed from a swamp in Azimpur and presented before Mahatma Gandhi’s prayer assembly at Lamchar High School.

Observe what Rakesh Batabyal quotes from the Congress Report, which had been submitted by the Provincial Congress Committee a few days before the riots began. It reads as below:

“The Muslim masses have been converted into so many explosive bombs to explode any moment on the slightest pretext.”

Batabyal further writes, “The actual momentum to the riot was provided the week before 10 October. The Muslims congregated in the mosques on the Id Day (28 September 1946), were exhorted to avenge the Calcutta Killings.”

This was in reference to the retaliation that Gopal Mukhopadhyay had brought upon to saving the Hindus of Calcutta.

Now, this becomes quite intriguing. On 14 October, 1946, Jogendra Chandra Das, the MLA from Chandpur, Tipperah, wrote to Jogendra Nath Mandal, stating that thousands of Scheduled Caste Hindus had been attacked in the Ramganj police station area in Noakhali. Their houses were being looted and set on fire, and they were being forcibly converted to Islam. There was a deliberate attempt to carry out a pogrom against the Dalits. Needless to say, Joginder Nath Mandal, the first Law Minister of Pakistan, would elaborate on these atrocities and persecutions in his resignation letter, which ultimately led to his return to India. It is important that people become more familiar with his story (Source: “Bharat Bibhajan” by Bipad Bhanjan Biswas, page 44).

The use of kerosene and petrol clearly indicates the premeditated and organized nature of the attacks, which is further reinforced by the recollection of one victim who described it as an “abundant stock” (Source: Communalism in Bengal: From Famine To Noakhali, 1943-47 by Rakesh Batabyal, Page 274).

While we have learned about veteran communist figures like Jyoti Basu and their involvement in the DAD riots, let’s now explore another communist who fought to protect Hindus and was killed for doing so due to his Hindu identity. I’m referring to Revolutionary Lalmohan Sen, a communist who lost his life while trying to resist a Muslim mob from attacking Hindus. Sandip Bandopadhyay has extensively detailed this incident in his work Itihasher Dike Fire Chhechallisher Danga.

Even Ashoka Gupta, a Gandhian, reported that during Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to the area, at least 2,000 Hindus were compelled to change their religion to Islam. Six individuals were coerced into forced marriages, and one was murdered on 10 October, 1946. Women were stripped of their shankha and sindur, and were forced to recite the kalima. The women endured the worst of the atrocities. An affidavit in our records sheds light on the horrors inflicted upon Hindu women.

File:Noakhali atrocities on women affidavit.jpg

MA Khan’s book states that around 95 per cent of Hindus were coerced into converting to Islam (He also notes that approximately 1,00,000 Hindu and Sikh women were raped, and a similar number were enslaved during the Partition Riots).

Edward Skinner Simpson documented 22,550 cases of forced conversions in the areas of Faridganj, Chandpur, and Hajiganj in the district of Tipperah (Refer to: 1946: The Great Calcutta Killings and Noakhali Genocide, page 239). Taj-ul-Islam Hashmi mentioned that the number of Hindu women raped and converted might have been considerably higher than the number of Hindus killed.

  1. D Khosla, mentions in his book Stern Reckoning below:

“The entire Hindu population of Noakhali was robbed of all they possessed and then forcibly converted to Islam.”

Suhrawardy clearly stated in the assembly, while responding to a question from Dhirendranath Datta, that there had been 9,895 cases of forcible conversion in Tipperah (though it was larger, as mentioned earlier) (Source: Communalism in Bengal: From Famine To Noakhali, 1943-47 by Rakesh Batabyal).

Recalling the partition horror stories always brings a lump to the throat. We simply can’t fathom the extent of madness that gripped people during that time of apparent civility. It might be heart-wrenching, but the truth must be acknowledged just as it is. The catastrophe truly unfolded in the name of religion, and we must not attempt to gloss over it. Doing so will only weaken our ability to confront the truth head-on, and the bitter realities may never dissipate. Only the truth, and the truth alone, can serve as a beacon to dispel the darkness of the horrors of the partition.

With these retellings and chronicles, I bring my keyboard to a halt for the day, with the intention of continuing to share more in the days to come.


Source: Firstpost