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  • Writer's pictureMeenakshi Sharan

About DIRECT ACTION DAY 1946- Calcutta Horror

What appears to be a communal piece of information today is in fact a part of the correct history of Modern India. Freedom fighter K M Munshi wrote, “Another problem that we have to consider is the persistent demand for the rewriting of history to foster communal amity. To my mind, nothing can be a greater mistake.” 1 pg iii

What is the background to Direct Action Day?

Actually Direct Action Plan started in Punjab. Here is briefly why. 4

In the 1946 Punjab Assembly elections, the Muslim League won 78 seats out of 175. The Unionist party, Congress and the Akalis formed a coalition Ministry in March 1946 with Khizar Hayat Khan as Premier. In Bengal the League formed its ministry with H.S.Shurawardy as Premier.

The Cabinet Mission Plan proposed three groups, 1-Bihar, Orissa, Central Provinces, U.P, Bombay and Madras, 2-Assam and Bengal and 3- Punjab, Sindh & North West Frontier Province, to frame their provincial constitutions. Sikhs and Hindus rejected the Plan while the Congress saw through the League game.

To turn the tide against the Congress, the Direct Action campaign actually started in NWFP which had a Muslim population of 91.79%. On July 28, 1946, in Hazara district where the Muslim population was 94.94%, Hindu and Sikhs were killed, their shops, Gurdwaras looted and burnt. More violence against H&S followed. 4

Jaideep Mazumdar wrote in, “In early 1946, British prime minister Clement Attlee sent a three-member Cabinet Mission to finalise the formalities for the transfer of power. On 16 June 1946, the Mission, under pressure from Jinnah, proposed an alternate plan for the sub-continent to be partitioned into a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan. Congress rejected the plan outright and, on 10 July, Nehru announced that while the Congress had agreed to participate in the Constituent Assembly, it would be free to change or modify the Cabinet Mission Plan as it thought best.” Source

In mid-1946 efforts were made to form an interim government to resist formation of a separate Muslim state. On July 29, 1946, the Council of the Muslim League passed two resolutions, withdrawing its acceptance of the Cabinet Mission’s proposals and deciding to resort to direct action. 1 pg.745

The second resolution began with some premises for e.g., “now the time has come for the Muslim Nation to resort to direct action to achieve Pakistan, to assert their just rights, to vindicate their honour and to get rid of the present British slavery and the contemplated future Caste-Hindu domination.” After the second resolution was passed Jinnah said (excerpts), “Today, we have also forged a pistol and are in a position to use it.” 1 pg. 746

The Working Committee of the Muslim League followed up on the resolution by calling upon Muslims across India to observe 16 August as Direct Action Day. On that day meeting would be held all over the country to explain the resolutions passed above. 1 pg. 747 “It may be mentioned that Jinnah had, threatened a civil war if the Muslim demands were not satisfied.” Now, he launched one.

Jinnah’s statement, rejecting the May 16th British Cabinet Mission plan to form an interim government, “We shall have India, divided or India destroyed,” is well known. A Muslim League leader Sir Firoz Khan Noon warned the British Government that the destruction and havoc the Muslim would do would put into the shade what Chengizkhan had done. 7 pg. 374

Was Hindu Muslim animosity of recent origin?

Actually Hindu Muslim had been at war ever since Muslims entered India (Sindh) for e.g. Akbar’s general Abdullah Khan Uzbek had declared that he had enslaved and converted 5 lakh Hindus, who by the day of judgement would be one crore.

M Ali said during the Khilafat Movement, “However pure Gandhi’s character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion inferior to any Mussalman, even though he is without character.” Or see the condition of Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh today.

Said Maulana Azad Sobhani 27/1/1939 at Sylhet “Our big fight is with the 22 crs Hindus who constitute the majority. Only 4.5 crore Englishmen have practically swallowed the world by becoming powerful.” 2

In 1924 the editor of a Bengali paper had an interview with Dr Rabindranath Tagore, “another important factor which, according to the Poet, was making Hindu Muslim unity impossible was that the Muslim could not confine patriotisms to one country. When he asked Muslims whether they would defend India in the event of a Muslim invasion of India he could not be satisfied by the reply he got from them”. 2

To know the Pan-Islamic mind set read Khilafat Movement

Relations between Hindus and Muslims were very honestly outlined by R MSayani in his Presidential address at the 12th session of the Congress held in 1896. Excerpts “Before the advent of the British in India, the Muslims were the rulers of the country. The rulers and their chiefs were Muslims so were the great landlords and officials. The court language was their own. Every place of trust and responsibility, or carrying influence and high emoluments, was theirs by birth right.” Sayani argued that when the British introduced English education in the country, the Hindus embraced it, but Muslims resented competing with the Hindus, whom they once regarded as their inferiors. Hence Muslims were gradually ousted from their lands and offices, while Hindus rose under the Raj (History and Culture of Indian People, Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, Vol. X pg. 295)

Back to Jinnah

Jinnah’s presidential address to Muslim League in Lahore on March 23, 1940 and statements of many Muslim leaders are indicative of the Pan Islamic mission of bringing India under their green flag. Jinnah said in his March 23, 1940 address,

“Hindus fail to understand the real nature of Islam… ‘the Hindus & Muslims can evolve as a common nationality, is an impossible dream’…they belong to different philosophies & civilisations based on conflicting ideas, conceptions & social customs….they derive their inspiration from different sources of history, their epics are different, their heroes are different…Neither do they intermarry nor inter dine...”

“Their present artificial unity dates back only, to the ‘British conquest’ that is maintained by ‘British bayonet’. Muslims cannot accept any constitution which results in a Hindu majority government. ….termination of British regime will be the worst disaster that ever took place in the last one thousand years under the Muslims……”

Was August 1946 violence pre-planned?

Violence of August was pre-planned as is borne out of the fact that special coupons for gallons of petrol were issued in the names of Muslim League ministers. The petrol was used to make bombs by ML goons. One month’s food ration was stocked to feed ML goons. To read more

The 17th day of Ramzan i.e. 16 August 1946, was chosen for launching Direct Action Day. “It was on that day that Prophet Muhammad waged the bloody Battle of Badr which resulted in his first decisive victory over the heathens and the subsequent conquest of Mecca.” Muslims have a good sense of history as the attack on 2001 attack on New York’s Twin Towers bears out.

With an intent to have police on their side, they decided to hire more Muslims in Calcutta police. Suhrawardy got, “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. 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.” Quote from former Governor of Tripura, Tathagata Roy blog

Back to Direct Action Day, note the Government declared August 16 as a public holiday in Bengal and Sind, two provinces ruled by the Muslim League. The Bengal CM Suhrawardy threatened to declare Bengal independent in case power was transferred to the Congress at the Centre. 3 pg. 171

When asked whether his “farewell to all constitutional methods” implied being violent Jinnah replied he did not want to go into the niceties of violence and non-violence. 3 pg. 171 Nawab Liaquat Ali Khan (first Prime Minister of Pakistan) said, “Direct Action means any action against the law. We cannot eliminate any method.”

Actually there was a deeper intent behind the August 16, 1946 violence.

The Muslim population in the Bengal province was 54%, with a Muslim League government in power under provincial autonomy, 1935. Calcutta was Muslim majority with population of 53%. Intent was to drive out Hindus out of Calcutta so that Calcutta city, important trading hub then, became part of Pakistan. Further the League wanted to draw as many Bihari refugees as possible to Bengal and settle them in the bordering districts where the Hindus were in a majority. (This demographic change in some border districts has now been achieved due to Bangladeshi infiltration. See link 3).

Pamphlets were issued in Urdu and Bengali with pictures of violent scenes printed on them. 6 pg. 227 SM Usman, the Mayor of Calcutta urged the Muslims to congregate at the rally. He issued a pamphlet with a picture of Jinnah with a sword, which read, “We Muslims have ruled India. Be ready with swords and we will have special victory..…O kafir, your doom is not far, the massacre will come.” 6 pg. 228

More than 1 lakh Muslims gathered in the mosque where a call for Jehad was read, “We are 10 crores in India but have become slaves of Hindus and British. We are starting a jihad in the month of Ramzan. May we be victorious and establish the kingdom of Islam, making India the biggest Islamic kingdom in the world.” Namaz was offered for a British free, Islamic India”. 6 pg. 228

On the morning of 16 August 1946 over a lakh Muslim rallied the streets of Calcutta with lathis, spears, daggers, knives, firearms, empty soda bottles, kerosine, rags soaked in petrol etc. The parade ended with a gory rampage in the thickly populated Hindu areas.

Jaideep adds, “By early afternoon, Muslims armed with iron rods, sticks, swords and weapons started streaming out of the mosques in areas like Park Circus, Metiabruz, Rabindra Sarani and Garden Reach and congregating at the Ochterlony monument (the Shahid Minar now) for the Muslim League rally. The gathering, estimated variously between 60,000 and 200,000, was by far the largest assembly of Muslims in Bengal.”

Suhrawardy took charge of the control room at Calcutta Police Headquarters at Lal Bazar and instructed the police not to take any action against the Muslim rioters. Police were sent where Hindus were fighting back. Suhrawardy transferred twenty two Hindu police officers out of twenty four key posts in Calcutta to disable police interference. In Howrah, League rioters were supported by Sherif Khan, the Mayor of Calcutta. 3 pg. 165

Muslim shops were marked to save them from being looted. Some Muslims were seen looting Hindu shops in Red Cross uniforms. Fire Brigade had to attend 900 calls in 2 days, they were stopped from putting out the fires in Hindu areas. Even the English governor Burrows, turned a deaf ear to the wails of Hindus. 6 M.A. Khan quotes Justice Khosla’s report. Pg. 230

Jinnah asked Muslims to conduct themselves peacefully “but in certain localities of Bengal it was merely a camouflage for anti-Hindu campaign of loot, arson, and indiscriminate murder of men, women and children, with impunity. The worst holocaust took place in Calcutta as the Muslim League government took a direct part in organising the Muslim attack and it was alleged that even the Chief Minister himself shielded notorious ruffians of Calcutta. It was reported that a notorious Muslim goonda of Calcutta, responsible for murdering Hindus was caught red-handed, was released from the lock up at the intervention of the CM. The Hindus were butchered like sheep, their women were violated and their houses burnt in predominantly Muslim quarters.” 1 Pg 748. Many believe that Jinnah had full knowledge of Suhrawardy’s plans, who could not have unleashed such scale of violence without Jinnah being in the know.

The Statesman, an English daily in Calcutta wrote, “We have already commented on the bands who found it easy to get petrol and vehicles when no others were permitted on the streets. Men were brought into Calcutta to make an impression. Thousands have been brutally burnt, smashed eyes, smashed jaws and limbs of men, women and children. For 3 days the city concentrated on unrestrained civil war. The primary blame lies with the Muslim League cabinet and particularly CM Suhrawardy.” 1 pg. 749. Neither Nehru not Jinnah thought it fit to visit Calcutta.

Note that Suhrawardy’s are of Arab descent from a place called Suhraward in Iraq. Source

When Hindus were at the receiving end the English Governor Burrows sat like a statue in his chambers taking no action. “When it was realized by the Government that the butchery, pillage and arson were no longer one way traffic, they cried halt and peace was restored after about a week.” 1 pg. 749 On August 21 1946 the Suhrawardy government was dismissed, and the British Army flag marched in riot affected areas.

“The streets were strewn with dead bodies, small children were hurled down roofs, some boiled in oil, others burnt alive. Suhrawardy called in the army after two days when the Hindus started retaliating.” Stern Reckoning by Justice Khosla, Lahore High Court. 6 pg. 230

In Metiaburz area, now known as Mini Pakistan, about 600 Odiya labourers were beheaded by League leader Syed Abdullah Farooqi and his mob inside Keshav Ram Cotton Mill. Two labourers, who had their hands chopped off, escaped.

Leonard Mosley summed up the casualties in the following words, “Between the dawn of 16/8/1946 and dusk three days later, the people of Calcutta hacked, battered, burned and short 6,000 of each other to death and raped and maimed another 20,000”. 1 pg. 749

The unabated killings resulted in over 10,000 killed in Calcutta alone, 15,000 injured. 3 pg. 172 Records say that many bodies were thrown into underground sewers, the Ganga and city canals. Actual number of casualties must be higher.

According to this article in The Hindu between 1-2 lakh were rendered homeless by the riots and the resulting exodus could result in breakdown of economic life.

It was expected that Hindus would not fight back. However, Gopal Chandra Mukhopadhyay, Basanta a wrestler and Jugal Chandra Ghosh took the battle into the Muslim League camp.

On August 18th, Gopal Mukhopadhyay equipped his Bharat Jatiya Bahini team and commoners like milkmen, vegetable vendors, labourers with pistols, cartridges, grenades procured from the American soldiers and launched counter attacks on the League goons.

He was supported by SP Mookerjee and the Marwari community that dominated the economy of Calcutta and Bengal. Basanta’s team with his Bengalis and non-Bengali migrants from UP, Bihar and Odisha and Jugal Chandra Ghosh, owner of an akhara and of the Hindu Mahasabha fought back.

Leagues plan of draining industrialised areas of Calcutta Howrah, Hooghly, 24 Paraganas of Hindus and demand for including them in Pakistan came crashing down. Muslim League student’s wing leader - G G Ajmiri and Sheikh Muzib Ur Rehman were sent to the Hindu groups for a truce.

“Having failed in Calcutta, League choose to attack Hindus of Noakhali who were just 18% of the total population”, wrote P C Lahiri. The Noakali killings requires a separate article.

In July 2021 Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal declared August 16 as “Khela Hobe Diwas”. How she means to justify “Khela Hobe” is open to conjecture or for her to explain, but its distinct connection to Direct Action Day is not lost on students of history.

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