Noakhali riots

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Noakhali riots
নোয়াখালী গণহত্যা
Gandhi in Noakhali.jpg
Gandhi listens to a survivor in Noakhali
Location Noakhali, Bengal, British India
Date October–November 1946
Target Bengali Hindus
Attack type
Massacre, Forced conversion
Deaths 5,000 – 10,000
Perpetrators Muslim National Guards, ex-servicemen, private militia
Motive Religious intolerance

The Noakhali riots also known as the Noakhali genocide or the Noakhali Carnage, was a series of massacres, rapes, abductions and forced conversions of Hindus and looting and arson of Hindu properties, perpetrated by the Muslim community in the districts of Noakhali in the Chittagong Division of Bengal in October–November 1946, a year before India's independence from British rule. It affected the areas under the Ramganj, Begumganj, Raipur, Lakshmipur, Chhagalnaiya and Sandwip police stations in Noakhali district and the areas under Hajiganj, Faridganj, Chandpur, Laksham and Chauddagram police stations in Tipperah district, a total area of more than 2,000 square miles.

(The then undivided district of Noakhali consisted of the present districts of Noakhali, Lakshmipur and Feni, now in Bangladesh. and Tipperah The then undivided district of Tipperah consisted of the present districts of Comilla, Chandpur and Brahmanbaria, now in Bangladesh.)

The massacre of the Hindu population started on 10 October, on the day of Kojagari Lakshmi Puja, and continued unabated for about a week. It is estimated that over 5,000 Hindus were killed,[1][2] hundreds of Hindu women were raped and thousands of Hindu men and women were forcibly converted to Islam.[3] Around 50,000 to 75,000 survivors were sheltered in temporary relief camps in Comilla, Chandpur, Agartala and other places.[4] Apart from that, around 50,000 Hindus that remained marooned in the affected areas were under the strict surveillance of the Muslims, where the administration had to say.[4] In some areas, the Hindus had to obtain permits from the Muslim leaders in order to travel outside their villages. The forcibly converted Hindus were coerced to give written declaration that they have converted to Islam on their own free will. Sometimes they were confined in houses not their own and only allowed to be in their own house, when an official party came for inspection. The Hindus were forced to pay subscription to the Muslim League and pay jiziyah, the protection tax paid by zimmis in an Islamic state.[5]

Haran Chandra Ghosh Choudhuri, the only Hindu representative to Bengal Legislative Assembly from the district of Noakhali, described the incidents as the organised fury of the Muslim mob.[6] Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta and the former Finance Minister of Bengal, dismissed the argument that the Noakhali incidents were ordinary communal riots. He described the events as a planned and concerted attack by the majority community on the minority community.[4]

Mohandas Gandhi camped in Noakhali for four months and toured the district in a mission to restore peace and communal harmony. However, the peace mission failed to restore confidence among the survivors, who couldn't be permanently rehabilitated in their villages. In the meanwhile, the Congress leadership accepted the Partition of India and the peace mission and other relief camps were abandoned. The majority of the survivors migrated to West Bengal, Tripura[7] and Assam.[8]

Prelude[edit]

Noakhali did not witness any violence during the Great Calcutta Killings. Though it was quiet the tension was building up. The Eastern Command Headquarters in Kolkata received reports, indicating tension in the rural areas of Noakhali and Chittagong districts, a week after the Great Calcutta Killings, six weeks before the genocide in Noakhali.[9] Village poets and ballads composed anti-Hindu poems and rhymes, which they used to recite and sing at the market place.[10]

Id-ul-Fitr violence[edit]

On 29 August, the day of Id-ul-Fitr, the tension escalated into violence. A rumor spread that the Hindus and Sikhs have accumulated arms and goondas.[11] A group of Hindu fishermen were attacked with deadly weapons while fishing in the Feni river. One of them was killed and two seriously injured. Another group of nine Hindu fishermen from Charuriah were severely assaulted with deadly weapons. Seven of them were admitted to hospital.[6] Devi Prasanna Guha, the son of a Congressman of Babupur village under Ramganj police station was murdered.[12][13] One of his brothers and a servant was assaulted. The Congress office in front of their house was set on fire.[6] Chandra Kumar Karmakar of Monpura was killed near Jamalpur. Jamini Dey, hotel worker was killed near Ghoshbag. Ashu Sen of Devisinghpur was severely beaten up at Tajumiarhat at Char Parvati. Rajkumar Choudhury of Banspara was severely assaulted on his way home.[6]

All the properties of six or seven Hindu families of Kanur Char were looted. At Karpara, a Muslim gang armed with deadly weapons entered the house of Jadav Majumdar and looted properties worth Rs. 1,500. Nakul Majumdar was assaulted. The houses of Prasanna Mohan Chakraborty of Tatarkhil, Nabin Chandra Nath of Miralipur and Radha Charan Nath of Latipur were looted. Five members of the Nath family of Latipur were injured.[6]

The temple of the family deity of Harendra Ghosh of Raipur was desecrated. A calf was butchered and thrown inside the temple. The Shiva temple of Dr. Jadunath Majumdar of Chandipur was desecrated in a similar manner. The household shrines of Nagendra Majumdar and Rajkumar Choudhury of Dadpur were desecrated and the idols were stolen. The Durga images of Ishwar Chandra Pathak of Kethuri, Kedareshwar Chakraborty of Merkachar, Ananta Kumar De of Angrapara and Prasanna Mohan Chakraborty of Tatarkhil were broken.[6]

Communal propaganda[edit]

The Diara Sharif of Shyampur, the residence of Ghulam Sarwar Husseini.

In 1937, Gholam Sarwar Husseini, the scion of a Muslim Pir family, was elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly on a Krishak Praja Party ticket. However, in the 1946 elections, he lost to a Muslim League candidate. Gholam Sarwar's father and grandfather were pious Muslims and had led lives of penance. Their family happened to be the hereditary khadims at the Diara Sharif in Shyampur, revered as a holy place by Muslims and Hindus alike. After the Direct Action Day riots in Kolkata, Husseini began to deliver provocative speeches, inciting the Muslim masses to take revenge for the Kolkata riots.[14][15] In some places Hindu shops began to be boycotted. In the Ramganj and Begumganj police station areas, the Muslim boatmen refused to ferry Hindu passengers.[15] In the first week of September, the Muslim miscreants looted the Hindu shops in Sahapur market.[15] The Hindus were harassed and molested when they were returning to their native villages from Kolkata to spend the Puja holidays.[15] From 2 October on wards there were frequent instances of stray killings, snatching and looting.[16]

Events[edit]

The immediate occasion for the outbreak of the disturbances was the looting of a Bazaar (market) in Ramganj police station following the holding of a mass meeting and provocative speech by Gholam Sarwar Hussein. This included attacks on the house of Surendra Nath Bose and Rajendra Lal Roy Choudhury, the erstwhile president of the Noakhali Bar and a prominent Hindu Mahasabha leader.[17][18]

Killings[edit]

On 10 October, the day of Kojagari Lakshmi Puja, when the Bengali Hindus were busy in puja activities, the Muslim League leadership started a false rumour that the Sikhs had attacked Diara Sharif.[19] As the rumour spread Muslims from the surrounding areas began to assemble at the Diara Sharif. Ghulam Sarwar instructed the Muslim masses to march towards the Sahapur market. Another Muslim League leader Kasem too arrived at the Sahapur market with his private army, then known as Kasemer Fauz.[N 1]

Surabala Majumdar, the wife of Dr. Pratap Chandra Majumdar, who was killed in the genocide.

After that Kasem's army marched to Narayanpur to the zamindari office of Surendranath Basu. Kasem's army was joined their by another Muslim mob from Kalyannagar. Some of the Muslim tenants too joined the mob and attacked the zamindari office. After a brief resistance Surendranath Basu was critically wounded by a sharp weapon. The Muslim mob tied his hands and legs burned him alive.[19] On hearing that Surendranath Basu had been attacked, Rajkumar Pal, a doctor from the nearby village of Panchgharia set out to rescue him. But he was stabbed by a miscreant on the way.[20]

The destroyed house of Rajendralal Roychowdhury.

On 11 October, the private army of Gholam Sarwar, known as the Miyar Fauz attacked the residence of Rajendralal Roychowdhury, the president of the Noakhali Bar Association and the Noakhali District Hindu Mahasabha. At that time Swami Tryambakananda of Bharat Sevashram Sangha was staying at their house as guest. Rajendralal defended the mob from his terrace with his rifle for the entire day. At the nightfall, when the mob retreated Rajendralal sent the Swami and his family members to safety. The next day the mob attacked again. The set fire to the house and killed 22 family members including Rajendralal's elder brother Chintacharan and younger brother Satish and himself.[21] The severed head of Rajendralal Roychowdhury was presented to Golam Sarwar on a platter and his two daughters were given to two of his trusted generals.[22] According to Sucheta Kriplani, Rajendralal Roychowdhury had followed the footsteps of Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh and became a martyr, defending his faith and family honour.[23] Acharya Kripalani, a staunch believer in non-violence, held that the resistance offered by Rajendralal Roychowdhury and his family, was the nearest approach to non-violence.[23] After three months Mohandas Gandhi while touring Noakhali visited their gutted house. On 11 January 1947, the corpses of the Roychowdhurys were exhumed from a swamp in Azimpur and brought before Mohandas Gandhi's prayer assembly at Lamchar High School. After the prayers the corpses were cremated according to Hindu rites.[24]

A destroyed Hindu homestead in Chandpur.

On 12 October, the residence of Chittaranjan Dutta Raychaudhuri at Shayestaganj under Raipur police station was attacked by a Muslim mob. He took all his family members to the terrace and began to defend the attackers with his rifle. Heavily outnumbered and running out of ammunition he used pump to fire water cannon on the attackers. In the end, he shot his aged mother and children and finally himself.[24] Kasem's private army attacked the Das family of Gopairbag near Sompara market under Ramganj police station. The Das family were Kasem's immediate neighbour. The attackers killed 19 members of the family.[25] The Chaudhuri family of Noakhola village under Ramganj police station were attacked by a Muslim mob. The attackers resorted to murder, loot and arson. All the eight male members of the household were killed.[25] Another Muslim mob attacked the residence of Yashoda Pal and Bharat Bhuiyan at Gobindapur under Ramganj police station. They tied together 16 members of the family and burnt them alive.[26] Between Amishapara and Satgharia the residences of the Bhaumiks and the Pals were total burnt to ashes. 19 Hindus of the two families were killed.[26] In Nandigram, Golam Sarwar's private army burnt the Nag residence, the post office and even the school founded by Ramanikanta Nag. The Hindus from the nearby areas had taken shelter in the Nag residence and initially the police protected them. When the Golam Sarwar's private army initially attacked the Nag residence, the attacks were repulsed by the police. The attackers then resorted to indiscriminate looting in the village. An aged man named Kunja Karmakar was burnt alive.[26] On 13 October, at 12 noon, a mob of 200 to 250 Muslims armed with deadly weapons attacked the Hindus in Changirgaon. 1,500 maunds of paddy were burnt. The attackers destroyed all the temples. The Hindu women were stripped of their shankha and sindur. The men were forced to perform the namaz.[27]

On 14 October, Jogendra Chandra Das, the M.L.A. from Chandpur, Tipperah wrote to Jogendra Nath Mandal stating that thousands of Scheduled Caste Hindus have been attacked in Ramganj police station area in Noakhali. Their houses were being looted and set on fire and they were being forcibly converted to Islam.[28]

Freedom fighter Lalmohan Sen was killed by a Muslim mob.

According to eyewitnesses, the attackers used petrol to set the houses on fire. In the remote island of Sandwip which had no motor cars, petrol was imported from the mainland to set the Hindu houses on fire. According to Rakesh Batabyal, the use of petrol and kerosene indicates the pre-meditated and organised nature of the attacks.[29] In Sandwip, revolutionary freedom fighter Lalmohan Sen was killed when he tried to resist a Muslim mob from killing the Hindus.[30][31]

An affidavit, attesting the atrocities on Hindu women.

Violence broke out in the Ramganj police station area in the northern Noakhali district on 10 October 1946. The violence unleashed was described as "the organised fury of the Muslim mob".[6] It soon engulfed the neighbouring police stations of Raipur, Lakshmipur, Begumganj and Sandip in Noakhali, and Faridganj, Hajiganj, Chandpur, Lakshman and Chudagram in Tippera.[17][18] The devastation caused by widespread violence was quite extensive. Initial statistics regarding casualties remained doubtful. If the "Hindu" press placed the figures in thousands, the "League" press went on to the other extreme and even denied incidents of death.[32] As per Gandhian Ashoka Gupta's report during visit with Mahatma Gandhi from the genocide site at least 2000 Hindus were forced to change their religion to Islam, six were forced to marry by force and one was murdered.[33] However, the official estimate was a conservative 200.[17][18] Jashoda Ranjan Das, one of jamidar of noakhali Nauri, was killed during the riot. He succeed to save his wife and kids, sent them to Westbengal with the help of local Muslims.. and stayed with his brother in laws. Few months later, with the help of Mahatma Gandhi, the bodies were found.

Forcible conversions[edit]

Villages after villages were forcibly converted to Islam. The men were forced to wear skullcaps and grow beards. The women were stripped off shankha[N 2] and sindur and forced to recite the kalma. Moulavis visited their homes and imparted Islamic teachings. The men were forced to offer prayers at the mosques. The converted Hindus were forced to eat beef, an act which is considered a sacrilege. They were also forced to establish marital relations with the Muslims. The converted Hindus were given new Arabic names. The Muslim leaders even awarded certain upper caste Hindu converts honorific titles like Chaudhuri and Thakur.[34]

The movements of the converted Hindus were restricted. They had to take permission from local Muslim leaders to go outside the village. In Khalishpara village under Ramganj police station, the Muslims forced the converted Hindus to give written statement that no untoward incident had taken place in the village.[34]

When the news of the killings and forced conversions appeared in the news for the first time, the Muslim League patronized newspaper The Star of India denied any incidents of forcible conversion.[35] However, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, while answering the question of Dhirendranath Datta in the assembly stated that there had been 9,895 cases of forcible conversion in Tipperah. The exact figure was not known for Noakhali, but it ran into thousands.[36] Edward Skinner Simpson stated in his report that 22,550 cases of forcible conversion took place in the three police station areas of Faridganj, Chandpur and Hajiganj in the district of Tipperah. Dr. Taj-ul-Islam Hashmi concluded that the number of Hindu women raped or converted were probably many times than the number of Hindus killed. According to M. A. Khan, at least 95% of the Hindus of Noakhali were converted to Islam.[37] According to Justice G.D. Khosla, the entire Hindu population of Noakhali had been robbed of all they possessed and then forcibly converted to Islam.[38]

Official developments[edit]

On 13 October, Kamini Kumar Dutta, the leader of the Indian National Congress at the Bengal Legislative Council, he undertook a visit of inquiry to Noakhali on personal capacity where he interviewed Abdullah, the District Superintendent of Police. On the 15th, he met the Minister of Civil Supplies of the Government of Bengal, who was on his way to Noakhali. On his return he communicated to the Home Department of the Interim Government, seeking effective remedial measures and stating that it was impossible for anyone from outside to enter the disturbed areas without the risk of life. No force was sent to the disturbed areas till 14 October. He further stated that the authorities were anxious to hush up the entire episode from public inspection.[39]

Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Prime Minister of Bengal, held a press conference in Kolkata on 16 October where he acknowledged the forcible conversion, plunder and loot of Hindus in Noakhali. While insisting that the incidents had stopped, he said he had no idea why incidents occurred. He stated that it had become difficult for the troops to move in because the canals had been jammed, bridges were damaged and roads blocked. He contemplated dropping printed appeal and warning from the air, instead of rushing in troops.[40] On 18 October, Frederick Burrows, the Governor of Bengal, along with Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and the Inspector General of Police, Bengal visited Feni by plane and flew over the affected areas.[41] Later, the Government of Bengal sent an official team to Noakhali and Tipperah to assess the situation. The team consisted of Jogendra Nath Mandal the newly appointed Member-in-Charge of Law in the Interim Government, Shamsuddin Ahmed the Minister of Labour in the Bengal Government, Abul Hashem the Secretary of Bengal Provincial Muslim League, Fazlur Rahman, Hamidul Haque Chowdhury, Moazzem Hossain, A. Malik and B. Wahiduzzaman.[28]

On 19 October, Jivatram Bhagwandas Kripalani, the president-elect of Indian National Congress, Sarat Chandra Bose, the Member-in-Charge of Works, Mines and Power in the Interim Government, Surendra Mohan Ghosh, the President of Bengal Provincial Congress Committee, Sucheta Kripalani, Major General A. C. Chatterjee, Kumar Debendra Lal Khan and the editor of Anandabazar Patrika flew to Chittagong at the suggestion of Mohandas Gandhi.[42] On the way they made a brief stop at Comilla, where thousands of Hindu victims narrated them the atrocities on them. In Chittagong, they met Frederick Burrows, the Governor of Bengal, who assured them that according to Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Prime Minister of Bengal, everything was peaceful and orderly. He explained the rape and molestation of Hindu women as natural because they were more handsome than Muslim women.[43]

On 21 October, Arthur Henderson, the Under-Secretary of State for India and Burma read out a report from the Governor of Bengal, at the House of Commons, that stated that the number of casualties were expected to be in the three figure mark.[44] Sarat Chandra Bose challenged the statement made at the House of Commons, citing that 400 Hindus were killed in a single incident at the office/residence of landlord Surendranath Bose.[45]

On 25 October, at a mass meeting in New Delhi held under the presidency of Suresh Chandra Majumdar, the managing director of the Anandabazar Patrika and the Hindusthan Standard, a resolution was passed demanding the immediate of recall of the Governor of Bengal, the dismissal of the Muslim League ministry and intervention of the Centre.[46] At a press conference in Kolkata on 26 October, Lieutenant General F. R. R. Bucher, the GoC of Eastern Command stated that it was impossible to estimate how long it would take to restore the confidence among the affected people.[46]

Relief operations[edit]

Swami Abhayananda of Bharat Sevashram Sangha distributing relief items at Dalalbazar under Lakshmipur police station in Noakhali in 1946.

When the news of Noakhali genocide reached the outside world, Indian social, religious and political institutions came forward for relief and rescue operations. Notable among them were Bharat Sevashram Sangha, Hindu Mahasabha, Indian National Congress, Communist Party of India, Indian National Army, Prabartak Sangha, Abhay Ashram, Arya Samaj and Gita Press.[47] 30 relief organisations and six medical missions were engaged in relief work in Noakhali. Apart from that there were 20 camps under Gandhi's one village one worker plan.[48]

On receiving the news of Noakhali, Ashutosh Lahiry, the General Secretary of Hindu Mahasabha immediately left for Chandpur. Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee and Pandit Narendranath Das, along with other workers flew to Comilla and entered the affected area with military escorts. A plane was requisitioned and dispatched to the affected area fully loaded with rice, chira, bread, milk, biscuits, barley and medicines. Other consignments were dispatched by train.[49] The affected people who took refuge in Kolkata were given protection in about 60 centres in the city and suburbs.[49] In order to administer the funds generously contributed by the public, Syama Prasad Mookerjee appointed M/S. P.K.Mitter & Co., a Kolkata based accountants firm to control the collection, disbursement and audit of the public funds.[50]

Inauguration of Rajendralal Hospital at Lakshmipur.

Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, the working President of the Bengal Provincial Hindu Mahasabha, Debendranath Mukherjee, the general secretary and Nagendranath Bose, the Assistant Secretary proceeded to the affected areas of Noakhali and Tipperah.[51] Chatterjee consulted Larkin, the Relief Commissioner and considered zonal settlement to be the best method for providing relief and safety, keeping in mind the future resettlement of the victims in their respective villages. Accordingly relief centres were opened at Bamni, under Raipur police station, Dalalbazar under Lakshmipur police station and at Paikpara under Faridganj police station.[51] M.L.Biswas, the Secretary of the Bengal Provincial Hindu Mahasabha, P.Bardhan, the Medical Secretary and J.N.Banerjee, the Treasurer were sent to the other affected areas to set up relief centres. Each of the relief centres were provided with a mobile medical unit, placed in the charge of efficient medical officers.[51] Sanat Kumar Roy Chowdhury, the Vice-President of the Bengal Provincial Hindu Mahasabha inaugurated a well equipped 25-bed hospital at Lakshmipur, in the memory of Rajendralal Raychaudhuri who had died fighting the attackers. Dr. Subhodh Mitra was placed in charge of the hospital.[51] Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee visited Noakhali for a third time and inaugurated a students' home named, 'Shyamaprasad Chhatrabas' at Bajapati.[51]

Leela Roy rescued 1,307 Hindu girls.

On 20 October, at a meeting of the Chattogram Mahila Sangha, the Chittagong branch of the All India Women’s Conference, presided by Nellie Sengupta, a resolution was passed where it was decided that the organisation would work for the relief and recovery of the abducted Hindu women in Noakhali.[52] The Noakhali Relief Committee was formed for the purpose of providing relief, rehabilitation and recovering the abducted Hindu women.[53] From 26 October onwards, the Committee began to send a group of volunteers led by Ashoka Gupta to Noakhali for relief operations on a weekly basis.[54] Their task was to search for the abducted Hindu women, provide relief to the refugees at the railway stations, and prepare a list of affected villages based on the account of affected villagers. Leela Roy reached Ramganj on 9 December, walking 90 miles on foot from Chaumohani. She recovered 1,307 abducted girls. Her organisation National Services Institute set up 17 relief camps in Noakhali.[47] In December, the Srihatta Mahila Sangha decided to send Kiranshashi Deb, Leela Dasgupta, Saralabala Deb and Suhasini Das to Noakhali for relief work.[53] The Congress leaders who took the lead in the relief work were Satish Chandra Dasgupta, Dhirendranath Dutta, Trailokya Chakrabarti and Bishwaranjan Sen.[47]

Mohandas Gandhi send four Hindu girls to Sujata Devi, the daughter-in-law of Chittaranjan Das for their rehabilitation. Sujata Devi established the Bangiya Pallee Sangathan Samity for the rehabilitation and a free school for the education of the girls.[55]

The Government of Bengal appointed a Special Relief Commissioner with magisterial powers for the distribution of doles to the refugees.[56] A Government Order dated 10 February 1947, announced relief of Rs 250 to each affected holding for rebuilding their homestead. It also promised a dole of Rs 200 to each affected weaver, fisherman and peasant for buying new loom, langal, ox cart or fishing equipment on furnishing proof. The relief workers were surprised at the government decision of considering the entire joint family as one single holding or unit and contested that the sum of Rs 250 was far too inadequate for rebuilding the homestead. Ashoka Gupta met Akhtaruzzaman, the Additional District Magistrate of Noakhali, on 11 February on behalf of the relief workers and obtained an explanation of the government order so that none of the affected families were left out.[57]

Gandhi peace mission[edit]

Gandhi in Noakhali, 1946

Mahatma Gandhi played a pivotal role in cooling down the situation. He along with his other aides, toured the genocide-stricken area, and was instrumental in calming the communal tension.[17][33]

On 18 October, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy personally communicated to Mohandas Gandhi, appraising him of the Hindu massacre in Noakhali and the plight of the Hindu women in particular. At the evening prayer Mohandas mentioned the events in Noakhali in a concerned note. He said, if one half of India’s mankind was paralyzed, India could never really feel free. He would far rather see India’s women trained to wield arms than that they should feel helpless. On 19 October, Mohandas Gandhi decided to visit Noakhali.[45] Prior to Mohandas Gandhi’s departure for Noakhali, he was interviewed by Dr. Amiya Chakravarty at the Abhay Ashram in Sodepur, near Kolkata on 6 November. After the interview, Dr. Amiya Chakravarty briefed that the most urgent need of the hour was to rescue the abducted Hindu women who obviously could not be approached by the military because, after being forcefully converted they were kept under the veil.[58]

Gandhi started for Noakhali on 6 November and reached Chaumuhani the next day. After spending two nights at the residence of Jogendra Majumdar, he embarked on his tour of Noakhali, barefoot on 9 November. For the next seven weeks he covered 116 miles and visited 47 villages. He set up his base in a half burnt house in the village of Srirampur where he stayed put till 1 January. He organised prayer meetings, met local Muslim leaders and tried to win their confidence. Mistrust between Hindus and Muslims continued to exist, and stray incidents of violence occurred even during his stay in Noakhali. On the evening of 10 November, Sunday, two persons were reported to be murdered on the way while returning home after attending Mohandas Gandhi’s evening prayer at Duttapara relief camp.[59]

Gandhi's stay in Noakhali was resented by the Muslim leadership. On 12 February 1947, while addressing a rally at Comilla, A. K. Fazlul Huq stated that Gandhi's presence in Noakhali had harmed Islam enormously.[60] His presence had created a bitterness between the Hindus and the Muslims.[60] The resentment against Gandhi's stay in Noakhali grew day by day. Towards the end of February 1947 it became vulgar. Gandhi's route was deliberately dirtied everyday and the Muslims began to boycott his meetings.[60] Mohandas Gandhi discontinued his mission halfway and started for Bihar on 2 March 1947 at the request of the Muslim League leaders of Bengal. On 7 April, more than a month after leaving Noakhali, Gandhi received telegrams from Congress party workers in Noakhali, describing attempts to burn Hindus alive. He stated that the situation in Noakhali demands that the Hindus should either quit or perish.[61]

Refugees[edit]

The survivors fled Noakhali and Tippera in two distinct phases. The first batches of refugees arrived in Kolkata, when the massacres and the forced conversions took place. The refugee flow subsided when the Government announced relief measures and the relief organizations started working in Noakhali and Tippera. However, in March 1947, when the Congress agreed to the Partition of India, the relief camps were abandoned and fresh refugee influx took place in Tripura, Assam and the region that was to become West Bengal. Around 50,000 Hindu refugees where were sheltered in temporary relief camps were relocated to Guwahati in Assam.[62]

Aftermath[edit]

According to historian Rakesh Batabyal, the situation never returned to normal.[63] Sporadic incidents of violence continued and even the police were not spared. In one incident, reported by Frederick Burrows to Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, that took place in early November, a senior ICS officer and his police party were attacked thrice on the way, while escorting the Hindu survivors to a refugee camp. The police had to open fire in which seven were killed and ten wounded.[64] Bengali periodical Desher Vani published from Noakhali quoted a relief worker in the Ramganj police station area who stated that even after four months people have not returned to their houses.[65]

Investigation and cover-up[edit]

On 29 September 1946, the Government of Bengal had passed an ordinance prohibiting the press from publishing any correct information regarding any communal disturbances. Any statement, advertisement, notice, news or opinion were prohibited from mentioning (1) the name of the place where the incident occurred, (2) the way in which the victims were killed or injured, (3) the name of the community to which the victim or the perpetrator belonged and (4) the destruction or desecration of places of worship or shrines, if any. According to Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, the promulgation of the ordinance was the main reason why the news of the incidents were not published in the press for a week.[66]

The Government of Bengal appointed Edward Skinner Simpson, a retired judge to investigate the incidents in Noakhali. The report submitted by Simpson was covered up by the government. After arriving at Kolkata, on his way to Noakhali, Gandhi sought a copy of the report from the Suhrawardy. The latter had initially agreed in providing him a copy of the report. However, the Governor and the secretaries strongly objected to such a proposition and Suhrawardy declined to hand over the report to Gandhi. A copy of the report was with Mathur, the secretary to Suhrawardy, who secretly handed over a summary of the report to The Statesman. The editor of the Statesman published a censored version of the report on 13 November 1946. In the report, Simpson mentioned that for a proper investigation into the happenings in Noakhali, at least 50 senior officers needed to be engaged for a period of six months.[67]

Noakhali on the eve of Partition[edit]

Though the massacres and mass conversions had stopped in October itself, the persecution of the Hindu population continued in Noakhali and even during Gandhi's stay in Noakhali. A week after Gandhi's departure from Noakhali, A.V. Thakkar before leaving for Mumbai wrote from Chandpur on 9 March that lawlessness was still persisting in Noakhali and Tipperah. Even after five months of the disturbances in October, there was no sign of recession in the lawlessness. On the contrary some of the temporary police stations were being withdrwan, encouraging the criminal elements further.[68] On 19 March, the Muslims held secret meetings at different places. They threatened the Hindus of slaughtering them en masse. The moderate Muslims added that this time they would not be able to protect the Hindus.[69] Ghulam Sarwar convened a huge meeting at Sonapur under Ramganj police station on 23 March 1947. The day was to be celebrated as Pakistan Day. The programme for the day was complete strike. Thousands of Muslims would gather at the meeting. The meeting was announced in the village markets on 20 March by the beating of the drums. At the announcement of the meeting, the Hindus began to flee fearing further oppression. The Choumohani railway station became packed with Hindu refugees.[70] The relief workers of the Gandhi peace mission requested the District Superintendent of Police, the Additional District Magistrate and Abdul Gofran, a minister to not allow the meeting to be held. The DSP however stated that the meeting would be held and the police would adopt adequate security measures. The relief workers reported the matter to Mohandas Gandhi and Suhrawardy and the latter wired a government order to the Noakhali SP on 22 March prohibiting meeting in public places, processions and slogans. However meetings could be held in private places like madrasas and mosques.[71] Rehan Ali, the Officer-in-Charge of the Ramganj police station contended that the meeting would be held at the Amtali ground, which was a private place as it was adjacent to a mosque, therefore the government order would not be violated.[71] The Muslim League leadership resolved to hold the meeting at any cost. Muslim League leaders Mohammad Ershad and Mujibur Rahman roped in minister Abdul Gofran as one of the speakers at the meeting.[72] On 23 March 4,000 to 5,000 Muslims marched in a procession from Ramganj to Kazirkhil and then back to Ramganj, chanting slogans and gathered for the meeting.[73] While addressing the gathering one of the speakers Yunus Mian Pandit criticised the Hindus for the practice of untouchability, lack of purdah system and justified the economic boycott on them.[63]

On 13 May 1947, William Barret, the Divisional Commissioner of the Chittagong Division submitted a top secret report to P. D. Martyn, the Additional Secretary to the Department of Home, Government of Bengal detailing the persecution of the Hindus in subtle manner.[68] He reported that the Hindus were sometimes searched by groups of Muslims and deprived of petty belongings which caught their fancy. In some cases the Hindus had their daily shopping snatched away. Coconuts and betel nuts were forcefully taken from the Hindu homesteads. Cattle were stolen. Corrugated iron sheets and timber were forcefully taken away. Paddy plants were uprooted from the Hindu-owned lands. Efforts were made to close down Hindu-owned cinema houses. Demands were made that the Muslims should have 50% of the loom licenses, even though the vast majority of weavers were Hindus belonging to the Yogi caste. Efforts were made to rid the marketplaces of Hindu merchants and shopkeepers. Hindus, who had rebuilt their houses were threatened to leave the district. Hindu complainants at the police station were threatened by Muslims and compelled to agree to their cases being compromised. The Hindus were openly addressed as malauns and kafirs.[74] It was reported on 13 May, that a Hindu woman of Dharmapur village was rescued while being abducted by Muslims.[75] On 16 May abduction was unsuccessfully attempted on two Hindu women.[76]

Repercussions in Bihar[edit]

As a reaction to the Noakhali Genocide, a riot rocked Bihar towards the end of 1946.[77] Between 30 October and 7 November, mass communal massacres in Bihar brought Partition closer to inevitability.[citation needed] Severe violence broke out in Chhapra and Saran district, between 25 and 28 October.[78] Very soon Patna, Munger and Bhagalpur also became the sites of serious turbulance. Begun as a reprisal for the Noakhali riot,[citation needed] it was difficult for authorities to deal with because it was spread out over a large area of scattered villages, and the number of casualties was impossible to establish accurately: "According to a subsequent statement in the British Parliament, the death-toll amounted to 5,000. The Statesman's estimate was between 7,500 and 10,000; the Congress party admitted to 2,000; Mr. Jinnah claimed about 30,000."[79] However, By 3 November, the official estimate put the figure of death at only 445.[18] According to some independent source, the death toll was around 8000 human lives.[80]

Some worst riot also took place in Garhmukteshwar in United Provinces where a massacre occurred in November 1946 in which "Hindu pilgrims, at the annual religious fair, set upon and exterminated Muslims, not only on the festival grounds but in the adjacent town" while the police did little or nothing; the deaths were estimated at between 1,000 and 2,000.[81]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Kasemer Fauz literally means Kasem's army.
  2. ^ Shankha (Bengali: শাঁখা) is a bangle made of conch shell, traditionally worn by married Bengali Hindu women as a mark of their married life.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Time. 28 October 1946. 
  2. ^ Khan, Yasmin (2007). The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan. Yale University Press. pp. 68–69. ISBN 9780300120783. 
  3. ^ "Fatal flaw in communal violence bill". Rediff.com. 2 July 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Sinha, Dinesh Chandra; Dasgupta, Ashok (2011). 1946: The Great Calcutta Killings and Noakhali Genocide. Kolkata: Himangshu Maity. pp. 278–280. ISBN 9788192246406. 
  5. ^ Sinha, Dinesh Chandra; Dasgupta, Ashok (2011). 1946: The Great Calcutta Killings and Noakhali Genocide. Kolkata: Himangshu Maity. p. 263. ISBN 9788192246406. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Ghosh Choudhuri, Haran Chandra (6 February 1947). Proceedings of the Bengal Legislative Assembly (PBLA). Vol LXXVII. Bengal Legislative Assembly. 
  7. ^ Dev, Chitta Ranjan (2005). "Two days with Mahatma Gandhi". Ishani (Mahatma Gandhi Ishani Foundation) 1 (4). Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  8. ^ Dasgupta, Anindita (2001). "Denial and Resistance: Sylheti Partition 'refugees' in Assam". Contemporary South Asia (South Asia Forum for Human Rights) 10 (3): 352. doi:10.1080/09584930120109559. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  9. ^ Tuker, Francis (1950). While Memory Serves. London: Cassell. p. 170. 
  10. ^ Mukherjee, Kali Prasanna (2003). দেশ বিভাজনের অন্তরালে [Behind The Partition Of The Country] (in Bengali). Kolkata: Vivekananda Sahitya Kendra. p. 36. 
  11. ^ Mukherjee, Kali Prasanna (2003). দেশ বিভাজনের অন্তরালে [Behind The Partition Of The Country] (in Bengali). Kolkata: Vivekananda Sahitya Kendra. p. 35. 
  12. ^ Das, Suhasini (2004). নোয়াখালি: ১৯৪৬ [Noakhali:1946] (in Bengali). Dhaka: Sahitya Prakash. p. 10. ISBN 9844653738. 
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External links[edit]