Muslim League Attack on Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab 1947
Compiled for the SGPC by S. GURBACHAN SINGH TALIB
THE CABINET MISSION AND THE MUSLIM
LEAGUE DIRECT ACTION
During the later months of the year 1945 and early 1946 the temper of the Muslim masses was kept up by the propaganda of hate emanating from the official pronouncements of the Muslim League, the speeches of its leaders and the unrestrained articles of the pro-League press. Muslims had everywhere in the Punjab and Bengal begin to look upon the minorities as their subjects in prospect. Provocative acts against non-Muslims by the Muslims were beginning to be frequent. By this time the police and the officials were so thoroughly saturated with the poisonous propaganda of the Muslim League against the Hindus and Sikhs, that it was not easy for a Hindu or Sikh to find a Muslim policeman or civilian impartial in his attitude where the conflict lay between a Muslim and a non-Muslim. This attitude on the part of the police was a great hardship, especially as more than 70% of the police force in the Punjab, for example, was made up of Muslims. In the people’s daily lives the police could do much to make them happy or miserable. That the police and the officialdom had gone thoroughly Muslim League was demonstrated by three successive events: The Provincial Assembly elections in the Punjab early in 1946; the Muslim League agitation against the Khizar Ministry in January-February, 1947 and the Punjab Riots which began early in March, 1947 and continued in Pakistan as late as January of 1948, till which month incidents of glaring brutality on a colossal magnitude against the Hindu and Sikh remnants of the population continued to be reported.
The 1946 elections in the Punjab provided to the Muslim League the first opportunity for a trial of its strength in the Punjab. The Punjab, called corner-stone of Pakistan-was the one province in which the Muslim League had not been able to form a ministry. Not that the Muslims did not have in this province what was called ‘Pakistan in action.’ But that was not enough. The Punjab must go Muslim League, in name as well as in action, in order to make Mr. Jinnah’s edifice of Pakistan complete. For this purpose it was necessary that an overwhelmingly large number of Muslim seats must be won by the League in the Punjab. A mere majority of Muslims seats would not do-for in the Punjab, out of its 175 seats, as many as about 87 worked out to be non-Muslim, as some of the special constituencies like the University, Labour, Commerce and Landlords went to non-Muslims. The League, therefore, must win all or almost all Muslim seats, for which purpose it must defeat the Unionist Party of which Sir Khizar Hyat Khan, Premier of the Punjab in succession to Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, was the leader. As the Unionist leader. detesting the methods of Muslim League and regarding the path of the partition of the country harmful for the Muslims themselves, was bent upon giving a fight to the League, the contest was expected to be very bitter, as it actually turned out to be. The Muslim League fought on the programme of Pakistan, which it placed before the Muslim masses. The Unionist Muslims realizing the overwhelming force of the Pakistan appeal to Muslim masses, did not oppose Pakistan but they argued, more wisely perhaps than the Leaguers from the Muslim point of view, that to press for a separate state of Pakistan would inevitably entail cutting off of Hindu and Sikh areas from the Punjab and would be detrimental to the economic interest of the Muslims themselves. But so deeply had the Pakistan poison seeped into the Muslim mind that the Unionist fought everywhere a narrowly defensive battle. The Muslims appeared to have gone thoroughly Muslim League by this time. The officials and the police everywhere helped the Muslim League candidates by the usual methods of threats and cajolery employed on the electorate. The most violent and vituperative abuse was employed against the Unionists. As the Muslim League plank was Pakistan, so naturally the Congress and the Sikhs came in for extensive and violent abuse. Tenseness, hate and a communally charged atmosphere were created in the Punjab.
The League won as many as 76 seats (they claimed to have 78) in the Punjab Assembly. They were undoubtedly the largest single party in the Legislature. They hoped to form a ministry with the help of a few defections from among the Muslim Unionists, some Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans. 88 in a House of 175 would give either party a working majority. But the Hindus and Sikhs, having already experienced the ‘Pakistan in action’ of the Muslim-dominated Unionist Ministry, many of whose erstwhile supporters were now on the Muslim League side, were determined not to be ruled over by a party which stood frankly and nakedly for Muslim rule and for the partition of India and the subjugation of the Hindus and Sikhs for the greater glory of Islam, as had been preached by Rahmat Ali, by Dr. Mohammad Iqbal and by the Muslim League propagandists and press in general. In the negotiations for ministry-making which went on at Lahore immediately after the elections were over, not a single Hindu or Sikh member of the Provincial Legislature was willing to walk into the Muslim League camp. The Indian Christians preferred to stand with the Congress with its ideal of a tolerant, secular state in India, rather than with the fanatical Muslim League. So, by a majority of nearly 100 members in the Provincial Legislature, with Sir Khizar Hyat Khan as Premier, the Congress, the Panthic Party and the Unionist Party in coalition formed the Coalition Ministry in March, 1946. The Leaguers felt furious and chagrined. Their campaign of hate became, if anything, more intensified than ever. The communal atmosphere continued to be charged more and more with tension.
In the meanwhile in other Provinces, the League had been carrying on its propaganda of hate in a most virulent form. In Bengal there was a League majority in the Legislative Assembly, and the League formed its ministry with H. S. Suhrawardy as Premier. In Sind the balance of power between the League and non-League elements was maintained for some time in the form of a trial of strength. At last an obliging Governor prorogued the Legislature; ordered fresh elections, and this time the League formed a majority through its propaganda of hate against non-Muslims. The League won a fairly large number of seats in the North-Western Frontier Province. In the Central Legislative Assembly it won all the Muslim seats. 1946 was the peak year of the success of the Muslim League, and this success no doubt made Mr. Jinnah and the Muslim League leaders drunk with the intoxication of achievement. Near and certain visions of a Pakistan in which the Muslims would have it all their own way and in which non-Muslims would live at the sufferance of the Muslims, began to stir the Muslim imagination. This was exactly the situation in which the Muslims could be aroused to terrific action to strike what appeared then to be the final blow for the achievement of Pakistan. And the Muslims not long after did strike this blow. But of that a little later, after the story of the intervening months has been narrated.
It was in this scene that the Cabinet Mission, consisting of the Secretary of State, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. A. V. Alexander, arrived in India, to negotiate for a final settlement with India for the transfer of power. In the protracted negotiations that ensued the formula was evolved of having three groups in the country-one to consist of the Hindu majority provinces of Bihar, Orissa, the U. P., C. P., Bombay and Madras; the second of Assam and Bengal, and the third of the Punjab, the N.-W. Frontier Province and Sind. These three groups were each to frame its own constitution in their respective Assemblies to be elected on the basis of one member for one million of population. There was to be a weak and loose centre, which was to control a limited number of subjects. The three groups were to federate for sake of the administration of these subjects. Otherwise the groups were to be antonomous. In the Bengal-Assam and the Punjab-Sind- N.-W. F. P. groups the Muslims were to be in a majority, and naturally the Hindus and Sikhs in these would have to submit to Muslim dictation. There was no ground whatever for the Muslims of the Hindu-.majority Provinces to protest against this scheme which placed them under Hindu domination, for the Muslims through the Muslim League had asked for some sort of partition of the country, and so must accept what arose from such partition. But Hindus and Sikhs had vehemently opposed the idea of the partition of the country, and to have placed them in the Assam-Bengal and the Punjab Sind-N.-W. F. P. groups under Muslim domination against their wishes went hard with them. The Sikhs vehemently protested against this injustice. On June 9 and 10, 1946, a very full and representation gathering of the Sikh Panth at Amritsar unanimously rejected the Cabinet Mission Scheme which made a gift of the Sikhs and Hindus of the Punjab and its neighbouring Muslim-majority Provinces to Muslim rule against their wishes. The community left no manner of doubt on the point that it would have to struggle against being ruled by what was described as ‘this charter of slavery’1 and would boycott the constituent Assembly which the Cabinet Mission Scheme envisaged. The Hindus of the two groups-the Eastern and the Western-made similar and vehement protests. But the Congress accepted the Cabinet Mission Scheme, which anyhow did not envisage the partition of India into two independent States, though it meant the perpetuation within the proposed federation of more or less inharmonious autonomous zones. The Cabinet Mission plan paid little heed to the claims and rights of the Sikh people. It militated against the real well-being of the country. It was a big sop to the Muslim League, and while rejecting self-determination for the Sikhs, who had such a big stake in the economic and political life of the Punjab, it did grant full self-determination to the Muslims of the Muslim majority Provinces. The substance of Pakistan had been conceded in these Muslim majority areas. As for the constitution of the whole of India, that was to be framed by the Constituent Assembly, to be constituted on the principle of one member for every million of the population. Although in such a House the Muslims would have, on the population basis, only ninety-odd members, yet this Constituent Assembly to be so constituted was not sovereign. It was limited by certain terms of reference, and could not go beyond framing a constitution for a limited centre, which would leave the three groups-two of them Muslim-majority-practically independent. The Congress reluctantly accepted these and other limitations in the interest of reaching anyhow a peaceful settlement, and maintaining the unity of the country.
Pakistan as demanded by the Muslim League, was rejected as impracticable by the Cabinet Mission. The statement issued by the Mission on the 23rd of May, 1946 set forth the reasons why the Pakistan solution could not be accepted. The substantial by portion of the statement ran as under:-
We therefore examined in the first instance the question of a separate and fully independent sovereign State of Pakistan as claimed by the Muslim League. Such a Pakistan would comprise two areas; one in the north-west consisting of the province of the Punjab, Sind, North-West Frontier and British Baluchistan, the other in the north-east consisting of the provinces of Bengal and Assam. The League were prepared to consider adjustment of boundaries at a later stage, but insisted that the principle of Pakistan should first be acknowledged. The argument for a separate State of Pakistan was based, first, upon the right of the Muslim majority to decide their method of Government according to their wishes, and secondly, upon the necessity to include substantial areas in which Muslims are in a minority, in order to make a Pakistan administratively and economically workable.
The size of the non-Muslim minorities in a Pakistan comprising the whole of the six Provinces enumerated above would be very considerable as the following figures show:-
|N. -W. F. Province||
These figures show that the setting up a separate sovereign State of Pakistan on the lines claimed by the Muslim League, would not solve the communal minority problem; nor can we see any justification for including within a sovereign Pakistan those districts of the Punjab and of Bengal and Assam in which the population is predominantly non-Muslim. Every argument that can be used in favour of Pakistan can equally in our view be used in favour of the exclusion of non-Muslim areas from Pakistan. This point would particularly affect the position of the Sikhs.
We therefore considered whether a smaller sovereign Pakistan confined to the Muslim majority areas alone might be a possible basis of compromise. Such a Pakistan is regarded by the Muslim League as quite impracticable because it would entail the exclusion from Pakistan of a large slice of Western Bengal, including Calcutta, in which city the Muslims form 23.6 per cent of the population. We ourselves are also convinced that any solution which involves a radical partition of the Punjab and Bengal, as this would do, would be contrary to the wishes and interests of a very large proportion of the inhabitants of these provinces. Bengal and the Punjab each has its own common language and a long history and tradition. Moreover, any division of the Punjab would of necessity divide the Sikhs leaving substantial bodies of Sikhs on both sides of the boundary. We have, therefore, been forced to the conclusion that neither a larger nor a smaller sovereign State of Pakistan would provide an acceptable solution for the communal problem.
What the Cabinet Mission had conceded to the Muslim League was the substance of its demand. But the Muslim League did not really want to work in co-operation with the other elements in the national life of India. What it wanted was to dominate certain areas and to plan for the conquest, if possible, of the rest. Later events like the Pakistan invasion of Kashmir and its actively abetting a war against India in the Hindu-majority and landlocked State of Hyderabad, have conclusively proved that such have been, for more than a decade at least, the designs which have been shaping themselves in the programme and policy of the Muslim League.
Apart from electing the Constituent Assembly and the Group Assemblies immediately the Viceroy was to include in his Executive Council, representatives of the people, with the agreed convention that these representatives would work as a Cabinet with the Viceroy as constitutional head; though the constitution, pending a new one to be framed by the Constituent Assembly, was to be the same as before. In this Cabinet the. Muslim League would have 5 seats out of 14 (the Viceroy, to be called the President of the Interim Government, was to be the fifteenth). The Congress was to claim 5, and since one Congress seat on the Cabinet was also to go to a Muslim (actually at one time there were two Congress Muslims in the Cabinet), so the total Muslim quota in the Cabinet would be quite large. But the Muslim League decided to reject the Cabinet Mission Scheme. Later, finding that it would not suit it to remain in the wilderness indefinitely, it did came into the Interim Government, but as the history of those fateful days shows, it came in more to struggle and disrupt from within than to collaborate for the well-being of the country.
The Council of the All-India Muslim League met in Bombay and on July 27, 1946 it finally sealed its rejection of the Cabinet Mission Plan, and decided to launch its famous ‘Direct Action’ for the achievement of Pakistan, which it could not achieve by peaceful means. The resolution of the Council ran as follows:-
Whereas the League has to-day resolved to reject the proposals embodied in the Statement of the Cabinet Delegation and the Viceroy of May 16, 1946, due to the intransigeance of Congress on the one hand and the breach of faith with the Muslim by the British Government on the other; and whereas Muslim India has exhausted without success all efforts to find a peaceful solution of the Indian problem by compromise and constitutional means; whereas the Congress is bent upon setting up a caste Hindu Raj in India with the connivance of the British, and whereas recent events have shown that power politics and not justice and fair play are the deciding factors in Indian affairs; whereas it has become abundantly clear that the Muslims of India would not rest content with anything less than the immediate establishment of an independent and fully sovereign State of Pakistan and would resist any attempt to impose any constitution, long-term or short-term, or setting up of any Interim Government at the Centre without the approval and consent of the Muslim League, the council of the All-India Muslim League is convinced that the time has now come for the Muslim nation to resort to direct action to vindicate their honour and to get rid of the present slavery under the British and contemplated future of Caste Hindu domination.
This Council calls upon the Muslim nation to stand to a man being their sole representative organisation, the All-India Muslim League, and be ready for every sacrifice.
This Council directs the Working Committee to prepare forthwith a programme of direct action to carry out the policy initiated above and to organize the Muslims for the coming struggle to be launched as and when necessary.
The Muslim League was now definitely and irrevocably on the war-path. Its war was declared against the Hindus and the Sikhs, against whose opposition it was to establish its independent State of Pakistan. The speeches made by Mr. Jinnah and other Muslim League leaders were provocative in the extreme, and such as to give the Muslims not only broad hints, but clear instigation to attack non-Muslims and by this method of warfare to bring them to their knees if possible, and to force them into the acceptance of Pakistan.
Some of the things said by Mr. Jinnah on this occasion are these:
What we have done to-day is the most historic act in our history. Never have we in the whole history of the League done anything except by constitutional methods. But now we are forced into this position. Today we bid good-bye to constitutional methods.
Again, referring to the new threat and programme of Direct Action, he said,
To-day we have forged a pistol and are in a position to use it.
Again, talking of the threat of Direct Action he said:
We mean every word of it. We do not believe in equivocation.
Then he quoted the Persian Poet, Firdausi, in these words:
If you seek peace, we do not want War. But if you want War, we will accept it unhesitatingly.
Still more provocative speeches, if possible, were made by other Muslim League leaders on this occasion. Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan, now Prime Minister of the Dominion of Pakistan, elucidating the implications of the Direct Action threat, said:
Direct Action means resort to non-constitutional methods, and that can take any form which may suit the conditions under which we live. We cannot eliminate any methods. Direct Action means any action against the Law.
Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, now a member of the Pakistan Government, declared:
Pakistan can only be achieved through shedding blood of ourselves, and if need be, and if opportunity arose, by shedding blood of others. Muslims are no believers in Ahimsa.
Raja Ghanzafar Ali Khan, lately also member of the Pakistan Government, speaking to a huge Muslim gathering at Lahore on the 31st August, 1946 outlined the Muslim League Direct Action as the economic political and social boycott of the Congress and ‘the following of a scorched earth policy.’
Mr. Jinnah held out the threat that Direct Action by Muslims would lead to one hundred times more destruction than the Direct Action of the Hindus (meaning the Congress).
Earlier ill the Convention of Muslim Legislators held in Delhi in April 1946, equally provocative and instigatory things had been said:
Ghulam Mustafa Shah Gilani said:
Any attempt to prevent the establishment of Pakistan would lead to bloodshed. Sardar Shaukat Hyat Khan said:
The Punjab Muslims do not believe in non-violence and should not, therefore, be given cause for grievance because once the Muslim lion is infuriated it would become difficult to subdue him.
Sir Feroze Khan Noon had observed:
I tell you this much that if we find that we have to fight Great Britain for placing us under one Central Hindu Raj, then the havoc which Muslims will plays will put to shame what Jenghez and Halaku Khan did.
Sir Ghulam Hussain Hadayatullah, at that time Premier of Sind and later under Pakistan, Governor of the same Province, said:
The Congress should understand that unless they make friends with us and accede to our demands there will he no peace in India.
The last words bear a special significance in view of what was destined to happen in Bengal and the Punjab principally, and in several other Provinces of India, not long after.
Mr. H. S. Suhrawardy, Premier of Bengal at that time, spoke words still more ominous and pregnant with a sinister significance the full force of which was not realized by the country perhaps at the time.
We await the clarion call of the Qaid-i-Azam.
The ‘Clarian Call’ was answered about a fortnight later in the shape of the Calcutta, Noakhali and other riots in Bengal, the ghastliest and most terrible seen till then in India, to be bettered in this respect only by the Muslim holocaust of the minorities in the Punjab, in 1947.
To these words of defiance and provocation was joined the tremendous and loud chorus of hate and instigation to fighting and rioting by the platform speakers of the Muslim League and the inflammatory articles in the League-controlled press. The country in these weeks (the month of August, 1946) passed through a period of foreboding and tense expectancy. The new Interim Government to which the Viceroy had invited both the Congress and the Muslim League was due to take office on the 2nd of September, 1946. The Congress accepted the offer but the League rejected it. All appeared to be set for the word of command on the part of the League to let slip the blood hounds which would plunge the country into the horrors of a terrible Civil War. The comments of the British Press, seldom pro-Congress in its views and very consistent in voicing a pro-League bias, were on this occasion revealing, as they found in this Direct Action threat of the Muslim League nothing less than the design to plung the country into a Civil War: Said the ‘News Chronicle’ of the 30th July, 1946, a day after the passage of the Direct Action Resolution:
What precisely does Mr. Jinnah think he will achieve by embracing violence-and at a moment when so substantial a part of his claims has been conceded?
Does he think that communal strife will benefit India or even the Muslim part of India? He has only to look at other parts of Asia to see what lies at the end of that tunnel.
Does he want his country to become another China, ravaged and utterly impoverished by interminable Civil War?
It is hopeless, of course, if Mr. Jinnah is wedded to complete intransigeance-if, as now seems the case he really is thirsting for a holy war.
If Mr. Jinnah nosy resorts to violence, it will be very difficult to save India from disaster.
In the above extract occur the prophetic words ‘Civil War’ and ‘holy War’, and the Muslim League attitude plunged the country soon after into both these.
The Muslim League formed a Council of Action to plan its Direct Action Programme. Its members were: Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan (now Prime Minister of Pakistan); Nawab Iftikhar Hussain Khan of Mamdot, (lately Premier of West Punjab), Mian Mumtaz Daulatana (lately Minister of West Punjab), Sardar Shaukat Hyat Khan (several times Minister); Mian Iftikharuddin, Begum Shah Nawaz, Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, I. I. Cundrigar and H. S. Suhrawardy (at that time Muslim League Premier of Bengal).
In order to implement its programme of Direct Action, which, it must be noted, was not to take the form of Ahimsa, the Muslim League began to make brisk preparations for attack on Hindus and equally well, Sikhs. The Muslim League private army called the Muslim National Guards, which has already been referred to, began to expand. All kinds of Muslim riff-raff, disbanded members of the Civic Guards, and such other elements were the favourite recruiting ground for this body. The Muslim criminal elements found in the National Guard a new scope for their criminal proclivities as providing opportunity both for their anti-social acts and the satisfaction of having done something meritorious in the service of Islam. The Police, which in several provinces was overwhelmingly Muslim, helped in this recruitment, which was not so much of a secret, and in the collection of arms, equipment and petrol (this last for purposes of incendiarism). Jeeps and lorries were possessed by the National Guard in the larger towns; they had stocks of steel helmets purchased from the Disposals Department. (This article was recovered in large numbers in the search of the Muslim National Guards Office at Lahore in January, 1947). Besides, large numbers of lethal weapons, such as knives, daggers, swords and spears were made and stocked by the Muslim National Guards. Well-to-do Muslim firms and individuals were reported in the months of August and September, 1946 to have distributed daggers and knives among Muslims of Lahore and Amritsar. Sword-making as an industry made rapid progress among Muslims in the Punjab, where for several years last restrictions on the possession and carrying about of the sword bad been removed. Parcels of knives were frequently intercepted by the Railway Police in the Provinces of Bombay, Central Provinces, Bihar and the United Provinces while in transit from Wazirabad and Sialkot centres of the cutlery industry in the Punjab, to the Muslim Leaguers of those Provinces. The cutlers of Wazirabad and Sialkot were all Muslim. While many such parcels were intercepted, many more must have got safe through. In the Punjab itself where the Police force was overwhelmingly Muslim, there was little check on the movement of these weapons, and so the Punjabi Muslims were very well stocked with them in all districts. In Bengal, where a Muslim League Ministry was in the saddle, very much the same happened. As the Calcutta and Eastern Bengal Riots showed, the Muslim preparation for attack and destruction had been terribly widespread and efficient.
Besides lethal weapons, there were fairly large quantities of firearms and means of incendiarism in the possession of Muslims. In the Punjab, besides smuggling arms from India with the help and connivance of the Muslim Police, the Muslims with the same facility to hand, could do successful gun-running from the tribal areas in the North-West. While a Hindu or Sikh carrying illegal weapons on him would be hauled up under the Arms Act, Muslims were comparatively safe in so doing, unless they happened to be detected by some non-Muslim police officer. Large quantities of petrol were obtained and conserved by the Muslims at a time when petrol rationing had been in force for several years, and this hoarded petrol was used in setting ablaze whole localities of non-Muslims with fiendish rapidity and efficiency, and thousands were trapped in the rapidly spreading flames and burnt alive.
The Direct Action of the Muslim League for which elaborate preparations had by now been made, was ready to be launched on an India-wide scale. The date fixed for launching this action was August the 16th, 1946. The country was awaiting the day with anxiety in view of the provocative and inflammatory speeches of the Muslim League leaders, and open threats of fighting. Mr. H. S. Suhrawardy, Premier of Bengal greatly excited the minds of the Muslims of his province by proclaiming that the Bengal Government would declare their independence of the Central Government if the Congress came into power. The Sind Muslim League Premier made a similar declaration. Both declarations were intended to be provocative, as otherwise these Muslim League leaders knew full well that under the British Crown no Indian Province could claim independence of the Central Government, and any such independence could last at best only a few hours. But such and other declarations had their effect in inflaming Muslim passions against the Hindus.
The Muslim League Bengal Government declared August 16, 1946 to be a public holiday throughout Bengal, to celebrate the Direct Action Day. The effect of this, in the very temperate and restrained language of Shri S. L. Ghosh of the A. B. Patrika is described thus:
When a political party, by virtue of its being in power, enforces its party celebration on the whole administrative machinery by declaring a public holiday, it is natural that some at least of its adherents should infer from it that the party is the law of the land, and that anything done in the name of the party is above the scope of the law,
The police, mostly Muslim in personnel, were, if not actually in complicity, definitely indifferent to the murder, loot and arson of the Hindus going on around them. Such a horrible carnage ensued as had not been heard of in India in the three-odd decades during which communal rioting had been heard of in India. The Muslim mobs consisting of people who mostly wore the uniform of the Muslim National Guards and carried the Muslim League flag, burnt, massacred, looted and raped to these slogans: ‘Lar Kar lenge Pakistan’; ‘Mar Kar Lenge Pakistan’; ‘Dena Hoga Pakistan’; ‘Pakistan Kayam Karo’ etc. As the statesman of Calcutta in an editorial put it, the Muslim League ministry for a good long time (for practically two days) hesitated whether a little rioting would not after all be good; and so nothing was done to summon the military and to quell rioting, which could not be done by the demoralized police force, over-weighed by its Muslim personnel.
The horrors of this rioting make a harrowing story. Mobs went about their demonaic work, killing and burning. During the first two days of the rioting which lasted for more than 5 days, the Calcutta fire brigade had to attend 900 calls for meeting cases of arson. One eye-witness described the scene in these words.
A vivid picture of the panic caused by hooligans in the Calcutta riots was given by a member of the staff of the Associated Press of India, who escaped savage butchery or maiming and reestablished contract with the office to-day.
Living in the heart of a zone where murder, loot and arson raged for two days, he said that the terror-stricken cries of victims as they were being maimed and stabbed were still ringing in his ears as he was relating his story. He and his friends living in the Cosmopolitan Hotel could not rescue them as well-armed hooligans surrounded the area.
Equipped with plentiful supplies of petrol from a pump the owner of which had abandoned it in his flight for safety, the mob carried out a campaign of arson. Buildings were set on fire and fed liberally with looted motor fuel.
At the hospital the dead and even more, the living maimed ones told the story of gross cruelty. There were deep stab wounds, heads and limbs broken with heavy lathi blows, and cases where the bone was broken to pieces. Every living moment was agony.
The body of a six-month old child killed on the spot was brought by ambulance with his father and mother badly injured.
This is only one glimpse of what happened for five days over a large area. Hooligans went about with full preparation for murder and arson. Petrol was in plentiful supply, and the victims were left no option but to be burnt to ashes in their burning houses or to come out and be stabbed. The total number of killed in these days is estimated at 5,000 and those injured at 15,000.
The preparations for forcing the Pakistan issue which had been going on for a pretty long time plunged Calcutta during these fateful days into blood. The swiftness of the attack, the large area affected, the heavy casualties in killed and houses burnt, the Similarity of methods used by the assailants everywhere and the readiness with which they came out to attack-leave no manner of doubt that the League had been preparing for this attack. Similar but smaller outbreaks occurred at other places also. One such was in Delhi.
It was clear that the Muslim League was leading the country towards Civil War. It wanted to force its rule on unwilling and large minorities. It wanted to create conditions in which it would become impossible for Muslims and non-Muslims to live together. To effect this consummation, it was using the methods of murder, loot and arson on a wide and large scale. That this was the temper and aim of the League, is testified by the opinion of the ‘News Chronicle’ quoted above. The Civil & Military Gazette of Lahore, by no means a paper hostile to the Muslims, said apropos the Calcutta riots in its editorial in its issue of August 20, 1946 (four days after the commencement of these riots).
We have termed the jeremiads of Muslim Leaguers ‘near hysterical nonsense,’ but they represent a trend of thought and a psychological attitude which hold the utmost danger for the whole country. Words are being broadcast everyday which will make fanatics of law-abiding citizens and throw them into the same camp with the lowest of goondas.
More significantly still, this same editorial says.
Authentic reports from all parts of India describe the country as a powder-magazine, and at the moment the Muslim League is holding a torch which may send it sky-high. If the spark is applied, the present League leadership will have to shoulder responsibility for events which will not only blast for ever all hopes of Hindu-Muslim co-operation in any field, but which will ruin all chances of India’s progress for decades.
That the Muslim League ministry of Bengal, and the obliging British Governor had been criminally negligent if not actually conniving at the attack on the non-Muslim population of Calcutta, was so strongly the opinion held in the country, that an Enquiry Commission, presided over by Sir Patrick Spens, Chief justice of India, was set up by the Governor-General to inquire into the degree of responsibility of the League Government in, if not abetting, at least conniving at the riots and failing to take action when these broke out.
So deeply had the poison of the hatred preached by the Muslim League seeped into the very soul of the Muslim people, and so great was the tension in the country as a result of this, that rioting occurred all over India on a more or less large scale. Soon before the Direct Action Day, there had been an attack by Muslims on Sikhs at Abbotabad, in the N.-W. F. Province. An account of the incident is as follows:
(On July 28, 1946) Muslims held a public meeting in a garden near Gurdwara Singh Sabha. The District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police were present near the meeting place, but no precautions were taken. Stones and brickbats were exchanged between a few Sikhs in the Gurdwara and the Muslim mob outside.
Muslims made repeated attempts to set fire to Gurdwara shops. These fires were put out by the Military fire-brigade. The Muslim mob divided into groups and began to loot and set on fire Hindu and Sikh shops. More than two dozen shops were looted.
The Muslim mob met no resistance except at two places, where a gun was fired by a Sikh shopkeeper and a Gurkha Chaukidar. Sikhs were being harassed by Muslim policemen.
This was only a foretaste of Direct Action and the Pakistan to come. Abbotabad and its adjoining area witnessed large-scale murder and looting of Sikhs and Hindus not long after this in December, 1946 and January, 1947. And then came March, 1947 with the succeeding terrible months.
An attack on Hindus occurred in Delhi on the 12th August, 1946. There was rioting in such vastly different places as Cawnpore, Bombay, Poona, Ahmedabad, Dacca and a few others. The lesson of it all was becoming very abundantly clear. The Muslim League was waging its war in earnest on non-Muslims to achieve its Pakistan.
The statements publicly made by the top-ranking Muslim League leaders reveal the temper and intentions of these leaders and the organization whose policy and programme they had framed. On September 9, 1946 only two weeks after the Calcutta Carnage, after the attack on Sir Shafaat Ahmed Khan, and the situation akin to Civil War which was developing inside the country, Mr. H. S. Sahrawardy, Premier of Bengal, said:
Muslim India means business.
How grimly it ‘meant business’ was shown by the Calcutta killing, and was later on shown by Noakhali, N.-W. F. P. and the Punjab.
Mr. Jinnah in a statement issued from Bombay on September 11, 1946 offered to the Hindus the choice between creating Pakistan and forcing a Civil War in the country.
Replying to a question seeking suggestions for the restoration of peace in India, he said:
In view of the horrible slaughter in various parts of India, I am of the opinion that the authorities, both Central and Provincial, should take up immediately the question of exchange of population to avoid brutal recurrence of that which had taken place where small minorities have been butchered by the overwhelming majorities.
Thus, scouting any suggestion that there could be peace and amity in the country, he advocated exchange of population-the uprooting of millions-and as it later turned out to be, of over twelve millions, and the butchering of about a million. This was the direction in which the Muslim League was inevitably leading the country.
What shocked the conscience of India even more than Calcutta, was the large-scale murder, loot, arson, rape, abduction and forced marriage of Hindu women in the Noakhali District of Eastern Bengal. This time the trouble came about in the October of 1946. It appears the League enthusiasts were on the look-out for an area of operation where they could be sure of very little resistance and where they could demonstrate to the Hindus in action as to what was in store for them in case they did not accept the Muslim League demand of Pakistan. In Calcutta the Hindus-although on the first two days they were completely surprised, and reeled under the sudden blow, and lost more than a thousand in killed-yet on the subsequent days they rallied and gave the Muslims as good as they got. The Muslim League perhaps realized the folly of having tried out Calcutta. A better spot should be selected, and this time it was Noakhali and the adjoining area of Eastern Bengal.
The district of Noakhali is almost at the extreme end of Eastern Bengal, surrounded by heavy Muslim majority areas. This district itself has perhaps the lowest percentage of non-Muslim population-the Muslim percentage being as high as 81.35. So, while it was particularly dastardly of the Muslims of this area to have chosen to fall upon the Hindus of this area, it was, from the point of their own scheme, a fit choice; for its very sparse Hindu population could offer little resistance to their onslaught. Attacks on a scale as large as Noakhali also occurred in the district of Tipperah, neighbouring on Noakhali, and with a Muslim population of 77.09%.
As the trouble broke out, for some time the country did not know about it. Noakhali is a far-away part of Bengal, and the Muslim League Ministry of Bengal did not allow the news of the carnage to trickle though as long as they could help it. So, the assailants had it all their own way for several days, unchecked.
The horror and the underlying conspiracy of this occurrence can best be described in the words of Shri S. L. Ghosh of the A. B. Patrika, quoted above. Says Shri S. L. Ghosh:
The four days’ delay in receiving the news indicates at once the magnitude of preparations of the lawless elements as well as the criminal inefficiency of the administration machinery.2 It took ten days, fraught with horror, disgrace and torture for nearly two lakhs of Hindus for the Army to reach the neighbourhood of disaster, another ten days for them to move into the inner fringe of the disturbed area, and over a month to comb the interior of the devastated countryside.
The horror of the Noakhali outrage is unique in modern history in that it was not a simple case of turbulent members of the majority community killing off helpless members of the minority community, but was one whose chief aim (to quote Dr. Syama Prosad Mookerjee) was mass conversion, accompanied by loot, arson and wholesale devastation. No section of the people has been spared, the wealthier classes being dealt with more drastically. Murder also was part of the plan, but it was mainly reserved for those who were highly influential or who resisted. Abduction and outrage on women and forcible marriages were also resorted to; but their number cannot be easily determined. The slogans used and the methods employed indicate that it was all part of a plan for the simultaneous establishment of Pakistan. The demand for subscriptions for the Muslim League and for other purposes, including conversion ceremonies, showed that mass attackers, and their leaders were inspired by the League ideology.
Apparently, the strategy of terrorisation adopted in Calcutta had failed to achieve the objective of recognition of Pakistan. The zealots of Pakistan in Noakhali and the southern portion of Tepperah, therefore, sought to make that muslim-majority area exclusive to a certain community, and thus convert it into the fortress of Eastern Pakistan, by forcible mass conversion of the other community (The League) leaders tried to minimize the enormity of the crimes they tended to confirm the impression that they were in close sympathy with the attackers and their nefarious policy and that this was the second phase of the direct action plan of the Muslim League to achieve Pakistan.
It is false to suggest that the perpetrators were a gang of hooligans or that they mostly consisted of outsiders. The local people were the perpetrators in many cases and there was a general mass sympathy for what happened.
The total number of evacuees, those, that is, who could leave the area of the disturbance alive, will be somewhere between 50 to 75 thousands including men, women and children of all conditions and castes.
Over and above these persons, there will be another 50,000 or even more who are still living within the danger zone in what may be called the no man’s land. Theirs is the most tragic fate. They have all been subjected to conversion and are still3 under the clutches of their oppressors. Most of them have lost everything, and they suffer from both physical and mental collapse. Their humiliation and torture know – no limitations. Their names have been changed; their womenfolk insulted; their properties looted; they are being compelled to dress, to eat and to live like their so-called new brothers in faith. The male members have to attend the mosques, Maulvies come and train them at home; they are at the mercy of their captors for their daily food and indeed for their very existence. . . .
These occurrences shocked Mahatma Gandhi, and indeed the whole of India, very deeply. The Mahatma asked Acharya Kripalani; President of the Congress, to go to Noakhali and to see what could be done to bring relief to suffering humanity there, and to try to restore good relations between the communities there. Not long after, the Mahatma himself went there, and made his famous village to village, nay house to house trek, trying to restore good-will. How little the Muslim League fanatics cared for the Mahatma’s noble teaching was made abundantly clear by what happened hardly within a month of the Mahatma’s pilgrimage to Noakhali, in the North-Western Frontier Province, and another two months after that in the Punjab.
Acharya Kripalani’s account of what he observed in Noakhali substantiates the statement of Dr. Mookerjee reproduced above. Said the Acharya:
Next morning (October 22, 1946) we visited the interior of one of the affected areas. The place was Charhaim. Charhaim village and the surrounding areas are occupied by Namasudras (scheduled castes) numbering about 20,000. It was completely destroyed. Most of the houses were burnt. People were living in sheds, built from the ruins of their houses. All their property had been looted. Cash, ornaments, utensils and clothes, and cattle also, had been taken away by the raiders. All the males and females had only the clothes they were wearing. They had no food to eat. Their condition was pitiable in the extreme. There had been cases of murder, but it was not possible during the short time at our disposal to ascertain the number of the killed. Cases of abduction were reported to us. Even after looting and arson the villagers were obliged to embrace Islam; They had to perform ‘Namaz’ and recite the ‘Kalma’. All the images of the houses were broken and temples looted and destroyed. The conch-shell bangles of women and vermillion marks, signs of their married life, were removed.
This was a fairly representative area. Acharya Kripalani arrived at certain conclusions regarding the Noakhali trouble, which are as follows:-
1. The attack on the Hindu population in the districts of Noakhali and Tipperah was previously arranged and prepared for. It was deliberate, if not directly engineered by Muslim League. It was the result of Muslim League propaganda. The local evidence all went to prove that prominent League leaders in the villages had a large hand in it.
2. The authorities had warnings about what was coming. The warnings were conveyed to them orally and then in writing by prominent Hindus in the areas concerned.
3. The Muslim officials connived at the preparations going on. A few encouraged. There was a general belief among the Mussalmans that the Government would take no action if anything was done against the Hindus.
4. The modus operandi was for the Muslims to collect in batches of hundreds and sometimes thousands and to march to Hindu villages or Hindu houses in villages of mixed population. They first demanded subscriptions for the Muslim League and sometimes for the Muslim victims of the Calcutta riots. These enforced subscriptions were heavy, sometimes amounting to Rs. 10,000 and more. Even after the subscriptions were realized, the Hindu population was not safe. The same or successive crowd appeared on the scene later and looted the Hindu houses. The looted houses in most cases were burnt. Sometimes before a house was looted the inmates were asked to embrace Islam. However, even conversion did not give immunity against loot and arson.
The slogans raised by the attacking Muslim crowds were those of the Muslim League, such as ‘League Zindabad’ ‘Pakistan Zindabad’; ‘Larke Lenge Pakistan’, ‘Marke Lenge Pakistan’.
5. All those who resisted were butchered. Sometimes they were shot, for the rioters had a few shot-guns with them.
Sometimes people were killed even when there was no resistance offered or expected I have on record cases where 50 to 60 members of one family were brutally murdered. Some families lost all their male members.
6. (Is about the description and habitat of those who indulged in these crimes.)
7. Even after looting, arson and murder the Hindus in the locality were not safe unless they embraced Islam. The Hindu population therefore to save themselves had to embrace Islam en masse. All the images of gods in Hindu houses were destroyed and all the Hindu temples of the affected area were looted and burnt.
8. There have been cases of forcible marriages There have been cases of abduction.
9. For obvious reasons it was not possible for me to ascertain the cases of rape. But women complained to Mrs. Kirpalani of having been roughly handled, their conch-shell bangles, the symbol of their married life, having been broken and vermillion marks removed. At one place they were thrown on the ground by the miscreants who removed their vermillion marks with the toes of their feet.
10 to 13 are about post-riot conditions.
14. The police did not function during the riots. They are doing merely patrol duty now. They say that they had and have no orders to fire except in self-defence. The question of definding themselves never arose, because they did not interfere with the rioters.
The areas visited had already been devastated and all that I could see were burnt houses and helpless Hindu villagers whether converted or not.
Scouting any suggestion that the trouble may be economic the Acharya added, Not a single rich Muslim house had been looted. To me it appeared to be absolutely communal and absolutely one-sided.
The Congress Working Committee meeting came soon after at Delhi, and its resolution on East Bengal contained the following observations:
Reports published in the press and statements of public workers depict a scene of bestiality and medieval barbarity that must fill every decent human being with shame, disgust and anger.
The Committee hold that this outburst of brutality is the direct result of the politics of hate and civil strife that the Muslim League has practised for years past and of the threats of violence that were daily held out in past months.
This extensive account has been given of Noakhali for this reason, that coming soon after the Direct Action and Calcutta, this was the first large-scale beginning of that wholesale elimination of entire communities, that ‘genocide’ which from now on became the settled programme and policy of the Muslim League, not expressed or admitted officially, but nevertheless pursued and countenanced by it with vigour and with great satisfaction. It was clear after Noakhali as to what India was to expect in the coming months-mass attacks on minorities in Muslim-majority areas, co-operation of Muslim police and the officials with the assailants, indifference of the British bureaucrats, and the hypocritical fathering of the League leaders of the responsibility for these occurrences on the minorities themselves. In the case of Calcutta the League leaders blamed it all on the Hindus-in the case of Noakhali and Tipperah, the figures of casualties and damage were understated to ridiculous figures, or just not noticed. Had there been any regret expressed by the League on these happenings, had they sat up and realized the horror of what had happened and had their conscience pricked them, perhaps the recurrence of large-scale destruction like Noakhali would not have been possible. But the Leaguers viewed these happenings with glee. The programme was working according to plan.
Exactly the same pattern as in Noakhali and Tipperah was repeated during the next five months in other parts of India. These features were common to all these occurrences.
1. Places of occurrence were all heavy Muslim-majority areas-the minority attacked were Hindu or Hindu-Sikh. Successively they are: Noakhali and Tipperah (October, 1946) Hazara (December, 1946 and January, 1947); Rawalpindi (March, 1947 For several weeks); Jhelum, Attock, Campbellpur, Dera Ismail Khan, Hazara, Multan, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Sargodha (all as before-mentioned). Lahore and Amritsar towns had an overwhelming Muslim majority in their populations though in the latter district as a whole the non-Muslims outnumbered the Muslims by a small percentage. In both towns from March, 1947 onwards terrible outrages were perpetrated by Muslims on Hindus and Sikhs, the decisive result in either case being obtained only on the partition of the Punjab.
2. Preparations were made by the Muslim League for attack on the minorities in every case a good time before the actual occurrence. Arms had been collected and distributed. Sufficiently large quantities of petrol and other inflammable substances had been hoarded for incendiarism. Training in swift methods of arson, stabbing, disposal of looted property and the killed had been imparted in the centres of the Muslim National Guards. Muslim police and officials had joined in hatching the plans with the Muslim League leaders and Muslim National Guard workers. The Muslim masses had been aroused to a pitch of anti-Hindu-Sikh fury by violent League propaganda.
3. The attacks were simultaneous, widespread and in places so open and so sure of non-interference by the authorities that the assailants collected and marched with drums beating, shouting Muslim League slogans, and even making military formations. There was nothing secret about these attacks, as the police were already on the side of the attackers.
4. Large-scale arson, murder of males, abduction, rape and dishonour of women, brutalities to children, looting, forcible conversions etc. all these features were common to the localities affected. Those attacked were first asked to pay sums of money to pay off the invaders; then followed more demands, and attacks by outsiders. Local Muslims (that is, those of the village actually attacked) sometimes out of long habits of neighbourly intercourse, kept out of the actual attack, though of course they were in league with the invaders and abetted and helped them.
5. The victims were given no quarter when beseiged. Places of worship were desecrated, and religious feelings were outraged with fiendish gusto. Shaving of Sikhs, feeding of Hindus and Sikhs on beef, circumcision of Hindus and Sikhs, marrying away young girls and widows of Hindus, and Sikhs to Muslims-these practices were resorted to.
6. Police and the officials seldom appeared on the scene till long after the beseiged had been killed and their houses burnt and looted.
7. Muslim League leaders and Press said nothing in condemnation of these outrages. On the other hand, they trotted out imaginary stories of provocation by the non-Muslims, and of supposed retaliation by Muslims. This in every case kept up the morale of the assailants. .
This pattern was repeated in every one of the places that have been mentioned; and while the area of operations was necessarily limited while British power was still there, on the establishment of Pakistan it became general mass murder in West Punjab, in the North-Western Frontier Province, in Sind, Baluchistan and raider-held Kashmir.
The succeeding chapters will narrate the unfolding of this great conspiracy of the Muslim League.
1In a forceful pamphlet entitled ‘Fight this Charter of Slavery’ signed by Master Tara Singh and several other Sikhs, including the compiler of this volume.
2But was it only such, and not complicity?
3This statement was made on October 26, 1946.