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Jul 2008

The Modern Review:

Modern Review of September 1946 carried a detailed report on the Great Calcutta Killing. Here is an extract.

The Calcutta Riots

The Muslim League Supreme Council met in Bombay and on the 29th of July declared for "Direct Action".  16th August was fixed as a day for the initiation of the movement.  Fiery speeches containing thinly veiled threats of Civil War and drastic action against "Quislings" followed.  The League Press and the League spokesmen started a tirade against the Congress in particular and Hindus in general.  In Calcutta, the League papers started stepping up their programme of incitement causing great apprehension amongst all Nationalist circles.

Then followed the declaration of August 16th as a public holiday in Bengal and Sind, the two provinces where Pakistani Ministries were in power.  In Sind, the Governor, being a veteran I.C.S. man, knew what would be the consequences of such a holiday, and further the Chief Secretary of the province was a dutiful person. The holiday was therefore declared to be illegal and was cancelled without anything untoward happening. It is to be noted here that the governor of Sind, who approved of this action on the part of his Chief Secretary, is far from being anti-Muslim League - indeed, on the contrary.  The Governor of Bengal being a newcomer could not even imagine what was being planned. 

Ever since the day when British bureaucracy, acting through its major domo Ramsay MacDonald, had delivered the Province of Bengal into the hands of the Muslim League, oppression and enslavement of the Hindus of that province had been the main objective of the Pakistan Movement, and Mr. H.S. Suhrawardy saw no reason to deviate from the programme. The programme of incitement reached new heights, pamphlets and circulars were distributed, broadcast amongst the hirelings and the fanatic camp-followers of Mr. Jinnah. Lorry loads of Muslim Leaguers, some of them in green uniform, began going round the city and its outskirts shouting slogans of Jehad (holy war against infidels) and uttering war-cries of Pakistan.

Police were significantly inactive, indeed the City was totally innocent of police protection. The first case of violence was at Manicktola corner where a poor milk-man was assaulted, his milk spilt and utensils smashed up.  A Hindu-owned sweetmeat shop nearby was looted, broken up and the shopkeepers assaulted. The arrangements were perfect for the programme of loot, arson, rape and murder and truck-loads of goondas armed with dangerous weapons and incendiary material were rapidly sent to the more distant parts to reinforce the local hooligans. Soon the city was ablaze from North to South and from East to West. The Hindus of Calcutta gradually realized that denial of police aid was part of the programme. It was not as if there were not enough force at the disposal of the authorities. Armed police and Anglo-Indian armed sergents were there in plenty, sitting idle and twiddling their thumbs. The situation soon became precarious for the Hindus, all over Calcutta. The entire city was at the tender mercies of tens of thousands of armed ruffians mad for loot, rape and murder.  Their Fuehrer had declared a jehad, and thousands of gangsters had been imported to reinforce them. Further they seemed immune from the action of Law, for, the police had so far been mostly lookers-on.

Mass butchery started with the early dawn of Saturday, while loot and arson spread like wild fire all over the city.  The police had let the situation deteriorate till it was completely out of control and yet military aid was not called for. As the day lengthened Hindu retaliation began to mount high, till by evening the attackers became the attacked with determined bands of Hindus attempting to break through into the predominantly Muslim localities. It was only then, late in the evening of 17th, that the League authorities asked for  military aid for the police, which was instantly forthcoming.

The Statesman on Calcutta Riots

�Calcutta's Ordeal,� The Statesman of 18th August wrote: The Government of Bengal has failed lamentably in judgement and executive ability.  By forcing a general holiday on the public on the Muslim League's day of direct action it has brought about the consequences that many feared. The fears were vigorously set out by the Opposition in the Legislative Council, and would have been vigorously set out and supported by a large vote in the Assembly had the Chair not rejected an adjournment motion. From early on Friday there was violence in the streets, which increased rapidly in the early afternoon as processions made their way to the big demonstrations on the maidan. Ruffians in the crowd armed with lathis knocked pedestrians and bystanders about, bands of ruffians ran about the city in lorries to assault people and smash up property. 

On August 20, The Statesman under the caption �Disgrace Abounding�, made the following comment:  On Calcutta's horrible ordeal we gave verdict two days ago. That verdict we repeat. The origin of the appalling carnage and loss in the capital of a great Province, we believe the worst communal rioting in India's history, was a political demonstration by the Muslim League. Bengal's is a Muslim League Ministry. No other major Indian Province possesses one - for Sind hardly counts, being small and politically peculiar. Of all India's provincial Ministries, the Bengal Ministry, therefore, as the outstanding League Ministry, should have been the most scrupulous in ensuring that such a political demonstration caused no disturbance.  Maintenance of law and order is any Ministry's prime obligation, and the obligation on the Bengal Ministry, in fulfillment of the League's declared policy of keeping Direct Action Day peaceful, was unique. But instead of fulfilling this, undeniably, by confused acts of omission and provocation, contributed rather than otherwise to the horrible events which have occurred.  The bloody shambles to which this country's largest city has been reduced is an abounding disgrace, which owing to the Bengal Ministry's pre-eminence as a League Ministry, has inevitably tarnished seriously the All-India reputation of the League itself.

On August 21, this newspaper again wrote:

The present Muslim league Ministry's primary responsibility for the bloody shambles to which its capital has been reduced is, as we indicated yesterday inescapable.

On August 22, The Statesman once again returned to the charge and commented:

The group of incompetents, or worse, who owing to their office necessarily bear primary responsibility for the criminal carnage in Calcutta, a catastrophe of scope unprecedented in India's history have been insufficiently seen or heard in these grim days. We mean the Ministry.

Gandhi wrote:

Gandhi had no answer, on behalf of the Congress, to the Direct Action of Jinnah and the killings of Suhrawardy. When pressed for his comments, initially he said the following at a prayer meeting held in New Delhi on August 28, 1946, quoted from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume LXXXV, Publications Division, Government of India, 1982. I am not able to say what I want to say. Words fail me. Over such an outrage happening in India it is better to remain silent. Very often silence is the most effective communication because silence is filled with truth.

On 31 August, also at a prayer meeting, he said:  He would not speak to them on the recent holocaust.  Silence, he said, was his best friend.

Justice G.D. Khosla wrote:

Justice G.D. Khosla in his book Stern Reckoning (OUP, 1949) has devoted some forty pages to Direct Action launched by the Muslim League in August, 1946.  In his words:  The meaning and purport of �Direct Action� were not left in doubt.  It meant �good-bye to constitutional methods.� the �forging of a pistol� and using it. Mr. Jinnah declared:  �What we have done today is the most historic act in our history. Never have we in the whole history of the League done anything except by constitutional methods and by constitutionalism.  But now we are obliged and forced into this position. This day we bid good-bye to constitutional methods.�

Mr. B.K. Nehru wrote:

The distinguished bureaucrat Mr. B.K. Nehru, I.C.S. had a great deal to say about the activities of the Muslim League in those days.  In his memoirs Nice Guys Finish Second, Viking, New Delhi 1997, he has written:

This massacre of the Hindus and Sikhs by Muslims was well organized and directed personally by H.S. Suhrawardy, the then Muslim League Prime Minister of Bengal, and continued for two full days till the Sikh taxi drivers of Calcutta retaliated and there began a counter massacre of the Muslims.  It was this alone which led to the machinery of law and order bringing the holocaust to an end.


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