- The Hindu-Islam rivalry has been a source of constant conflict throughout the pages of history. But this dates from a time, where rivalry did not even exist. The famous tale of Modern History when Shah Jahan wanted his son with Mumtaz Mahal namely, Dara Shikoh to succeed the Mughal Throne. Dara Shikoh was considered the most secular mughal (even more secularist than ‘Akbar’) and many historians believe that the stones turned by Aurangzeb (who defeated Dara Shikoh in the Battle of Samugarh) had never been turned in the very first place had Dara Shikoh been the ‘Sultan of India’ instead of Aurangzeb. Not just this, the unity portrayed by the Hindu-Islam community gave the Britishers, a loud, clear message during the First War of Independence in 1857. It was this incident post which the Britishers had to employ the policy of ‘Divide and Rule’ to substantially crush the unity of these two communities and further their purposes of territory expansion.
- This strategy led to many communal riots, many instances of war between the Hindu-Islam community which not just deteriorated the friendship that once existed but also bittered the relationship to the extent where the Muslim League: which was once formed in 1907 to join hands with the Congress to fight back against the consequences of the Partition of Bengal of 1905, was the same to demand a separate nation altogether. Noakhali Riots is another such instance where Hindus were killed, raped, and massacred in hundreds (if not thousands) resulting in total loss of balance failing the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi in settling the dispute.
Muslim League And Its Introductory Objectives
The partition of Bengal resulted in a communal divide. The Muslim League was founded on December 30, 1906, under the leadership of Aga Khan, the Nawab of Dhaka, and Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk, with the goal of protecting the rights of Indian Muslims. It received strong backing from the British at first, but when they adopted the notion of Self-Rule, they became destitute. The League’s Amritsar session in 1908, presided over by Sir Syed Ali Imam, demanded a separate electorate for Muslims, which was granted to them by Morley-Minto Reform in 1909. To spread his Anti-League beliefs, Maulana Muhammad Ali founded the English journal ‘Comrade’ and the Urdu paper ‘Hamdard.’ He also founded the newspaper ‘Al-Hilal,’ which served as a platform for his nationalist beliefs and advancing and serving the purpose of the League.
The primary objectives of the Muslim League during its formation year in 1907 were to encourage Indian Muslims to be loyal to the British administration. To defend Indian Muslims’ political and other rights, as well as to bring their demands and ambitions to the attention of the government. To help Muslims overcome their feelings of animosity against other communities and also to put constant demands upon the British Government to garner and promote western and technical education to the members of the religion.
The Government Of India Act, 1935 And The World War II
Indian officials were increasingly calling for constitutional reforms in their country. The British acceptance of the need for more Indians in the management of their own country was bolstered by India’s support for Britain during the First World War.
The Act was founded on the following principles:-
- Report of the Simon Commission.
- The Round Table Conference suggestions.
- The Joint Select Committees Report on the White Paper was produced by the British government in 1933 (based on the Third Round Table Conference).
- This Act divided powers between the center and the provinces in the manner as prescribed below: There were three lists which gave the subjects under each government.
- Federal List (Centre)
- Provincial List (Provinces)
- Concurrent List (Both)
- With The Viceroy being vested with residual powers.
The Government of India Act, of 1935 gave the Indian political leaders exactly what they wanted. The parts of the Act intended to establish the Federation of India never came into operation, due to opposition from rulers of the princely states. The remaining parts of the Act came into force in 1937, when the first elections under the act were also held and Indian National Congress had won the election. But right thereafter, the Second World War began and India was pulled down into the war to bear the economic and socio-political consequences arising out of the war. It was also the time when Muslim League had to change its agenda, demanding a separate new country for themselves when they saw Indian National Congress rising to power and Muslim League’s handcuffed administrative powers.
Followed The Cripps Mission which was a failed attempt in late March 1942 by the British government to secure full Indian cooperation and support for their efforts in World War II. The Cripps Mission had proposed to grant a ‘Dominion Status’ to the Government in India with the dominating powers still in the hands of the British, which was outrightly rejected by the Indian National Congress. The mission was headed by Sir Stafford Cripps.
Undoubtedly, India was pulled out to bear the consequences of World War II and it was in 1942 when the political leaders had to rise up united against the Britishers to demand complete administrative and political autonomy in running the country. The Quit India Movement, which is also known as the August Movement, was a movement launched at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committees by Mahatma Gandhi on 8 August 1942, during World War II, demanding an absolute end to British rule in India. World War II had its undigested effects rattling out the resources that India was left of, at that time.
Way To Direct Action Day, 1946
British Prime Minister Clement Attlee sent a Cabinet Mission to India to discuss the transfer of power from the British Raj to the Indian leadership.
On 16th May 1946, the Mission proposed initial plans of the composition of the authority of India and its Government.
On 16th June 1946, the Mission proposed an alternative plan to arrange for India to be divided into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah had accepted the Cabinet Mission proposal of 16th June. But Congress rejected it.
In July 1946, Jinnah held a press conference at his home in Bombay where he declared his intention to create Pakistan. He had decided to boycott the Constituent Assembly.
On the next day, Jinnah announced 16th August 1946 would be “Direct Action Day” to demonstrate their strength. The leaders of the League had urged for ‘action’ to ensure that their demand for Pakistan is met.
Many provocative comments were made, resulting in the Great Calcutta Killings, one of the bloodiest communal riots in history.
Aftermath Of Direct Action Day: Noakhali Riots
The consequences of Direct Action Day were widespread. Communal riots arose in many parts of the country including Noakhali. The violence began on October 10 in Noakhali, which had been relatively unaffected by the Calcutta Killings. Ramganj, Raipur, Begumganj, Chhagalnaiya, Lakshmipur, and Sandwip are among the regions affected in Noakhali District. Chandpur, Faridganj, Hajiganj, Chauddagram, and Laksham are located in the Tipperah District. Muslim National Guards and private troops were the offenders. They specifically targeted Bengali Hindus. Regrettably, the Bengal Muslim League government, led by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, did not forcefully suppress the rioters. Some feel this was done to deliver the message that the country’s separation was necessary. This was in keeping with the League’s communal propaganda, which had urged followers to “take Pakistan by force if necessary.”
Despite the fact that the violence began on the 10th, it was not until the 14th that enforcers were dispatched to the impacted neighborhoods. Thousands of fatalities could have been avoided if the government had intervened sooner.
Approximately 5000 Hindus are thought to have died as a result of the riots. Thousands of people were forced to become Christians, and many women were raped.
On 12 October, the residence of Chittaranjan Dutta Raychaudhuri at Shayestaganj under the Raipur police station was attacked by a Muslim mob.
The attackers resorted to murder, loot, and arson. On 13 October, at 12 noon, a mob of 200 to 250 Muslims armed with deadly weapons attacked the Hindus in Changirgaon. Their houses were being looted and set on fire and they were being forcibly converted to Islam.
Houses and shops were plundered and destroyed, and the property was ransacked. Temples were vandalized.
During the riots, a mob assassinated Lalmohan Sen, a revolutionary leader who had participated in the Chittagong Armory Raid and had been imprisoned by the British for 16 years.
The League government attempted to reduce the number of violent occurrences published in the press. It also hid a report by retired judge Edward Skinner Simpson on the Noakhali occurrences.
Many social and political organizations from India came to help with relief efforts. Bharat Sevashram Sangha, INC, Communist Party of India, Hindu Mahasabha, Bose’s Indian National Army, Arya Samaj, and others were among the organizations.
Role Of Mahatma Gandhi And His Prayer Meetings
Mahatma Gandhi went to the troubled areas to convey his nonviolence message and to ask the riots to cease. Despite the fact that he generally failed to achieve his goal, his presence did provide some peace. He considered the riots as a test of his ahimsa concept. “Yes, you are accountable not only for that murder but for every murder,” Gandhi responded angrily as Suhrawardy tried to dodge a charge of murder against his administration.
In Muslim League-ruled Bengal, Mahatma had encountered a frightened Hindu population. He had to actually talk his way into people’s hearts, counsel courage, and dignity. Mahatma had to spend his days in Noakhali and Tipperah districts from 6th November 1946, and he stayed there till the end of February 1947.
November 7, 1946: While talking to relief workers in Chandpur he said, “Use your arms well if you must. Do not ill-use them. Bihar has not used its arms well. If the Biharis wanted to retaliate, they could have gone to Noakhali and died to a man. But for a thousand Hindus to fall upon a handful of Mussalmans – men, women, and children – living in their midst is no retaliation but just brutality.”
Mahatma in Bihar (1947) – From October 24 to November 11, 1946, Hindu mobs attacked Muslim families in Bihar, resulting in communal riots. The Great Calcutta Killings, as well as the Noakhali riots earlier that year, sparked the riots. “If Muslims feel that they would exterminate the Hindus, or if Hindus believe that they would annihilate the Muslims, I would want to ask them what they would benefit by doing so?” Gandhi remarked in a speech at a Prayer Meeting in Patna on March 5, 1947. “Muslims will not help Islam by annihilating Hindus; rather, they will ruin Islam in the process. And if Hindus feel they can annihilate Islam, it follows that they will also annihilate Hindu Dharma…” stating that’ Satanism’ is not ‘Hinduism’.
Gandhi not only gave lectures, but also encouraged and gathered funds for the victims of the violence, responded to letters about the issues, and personally addressed gatherings, all in an effort to put an end to the riots.
Even back then, religious radicals, both Hindu and Muslim, were focused on spreading communal enmity in the name of religion, and Gandhi went to great lengths to normalize the situation. He failed at many places because of the vulnerable and tense situations existing and the suppression from the Britishers which he had to face from time to time.
Pacification And Consequences
Around 50,000 individuals were displaced as a result of the rioting. Due to the killings and forced conversions, many people fled to neighboring locations. Calcutta was chosen as the destination for the refugees. Despite the fact that migration halted when relief measures were implemented, it resumed after the country’s partition was announced. The refugees flocked to Assam, Tripura, and the districts that became West Bengal this time.
Although the massacre and conversions ended in November, some historians believe that normalcy did not return until the split. Noakhali became a part of East Pakistan after the partition (now Bangladesh).
As a response to the Noakhali riots, riots broke out in Bihar and the United Provinces towards the end of 1946.
The carnage during India’s partition was much pale in comparison to the tragedy of Noakhali.
Relief Operations And Refugees
In Noakhali, relief work was carried out by 30 relief organizations and six medical missions. In addition, Gandhi’s “one village, one worker” concept included 20 camps when the news about urgent help requirements aired through newspapers. Many social and political organizations from India came to help with relief efforts. Bharat Sevashram Sangha, INC, Communist Party of India, Hindu Mahasabha, Bose’s Indian National Army, Arya Samaj, and others were among the organizations.
Pandit Narendranath Das and other relief workers flew to Comilla and were escorted by military personnel into the damaged area. A plane containing rice, chira, bread, milk, biscuits, barley, and medicines was requisitioned and dispatched to the afflicted area. Trains were used to transport additional relief supplies. A total of 60 centers in the city and suburbs provided security to the affected persons who sought sanctuary in Kolkata. M/S. P. K. Mitter & Co., a Kolkata-based accountancy firm, was hired by Syama Prasad Mookerjee to oversee the collecting, disbursement, and audit of cash provided by the public.
Relief Centers, Hospitals with upto 20 beds were set up to ensure the upliftment of brotherhood and providing adequate hospitality to the injured. Each of the relief centers was provided with a mobile medical unit under medical officers.
A resolution was passed at the All India Women’s Conference, presided over by Nellie Sengupta that the organization will fight for the relief and recovery of the abducted Hindu women in Noakhali. The Noakhali Assistance Committee was established to provide relief and rehabilitation to the Hindu women who had been impacted. Their mission was to look for abducted Hindu women, provide help to evacuees at train stations, and compile a list of impacted areas based on people’ reports. The National Services Institute, a non-profit organization, established 17 aid camps in Noakhali. For the disbursement of cash to the refugees, the Bengal government appointed a Special Relief Commissioner with magisterial powers. On the 10th of February 1947, a Government Order declared compensation of Rs 250 to each damaged home for rebuilding, as well as a pledge of Rs 200 to each afflicted weaver, fisherman, and farmer for purchasing a new loom, langal, ox cart, or fishing equipment upon evidence of loss. The rescue workers were taken aback by the government’s decision to treat a whole joint family as a single holding or unit, claiming that Rs 250 was insufficient to restore a dwelling.
In what became known as the Week of the Long Knives, ‘Direct Action Day’ marked the start of a series of acts of violence that spanned several days. While it was officially proved that none of the politicians had anticipated the violence reaching such a vast scale, it went on to become a brutality-riddled microcosm of the political battle that engulfed the entire country later in 1947.
Muslims were more adamant in their pursuit of a separate nation where they would be protected from communal bloodshed, a decision that would benefit both Jinnah and the Congress’ elite politicians. The day 16 August 1946 was permanently inscribed in history as the day when members of one society collected up members of another and murdered them in cold blood with swords, knives, cleavers, rifles, and metal rods, the most primal human instinct of violence resurfaced.
Top 13 Interesting Facts About Noakhali Riots
Noakhali, a part of the Chittagong District, was initially a part of East Pakistan and was liberated in the war of 1971 making it a part of Bangladesh (currently).
As per the 2011 census, Noakhali district has a population of 2,640,227 people. Out of the total, 94.36% population practices Islam, only 5.61% practices Hinduism and the remaining 0.03% goes to ‘Others’.
“Communalism in Bengal: From Famine to Noakhali, 1943-47”, a book by Rakesh Batabyal was the first book upon Noakhali, published in 2005.
To pacify the extent of the riots, several attempts were made. While Hindu Mahasabha Leaders displayed their intent of crushing the rioters with the help of the Army, Mahatma Gandhi, 77 years old at the time, moved from village to village, admonishing Muslims and calling upon Hindus to fight back.
Mahatma Gandhi was in Noakhali and Tipperah districts from 6th November 1946, and he stayed there till the end of February 1947.
The rioters were extremely insensitive to the demands of the truce by Mahatma Gandhi. They were determined in their counter demands for a separate nation. Their determination is explicit as they used to throw night soil on the narrow and slippery village path, they dug up the narrow waterlogged roads so that Mahatma could not walk through them. And yet Gandhi, a frail man, 77 years of age, was determined.
The then, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, sent a three-member Cabinet Mission to India to discuss the transfer of power from the British Raj to the Indian leadership. They held talks with the representatives of the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League, the two largest political parties in the constituent assembly of India. On 16th May 1946, the Mission proposed initial plans of the composition of the authority of India and its Government which was accepted by the Muslim League primarily but rejected inter by the Indian National Congress.
On 10th July 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru held a press conference in Bombay declaring that Congress had agreed only to participate in the Constituent Assembly and regarded itself free to change or modify the Cabinet Mission Plan as it thought best. Fearing Hindu domination in the Constituent Assembly, Jinnah denounced the British Cabinet Mission and decided to boycott the Constituent Assembly to try to put pressure on Congress and the British, by resorting to “Direct Action”.
Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who was president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha between 1943 and 1946, was one of the strongest voices to have opposed the united Bengal plan. Mookerjee was also the founder of Bhartiya Jana Sangh (the predecessor of Bhartiya Janta Party).
Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy engineered the killings, maiming, rape, and molestation of tens of thousands of Hindus in Calcutta back in 1946 and is popularly known as ‘The Butcher of Bengal’.
The survivors, who were unable to be permanently rehabilitated in their communities, did not have faith in Mahatma Gandhi’s Peace Mission. Meanwhile, the Congress leadership accepted India’s partition and abandoned the peace mission and other aid camps. The surviving mostly settled in West Bengal, Tripura, and Assam.
When elections were held in India’s provinces in 1937, the Muslims gained control of Bengal’s provincial power. Hindus, on the other hand, were mostly in the seat of rulers during the long British reign (control of zamindari). They also had an advantage in terms of education and economy. This caused a permanent source of resentment in the minds of the Muslims since they never were given, the actual control over Bengal that they wished to have.
Today, after almost 76 years, those lonely furrows of Gandhi remain with us as the only blueprint of how to combat the situation when communalism and communal violence grip the human mind in a deadly bind.
Some FAQs Or Also Ask Question
The Hindu-Muslim riots in Noakhali are believed to have been caused mainly by the resentment of Muslims against Hindus when the British rule was ending and the false news of massacre against Muslims in Calcutta and its outrage.
When news of the Noakhali riots reached New Delhi, Gandhi was already considering the possibility of dying there. He wrote in a letter: “There is an art of dying… As it is, all die, but one has to learn by practice how to die a beautiful death.”
Making Peace, Making Riots: Communalism and Communal Violence, Bengal 1940-1947- by Anwesha Roy
Communalism in Bengal: From Famine To Noakhali, 1943-47- by Rakesh Batabyal.
Noakhali is a district in southeastern Bangladesh, located in the Chittagong Division. It was established as district in 1821, and officially named Noakhali in 1868.