The Partition of the Sub-continent and the Bifurcation of Bengal: The Part Told Least [Part 3: No map?]

partition of India

How the colonial masters left this land? Two descriptions below tell their exit.

Yasmin Khan writes in The Great Partition: The making of India and Pakistan: “[There were no] maps to help even the most well-informed English-speaking listener understand what was happening. It was left to the newspapers to publish their own creative interpretations of exactly where a new borderline, snaking through Bengal in the east and Punjab in the west, might fall once the country was divided. The real line would not be presented to the public until two days after the new states had come into existence, on 17 August, and would be hurriedly marked on maps using censuses of ‘minority’ and ‘majority’ populations. The border would be devised from a distance; the land, villages and communities to be divided were not visited or inspected by the imperial map-maker, the British judge, Cyril Radcliffe, who arrived in India on 8 July [I947] to carry out the task and stayed in the country only for six weeks.” Nitish Sengupta also presents the same information in Land of Two Rivers: A history of Bengal from Mahabharata to Mujib: The Radcliffe Report of 16 pages was released on August 17, 1947 although the Award on Bengal was submitted to Mountbatten on August 9, 1947.

It was not only a land disfigured; but a people disfigured and bloodied, a life disjointed, and divided into hostile camps. And, this bloody trick ensured class interest of the colonial masters and their cohorts. There came the partition, a sectarian line that divided the people into hostile camps, into warring parties.

The divide had its impact. Sugata Bose writes in “The roots of ‘communal’ violence in rural Bengal, a study of Kishoreganj riots, 1930” in Modern Asian Studies, (vol. 16, no. 3. 1982): “In 1947 the fabric of Bengali rural society woven together by a common language and a […] popular culture was torn asunder on lines of religion.”

It was not only Kishoreganj in then-East Bengal, today’s independent, sovereign Bangladesh. The Kolkata killing was instigated. Killing grounds flourished in many parts of this subcontinent, in the west, in the east, in the north, in the south, and in all corners. These are known to all. The names of places cited here are only for example.

Nakazato Nariaki tells about a point the partition pushed this land into, as written in “The politics of a partition riot, Calcutta in August 1946” in Muslim Societies: Historical and comparative aspects, (edited by Sato Tsugitaka): “The Calcutta [Kolkata] disturbances marked a very crucial turn in the political developments during the last days of the British rule. […] At the same time, the swelling tide of mass movements was beginning to scare the colonial authorities and the nationalist leadership alike. […] The repercussions of the Calcutta riots were tremendous. […] [T]hey […] brought Hindu-Muslim antagonism to the point of no return […]”

It was a point of no-return, a point difficult to cross over. It was the sectarian divide. Now, many studies, reports, etc. are available on the issue – a criminal act done by the imperialist power in association with its associates; and done against the people.

A few facts about the Kolkata riot expose its real character. The Transfer of Power 1942-47, volume VII exposes the fact. It said: “From his earliest report to the Viceroy on the 16th, [Bengal] Governor Burrows warned that events in Calcutta [now Kolkata] were serious, but reassured Delhi that the ‘disturbances have so far been markedly communal and not — repeat not — in any way anti-British or anti-Government’.”

The same source said: “In his final report of the 22nd, he again celebrated the fact that ‘though “Direct Action Day” was intended to be a gesture against the British the violence had remained entirely ‘communal.’”

Citing Government of Bengal’s Report of the Commissioner of Police on the disturbances and the Action Taken by the Calcutta Police between the 16th and 20th August Inclusive, Nakazato Nariaki writes: “[T]he army had a sufficient force on standby to deal with civil disturbances in their Calcutta garrison on 16 August. Nonetheless, they displayed the greatest reluctance to come out in aid of the civil authorities. The long delay in the army’s action forms another important feature of the Calcutta riots along with the breakdown of the police system. […] It was not until midday of the eighteenth [August 1946] that an all-out effort to regain control of the whole of Calcutta was made. […] He [F R R Buchar, army commander] […] attended a meeting […] where Indian cabinet ministers […] and British officials met together to deliberate for the first time since the outbreak of the disturbances. It was decided that military pickets would be placed at important points throughout Calcutta. This meant a virtual reversal of the lukewarm stance previously adopted by the British high officials, including military generals. […] It soon became apparent that the ‘troubles’ were more of a communal nature than anti-British or anti-government […] The question, therefore, persists as to why experienced politicians and administrators like Burrows and Walker as well as military commanders […] continued to display so much reluctance to call in the military on a full scale until the arrival of Bucher on the eighteenth. […] [T]hey [the British] had attached greater importance to the prevention of anti-British riots, in other words, protection of British interests, than to other concerns such as suppression of communal riots. It is only in this context that the Emergency Action Scheme of the Calcutta police and the stubborn opposition displayed by such British high officials […] to military intervention make any sense.”

The colonial authorities are telling, as the cited parts show, they were feeling safe, as the violence was not against them; rather, the trajectory of violence was towards the people divided into two enemy camps.

According to researchers, the number of killed in sectarian violence during March 1947-January 1948 period ranges from 180,000 to one million. Moreover, there were 3.4 million “missing” members of targeted minorities; and the migration was one of the largest forced migrations in world history. An estimated 17.9 million people had to migrate.

These figures, part of the toll the people paid, vary. Instead of debating with this toll let’s see the condition, in brief, within the land.

[To be continued.]

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka, Bengladesh

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