August 16, 1946 will go down in Indias history as a black day; it was on this day that the fratricidial riots Began. The Statesman Newspaper called it ‘The Greet Calcutta Killing.’ While its a fact that the communal elements belongings to both the Hindus and Muslims started the riots, it was equally…..that it could not have happened without the egging of the British imperialist rulers. The British had already decided that would leave a partitioned country in the lands of the Congress and the Muslims League and there could be nothing more to help in this then communal riots.
Soon after the riots started, the police administration of Calcutta collapsed completely. The police force was operated on communal lines. Despite innumerable requests to the then Governor of Bengal, the army was not called out even three days before the Riots began. When the situation went out of control and entire Calcutta city gave itself upto mass killings and boot, only then did the British rulers deploy the army and suddenly try and project themselves as “Peace-loving” and “friends of India.” They did succeed in their mission though; the genesis of the partition was sowed by the riots.
Our party activity opposed partition and with our limited renounces tried hard to keep Congress and League unity and Hindu = Muslim unity.
A majority in the Congress and Muslim League was against partition. The same was true among the Hindus and Muslims. But the reformists, provoked by the British imperialists, started the riots. Riots also took place in the Punjab, the United Provinces and Bihar. It was like a conflagration. The Muslims League called for Direct Action Day throughout India on August 16. The Bengal government announced a State Holiday. The Assembly was in session.
The Speaker had earlier disallowed the congress adjournment motion on the situation. I tried to say a few words but the speaker and the Deputy Speaker did not give me permission.
I had decided that I would ask the government to revoke its holiday notice. I felt that a common man wanted to leave in peace and that there was no need to call for dissect action. It would, I wanted to say, only add to the tension in the air** but I was not given a chance to speak.
The congress also announced its opposition to Direct Action Day. The Muslim League leadership was unsleken**.
Our leadership apprehended disturbances on August 16. Our leaders and comrades were asked to fan** out in the labour = dominated and mixed = population areas of Calcutta. The call for Direct Action was made by the Muslim League leadership at a rally on the Maidan in the second week of August.
Following arty directives, I went to the Labour Lines of Narkeldanga. The then Railway Union Leader, Krishnamurty and Nikhil Mitra, we re with me. We spent the evening of August 16 at the Railway colony there. I was very involved with Railway Union activities at that time.
From inside the colony, we could not make out what was happening outside. We could only see some processionists shouting slogan. The labourers asked us to go, as they felt that we could be attacked. It was they who told us that the entire city was burning. Somehow we made our way to the Sealdah Station and then on foot onto Lower Circular Road. Dead bodies were strewn on pavements. The attackers were moving about freely. We avoided the pavements and walked through the middle of the road. We managed to reach our Calcutta district office at 121, Lower Circular Road near the Loreto School. Even there, the party commander had the same story to narrate. Calcutta was burning. We spent the night there. That area was not safe either; we were expecting attacks any moment. Comrades with Lathis were put on guard. We could not reach news to our provincial party office at Deckers Lane or back home. During our stay at the Lower Circular Road office, me suffered a lot; at times we had to go without meals. News, however, did reach the provincial committee office. Leaders like Nripen Sen, Saroj Babu and another comrade took a Peoples Relief committee Van to out Calcutta district committee office. Sen drove himself. We heard from them that this van had been used to rescue some congress and communist men from danger = prone areas. Infact, they had only sometime back picked up some injured people from Mirzapur crossing and got them admitted to the Medical College.
We reached Deekers Lane. Khoka Ray, Promod Dasgupta and Dinesh Roy were present there. Leaders like Bankim Mukherjee, Nirodh Chakraborty and Abdul Momen and is wife were trapped in a hotel near the Islamia Hospital at Chittaranjan Avenue. The building was already under siege. These lives were in danger. Snehanshu Acharya was all the time doing a lot to help in the rescue work.
R. Gupta, an ICS officer was in charge of the rescue centre which had been set up in the Maidan. The centre had been alerted about our trapped comrade. Even then I was asked to go and ensure that some action was taken immediately.
I took a car to the Maidan. Gupta could not be found. Mohamemad Ismail accompanied me. At the rescue centre, an English youth alongwith another sepoy came to us and heard us out. After this, they summoned for a lorry, I asked the English youth whether he would be able to handle the tens of thousands of emotional people who had gathered at Chittaranjan Avenue. I also asked him pointedly whether he would be able to manage on his own. His simplistic answer was, “Do you know that I have fought in the Second World War?”. I realised that it would be futile to say anything more and both Ismail and I followed him in our car. We did not go upto Islamia Hospital and stopped at the crossing of Bowbazar Street and Chittaranjan Avenue. We waited in our car.
Strangely, as soon as the English youth alighted from the lorry, revolver in hand, the assembled rioters gave way. Bankim Mukherjee, Abul Momin, Nirodh Chakraborty and Promod Dasgupta were rescued and brought out. We could see everything from our vantage point. They were then brought to Deekers Lane. If we have waited for another half an hour, I wonder whether these leaders would have been alive.
Kamal Sarkar said that Snehangshu Acharya had also participated in the rescue mission and that they had gone to Deekers Lane in a military van and we followed them in our car. Earlier we have been asked to stay put on the crossing of Bowbazar Street.
Abdul Momin gave us the full story.
They had been trapped at the hotel. The Muslim janitor had tried to save them till the last moment. The rioters raided Momin’s room many times and asked for the Hindus inside. But the janitor had said that there were no Hindus. The room where Bankim babu had stayed was blocked from outside; however they did not stop the attackers from having doubts that there could be Hindus inside also. This went on for two days. As and when the injured were laid down in front of the hospital, the emotion which were thrown around and the tension were palpables. The janitor was helpless. It was at that point of time that we reached the spot.
Till things normalised, our party had taken the initiative in rescue work. Both Hindus and Muslims had taken shelter in our provincial Committee Office, the District Committee Office and other Units. The peoples relief committee was housed on 249 Bowbazar Street and the volunteers there were ready to give their lives to rescue out comrades.
By contemporary estimates, the causality in the Calcutta killings in 1946 were nothing less than 20,000 or more. There were some significant factors in the riots during 1946. The British Imperialists had divided the common people among communal lines. The communal element, no doubt, had been able to incite a major part of the public. But this is only one side of the story.
In Hindu dominated areas were people who despite the riotous situation had staked their lives to help out Muslims; but this feeling was also reciprocated by the other community. I can give one example. The then party leader Krishna Binod Roy used to live in Park Circus. His landlord was a Muslim who despite danger had whisked Roy to a Police station and saved his life.
The rehabilitation work was now uppermost. Though the riots had stopped the repercussions went on….
The stability and taken the fear psychosis from the minds of the public were among the major task in front of us. A mission for peace was then the top priority. I am proud to say that at that time our party comrades had a major role to play and formations of peace missions was our primary task, The Communist Party had already taken the lead role. This was admitted by no less a person than Chief Minister Suhrawarddi. On September 1946 responding to a No Confidence Motion against his Government, Suhrawarddi said; “I think all those who have helped in our peace efforts and joined our rallies. In particular I would like to thank some members of the Communist Party since it was they who had demanded that peace Committees be set up right from the beginning.”
The party leadership had been trying to set up an all = party Central Peace Committed after the riots started. When Gandhiji was camping at Beliaghata in 1947, representatives of various parties and organisations met him uninterruptedly. I also met Gandhiji alongwith Bhupesh Gupta and asked for his advice. Gandhiji said that the best potion would be to form an all = party central committee and organise and all = party central procession. That, he added, should be the foremost task ahead of us.
We set about our work in right earnest. Almost all political parties met Suhrawarddi at a meeting at his house. Bhupesh Gupta and I represented the Communist Party where some from the Congress party and Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee came from the Hindu Maha Sabha while the Chief Minister himself represented the Muslim League. The Sikh community was also there. Even as the talks were on, Suhrawarddi took me and Bhupesh to his bedroom and told us that Shyma Prasadbabu was not willing to work on the same committee with the Communists.
The idea of All Party Central Peace Committee was still-born. But the local Units continued to work.
Confidence was restored amongst the public and there was a general feeling of friendship and amity. A major part of Congress and Muslim League worked for peace. On September 1947, Dhirendra Nath Dutta of the Congress brought a No Trust Motion against the Suhrawarddi Government in the Legislative Assembly. There was a long debate and many speakers spoke on the occasion. I also got an opportunity to make my views known. However the move was defeated with 85 members voting for the motion while Suhrawarddi won with 130 votes.
It was during this debate that it was revealed that both the Congress and Muslim League were divided on communal lines. The Congress speakers blamed the Suhrawarddi Government for the riots while the Muslim League members tried to convey to the Congress that it was the Hindu communalists who started it. However, it must be said that there were some members in both the parties who did not attack any particular community and stressed the importance of keeping harmony. Strangely no leader put the British Imperialists on the dock though it was the rulers who were the main culprits.
I went hammer and tongs against the British rulers and emphasised Hindu-Muslim unity.