Mainstream, VOL LIV No 48 New Delhi November 19, 2016
Is Partition and Pakistan a Hindu Gift to Jinnah?
Monday 21 November 2016
Kuldip Nayar’s column captioned, ‘The Partition’ (Mainstream, August 27, 2016), merits our observation. Our leaders, who donned the patriotic kurta, were power hungry. Tired of long struggles and expectation for the bliss of power, they instantaneously accepted the offer of partition which installed them straight in the seat of authority. Any discourse on politics of the partition of India in 1947 sans demography, which occupies the central position in the plot, mocks its intellectual contents. Charging Winston Churchill with “a pathological hatred for Hindus” is indeed a protective armour for the other native players who facilitated partition. Before we denounce Churchill, we better take a look at some of the bare facts concerning partition at least in the case of Bengal.
Grossest dehumanisation of the untouchables, let us not hesitate to underscore, invited the partition of Bengal in 1947. The truth docu-mented by the census report in 1901 merits our attention. Then the Namasudra aggregated at 18,61,000 and the Pods nearly half-a-million; but the full strength of the two castes was concealed by the fact that large numbers were converted to Islam. There were ten-and-a-half million Muslims in the Dacca and Chittagong Divisions and the great majority of these were the descendants of converts from the rank of these two (Namasudras and Pods) castes. There must have been many converts of the same origin in the northern districts of the Presidency Division. “It would probably be safe to say that at least nine millions of the Muhammadans of Bengal Proper belong to this stock.”1 This in itself may not satisfy many of the inquisitive or cynical minds. Table-1 helps us appreciate the demographic perspective that provoked the demand for Muslim homeland and partition on the ground of Muslim majority.
Bengali Muslims grew by 87.4 per cent whereas Hindus by 38.4 per cent in seven decades (1872-1941). In other words, Muslims increased more than twice over the Hindus in seventy years. But in four decades between 1901 and 1941 while the Hindus recorded a rise of 24.3 per cent, the Bengali Muslim scored 13.2 per cent increase. With 13.2 per cent increase, the descendants of the converts of Namasudras and Pods to Islam in those four decades would have yielded 11,88,000 souls to Bengali Muslims. So, in 1941 their descendants totalled at 90,00,000+11,88,000=1,01,88,000. The Muslims were in excess of the Hindus by 79,48,410 souls in 1941. If the descendants of converted Namasudras and Pods numbering 1,01,88,000 in 1941 were subtracted from the Bengali Muslim population, their number in East Bengal would have dwindled to 2,28,17,434. The conversion of Namasudras and Pods in East Bengal were responsible for the Muslim majority. Jinnah, without numerical superiority, would, therefore, have no ground for demanding a Muslim homeland in Bengal. Malicious treatment of the untouchables and under-privileged by its powerful section invited curse for India as a whole, a lesson Bengali bhadralok did not learn even in an era euphorically described as renaissance! They blame others for something they are responsible for!
India’s First General Strike against Caste Discrimination and Inequality
A little known fact of historical significance may be abutted here. The Chandals, officially rechristened as Namasudras in 1911, had observed an indefinite strike—spanning over four months—in Faridpur, Barisal and Jessore districts in 1873. The colonial bureaucracy termed it as “general strike,”3 though India is yet to acknowledge this landmark in the socio-economic life of Bengal. The Faridpur Police Superintendent who investigated the reasons and factors of the strike reported that “the Chandals are not only agriculturists, but they were also boatmen, porters, carpenters, iron-smiths, potters and fishermen”. He added that “they have been despised by Hindus of the higher caste, who consider them only little better than beasts, the touch of a Chandal being defilement...”.4 The Faridpur District Magistrate, W.S. Wells, who too was required by the Commissioner, Dacca Division, to conduct a personal inquiry, noted that “a large body of Hindus and Mahomedans came up to complain to me of the ruinous effects to them arising out of the action of the Chandals”.5 The Chandals’ strike resulted in a total collapse of the rural economy. The District Police chief, however, stated that the “strike has no political signifi-cance at present, but is an effort made by them to raise themselves in the social scale among the Hindus”.
The striking Chandals’ objective was dignity and equality of treatment in the eyes of the law and dignity. In January-February 1872, a rich and influential Chandal, Choron Sapah of village Amgram in Barisal, had invited 10,000 guests including Brahmans, Baidyas, Kayasthas and Sudras to a feast to mark the shraddha ceremonies of his father. The Kayasthas, according to the police chief, “refused to accept the invitation, couching their refusal with taunts and reproaches reflecting on the Chandal, the words being to this effect—”Eat with men who permit their women to go to the market and who are employed as mehtars in jails for removing filth and everything unclean? What next!”6 The District Magistrate, on the other hand, noted that though “the unfortunate race, generally despised, a hard working, patient”, was an “uncomplaining people”. His compliment was heartwarming: “The Chandals, as I have before stated in several reports, are an industrious and honest class and are very seldom in the criminal courts; they are doubtless an oppressed and ill-used people.” In three districts the Brahman, Baidya and Kayastha aggregated at 4,31,628 as against Chandals who numbered 7,54,323.7
This was the first non-violent, peaceful, non-political mass movement in India. (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known as the apostle of non-violence and who later came to be revered as the Father of the Indian Nation, was then barely three years old.) The Chandals had refused to render any services to the upper-caste Hindus and Muslims. The total affected people aggre-gated at 54,65,043—Muslims 32,80,230 and Hindus 21,63,598 and others 20,245.
Seven years later Captain Charles Cunnin-gham Boycott of the British Army made himself notorious by his atrocious actions against tenants in County Mayo, Ireland and thrust himself into the English vocabulary. Over two decades later in 1896, Leo Tolstoy enunciated his concept of non-violence which Gandhiji emulated and practised. Chandals, who were the pioneers of non-violence, are yet to receive attention for their unique movement.
Blaming Mohammad Ali Jinnah for intran-sigence in his demand is a convenient ploy to deflect attention from the atrocious role the Hindus played against the untouchables. In fact, Jinnah (born in 1875) alone could not have accomplished the gigantic task of creating a homeland for the Muslims in Bengal, had he not had on his side skilled and adorable bhadralok accompanists in the mission. Hatred against the Muslims in Bengal was no less blighting and virulent than what the Chandals endured. Jinnah’s subterraneous gratitude for the Hindus perhaps knew no bounds. Ultimately their oppression of the untouchables made Pakistan a reality!
Insatiable Greed of Upper Caste at the Root of Partition
Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar pointed out: “The Bengali Hindu had the whole of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Assam and even UP for his pasture. He had captured the civil services in all these Provinces. The partition of Bengal meant a diminution in the area of his pasture. It meant that the Bengali Hindu was to be ousted from Eastern Bengal to make room for the Bengali Mussalman...”8 The Englishman of Calcutta, long before Ambedkar had exposed the Bengali upper caste invasion of neighbours, wrote: “...In Bihar, Bengalis hold nearly every office worth holding, and have the lion’s share of even the less lucrative posts...” The daily had honestly admitted that “they (Bengali bhadralok) are almost as foreigner and intruders as ourselves”.9 The boiling bad blood against the Bengalis in the neighbouring provinces was due solely to the unquenchable avarice of this class of people.
Nayar cannot be faulted for charging Chur-chill for his pathological hatred against the Hindus. Can we have a similar assessment of the hatred the upper castes nurse against the underprivileged and underdogs? Any casual visit to the Dandakaranya project areas, Chilka (Odisha) and Champaran (Bihar), where the erstwhile unfortunate East Pakistani Bengali refugees were rehabilitated, will expose the heartlessness of the upper-caste rulers and bureaucrats in dealing with them. One and all, barring a handful of exceptions, they are from the lowest caste strata. The ruling elite mindlessly drove the refugees out of West Bengal where they first took shelter. The upper castes needed the partition of Bengal to rule and enjoy the loaves and fishes of power in truncated West Bengal. So they nipped in the bud the potential of opposition and challenge from any quarter.
September 4, 2016
Dr A.K. Biswas
137 VIP Road, Calcutta
1. Census of India 1901, vol. VI, p. 396.
2. Report on the Census of Bengal 1872, pp. xxxii-xxxiii; Census of India 1931,vol. V, Report Part I, p. 387; V. B. Kulkarni, Is Pakistan Necessary?, Hind Kitabs, Bombay, 1944, p. 67.
3. Hunter, W.W., Statistical Account of Bengal, vol. VI, London, 1876.
4. Government of West Bengal, W.L. Owen, Superinten-dent of Police, Faridpur, letter no 66 dated March 18, 1873 to District Magistrate, Faridpur, The 1873 Movement for Dignity and Equality, 2015.
5. Ibid., W.S. Wells, District Magistrate’s letter no. 340 dated April 8, 1873 to Commissioner., Dacca Division.
6. Letter no. 66 dated Bhanga, March 18, 1873, Superintendent of Police, Faridpur to the District Magistrate, Faridpur.
7. Report on The Census of Bengal 1872 by H. Beverley, Bengal Secretariat Press,, Calcutta, pp. Cxvi-xxix.
8. Ambedkar, B.R., Thoughts on Pakistan (1941).
9. The Englishman, November 27, 1879.