An Analysis of the Flow of Events the Great Calcutta Killings 1946!

Analysis | Flow | Events | Calcutta | Killings 1946 | 15th July 2022 | Virtual Wire



While doing an investigative study on this incident, the author of this article came to a realization that the partition of India was merely more action of self-interest rather than a significant step in the public welfare, the Political parties were a failure in understanding the minds of the people and imposed their divisive ideas on them.

The largely uneducated populace of the country took this to another level and that is why India saw 5,000 of her children dying under rigorous conditions. Direct Action Day scheduled to happen on 16th August 1946 saw nationwide riots between the Hindus and the Muslims. The Nation versus Europe sentiment had taken a turn towards Hindus versus Muslims. The day also marked the start of what was called The Week of the Long Knives. Although there are many references to the number of killings being exaggerated to about 30,000-50,000 the figure from the Governor’s office of Bengal in 1946 came out to be 5000, Hindus and Muslims collectively counted.

Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy (8 September 1892 – 5 December 1963) was a Bengali barrister and politician in the Indian subcontinent. He held the positions of the prime minister of Bengal (1946–1947) and prime minister of Pakistan (1956–1957). In Pakistan, Suhrawardy is revered as one of the country's founding statesmen. In Bangladesh, Suhrawardy is remembered as the mentor of Bangladesh's founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In India, he is seen as a controversial figure; some hold him responsible for the 1946 Calcutta Killings, for which he is often referred to, as the "Butcher of Bengal” in West Bengal. In India, he is also remembered for his performance as the Minister for Civil Supply during the Bengal famine of 1943.

The riots had raised questions about the leadership ability of both the Indian National Congress and Muslim League alike that both the parties had failed to convey the message of peaceful transfer of power for India and their personal ego avengement had taken the first priority at that instance.

Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS (3 January 1883 – 8 October 1967) was a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955. He was Deputy Prime Minister during the wartime coalition government under Winston Churchill, and served twice as Leader of the Opposition from 1935 to 1940 and from 1951 to 1955. Attlee was born into an upper-middle-class family, the son of a wealthy London solicitor. After attending the public school Hailey buries College and the University of Oxford, he practised as a barrister. The volunteer work he carried out in London's East End exposed him to poverty and his political views shifted leftwards thereafter. He joined the Independent Labour Party, gave up his legal career, and began lecturing at the London School of Economics.

The All India Muslim League and the Indian National Congress were the two largest political parties in the political Diaspora of India at the time of Independence. It was the demand of the Muslim League since the 1940s. Lahore Resolution, that the Muslim majority areas of India in the northwest and east should be constituted as “independent states”.

Jawaharlal Nehru (14 November 1889 – 27 May 1964) was an Indian anti-colonial nationalist, secular humanist, social democrat and author who was a central figure in India during the middle of the 20th century. Nehru was a principal leader of the Indian nationalist movement in the 1930s and 1940s. Upon India's independence in 1947, he served as the country's prime minister for 17 years. Nehru promoted parliamentary democracy, secularism, and science and technology during the 1950s, powerfully influencing India's arc as a modern nation. In international affairs, he steered India clear of the two blocs of the Cold War.

In 1946 a cabinet mission was sent to India for planning the transfer of power from the British Raj to Indian leadership which proposed a three-tier structure which comprised the Centre, groups of provinces and provinces. The term groups of provinces were set up in order to comply with the demands of the Muslim league. Both the parties accepted the cabinet mission program.

The Shaheed Minar (English: Martyrs' Monument), formerly known as the Ouchterlony Monument, is a monument in Kolkata that was erected in 1828 in memory of Major-general Sir David Ouchterlony, commander of the British East India Company, to commemorate both his successful defence of Delhi against the Marathas in 1804 and the victory of the East India Company’s armed forces over the Gurkhas in the Anglo-Nepalese War, also known as the Gurkha War. The monument was constructed in his memory. It was designed by J. P. Parker and paid for from public funds. Known as the "Cloud kissing Monument" by Mark Twain, the Shaheed Minar is located at Esplanade in central Kolkata in the northeast facet of the Maidan. The tower is 48 metres (157 ft) high. It has a foundation based on the Egyptian style. The column is a combination of styles with a classical fluted column, a Syrian upper portion and a Turkish dome. It has two balconies at the top. The top floor of the minar is accessible by a serpentine staircase, a total of 223 steps. It has a total of 218 steps until the top of the tower.

However, sensing a bigger piece of reward might come from the British Raj towards the Congress party the Muslim league withdrew its acceptance from the cabinet mission and called for a direct action day from 16th August 1946 onwards which was basically supposed to be a general strike. However, the consequences were far more ugly than the leaders had expected them to be. The Hartal which was supposed to be only based on the fixation on some political agendas had a more far-reaching sentimental effect on the commoners of India. The concept of nation was not just a political notion anymore, it was an emotion which was inculcated by the parties into the people. The scheme of the Hartal was that the Muslim League would hold peaceful protests and marches in specific areas of West Bengal, which comprised Calcutta, Howrah, Hoogly, Metiaburuz and 24 Parganas and collect at the base of the Ouchterlony Monument (now called Shaheed Minar) the shopkeepers at the city were asked to keep their businesses off for the day.


However It was not to be since orders came from the Congress high command that the Hindu shopkeepers and staff should not give the Muslim league an upper hand in their agendas and a proper working day should be followed, it is critical to be seen that even before Jan Sangh or RSS it was Congress who asked the Hindus to take pride in their religious identity and nab any opposition which harms the same. The result was riots broke out in Calcutta with the Hindu Shops getting looted. The Government offices were declared Holiday for the day according to the orders issued by Governor of West Bengal Mr. Burrows and the Chief Minister Hussein Shaheed Suhrahwardy, with the Muslim league workers asking help from the Hindu shopkeepers to make this hartal a successful one the counter-parts could not help them but explain their problems with the orders issued by the High Command, but it was an initial case of the protest. Following this disobedience, Muhammad Ali Jinnah issued orders of physical retaliation and demonstration of anger resenting in the minds of the Muslim populace of the country. The baseline workers followed the orders and set many shops on fire the people who tried to stop the atrocities were killed then and there.

In the article named Historical and Comparative Aspects, edited by SakoTsugitaka, Nakazato Nariati wrote-

From the viewpoint of Institutional Politics, The Calcutta Disturbances possessed a distinguishing feature in that they broke out in a transitional period which was marked by the power vacuum and the systematic breakdown. It is also important to know that they constituted part of the political struggle in which the Congress and Muslim league were competing with each other the initiate the establishment of the New Nation State, while all the attempts were made on the part of the British to get the power transfer done at the lowest political-cost. The political rivalry among the major nationalist parties in Bengal took a different form than that in New Delhi, mainly because of the mass base those organizations enjoyed and the tradition of flexible political dealing in which they excelled. At the initial stage of the riots, the Congress and Muslim League appeared to be confident that could draw on this tradition even if a difficult political situation arises out of the political showdown. Most probably, Direct Action Day in Calcutta was planned to be a large-scale hartal and mass rally which the organizers knew very well how to control. However, the response from the masses far exceeded any expectations. Political leaders seriously miscalculated the strong emotional response that the word “nation” as interpreted under the new situation had evoked. In August 1946 the “nation” was no longer a mere political slogan. It was rapidly turning into reality both in realpolitik and in people’s imaginations. The system to which Bengal political Leaders had grown accustomed for decades could not cope with this dynamic change.

Sir Frederick John Burrows GCSI, GCIE (3 July 1887 – 20 April 1973) was a British politician who served as the last British Governor of Bengal during the British Raj in India. He was Governor of Bengal from 19 February 1946 to 14 August 1947. He was against the partition of Bengal. Burrows was a former Ross railway man and he was the president of the National Union of Railway men, the union representing railway workers in England. Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart records: "He had endeared himself to the Burrah Sahibs of Calcutta (Kolkata) with one of his first speeches when, alluding to his modest beginning on the railway, he said, 'When you gentlemen were huntin' and shootin', I was shuntin' and hootin'. He seemed to me to be far more proud of having been a sergeant-major in the Grenadier Guards in the First World War than he was of being Governor of Bengal."

The platform for the action was built on 11th February 1946. The Hindu and Muslim Newspapers played a key role in lifting up the public sentiments in favour of the partition. Following Jinnah’s declaration on the direct action day, it was requested to the Governor of Bengal Mr. Burrows and Chief Minister of Bengal Hussein Shaheed Suhrahwardy that the day be declared a Public Holiday. However, Congress party was against the direct action day being declared as the holiday most probably because it believed that declaring a holiday would cause the idle laborers to take the sides of the Muslim league also they argued that closing the offices and shops would mean that the Congress workers had to cooperate the Muslim league agenda even if they did not wish to. The movement was given a taste of religion when three Muslim workers were deputed at every mosque in Calcutta to persuade the local Muslim community to participate in the Direct Action Day activities and that it was the Prophet Muhammad’s divine order that the Muslims fight for their rights and establish the kingdom of heaven everywhere in the world with its headquarters in Arabia. On the other hand, Congress gave the slogan of Akhanda Hindu Rashtra.


It is quite funny that the slogans that we hear today of Akhanda Hindu Rashtra by the current ruling party, it is said that be propagated by the Jan Sangh Party in the 1980s during Ram Lala Rathyatra, but actually, it was the slogan of Indian National Congress during the Direct Action Day way back in 1946. Jinnah Saab went a step ahead to declare that he wanted either a “Divided India or a Destroyed India”. Mahatma Gandhi was no less, his comment just put the stamp on the final decree that riot was imminent “If India was to get its Independence through a blood bath it will get through it, non-violence will not be able to stop it”. The meeting of the Muslim League began as per the scheduled time around 2 pm. The chief Speakers of the Assembly were Khwaja Nizamuddin and the West Bengal Chief Minister Hussein Shaheed Suhrahwardy. Khwaja Nazimuddin preached to the Muslim league supporters to restrain and hold themselves to peaceful negotiations, but also stated that many unarmed Muslims were being Killed by the Congress Supporters. This Statement is believed to have incited the Muslims who took this message as a hidden instruction to start their Modus Operandi. Following this meeting, there was heavy looting and torturing of the citizens by the Muslim League cadres.

The Congress Workers retaliated with the same mode of attack on the Muslim Colonies of Kolkata, especially Park Circus. The Chief Minister of West Bengal was reported to be stationed at the Lalbazar Head Quarters and was also under accusation of stopping the police action in the areas where Muslims were showing their muscle power on the common people. The Government was interested only in saving the British colonies from the fervour of the rioters and had safe-sided with the Hindu-Muslim tension leaving the brawl between the two communities to themselves, it was requested to deploy the army once the peak of the riot but, the army was deployed on after 1:45 am on 17th August. The total casualty on both sides was nearly 5000 both religions counted.

Khwaja Nazimuddin (19 July 1894 – 22 October 1964) KCIE was a Pakistani politician and one of the leading founding fathers of Pakistan. He is noted as being the first Bengali to have ruled Pakistan, first as a Governor-General (1948–51), and later as a Prime minister (1951–53). Born into an aristocratic Nawab family in Bengal in 1894, he was educated at the Aligarh Muslim University before pursuing his post-graduation studies at Cambridge University. Upon returning, he embarked on his journey as a politician on the platform of All-India Muslim League. Initially, his political career revolved around advocating for educational reforms and development in Bengal. However, later on, he started supporting the cause for a separate Muslim homeland under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

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