<%-- Page Title--%> Reflections <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 149 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 9, 2004

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Memories Of the Forties The Turbulent Years A Personal Story

Part 2

M. Azizul Jalil

(Continued from last week)

In 1946, we got involved in the strikes and demonstrations for freeing political prisoners. We went on strike, marched four miles to the Bengal Provincial Assembly building and vociferously demanded that Mr. Suhrawardy, the Prime Minister come out and talk to us on the subject. He did come out and address us, standing on top of a car with a microphone in hand. He promised to review the case of all political prisoners imprisoned by the British and to gradually release them unless other serious charges were pending against them. Indeed a large number of political prisoners were soon released. I remember meeting in the assembly grounds and shaking hands with several of our heroes of the 1933 Chittagong Armoury Raid who had been released a few days earlier from the Andaman Islands after serving long term imprisonments. I was excited to meet Ananta Singha, Ganesh Ghose and Ambika Chakravarty about whom we had read so much in a book ('Chattagram Astragar Lunthaner Itikatha' by Kalpana Dutt).

Until 1945 and the communal riots later, Muslim and Hindu students shared similar ideas in matters of independence of India as a whole and getting rid of the British colonialists. The Muslims were, however, divided amongst many parties and opinions (some with affinity with the Congress), and success in the elections for the Muslim reserved seats were by no means the monopoly of the All India Muslim League. The grievances of the Muslims over not being given the fair share in terms of jobs and other opportunities were growing even in the Muslim majority province of Bengal. Domination in jobs by the Hindu community, and their advance in all respects created resentment among the Muslims who started developing a separate identity of their own. These feelings were mainly in the urban areas; in the rural areas the two main communities generally lived peacefully until about a year or two before the partition of India in 1947.

In 1946 a Cabinet Mission was sent to India by the British Labour government for resolving Indian independence issues. The Mission visited Calcutta and Lord Pethick Lawrence, leader of the team stayed with Barrister J.C. Gupta (they were college friends in England) who lived in our area on Circus Avenue. I remember one day going to that house to meet Barrister Sadhan Gupta (son of J.C.Gupta) who was blind. I was impressed by the furnishings and the library in the house. The cabinet mission failed in its attempt to make all parties agree on a federal Indian government, in which three groups of states (A, B and C) would have most powers except defense, foreign relations and currency. At this time Suhrawardy, then chief minister of Bengal and Abul Hashem, the Bengal Muslim League General Secretary attempted with congress leaders like Sarat Chandra Bose (elder brother of Subash Bose) to have a United Sovereign Bengal comprising of East and West Bengal, with Calcutta as the capital.

I attended a meeting in support of this move at the house of late Sir Nasim Ali, first Muslim Bengali chief justice of the Calcutta High Court. When Suhrawardy and Abul Hashem approached Jinnah about the United Bengal idea, Jinnah stated he had no objection if Congress agreed. But, the Congress did not. In spite of all the past myth, in recent times evidence of the sense of reason of Jinnah’s on issues of India's integrity and secularism while ensuring the just demands and rights of the Indian Muslims are coming to light. Perhaps the time has come for an objective and fresh look at the political history of India in the twentieth century.

The leftist parties who stood for the co-existence of various communities in India were unable to stem the tide of communalism on either side of the divide. According to them, the conflicts were arising out of the class struggle and the use of the communal card by the politicians to perpetuate their political influence and economic power. They even alleged that many of the communal riots were due to instigation by the politicians to serve their narrow party and self-interest. Unfortunately the ideals of the Indian National Army (led by Subash Chandra Bose) for India's unity and for forging a common struggle against the British fizzled out in the communally charged atmosphere in which they returned in 1945. Soon the members of the INA themselves split themselves along communal lines. The British 'Divide and Rule' policy created further misunderstanding amongst the communities in forging a common position for India's independence and the future shape of the country.

In mid-1946, I attended a huge public meeting in Calcutta Maidan (Garer Maath) near the Octorlony monument addressed by Jinnah. Shah Azizur Rahman, general secretary of the All Bengal Muslim Students League introduced Jinnah in a moving speech. Jinnah specially commended Bengal Muslim league's solid success in the 1945 elections in the context of the indifferent results in most other provinces. He said that Bengal alone had a strong Muslim League government while in the only other province in India, which had a Muslim league government (Sind), it was tottering. The North West Frontier province had a Congress and Punjab had a Unionist Party government.

After a few months, the Muslim league declared August 15 as the Day of Deliverance. Meetings and processions on that day were followed by widespread communal riots between

the Hindus and Muslims in Calcutta. We were confined to our homes, often without food and could not sleep at nights due to disturbing noises and persistent fear of attacks from nearby areas. My brother and I would sometimes go round shops in our locality and bring home some fruits, vegetables or eggs. One day while I was standing near the gate of our house on Lower Range and my father had just crossed the street to go to a departmental store, a jeep drove by and fired automatic weapons killing two innocent people. Since we had a single storied house, at one point we had to move for a few days to my uncle's flat in a high-rise building on the Circus Avenue. We could not go to school for many days.

Meanwhile some tension arose between the Hindu and Muslim students in the school, who until then were very friendly to each other. My close friend Amit Roy lost his father (who was one of the editors of the Calcutta Statesman newspaper) at the hands of Muslim goondas near the Chowringhee area. He would not talk to me after that. Despite the incendiary circumstances, my friendship with the Hindu students continued and it was with great sorrow that in August 1947 I left the only school I ever knew and my old friends. To this day, that is after more than fifty -five years, I feel very close to my school friends from Calcutta with whom I try to remain in contact and meet them at home or abroad whenever possible.

India was partitioned in August 1947 along communal lines, with two Muslim majority parts at two ends becoming Pakistan and the main body of British-India becoming India. There were many, including Gandhi who were unhappy about it and tried their best to keep India united. Gandhi advised the Congress that Jinnah be accepted as Prime Minister of India to save the country from partition. Recent researches indicate that Jinnah, who was secular in his political outlook, was willing to maintain the integrity of India under a Federal Constitution, as long as the Muslims had their political and economic rights satisfied equitably. At one point, poet and Congress leader Miss. Sarojini Naidu had called Jinnah an 'ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity'. British Government documents released under the thirty year rule for publication and Maulana Azad's book-'India Wins Freedom' published twenty-five years after his death give the impression that the rest of the aging Congress leadership (including Nehru and Patel), who suffered imprisonments over a long period of time were impatient to settle the issue and get into power, if necessary at the cost of division of the country.

On August 10, 1947 we reached the Goalondo Ghat by train and then took the slow but comfortable British IG&RSN Company's large steamer called the Rocket to Narayanganj. From Narayanganj to Dhaka it was a short road journey, but the beginning of a long next phase of our life in a new environment, and a new country.

M. Azizul Jalil was the Convener of the Dhaka University Sanskriti Samsad in February 1951 and became its first student-President in 1952. He is a former civil servant and a retired member of the World Bank staff.



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