Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Partition and the Muslim Minorities of West Bengal, 1947-1967


The studies on the aftermath of Bengal Partition rarely focus on the Muslim Minorities of West Bengal. Even recent scholarship on the ‘Bengal Muslims’ primarily deals with the condition of the Muslims in pre- Partition Bengal and then concentrates on East Bengal/East Pakistan after partition, which is now called Bangladesh. Quite surprisingly, these studies do not cover the Muslims of West Bengals after Partition. The Muslims of West Bengal were marginalised not only in the socio-economic and cultural milieu of post-Independence/Partition West Bengal but also in the academic research. The condition of the Muslims of West Bengal after Partition has not received due attention in academic circle with a very few exceptions. What actually happened to the Muslims of West Bengal after partition? What did Partition mean to them? How did it affect their lives and the mode of thinking? What was their survival strategy in the face of the crucial post Partition situation? All these questions are still awaiting answer. The progressive backwardness of the Muslims of West Bengal identified recently in the Sachhar Committee Report might have some roots in the Partition of the province. The present paper is an attempt to audit the impact of the Partition on the Muslims of West Bengal.

Muslims in Pre-Partition Bengal: Social Origin and Differentiation
Rafiuddin Ahmed, Asim Roy, Richard M. Eaton, Tazeen M.Murshid and a number of scholars contributed largely towards our understanding of the Muslims of Bengal in pre-Partition period. Islam reached Bengal in the thirteenth century after it had become a part of the Turkish Sultanate and grown rapidly with time. It was a very interesting and complex process. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the British government became aware of the huge concentration of Muslim population in the rural areas of eastern part of Bengal. The Muslims outnumbered the Hindus by the end of the century. The Census of 1872 surprised the British officials regarding the presence of a huge Muslim population in the eastern part of Bengal and prompted them to investigate the phenomenon seriously.
Several theories sprang up to explain the growth of Islam in Bengal. Richard Eaton has categorized them into four viz. immigration theories, religion of the sword thesis, religion of patronage theory and religion of social liberation thesis.
According to the immigration theory, the bulk of India’s Muslims descended from other Muslims who had either migrated overland from the Iranian plateau or sailed across the Arabian Sea. This process undoubtedly contributed to the Islamization of those areas of South Asia that are geographically contiguous with the Iranian Plateau or the Arabian Sea. However, this argument cannot explain the mass Islamization in Bengal.
The religion of the sword thesis, on the other hand, stresses the role of military force in the diffusion of Islam in India and elsewhere. Dating at least from the time of the Crusades, this idea received big boosts during the nineteenth century, the high tide of European imperial domination over Muslim peoples, and subsequently in the context of the worldwide Islamic reform movements of the late twentieth century. However, it is very difficult to explain the rise and spread of Islam in India by means of force. If Islamization had ever been a function of military or political force, one would expect that those areas exposed most intensively and over the longest period to rule by Muslim dynasties would today contain the greatest number of Muslims. Yet the opposite is the case, as those regions where the most dramatic Islamization occurred, such as eastern Bengal or western Punjab, lay on the fringes of Indo-Muslim rule, where the “sword” was weakest, and where brute force could have exerted the least influence. In such regions, the first accurate census reports put the Muslim population at between 70 and 90 percent of the total, whereas in the heartland of Muslim rule in the upper Gangetic Plain the Muslim population ranged from only 10 to 15 percent. In other words, in the subcontinent as a whole there is an inverse relationship between the degree of Muslim political penetration and the degree of Islamization. Even within Bengal, this principle holds true. Except Dacca, none of the eastern districts of Bengal contains any famous headquarter of Muslim rulers. Dacca was the residence of the Nawab for about a hundred years, but it contains a smaller proportion of Muslims than the surrounding districts, except Faridpur. Malda and Murshidabad were the old capitals of Muslim rule for nearly four and a half centuries. Yet the Muslims form a smaller proportion of the population than they do in the adjacent districts of Dinajpur, Rajshahi, and Nadia.
The religion of patronage theory can partly explain the growth of Islam in some urban areas but cannot explain the process of mass Islamization in the rural areas of Bengal. Many instances in Indian history would appear to support this theory. In the early fourteenth century, Ibn Battuta reported that Indians presented themselves as new converts to the Khalaji sultans, who in turn rewarded them with robes of honour according to their rank. Political patronage, like the influence of the sword, would have decreased rather than increased as one moved away from the centres of that patronage. What we need is some theory that can explain the phenomenon of mass Islamization on the periphery of Muslim power and not just in the heartland, and among millions of peasant cultivators and not just among urban elites.
The religion of social liberation thesis was popularized by the British ethnographers and historians and widely accepted as an explanation of Islamization in the subcontinent. According to this theory, the oppressive and tyrannical Hindu caste system alienated the lower order. The latter felt attracted by the notion of social equality propagated by Islam and converted to Islam on a mass scale. It is too idealized an explanation of mass Islamization in Bengal. It goes against the religious geography of the subcontinent. In 1872, when the earliest reliable census was taken, the highest concentrations of Muslims were found in eastern Bengal, western Punjab, the Northwest Frontier region and Baluchistan. These areas are situated at the periphery, not in the core of Hindu heartland as well as far from the centre of Muslim political power. Here the control of the Hindu and Buddhist social system was very weak. In Bengal, Muslim converts were drawn manly from Rajbansi, Pod, Chandal, Kuch and other indigenous groups that had been only lightly exposed to Brahmanical culture, and in Punjab the same was true of various Jat clans that eventually formed the bulk of the Muslim community.
Richard M. Eaton has argued that a slower process of conversion occurred as the geographical, agricultural and political frontiers of Bengal moved eastwards. The cultural accommodation was such that local people were not even aware of the process. Islam in Bengal absorbed so much local culture and became so profoundly identified with Bengal’s long-term process of agrarian expansion, that in its formative years the cultivating classes never seem to have regarded it as “foreign”.

Social Divisions among the Muslims of Bengal
The Muslim society in Bengal may be divided into three categories, the Ashraf or Sharif, the Ajlaf or Atrap/ Atraf and the Arzal. The Ashraf or Sharif meant ‘noble or person of high extraction’. They were in fact landholders and North Indian traders. They constituted the upper class in the Muslim society of Bengal. This group included the Syed, Sheikh, Pathan, Mungal, Mallik and Mirza. They were descendents of foreigners and converts from upper Hindu castes.
The second category comprises the Ajlaf or as more commonly known in Bengal, the Atrap/Atraf or lower class Muslims. All converts from the lower castes of Hindus belonged to this category.
The third category, Arzul, was at the lowest strata of the Muslim society in Bengal. They were degraded Muslims. They lived under social disabilities. The upper two categories of Muslims did not involve in any social interaction with them.
The Muslim society suffered from caste distinctions too. The Census Report of 1911 referred to 80 castes in the Muslim society. Inter-marriage between the upper and lower castes existed. Social mobility was comparatively higher than in the Hindu society. The upward mobility was possible through change in occupation and accumulation of wealth, as evidenced by the popular saying, ‘last year I was a jolaha, this year I am a Sheiks, next year if prices (jute) rise I shall be a Syed’,

With the beginning of the twentieth century, enduring changes began to take place in the Muslim society of Bengal. The most important was the emergence of a middle-class Muslim intelligentsia. Their presence was felt in the field of education, employment, culture as well as in politics. They came to the position to contest with their Hindu counterparts. The Muslim population also grew steadily in Bengal. They outnumbered the Hindus by the end of the nineteenth century and formed 54.43% of the total population of Bengal in 1931. It remained almost same in 1941(54.29%). They formed the majority in the province. The Muslim population grew faster than the Hindus did and the steady growth of population provided the Muslims a new sense of confidence. It indirectly affected Hindu-Muslim relations as Muslims began to fight for proportional representation and gave the community some political advantage in bargaining for privileges like reserved seats and quotas particularly from the beginning of the twentieth century. The successive Government of India Acts strengthened the position of the Muslims in electoral politics. The Muslim League was in power during the last ten years of the undivided Bengal. Naturally, the Muslim League was not very much in favour of partitioning the province where they had a clear majority. Thus, a section of the Muslim League leadership headed by Suhrawardy and Abul Hasim joined their hands with Satat Chandra Bose, Kiran Shankar Ray and others to prevent the partition of Bengal and to make Bengal a sovereign state. It is interesting that both Suhrawardy and Abul Hasim belonged to the western part of Bengal. The former was from Medinipur and the later was from Burdwan. However, the ‘United Bengal Plan’ failed miserably. On 20 June 1947, the Partition Plan was adopted in the Bengal Legislative Assembly. The Muslims of Bengal, who had long been enjoying the status of majority in the province, became minority in the newly created state of West Bengal carved out of Partition.

Partition, Communal Riots and the Displacement of the Muslims of West Bengal
The Kolkata killing and the mounting communal tension in West Bengal just before and after the Independence and Partition displaced a large number of Muslims of West Bengal. The then West Bengal Government failed to protect the life and property of the Muslims living in the state, which is evident from the repeated attacks on the Muslims in West Bengal. Those were not communal riots as such, but one-sided attacks on the already enfeebled Muslims of the state. These attacks uprooted a large number of Muslims and forced them to leave West Bengal in an overwhelming atmosphere of fear.

Out Migration of the Muslims from West Bengal
After the Partition, many Muslim families from the western parts of Bengal migrated to the eastern parts of the newly drawn border primarily for security. However, not all of them were riot victims. Some were government servants who opted for Pakistan. Some of them decided to migrate in search for better employment. Some moved purely by ideological consideration. There is a fairly large and varied literature on refugees who came into Eastern India, but there is an almost complete absence of writings on the large reverse flow of refugees from West Bengal to East Pakistan. The out-migration of the Bengali Muslims from West Bengal has not received much attention in the Indian historiography of Partition, though it is an inseparable part of the larger story of Partition migration in the east. Awareness of this lacuna has been reflected only very recently in a handful of studies on the migration of the Muslims from West Bengal to East Pakistan.

The first wave of out migration started with the Kolkata killings. It took the form of an exodus towards East Bengal after the massacre of thirty thousand Muslims in Bihar at the end of 1946. Just after the Partition, a large number of Muslims migrated to Pakistan, mostly to East Pakistan. The Muslims did not feel secure in Kolkata. Muslim artisans and the businessmen as well as the intellectuals started migrating to safer places. Md. Kudrat-I Khuda, a popular professor of Presidency College, decided to leave Kolkata as his residence at Bhabanipur had been attacked during the Kolkata riot. His personal laboratory was also destroyed. Prominent literary figures like, Syed Waliullah, Shidullah Kaysar, leading artist Zainul Abedin and a number of prominent people belonging to the Muslim community left Kolkata. A large section of the Muslim middle class and the artisans left Kolkata. Even most of the Muslim bastee dwellers left the city due to recurrent attacks on them. Consequently, according to one estimate, the Muslim population of Kolkata dropped considerably, from 23% in 1946-47 to 12% in 1951.

The second wave of migration started with the outbreak of a series of riots in different parts of West Bengal in 1950. The most devastating riot took place in Howrah. Muslim workers in the jute mills of Howrah were attacked in the last week of March 1950. Nearly one hundred Muslims were murdered brutally. Ashok Mitra (ICS and the Census Commissioner of 1951) has recounted his experience in suppressing the riot in his memoir. A Large number of horrified Muslims left Howrah for safety. Sporadic incidents of attack on the Muslims could be found even at Burdwan town, a town comparatively free from communal disturbances. The Hindu rioters attacked and set fire to the house of Abul Hasim, the prominent Muslim League leader who actively campaigned for the United Bengal Plan along with Sarat Chandra Bose. He decided to stay in West Bengal after the Partition while other prominent League leaders left. However, he was so shocked by the incident of arson that he along with his family members migrated to East Pakistan. A large number of his relatives followed him. In an interview, his son Badruddin Umar confessed that the migration of their relatives could be avoided if his father had not migrated. . Large-scale population movement across the border also took place in Nadia, which assumed the shape of almost an exchange of population. This time it was truly a two-way traffic. The namasudras were driven out of East Bengal and in turn, Between 100000 and 200000 Muslims from the bordering villages of Nadia were driven out of West Bengal. About 131000 Muslims had left Kolkata alone on the eve of the 1951 Census. Forced by the circumstances a section of the Muslim businessmen decided to leave Kolkata by exchanging their property privately with their Hindu counterparts coming from eastern parts of the border. The contemporary newspapers contain a large number of advertisements for property exchange. One such advertisement was published in Anandabazar Patrika on 6 April 1950 may be cited here. A Muslim businessman named Nuruddin Ahmed of 1-E, Anjuman Road, Kolkata sought to exchange or sale his running automobile business situated on one of the main roads of the city with an income of minimum 2/3 thousand per month along with attached garage and residential house with similar business in any towns of East Pakistan immediately. According to the government Report of 1950-51, 7 lakhs Muslims had left West Bengal, of which 5 lakhs later returned.

The third wave of Muslim migration to East Pakistan took place in 1964 following anti-Muslim riots in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal. The Hazaratbal incident in Kashmir sparked off communal riots in Khulna. From Khulna riots spread like wildfire to other parts of East Pakistan. Hindus were attacked in Jessore, Dhaka, Narayangunj, Faridpur, Comilla, Noakhali, Chandpur and Chittagong. The attacks on the Hindu minorities in East Pakistan resulted in a fresh wave of migration of the Hindu Bengalis towards West Bengal. The communal situation deteriorated in West Bengal, which resulted in the outbreak of communal riots on 10 January in Kolkata and in some adjoining areas like Chakda, Tehatta in Nadia, and Barasat in 24 Parganas. These areas had a huge refugee population. Muslims were attacked in Beliaghata, Entally, Baniapukur, Taltola, Karaya and Amherst Street. Suburban areas like Habra, Nayapara in Barasat, Haltu, and Tiljala in Jadavpur witnessed large scale looting and arson. Violence gripped Maheshtala in Metiaburuj. There were incidents of stabbing in Howrah, Serampore and in different railway stations in Sealdah section. The Kolkata riots lasted until 15 January. Many Muslim bustees were set on fire. The riot of 1964 forcibly uprooted a large number of Muslims and pushed them out of West Bengal. Around 8 lakhs Indian Muslims left for East Bengal. Most of these migrants were from West Bengal or the northeast.

Along with those people evicted by violent communal attacks, a section of Muslims decided to migrate to East Pakistan quite willingly. However, the question of the security of life, property and self-esteem might have played a crucial role in the background of their decision. One such section was the Government employees who, in the previous month, had opted for Pakistan. Certain categories of Government employees were given the choice to opt for either Pakistan or India. Most of the Muslim officials decided to serve Pakistan. All but one of the nineteen Muslim Civil Service officers in Bengal opted to join the Government of Pakistan. A large number of Government employees of subordinate ranks followed them. They joined the nascent bureaucracy of Pakistan within days of Partition. The decision for opting to serve Pakistan was not always voluntary. Sometimes they were persuaded by their Hindu colleagues to quit West Bengal and go to Pakistan. Moreover, as the future boundary of the two succeeding States was uncertain, they were confused a lot at the time giving option. Many thought that it was a temporary thing and that one day the two countries would be one again. A large number of Muslim Government employees of the Muslim majority districts of Murshidabad, Malda and Nadia thought that these districts would naturally go to Pakistan. They opted for Pakistan to stay at home. However, their dream was shattered as these districts were awarded to India quite unexpectedly. They were subsequently replaced by the Indian optees from other side of the border. However, not all the Muslims followed the same strategy. In Malda, which was under the administration of Pakistan until 17 August, very few Muslim Government employees opted for Pakistan as observed by Ashok Mitra, ICS, during his tenure as the first District Magistrate of Malda. The optees usually maintained a close contact with their relatives and friends staying at the other side of the border. They used to settle in close to their previous place of residence. Many displaced employees from Murshidabad settled down in Rajshahi because of its proximity to Murshidabad.

Another group of people mostly derived from the educated middle class decided to migrate to East Bengal for ideological commitment as well as better career prospect. Abu Rushad in his novel Nongor (Anchor) has portrayed the experience of Kamal, an income tax officer, who migrated to Dhaka just after Partition leaving behind his parents, other family members and a host of friends in India. Kamal decided in favour of migration primarily due to his ideological commitment to the idea of Pakistan. To him Pakistan was synonymous with a new home and a new identity for which Muslims of British India had fought. He found that Kolkata, the city where he was born and brought up, had suddenly become hostile. It became an insecure place for the Muslims to live in. He argued that Muslims were no more on equal footing with the Hindus. However, he failed to convince his own family members. His brother, Rahim found no reason to leave for Pakistan. Like many of his contemporary migrants, he tried to get settled in a new alien land. As the title of the noble Nongor(Anchor) suggests Kamal wanted to have a new mooring and get anchored in a new place. However, the process was not very smooth as he had expected. In less than one year of the creation of Pakistan he, like many other Bengali Muslims, was caught in a dilemma when the ideologues of Pakistan had been trying to create a cultural homogeneity ignoring the linguistic and cultural diversity of the people of Pakistan. The forceful imposition of Urdu by the Pakistani Government created a severe resentment among the Bengali Muslims. They were not prepared to sacrifice their linguistic and cultural identity at the cost of Pakistani nationalism. Kamal wanted Pakistan and he got. It separated him from his family. Yet he had no regret for his decision to opt for Pakistan. He tried to strike his roots in Pakistan. However, he was not prepared to discard his past, nor did he want to separate himself from the greater bond of history.

On the other hand, some Muslims migrated for better career prospect. One such case was the migration of the family members of Anisuzzaman, later a renowned scholar based at the University of Dhaka :
"I was born in Kolkata. We lived at Park Circus. Here I participated in the procession of Rashid Ali Day boycotting the class. Here I witnessed the riot of 1946. Our non-Bengali milkman and an unknown young man were murdered in front of our eyes. The elders failed to save the milkman. Our Hindu neighbours including actor Chhabi Biswas left the para (locality) with the help of the police to safer places. Many of our relatives similarly came to our locality leaving their residence in Hindu dominated areas…"

All of our family members were energetic supporters of Pakistan movement. However, they became depressed after knowing that Bengal was also being partitioned along with the partition of India. They blamed the Hindus for the partition of Bengal. As our ancestral home 24-Parganas was included in India, they blamed the Muslim League for not presenting our case properly in the Boundary Commission. My father was then at 50. He spent most part of his life in Kolkata. He was not willing to go to Dhaka from his heart leaving his own city. Moreover, living in the other side of the Padma was a nightmare to him. However, my mother repeatedly said that if there was any future for our two sons, it was in Pakistan. Ultimately, in October 1947, when I had been studying in class seven, we migrated to Khulna closing our establishments in Kolkata as Khulna was closer to Kolkata and some of our relatives were there. And if Pakistan could not stand out, it would be easier to return to Kolkata. My two uncles never thought of migrating to East Pakistan leaving the village.In December 1948, we sifted to Dhaka and permanently settled there. In 1950, communal riots broke out in both sides of the border. It became clear that the partition failed to solve the communal problem…

This section of people were larger in number than the optee Government employees. The Muslims of West Bengal were, in general, backward in the field of education than the Hindu middle class. Thus, after Partition it became very tough to the Muslim middle class to find respectable jobs, which had already become scarce in the state. The coming of the East Bengali refugees made the situation worse. Because the early migrants from East Pakistan mostly belonged to educated middle class and on the whole they were far more advanced in educational standard not only from the Muslim middle class but also from the host Hindu middle class. The job market of West Bengal became very competitive. Thus, the migration of a large section of educated Muslim middle class was a bare survival strategy on their part. The flight of the educated Hindus from East Bengal created a great vacuum in the field of education and other professional jobs. Thus, there was a great demand for the educated people there to fill up the teaching, administrative and other professional jobs. Partition had provided them with new career opportunities that were beyond their imagination. The labour market for university graduates was much better in East Pakistan at that time. During the fifties and sixties people with very poor education held rather important posts in East Bengal largely due to the migration of Hindu middle classes, which were often filled by less qualified Muslims. The migration of the educated Muslim middle class created a vacuum in the social, cultural and political leadership. It was a great loss not only to the Muslims of the state but also West Bengal as a whole.

Along with them, there migrated almost all the top-level Muslim League politicians. Some of them once actively campaigned in favour of Pakistan and so it was embarrassing to them to stay on in West Bengal after partition. However, not all of them belonged to this category. Obviously, some people like Suhrawardy and Abul Hasim within the Bengal Provincial Muslim League actively campaigned against the partition of Bengal. However, most of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League leaders left West Bengal immediately after the partition or within a few years after the incident. Fazlul Huq, the former premier of Bengal devoted his energy to oppose the ‘two nation theory’ and to prevent the Muslim League from the Pakistan Demand. The bitterness between Huq and the Muslim League became extreme and Huq continuously opposed the League. As a result, he got increasingly isolated from the mainstream of Bengal politics. Politically, he became practically a loner though his personal popularity remained very high. As communal riots broke out in Kolkata on 16 August 1946, Huq worked hard to restore communal harmony and to protect his Hindu neighbours in Park Circus, Kolkata . Being requested by the League leaders, Huq joined the Muslim League in September 1946. After partition, he also settled in Dhaka and served as the Advocate General of East Pakistan from 1947 to 1952. He was soon involved in East Pakistan politics after the elections of 1954 and became the chief minister of East Bengal. H.S. Suhrawardy did not migrate immediately. He had been effectively cornered in the internal politics of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League on the eve of partition and was apprehensive about his future political career in East Pakistan. He was also anxious about the fate of the Muslims in West Bengal. He stayed back in Kolkata engaging himself in a peace mission along with Gandhiji. Later he had moved to West Pakistan and joined Mohammad Ali's 'Cabinet of Talents' in 1954 as Law Minister and consequently replaced Chaudhry Muhammad Ali as Prime Minister on September 12, 1956. Abul Hasim, another prominent figure in Bengal politics, also decided to stay on in West Bengal. However, he had to migrate to East Pakistan on 1950. Notable journalist, lawyer and political activist Abul Mansur Ahmed was hesitant to leave. He faced humiliating comments from his colleagues of Alipur Court where had been practicing since long before. Ultimately, he also decided to move and took active part in the politics of East Pakistan. Hamidul Haque Chowdhury also migrated to Dhaka and joined the Dhaka High Court Bar and became a member of the provincial cabinet in charge of the Ministry of Finance and then of Ministry of Land Revenue.

The migration of the creamy layer of the Muslim political leadership to East Pakistan undoubtedly benefited the recipient country. Within a few years they led a remarkable movement for the recognition of their own language which ultimately paved the way for the outburst of the Bengali nationalism in the early 1970s. On the other hand, the migration of the top order Muslim leadership created a serious vacuum in the politics of West Bengal. The Muslims who stayed on in West Bengal became leaderless in a situation where eligible leadership was the urgent cry of the time to protect the interest of the Muslim minorities in the state.
Those who migrated to East Bengal, whatever may be the driving force behind their migration, had to struggle hard to strike their roots there. Some people failed to do so even after long stay. They remained nostalgic about their lost home in West Bengal. In an interview, Badruddin Umar has expressed his nostalgia about his lost home in West Bengal:
"I have not been able to strike roots in this country (Bangladesh)…..I do political work here, I would certainly remain here as long as I can, but I have this feeling that I do not belong to this place….Whenever I come here (West Bengal), I have a special fill.. a certain sense of home coming. My father (Abul Hasim) also suffered tremendously at the end of his life. He used to say, “I shall return, I shall not stay here anymore”….and like that."

The nostalgia for the lost home and a sense of rootlessness of the migrated Muslims has nicely been reflected in Dibyendu Palit’s short story “Alamer Nijer Bari”(Alam’s Own House). Alam was born and brought up in Kolkata. After partition, Alam’s family moved to Dacca after exchanging their house at Park Circus with that of a Hindu Bengali family from Dacca. Three years later, he came to Kolkata to attend a seminar. On his way to Kolkata, one of his associates asked Alam, “Kolkata is familiar to you, isn’t it? Alam replied, “It is the land of my birth.” With these words, he could submerge himself in his own identity as it were. Was the land of one’s birth also one’s native land? This question often made him feel homeless. “Shikar” (The Root), another short story written by Prafulla Roy may be mentioned in this connection. The story demonstrates the strength of man’s bond with his ancestral home. Rajmohan came to West Bengal within a month of partition. He exchanged his ancestral house in Dacca with that of Abdul Karim at Park Circus in Kolkata. One morning, the old gentleman, Rajmohan becomes extremely nostalgic about his ancestral home in Dacca. He feels that even after forty years of stay at Park Circus his primary root is still in his ancestral residence of Dacca. However, a secondary root of his existence is gradually being developing in his Park Circus residence. That afternoon, quite unexpectedly, Abdul Karim, the man with whom he had exchanged his property, came to meet him along with his granddaughter and grandson. His main intension was to revisit his ancestral house where they had lived for generations. It is that house, where his roots rested. He asked Rajmohan to revisit his house too as early as possible: ‘If you are late, you might not see your ancestral house’. Rajmohan was also eager to step into his ancestral house at least once again before his death. The attraction of the roots brought the two old men closer to each other breaking down the barrier of community identity and national border.

The number of Muslims migrated from West Bengal to East Bengal was not numerically much significant as compared to the migration of the Hindus from East Bengal. However, the actual significance of this population movement lies in the social, economic, political and cultural arenas. Most of these migrants belonged to the educated middle class professionals and some of them were prominent personalities in undivided Bengal. Their departure left a vacuum in the socio-cultural life of Bengali Muslims who stayed on in West Bengal. ‘Most of those who remained were the week and poor who had no assets, no connections and little by way of skill to deploy in a new life across the border.’ Few exceptions were obviously there. Many people willingly chose to stay on in West Bengal because neither they had any connection with the politics of Muslim League nor they had any sympathy towards the demand for Pakistan. Some had connections with the Congress; others had connections with the Communist Party and most of them had no connection with politics as such. In the crucial election of 1946, Abul Hasim contested from Burdwan constituency. The other two candidates were the District Congress Secretary, Abdus Sattar and Noor Newaz who represented the Radical Democratic Party of M.N.Roy. Though Abul Hasim secured a clear victory with a big margin, it is wrong to believe that all the Muslims of his constituency supported the political programme of Muslim League. Even being the secretary of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League, Hasim had a left leaning and he had a different stance of his own. Congress had a very good hold at Burdwan. Moreover, Communist Party steadily expanded its support base among the Muslims of Burdwan. Two of his nephews, Syed Shahidullah and Mansur Habibullah, were important Communist leaders in Bengal by the early 1940s. It is interesting that a good number of the early stalwarts of the Communist Party came from the Muslim community. Therefore, those who decided to stick to their ancestral land had their own logic. Even those who actively campaigned for Pakistan did not feel comfortable to leave their ancestral land. Their position was equally awkward like that of the Hindus of East Bengal who rallied behind the demand for partition propagated by the Congress and the Hindu Mahashabha. After the publication of the Radcliffe Award, they realised what damage they had done to themselves. Hasan Azizul Huq who migrated from Jabgram village of Bardhaman in West Bengal to Rajshihi, East Pakistan and permanently settled there along with his parents recalls that none of his uncles and cousins came to East Pakistan. ‘…some of them were part of the struggle for Pakistan … but it never entered their heads that they might leave their homes to live in Pakistan.’ In Abu Rushd’s novel Nongor (Anchor), Kamal did not find a single supporter even among his own family members. His brother Rahim found no reason to leave for Pakistan. Thus, he had to migrate alone.

Internal Displacement of the Muslims of West Bengal
It is interesting that after Partition the settlement pattern of the Muslim communities changed largely. The Muslim families were increasingly forced to settle in small exclusive pockets in the state. During and after the Kolkata Riot, the horrified Muslim families of Kolkata shifted themselves to safer zones, preferably to those places where Muslims formed the majority. They largely flocked to Park Circus, Rajabazar and other Muslim dominated areas of the city . After Independence, deliberate attempts were made to wipe out the Muslims from the city. Instigation primarily came from the Barabazar based Hindu business community. The obvious motives were to capture the shops and business establishments run by the Muslims. Some other opportunists like the Hindu bustee owners used the situation too. They wanted to evict the Muslim bustee dwellers and to allot them to Hindu tenants at a much higher rent. The rioters attacked the Muslim bustees very selectively. Muslims were evicted from the bustees of Miyabagan at Beleghata, Motijhil at Entally, Nikashipara at Shyamazar, Shahebbagan at Rajabajzar and several other bustees of the city. It led to the progressive ghattoization of the Muslims of Kolkata. It changed the urban morphology (the settlement pattern) of the city. The Muslims of city began to live a ghettoized life. However, the ghettoization of the Muslims of the city was not solely due to partition. The majority Hindu community had definitely a determining role in it. Since long before partition, they did not let the Muslims to live in their neighbourhood due to the fear of pollution. It was always difficult for the Muslims to manage a rented house or to purchase a house in the so-called Hindu paras in Kolkata as well as other parts of the state. The situation remains unchanged until today. The partition made the gap between the two communities quite unbridgeable. The partition riots created a barrier of deep distrust between the two. Neither community allows the other to share its space. Thus, both the communities prefer to reside in their own neighbourhoods. This tendency is more prominent among the Muslims as they belong to the minority community. Almost everywhere in the world, the minorities prefer to live in their own neighbourhood.

The horrible experience of the Kolkata Riot pushed a section of the Muslims out of Kolkata and some of them migrated to the countryside, which was comparatively free from communal tension. Hasan Azizul Huq recalls, ‘after 1947 the Muslims of that area (his ancestral village Jabgram, Burdwan) did not experience any real trouble’. In an Assembly debate regarding the security of the Muslims in West Bengal, Pramatha Nath Bandopadhay said that unlike the cities, where the mutual trust had been lost, there was no dearth of solidarity between the Hindus and Muslims in countryside. Because of that, a section of the urban-based Muslims who had some ties with the countryside migrated there for safety. In 1950, after the attack on their house at Burdwan town, Abul Hashem temporally shifted his family to his ancestral village, Kashemnagar. It was a common survival strategy of the Muslims of West Bengal at that turbulent period.

Muslims of West Bengal in Search for Security, Identity and Equity
The Muslims of West Bengal had to face some crucial problems during the post-Independence period. These were primarily to secure their life and property, to fix up the issues relating their identity and to establish themselves on the soil of West Bengal on equal terms with the majority community.
Though the Indian state adopted a secular constitution, it is very interesting that in the Indian Constitution the status of the minorities was kept undefined. India is committed to secularism, which means it must allow all religions in all spheres of life and it must protect the minorities. However, the history of minority rights discourse in post-Partition India shows how our nationalist leadership was inspired by a vision of a homogenised cultural nationalism. By that time, the ‘unclean’ partition had cast its shadow over all constitutional thinking on the ‘minority question’. The minorities, chiefly meaning Muslims—formed a ghetto. Their loyalty was suspect. The nation had to strike a bargain with them. Minority protection was a deal. Secularism was the political face of that deal. The nation was thus forever a half-nation, destined to remain an entity perched precariously on an uncertain concept of secularism that would allow pogrom, army brutalities, and strategic isolation of communities on the margins (of the “core”) of the nation. Secularism would mean, in short, building a nationalist core and ‘protecting’ the minorities consequent to that. If secularism began as a moral politics, it soon became a strategy. Thus, the post-Partition Indian State, though committed to the cause of secularism, was not sincere enough to the cause of minority protection. The recurrent attacks on the minorities and the failure of the Government to protect the lives and properties of the minorities clearly indicate so. Anwar Pasha in his novel Neer Sandhanee has portrayed the post-Partition experience of the Muslims of West Bengal. Hasan a Bengali Muslim student migrated to East Bengal just after Partition. After a brief stay there, he came back to West Bengal. He was neither enthusiastic about Pakistan nor prepared to accept Pakistan as his homeland. He rather preferred to stay back in India as India has declared herself as a secular country. Moreover, his conscience did not permit him to leave behind fellow Muslims in an uncertain and helpless condition. His friends failed to convince him that it would not be possible for Muslims to live with the Hindus in India. Mutual mistrust and hatred between the two communities mounted day by day. Even students were not free from communal prejudices of the time. Some Hindu students even refused to share the dormitory with the Muslim students. When a large number of Muslims from West Bengal were migrating to East Pakistan, Hasan was not thinking so. He preferred to stay in India as India was committed to secularism. However, a large number of Muslims who stayed on in West Bengal were not fully convinced with the so-called ideals of secularism. In practice, it was violated very frequently. Thus, Qadir and Malik in the novel opposed Hasan vehemently in the question of secular nature of Indian State. Malik called it Dar-ul-Harb (Land of Enemy), because harassed by a policeman for weaving bears, he had to save it. In spite of severe opposition from the fellow Muslims, people like Hasan, though tiny in number, wanted to stay on in secular India. It is ironical that at the end of the novel Hasan was arrested on charge of not withstanding the liberal attitude of the Indian people.

The Question of Security of Life and Property of the Muslims
The declared official policy of the Indian government in West Bengal was aimed at not evacuating the minorities, as had been done in Punjab, but negotiating with the Pakistani authorities for creating conditions of security, so that a mass exodus could be averted. A number of initiatives were taken to this end. An inter-dominion conference was held at Kolkata in April 1948 where the rehabilitation ministers of the two states made a joint declaration ‘that they are determined to take every possible step to discourage such exodus and to create such conditions as would check mass exodus in either direction’. Another inter-dominion conference met at Delhi in December 1948 to follow up on these measures. Later Nehru-Liaquat Pact was signed on 8 April 1950. These initiatives failed to check the movement of the refugees from East Pakistan to West Bengal. However, some Muslims who had previously migrated to East Bengal returned to West Bengal. Some of them found their ancestral home occupied by Hindu refugees. Muslim property was seized and occupied in many areas to accommodate the refugees from East Pakistan. The refugees even encroached on the graveyards of the Muslims for settlements. Particularly in the areas around the city of Kolkata, many refugee settlements were established on land “formerly inhabited by Muslim labourers and artisans” who were “replaced by displaced Hindus from East Pakistan”. Many Muslims were dispossessed of their homes in the city leading to their “ghettoization” in a few neighbourhoods. They became refugees in their own land. Thus, “it could be argued that East Bengali refugee settlement across West Bengal affected the minority Muslim community most adversely… The need of the refugees’ for new homes pitted them against local West Bengalis, but the widespread dispossession of West Bengali Muslims must be seen as a manifestation of East Bengali refugee communalism driven by as much revenge, as a racist consciousness that marginalized or erased Muslim presence in the new refugee homeland of West Bengal.” The left opposition members in the Legislative Assembly demanded special provisions for the Muslim evacuees in the Eviction Bill (which after subsequent modification became Act XVI of 1951).

The interests of the Muslims could have been safeguarded, at least to some extent, if the West Bengal government had been more sincere about it. Initially the West Bengal government was so confused about rehabilitating the refugees from East Bengal that an influential section thought about evicting the Muslims from the bordering districts of West Bengal to accommodate the Hindu refugees from East Bengal. Annadasankar Roy, then the District Magistrate of Murshidabad has narrated his experience as well as the secret agenda of the West Bengal Government towards the Muslims of the state in his “Binur Diary”:
"One day Binu got a call from the Chief Minister to meet him. After getting down at Sealdah station Binu bought a newspaper and saw that West Bengal was not going to evict the Muslims. All were rumours. Binu reached the secretariat and he was taken to the chamber of the Chief Minister. The commissioner was present there. In the closed-door chamber, the Chief Minister instructed him to push out the Muslims beyond the border within a stipulated time. Binu was astonished. The other District Magistrate requested to extend the time a little. That was sanctioned… Binu got out of the chamber and said to his colleague, ‘Bloodshed in unavoidable. I need written order. You go inside and ask for written order.’ When he asked for written order, the Home Secretary said, ‘No written order will be provided. Oral order is enough.’
…the Home Minister came to the bank of the Padma with Commissioner. A lunch was arranged in their honour on the Government touring launch. The minister was accompanied by a group of his political colleagues…
After the lunch, the minister and the commissioner went for rest. Binu started chatting with the political workers. One of them, sitting beside, said others: ‘A telephone call from Delhi has been received. Now he is not in the country. Do whatever you have to do.’
Binu understood that Jawaharlal was abroad. They had to do what they had thought out before his arrival. The minister came to convince Binu to carry out their plan.
A request came from the minister’s cabin wishing to meet Binu. Stepping into the cabin Binu saw the commissioner present there. That was a tri-party secret meeting.
The meeting started with an introduction praising Binu as an efficient officer… the minister informed Binu that a war with Pakistan was fast approaching. If the Indian army acquired Rajshahi Binu would definitely be the District Magistrate of Rajshahi.
Binu laughed inwardly! He had been the District Magistrate of Rajshahi eleven years back. Recently one of his junior officers had been promoted to the post of secretary bypassing him.
The minister continued, “It is necessary to expel the suspected community before the war. Who can trust the Muslim community of the border region? They are secretly maintaining a tie with the Muslims of Rajshahi. They are quasi-Pakistani. Can you drive them out immediately?”
“I would not do it, rather I would resign.” Binu disagreed, “it could not be done without bloodshed.”
“Let it be so… no problem.”… “Look, thousands of people are coming from the other side due of government repression. How could we rehabilitate them? What should be our policy? Tell me.”
“Rehabilitate them wherever you like. But not on the border. There is not a single piece of vacant land here.” Binu replied.
“Who told you to formulate policy? We will formulate policy. If it is our policy to drive the Muslims of the border out, could you carry it out?” The minister asked.
Binu moved his head, “I can fight if needed but I cannot do such assignment.”
… Two days later, the local MLA informed Binu, “Another I.C.S is coming in your place.”

A large number of Muslims never thought of migrating to Pakistan. Some of them even considered the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan grossly unreasonable. Morshed Ali in Shawkat Ali’s novel Warish was one of them. He admired the plurality of Indian society based on unity in diversity. Naturally, he was not in favour of migrating to Pakistan. One day he found that his newly built house was occupied by a group of refugees from East Bengal. He apprehended a conspiracy to uproot him from his soil. However, he remained unmoved and thought that the communal tension was over. He was wrong to read the situation. The situation continued to worsen. Morshed and members of his family were humiliated. Forced by the circumstances, Morshed decided to migrate to Pakistan against his conviction.

The Congress led West Bengal Government failed to protect the Muslims during the riot of 1964. During the Indo-Pak War in 1965, the Muslims were in general looked down upon with great suspicion. A large number of the Muslims of West Bengal were arrested and humiliated without proper grounds. They were suspected as spies of Pakistan. On the other hand, the Congress, the party in power, tried its best to mobilize the Muslim vote in its favour by bringing the prominent Muslim leaders to its fold. This strategy worked well up to 1962. The 1967 election was a great blow to the Congress in West Bengal as well as other parts of the country. Congress lost eight states after the General Election of 1967. One of the obvious reasons was the erosion in Muslim vote bank. The year 1967 is a turning point to the Muslims of West Bengal too. They gradually came out of the fear syndrome and begun to concentrate on economic development.

The identity crisis of the Muslims
The partition made the identity of the Muslims of West Bengal (as well as Muslims of whole India) very problematic. What should be their status in the newly created nation state, which had been formed on the basis of religious identity? The identity crisis of the Muslims was not altogether a product of the partition. However, the partition added a new dimension to it. There had been an age-old dichotomy between the Muslim identity and the Bengali identity. The identity of the Muslims of Bengal had been partitioned long before the actual partition happened. That fragmented identity of the Muslims of Bengal haunted them very much. The Hindus of Bengal, in general, believed that the Muslims of Bengal were not Bengalis. Primarily, two factors were at play behind this misconception about the Muslims. The Kolkata based Hindu Bengali intellectuals had an important role in it. The majority of the Muslims of Kolkata were non- Bengali in origin. They used to speak in Hindustani and Urdu. Moreover, the upper class Muslims stressed their foreign origin publicly to enhance their social status. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Muslim writers of Bengal developed a distinct style of Bengali language loaded with Urdu and Arabic words. However, at the subaltern level, both the Hindus and the Muslims shared almost the same language and culture. Yet the Muslims of Bengal often faced embarrassing questions like, “Oh, are you a Muslim? I thought you are a Bengali.” The Partition made the identity issue of the Muslims more problematic than before. As a section of the Muslims had demanded Pakistan, the loyalty of the Muslims as a whole was questioned. They were labelled as anti-national and constantly looked upon with a degree of suspicion. Even today, they required to prove that they were not anti-nationals in their everyday life. They are placed in the category of second-class citizen. In the popular mainstream Hindi films, the Muslims were essentialized as feudal, anti-modern, dogmatic, traitors and more recently, since the 1990s, as terrorists. It is interesting that in the post-Independence Bengali films, Muslims are almost missing though they form nearly one fourth of the total population of West Bengal. Same thing has happened in the case of West Bengal based Bengali literature.

The Question of Equity
Theoretically, under the secular constitution of India, all citizens are equal in the eyes of law. The Indian state, which came out of partition, declared itself secular. However, in actual practice, it failed to satisfy the minorities. The minorities, particularly the Muslims were treated separately on the ground of national security as their loyalty was suspected. They were treated as outsiders. They were barred in intelligence services. They are still ill represented in administrative and other higher services as well as in academic institutions at all India level. In West Bengal, the situation was no better. Here, the Muslims were historically far behind the Hindus in respect of wealth, power and education. It was only during the last two decades of the undivided Bengal that the Muslim middle class came out to challenge the superiority of their Hindu counterparts by utilizing the newly acquired political power and benefits of reservation in government jobs. With the partition, the situation changed drastically. The benefit of reservation was withdrawn. Moreover, the arrival of the educated middle class refugees from East Pakistan made it very difficult for the Muslim youth to find a job. Some times the pro-Hindu attitude of the employers came in their way. Sayed Abdul Halim, a retired Deputy Inspector of School, Government of West Bengal spoke out about the discrimination he had experienced in his whole tenure of service.
“I served honestly and sincerely through out my service life (1955-91). However, I did not get due promotion though many of my junior officers got that. It was very difficult for the educated Muslim youth to get jobs in our times… before the coming of the West Bengal School Service Commission, as almost all the school managing committees were controlled by the Hindus; it was very difficult for our boys to get into the school service. Today my two sons are serving in schools. I am sure; they could not have got these jobs if the School Service Commission had not been formed.”
Though Muslims are inadequately represented in the state services there is no provision for any reservation for them in West Bengal. Some other states like Kerala have provided statutory reservations for Muslims in jobs and admission in educational institutions. Muslims account for 23% of the population of Kerala. Provisions for reservation have been made for them by the Government of Kerala under Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4) of the Constitution of India and there has been no legal hurdle to such reservations.

Thus, the partition had a disastrous effect on the Muslims of Bengal. The partition drove out the creamy layer of the Muslim society of West Bengal. Those who stayed on were progressively marginalized in every aspect of life. During the first two decades after partition, they faced a tremendous communal hostility. The Hindus, particularly the Hindu refugees demonized the Muslims, as a collective cultural memory of uprootment from their homeland (for which they blamed the Muslims) had been very much powerful among them. The Hindu Bengali refugees intensified the general hostility towards the Muslims of West Bengal that was reflected in repeated attacks on them. The prime agenda of the Muslims of West Bengal was how to secure their life and property. They isolated themselves into ghettos, particularly in the riot-affected areas like Kolkata. The ghettoization of the Muslims and their withdrawal from the mainstream society is one of the greatest tragedies of contemporary history of West Bengal. They faced a very complex crisis of identity. How to locate themselves in the new political system that emerged out of Independence/ Partition was one of the greatest challenges to the Muslims of West Bengal (as well as India). They were isolated, alienated and their identity was fragmented. Therefore, we have now the reproduction of the concept of partition as the only way out, even when the nation is not being territorially partitioned. Each group now must have its own defined territory. Our nationalist history seems have left no other solution for us. Thus, the territorial partition leads to more fragmentation in the partitioned societies, which is evident from the experience of the Muslims of West Bengal after the Partition in 1947.

[A version of this paper has been published in Indian Journal of Politics, Vol. XLII, No.1 & 2 (January-June 2009)]

Thursday, October 02, 2008

স্বাধীনতার অন্য মুখঃ বাংলা কবিতা ও গানে দেশভাগ


ভারতের জাতীয়তাবাদী ইতিহাসচর্চায় স্বাধীনতা একটি মহান ও পবিত্র বিজয়ফলক হিসাবে স্বীকৃত। জাতীয়তাবাদী আন্দোলন তার কাঙ্ক্ষিত পরিণতি লাভ করে স্বাধীনতা অর্জনের মধ্য দিয়ে। আরও সুস্পষ্ট রূপে বললে একটি জাতিরাষ্ট্র প্রাতিষ্ঠার মধ্য দিয়ে। সেই স্বাধীনতা অর্জনের জন্য জাতীয়তাবাদী নেত্ববর্গ দেশভাগের সিদ্ধান্ত মেনে নিতেও পিছপা হননি। জাতীয়তাবাদী ইতিহাসের প্রকল্পে দেশভাগ ও তদ্‌জ্জনিত দুর্ভোগ ছিল নেহাৎই একটি মহান লক্ষ্য পূরণের জন্য কিছু মানুষের সামান্য আত্মত্যাগ। স্বাভাবিকভাবেই দেশভাগ বহু বছর ভারতের ইতিহাস চর্চায় উপেক্ষিত থেকে যায়। স্বাধীনতা উদ্‌যাপনের আনন্দোৎসবে ঢাকা পড়ে যায় দেশভাগের ফলে উৎখাত হওয়া মানুষের স্বজন ও স্বদেশ হারানোর হাহাকার। বিগত সহস্রাব্দের শেষ দশক থেকে দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতা নিয়ে এক নতুন ধরনের ইতিহাসচর্চা শুরু হয় মূলতঃ উত্তরভারতে, বিশেষ করে পাঞ্জাবে। এর রেশ এসে পড়ে পশ্চিমবঙ্গেও। সম্প্রাতিকালে পশ্চিমবঙ্গে দেশভাগ নিয়ে ব্যাপক গবেষণা ও আলোচনা হচ্ছে। এর অনেকটাই স্মৃতিনির্ভর। এই ধরণের ইতিহাসচর্চার মধ্য দিয়ে স্মৃতি, সাহিত্য ও ইতিহাসের লক্ষ্মণরেখা ক্রমশঃ লুপ্ত হয়ে যাচ্ছে, যা বিশেষভাবে লক্ষ্যনীয়। ইতিহাসের এই পদ্ধতিগত অভিযোজন নিয়ে যে বিতর্ক আছে তার মধ্যে না গিয়ে এই প্রবন্ধে তুলে ধরার চেষ্টা করব স্বাধীনতা ও দেশভাগের সমসায়িক বাংলার সৃষ্টিশীল মানুষরা কি ভাবে দেশভাগকে দেখেছিলেন।বাংলা কবিতা ও গানে তার প্রতিফলন কেমন হয়েছিল।

দেশভাগের অন্য ইতিহাস

পেশাদার ঐতিহাসিকরা কিছুকাল আগে পর্যন্ত দেশভাগ নিয়ে সচরাচর যে ধরনের ইতিহাস চর্চা করেছেন তার মূল লক্ষ্য ছিল দেশভাগের কারণ অনুসন্ধান, তার প্রভাব অণুধাবন নয়। ঐতিহাসিক জ্ঞান পাণ্ডে লিখেছেনঃ ‘On the question of Partition, Indian historiography occupies a paradoxical position. On the one hand, Partition has dominated the consciousness of nationalist and professional historians in a remarkable way…On the other hand, the history of Partition is effectively suppressed by the focus on India’s freedom struggle--- the unity of India and the nationalist enterprise continued almost unaffected by Partition and all that accompanied it. The history of Partition (sometimes called the history of ‘communalism’) is presented separately, or at best as a subordinate and apparently (in the long run) inconsequential motif in the larger drama on India’s struggle for independence.’ তিনি এই ইতিহাস চর্চার ধারাকে তীব্র ভাষায় সমালোচনা করেন এবং দেশভাগের এক নতুন ধারার ইতিহাস চর্চার সুত্রপাত করেণ। প্রায় একই সময় ঊর্বশি বুটালিয়া Seminar পত্রিকায় লেখেনঃ ‘Partition was not only a division of properties, of assets and liabilities. It was also, to use a phrase that Partition victims use repeatedly, “a division of hearts”. It brought untold suffering, tragedy, trauma, pain, violence to communities who had hitherto lived together in some kind of social contract. It separated families across an arbitrarily drawn border, sometime overnight, and made it practically impossible for people to know if their parents, sisters, brothers, children were alive or dead, and these aspects of the Partition --- how people coped with the trauma, how they rebuilt their lives, what resources, both physical and mental, they drew upon, how their experience of dislocation and trauma shaped their lives, and indeed the cities and towns they settled in---find little reflection in written history.’ একই সঙ্গে তিনি দেশভাগের ইতিহাস চর্চায় একটি গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ফাঁকের দিকে আমাদের দৃষ্টি আকর্ষণ করেন তা হল বাংলায় এবং পূর্ব পাকিস্তানে দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতা, যা তাঁর মতে নিজ অধিকারে বিস্তারিত আলোচনার দাবী রাখে।

দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতাঃ স্মৃতি ও সাহিত্যে

বাংলায় দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতা নিয়ে চর্চা শুরু হয় ৯০-র দশকের শেষ দিক থেকে। এই চর্চার সিংহভাগ জুড়ে রয়েছে পূর্ববঙ্গ থেকে উৎখাত হওয়া হিন্দু বাঙ্গালী উদ্বাস্তুদের অভিজ্ঞতার বিবরণ।যদিও দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতা শুধু হিন্দু বাঙ্গালী উদ্বাস্তুদের অভিজ্ঞতা নয় দেশভাগের দুর্দশার শরিক ছিল উদ্বাস্তু নয় এমন হিন্দু বাঙ্গালীরাও। বাঙ্গালী মুসলমানরাও দেশভাগের ফলে কম দুর্দশার শিকার হয়নি। এই ইতিহাস চর্চা প্রথাগত সরকারি আর্কাইভ নির্ভর ইতিহাস চর্চার খাতে প্রবাহিত হয়নি। কারন সরকারি নথি-পত্রে সেই ইতিহাসকে খুঁজে পাওয়া দুষ্কর। সেই কারনে দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতাকে খুঁড়ে বার করতে আমাদের অনেকটাই নির্ভ্রর করতে হয় সেই অভিজ্ঞতার মধ্য দিয়ে যার তাদের জীবন অতিবাহিত করেছে তাদের স্মৃতিচারণার উপর।মানবস্মৃতিও একটি আর্কাইভ যা ঠাসা থাকে বিভিন্ন বাছাই করা নথিতে। এর কিছুটা প্রকাশিত হয় এবং অধিকাংশই অপ্রকাশিত থেকে যায়। আমাদের চারপাশে যা কিছু ঘটে তার কিছুটা স্মৃতিতে থাকে, অধিকাংশই চলে যায় বিস্মৃতির গহ্বরে। স্মরণ ও বিস্মরণ এই দুই প্রক্রিয়াই একই সঙ্গে চলতে থাকে। দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতা ও স্মৃতি সিংহভাগই অব্যক্ত থেকে গেছে। এইনিয়ে সস্প্রতিকালে মৌখিক ইতিহাসের চর্চা হচ্ছে যা।
দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতা ও স্মৃতি কিছুটা হলেও প্রতিফলিত হয়েছে সমকালীন সাহিত্যের বিভিন্ন শাখায়, গল্প, উপন্যাস, নাটক, কবিতা ও গানে। এই প্রবন্ধের আলোচ্য বিষয় বাংলা কবিতা ও গানে তার প্রতিফলিত দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতা।

দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতার বহুমাত্রিকতা ও সার্বজনীনতা

দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতার ছিল বহুমাত্রিক ও সার্বজনীন। শারীরিক ও মানসিক দুর্ভোগ,জীবনধারনের সংকট, সাংস্কৃতিক পরিমন্ডল থেকে বিচ্যুতি ও পরিচিতির সংকট ছিল তার মধ্যে অন্যতম। এছাড়াও দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতার মধ্যে একধরনের সার্বজনীনতা লক্ষ্য করা যায়।বিগত বিংশ শতকে বিশ্বের বহু দেশের অসংখ্য মানুষ দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতার সম্মুখীন হয়েছে। জাতিগত কিম্বা সাম্প্রদায়িক সংঘাত নিরসনের উপায় হিসাবে দেশভাগকে ব্যবহার করা হয়েছে যথেচ্ছভাবে।ঔপনিবেশিক শক্তিগুলি দেশভাগকে ব্যবহার করেছে একটি প্রস্থান কৌশল হিসাবে। ঠাণ্ডা লড়াই-এর আমলে এর ব্যবহার আরও ব্যাপক আকার নেয়।ঠাণ্ডা লড়াই-এর অবসানের পর জাতিগত সংঘাত বিশ্বে আরও তীব্রতর হয়েছে এবং আর ও বহু দেশ নতুন করে বিভাজিত হছে।

দেশভাগ দেশে দেশেঃ বিংশ শতকের প্রথমার্ধের কয়েকটি উল্লেখযোগ্য দেশভাগ

দেশের নাম দেশভাগের সময় দেশভাগের পর যুদ্ধ ও সংঘাত
আয়ারল্যান্ড ১৯২২ ১৯২২-২৭, উত্তর আয়ারল্যান্ড সমস্যা (১৯৭০-র দশকে)
ভারত ১৯৪৭ ভারত-পাক সংঘাত ১৯৪৮, ১৯৬৫, ১৯৭১, ১৯৯৯
প্যালেস্তাইন ১৯৪৮ ১৯৪৮-৯, ১৯৬৭, ১৯৭৮, ইসরায়েলের ওয়েস্ট ব্যাংক ও গাজা দখল, ১৯৬৭

বাংলা কবিতা ও গানে তার দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতা আলোচনার আগে ইংরাজী ভাষায় লেখা কয়েকটি কবিতার উল্লেখ করা যায় যেখান থেকে দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতার সার্বজনীন আবেদনটি বুঝা যায়। এপ্রসঙ্গে সর্বাগ্রে যে কবিতাটি উল্লেখযোগ্য সেটি হল ভারত বিভাগ প্রসঙ্গে W.H. Auden-র “Partition” নামে নীচে উদ্ধৃত দীর্ঘ কবিতাটি যেখানে রডক্লিফ ও তাঁর নেতৃত্ত্বাধীন সীমানা কমিশনের কর্মপদ্ধতি নিয়ে তীক্ষ্ণ শ্লেষ করা হয়েছেঃ

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on the land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
Time,' they had briefed him in London, is short. It's too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we've arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.'

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
patrolling the gardens to keep the assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he could quickly forget
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.

মার্কিন সাংবাদিক Marya Manne ১৯৫৯ সালে লেখা তাঁর “Gaza Strip” কবিতায় দেশভাগের নিদারুণ অভিজ্ঞতার কথা তুলে ধরেছেন সুন্দর ভাবেঃ

Borders are scratched across the
hearts of men
By strangers with a calm, judicial
And when the borders bleed we
watch with dread
The lines of ink across the map
turn red.

আইরিশ কবি Paul Muldoon তাঁর “Boundary Commission” কবিতায় দেশভাগ জনিত বিচ্ছিন্নতার কাহিনী পাওয়া যায়ঃ

You remember that village where the border ran
Down the middle of the street,
With the butcher and baker in different states?
Today he remarked how a shower of rain
Had stopped so cleanly across Golightly's lane
It might have been a wall of glass
That had toppled over. He stood there, for ages,
To wonder which side, if any, he should be on.

বাংলা কবিতায় দেশভাগ

তৎকালীন বাংলা কবিতায় ঘুরেফিরে এসেছে দেশভাগজনিত স্মৃতিমদুরতা, বাস্তুচ্যুতির দুর্ভোগ, বাস্তুচ্যুত মানুষের শিকড়হীণতার হাহাকার। কবি অচিন্ত্যকুমার সেনগুপ্ত তাঁর “পূর্ব-পশ্চিম” এবং “উদ্বাস্তু”কবিতায় দেশভাগের যন্ত্রণা প্রতিফলিত হয়েছে। “পূর্ব-পশ্চিম” কবিতায় পূর্ব ও পশ্চিমবঙ্গের নিবিড় ভৌগলিক-সাংস্কৃতিক ঐক্য এবং পারস্পরিক আদান-প্রদানের উপর কবি জোর দিয়েছেন। “উদ্বাস্তু”কবিতায় তিনি একটি পরিবারের সমস্ত শিকড় ছিন্ন করে উদ্বাস্তু হবার জীবন্ত ছবি এঁকেছেন। কবিতার শেষে কবি আমাদের এক নির্মম সত্যের সামনে এনে করান যখন তিনি লেখেনঃ

আমরা সবাই উদ্বাস্তু ---
কেউ উৎখাত ভিটে-মাটি থেকে,
কেউ উৎখাত আদর্শ থেকে।

বিষ্ণু দে তাঁর “জল দাও” কবিতায় লিখেছেনঃ

...গরমে বিবর্ণ হল গোলমোরের সাবেক জৌলুস-
কৃষ্ণচূড়া চোখে আনে জ্বালা
রৌদ্রের কুয়াশা জ্বলে ঝরা মরা পোড়া লেবার্নমে
এখানে ওখানে দেখ দেশছারা লোক ছায়ায় হাঁপায়
পার্কের ধারে শানে পথে পথে গাড়িবারান্দায়
ভাবে ওরা কী যে ভাবে ! ছেড়ে খোঁজে দেশ
এইখানে কেউ বরিশালে কেউ কেউ বা ঢাকায়...

আর এক সমসাময়িক কবি মঙ্গলাচরণ চট্টোপাধ্যায় তাঁর “এস দেখে যাও” কবিতায় আক্ষেপ করে লিখেছেনঃ

এস দেখে যাও কুটি কুটি সংসার
স্টেশণের প্ল্যাটফর্মে ছাড়ানো বে-আব্রু সংসারে
স্বামী নেই, গেল কোথায় তলিয়ে
ভেসে এসে আজ ঠেকেছে কোথায় ও-যে
ছেঁড়া কানিটুকু কোমরজড়ানো আদুরি, ঘরের বউ-
আমার বাঙলা।

মঙ্গলাচরণ চট্টোপাধ্যায় তাঁর আর একটি কবিতা “শুকনো মুখ উস্কোখুস্কো চুল” –তে লিখেছেনঃ

শুকনো মুখ, উস্কোখুস্কো চুল
রোজই রাস্তায় দেখি ফুটপাথের হাঁড়িকুড়ি-ছড়ানো সংসারে
শুকনো মুখ উস্কোখুস্কো চুল
শিয়ালদার প্ল্যাটফর্মে আছড়ে-পড়া উদ্বাস্তু সংসারে
শুকনো মুখ, উস্কোখুস্কো চুল
হারানো মা, আমারে কি হারানিধি বলে মনে ধরে!

কবি মনীন্দ্র রায় তাঁর একাধিক কবিতায় উদ্বাস্তু জীবনের দুর্ভোগ এবং আসহায়তার কথা তুলে ধরেছেন। তাঁর এরকম একটি কবিতা হল “চিঠি”, যেখানে তিনি এক উদ্বাস্তু বৃদ্ধার চেড়ে আসা গ্রাম এবং সেখানকার মানুষ-জনের জন্য দুশ্চিন্তা ও মনখারাপের আনুভুতি তুলে ধরেছেনঃ

সুশান্ত, তোমার মনে পড়ে
সরলার মাকে, যে এখানে
কাজ করত? হঠাৎ সেদিন
শুনলো যেই বন্যা পাকিস্তানে,
বুড়ি গিয়ে বসল বারান্দায়,
দেখি তার চোখে জল ঝরে।...

সুনীল গঙ্গোপাধ্যায় উদ্বাস্তু জীবনের দুর্ভোগ এবং দুর্দশার কথা তাঁর ছোটগল্প, উপন্যাস এবং কবিতায় ব্যক্ত করেছেন। “ধাত্রী” কবিতায় তিনি উদ্বাস্তু সমস্যা জর্জরিত পশ্চিমবঙ্গ-কে তাঁর ধাইমার সঙ্গে তুলনা করেছেন এবং তাঁর অসহায়তার কথা লিখেছেনঃ

শিয়ালদার ফুটপাতে বসে আছেন আমার ধাইমা
দুটো হাত সামনে পেতে রাখা,
ঠোট নড়ে উঠছে মাঝে মাঝে।
যে কেউ ভাববে দিনকানা এক হেঁজিপেঁজি বাহাত্তুরে রিফিউজি বুড়ি।
আঁতুর ঘরে আমার মুমূর্ষু মায়ের কোল থেকে উনি
একদিন আমাকে বুকে তুলে নিয়েছিলেন...
দাইমা, এ কোন্ পৃথিবী আমাকে দেখালে?
বুড়ি, সর্বনাশিনী, আমাকে কেন বাঁচিয়ে রেখেছিলি
এই অকল্পনীয় পৃথিবীতে
আমি আর কত কিছু হারাবো?
সুনীল গঙ্গোপাধ্যায়ের আর ও আসংখ্য কবিতায় ঘুরে ফিরে এসেছে দেশভাগ, ছেড়ে আসা গ্রাম, নদী, প্রকৃতি ও মানুষজন। এমনই একটি কবিতা “যদি নির্বাসন দাও” যেখানে স্মৃতি কাতরতা কবিকে আচ্ছন্ন করে রাখে। তাঁর লেখা এরকম আর কয়েকটি কবিতা হল “জনমদুখিনী”, “দুঃখের গল্প”, “ফিরে যাবো” ইত্যাদি।

সমকালীন আর এক প্রথিতযশা কবি শঙ্খ ঘোষ দেশভাগ, জন্মভূমি, ছেড়ে আসা গ্রাম, উদ্বাস্তুজীবনের দুর্ভোগ, শিকড়হীনতার বেদনার কথা বারবার তাঁর কবিতায় তুলে ধরেছেন। “স্বদেশ স্বদেশ করিস কারে” কবিতায় তিনি কৃত্রিম মানচিত্রসর্বস্ব জাতিরাষ্ট্রকে প্রশ্নের সামনে এনে দাঁড় করিয়েছেন। লিখেছেনঃ

তুমি মাটি? কিংবা তুমি আমারই স্মৃতির ঘূপে ধূপে
কেবল ছড়াও মৃদু গন্ধ আর আর – কিছু নও?
রেখায় রেখায় লুপ্ত মানচিত্র-খণ্ডে চুপিচুপি---
বাল্যসহচর! তুমি মাটি নও দেশ নও তুমি...

তুমি দেশ? তুমিই অপাপবিদ্ধ স্বর্গাদপি বড়ো?
জন্মদিন মৃতুদিন জীবনের প্রতিদিন বুকে
বরাভয় হাত তোলে দীর্ঘকায় শ্যাম ছায়াতরু
সেই তুমি? সেই তুমি? বিষাদের স্মৃতি নিয়ে সুখী
মানচিত্ররেখা, তুমি দেশ নও মাটি নও তুমি!

“পুনর্বাসন” কবিতায় কবি লিখেছেনঃ

যা কিছু আমার চারপাশে ছিল
ভাঙা মন্দির
যা কিছু আমার চারপাশে ছিল
একলা সূর্যাস্ত
যা কিছু আমার চারপাশে ছিল
সমস্ত একসঙ্গে কেঁপে ওঠে পশ্চিমমুখে
স্মৃতি যেন দীর্ঘযাত্রী দলদঙ্গল
ভাঙ্গা বাক্স পড়ে থাকে আমগাছের ছায়ায়
এক পা ছেড়ে অন্য পায়ে হঠাৎ সব বাস্তুহীন।...
“মন্ত্রীমশাই” কবিতায় কবি দেশভাগের কুটিল রাজনীতির সমালোচনা করেছেন এবং সেই রাজনীতির বলি উদ্বাস্তুদের অসহায়তার কথা তুলে ধরেছেনঃ

সবাইকে পথ দেবার জন্য কয়েকজনকে সরতে হবে।
তেমন-তেমন সময় এলে হয়তো আমায় মরতে হবে
বুঝতে পারি।
এ-যুক্তিতেই ভিটেমাটির ঊর্ণা ছেড়ে বেরিয়েছিলাম...

কিন্তু সবাই বললো সেদিন, হা কাপুরুষ, হদ্দ বাঙাল
চোরের মতো ছাড়লি নিজের জন্মভুমি।
জন্মভুমি? কোথায় আমার জন্মভুমি? খুঁজতে খুঁজতে জীবন গেল।
দিন কেটেছে চোরের মতো দিনভিখারি ঘোরের মতো

উদ্বাস্তুদের দেশহীনতার কথা লিখেছেন “দেশহীন” কবিতায়ঃ

আমার মুখে অন্তহীন আত্মলাঞ্ছনার ক্ষত
আমার বুকে পালানোর পালানোর আরো পালানোর দেশজোড়া স্মৃতি...

পূর্ববঙ্গ থেকে সংখ্যালঘু প্রতিবেশী হিন্দুদের দেশত্যাগের ফলে যে শূণ্যতার সৃষ্টি হয় তার প্রতিফলন ঘটেছে কবি জসীমউদ্দিনের “বাস্তুত্যাগী” কবিতার ছত্রে ছত্রেঃ

দেউলে দেউলে কাঁদিছে দেবতা পূজারীর খোঁজ করি...
ফিরে এসো যারা গাঁ ছেড়ে গেছো, তরুলতিকার বাঁধে,
তোমাদের কতো অতীত দিনের মায়া ও মমতা কাঁদে।
সুপারির বন শূন্যে ছিঁড়িছে দীঘল মাথার কেশ,
নারকেলতরু ঊর্দ্ধে খুঁজিছে তোমাদের উদ্দেশ।...
অতীতে হয়তো কিছু ব্যথা দেছি, পেয়ে বা কিছুটা ব্যথা,
আজকের দিনে ভুলে যাও ভাই, সেসব অতীত কথা!

বাংলা গানে দেশভাগ

কবিতার মতো বাংলা গানে দেশভাগের প্রাতিফলন তত জোরালো নয়।স্বাধীনোত্তর বাংলা গানের মূল স্রোতটি প্রবাহিত হয় সিনেমাকেন্দ্রিক রোমান্টিক গানের দিকে।মতাদর্শগত বিরোধ গণনাট্য সংঘকে গ্রাস করে, যা ৪০-র দশকে সমাজবাস্তবতাকে তাদের গানে তুলে এনেছিল। সেই ধারাটি দুর্বল হয়ে পড়ে। জ্যোতিরিন্দ্র মৈত্র, বিনয় রায়, হেমাঙ্গ বিশ্বাস ও সলিল চৌধুরী একে অপরের থেকে বিচ্ছিন্ন হয়ে যান। তাসত্ত্বেও দেশভাগ এবং উদ্বাস্তুদের নিয়ে বেশ কিছু গান রচিত। সেই সমস্ত গানের অধিকাংশই রেকর্ড হয়নি। স্বাভাবিক ভাবেই সেগুলির বেশীরভাগই আজ হারিয়ে গেছে আমাদের স্মৃতি থেকে। কিছু গান বেঁচে আছে বিস্মৃতির ছোবল এড়িয়ে। যেমন দেশভাগের আঘাতে জর্জরিত উদ্বাস্তুদের মনবল ফেরাতে হেমাঙ্গ বিশ্বাস গান বাঁধলেনঃ

বাঁচবো রে বাঁচবো
ভাঙা বুকের পাঁজর দিয়ে নয়া বাংলা গড়ব...

দেশভাগের পর পূর্ববঙ্গ থেকে বহু কবিয়াল পশ্চিমবঙ্গের সীমান্তবর্তী জেলাগুলিতে এসে আশ্রয় নেন এবং বিভিন্ন সাম্প্রতিক বিষয় নিয়ে গান বাঁধেন। এঁদের মধ্যে অন্যতম একজন কবিয়াল ছিলেন বরিশাল থেকে আগত নকুলেশ্বর সরকার। তাঁর রচিত অসংখ্য গানের মধ্যে একটি ছিলঃ

আছি বাস্তুহারা হিন্দু যারা, হবে মোদের বাস্তু গড়তে,
আবার হবে দাঁড়াতে --- পথের কাঁটা সরাতে।

ফরিদপুর থেকে আগত সুরেন্দ্র নাথ সরকার উদ্বাস্তুদের নিদারুণ দুর্ভোগ নিয়ে গান বাঁধলেনঃ

আমরা যারা বাস্তুহারা, একেবারেই সর্বহারা
তাদের অন্নচিন্তা চমৎকার।
তারা কেউ ঝোপে-জঙ্গলে, কেউ বা তাঁবুর তলে
কেহ প’ড়ে তালবেতালে, আছে আজ নৈনিতালে।
কেহ বা দুটো অন্নের জন্য রয়েছে দণ্ডকারণ্যে,
কেহ বা বিনা খুনে গিয়েছে আন্দামানে...।

তাঁর রচিত গানের আরও কয়েকটি পংক্তি যেখানে পূর্ববঙ্গের হিন্দু উদ্বাস্তুদের ক্যাম্প-কলোনী মাঠে-ঘাটে বাসের মর্মন্তুদ দুঃখ এবং তার জন্য দায়ী ব্যক্তিদের বিরুদ্ধে তীব্র অভিযোগ ফুটে উঠেছেঃ

এমন সোনার বাংলা দেশে,
মানুষ বেড়ায় ভেসে ভেসে,
হলাম বাস্তুহারা সর্বহারা---
কার কলমের এক খোঁচায়।
আমরা ক্যাম্পে শুয়ে আজো মাঠে,
আর কত দিন জীবন কাটে,
দেখে মোদের দুঃখ কষ্ট---
শেয়াল কুকুর লজ্জা পায়।

শেষের কিছু কথা

দেশভাগ আমাদের দেশের ইতিহাস চর্চার সামনে একটি বিরাট বাধার প্রাচীর খাড়া করে। স্বাধীনতা ও দেশভাগ আধুনিক ভারতের ইতিহাসের জন্য এক অলঙ্ঘ্যনীয় লক্ষ্মণরেখা টানে যা অতিক্রম করা ঐতিহাসিকদের পক্ষে অনেকদিন সম্ভব হয়নি। ঐতিহাসিকদের সেই না করা কাজটি অনেকটাই করেছেন কবি, গীতিকার এবং সাহিত্যিকরা। দেশভাগের দুঃখ, বেদনা মূর্ত্ত হয়ে উঠেছে তাঁদের সৃষ্টিকর্মে। আজকের দিনে ঐতিহাসিকরা তাই আনেকটাই ঋণী সেযুগের কবি সাহিত্যিকদের কাছে। দেশভাগের মানবিক সত্ত্বাকে খুঁজে পাওয়া যায় সমকালীন সাহিত্যেই, সরকারী অভিলেখ্যাগারে নয়। সম্প্রতিকালে দেশভাগ নিয়ে যে নতুন ধারার ইতিহাসচর্চা শুরু হয়েছে তাতে সমকালীন সাহিত্যে প্রতিফলিত দেশভাগের অভিজ্ঞতা দারুন ভাবে আদৃত হচ্ছে এবং তার মধ্য দিয়ে ইতিহাসের গণ্ডীও প্রসারিত হচ্ছে।

[১৪.৮.২০০৮ তারিখে দূর্গাপুর সরকারী মহাবিদ্যালয়ে ইউ. জি. সি অনুদানপ্রাপ্ত রাজ্যভিত্তিক আলোচনাচক্রে পঠিত প্রবন্ধ।]


1. Pandey, Gyanendra, “The Prose of Otherness”. In Arnold.D& Hardiman D (ed), Subaltern Studies, OUP, Delhi, 1994, pp. 188-221
2. “Memories of Partition”, Seminar, vol. 420, August 1994
3. W.H. Auden, “Partition”,
4. Marya Manne, “Gaza Strip”,
5. Paul Muldoon, “Boundary Commission”,
6. অচিন্ত্যকুমার সেনগুপ্ত, “পূর্ব-পশ্চিম” এবং “উদ্বাস্তু”, সংকলিত আছে কাজি সব্যসাচীর, কে সেই মানুষটি (অডিও ক্যাসেট), কলকাতা, এইচ এম ভি, ১৯৯০ .
7. সিকদার, অশ্রুকুমার, ভাঙ্গা বাংলা ও বাংলা সাহিত্য, কলকাতা, দে’জ, ২০০৫
8. ঘোষ, সেমন্তী (সম্পাদিত), দেশভাগঃ স্মৃতি আর স্তব্ধতা, কলকাতা, গাঙচিল, ২০০৮
9. সিংহ, দীনেশচন্দ্র, পূর্ব বঙ্গের কবিয়াল ও কবি-সঙ্গীত, কলকাতা, দে বুক স্টোর, ১৩৯৭(বঙ্গাব্দ)
10. বসু, স্বপন, দত্ত, হর্ষ(সম্পাদিত), বিশ শতকের বাঙালি জীবন ও সংস্কৃতি, কলকাতা, পুস্তক বিপণি, ২০০০

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Published in Utkal Historical Research Journal, Vol.XIX, 2006

Partition as a Means of Conflict Resolution: A Case of the Bengal Boundary Commission and the Partition of Bengal, 1947


Partition has long been used as a tool of resolving ethnic and communal problems. It got wide acceptance after the Second World War and more particularly during the Cold War regime. The Partition of Germany, Korea, and Vietnam are some of the instances of territorial partition. The Partition of the British Indian Empire followed the same tradition. The partition theorists have argued that physical separation of warring ethnic groups may be the only possible solution to civil war. However this argument has recently been severely criticized by a group of scholars particularly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the resurgence of ethnic violence in different parts of the world. The Partition of Bengal as a part of larger project of the Partition of the British Indian Empire reveals some interesting features and also challenges the basic arguments of the partition theorists.

Recent Debate on Partition as a Means of Conflict Resolution

The leading partition theorists like Chaim Kaufmann , John Mearsheimer and Stephen Van Evera and before them, Donald Horowitzer provided the basic arguments in favour of partition. Most of the advocates of partition advance four basic arguments.
• The first is that partition might be unpalatable, nevertheless it is a humane way of dealing with an ethnic conflict because it attempts to achieve through negotiation what would otherwise be achieved through war; it telescopes the conflict and saves lives.
• The second argument, which draws partially on Wilsonian ideas, is that partition might be the chosen route to self-determination.
• The third is that partition might not fully address the roots of the conflict, but it does at least contain it.
• The fourth, which draws on the third, is that partition provides an exit for great powers.

On the other hand, scholars like Radha Kumar , Nicholas Sambanis and others have developed a theoretical as well as empirical critique of partition. Their main arguments are
• Partition is a limiting solution. Ethnic cooperation may be possible even after civil war. Both ethnic diffusion and third party security guarantees could facilitate such cooperation.
• Partition may also be too severe a solution. Forced population movements cause tremendous human suffering and violate important human rights.
• Endorsing ethnic partition may in fact encourage partition movements in other countries.
• Partitions create undemocratic successor states, likely to repress their minorities as their predecessors did before them.
• Finally, successor states will rarely be ethnically homogeneous. They may therefore incorporate new ethnic antagonism. Moreover, partition does not resolve the underlying problem of ethnic rivalry; so it is possible for civil wars that end in partition to be transformed into interstate war between predecessor and successor states.

Radha Kumar has emphasized the high cost associated with the process---the millions displaced, the hundreds of thousands killed—as well as other important consequences, suggesting that partition, ‘can trigger further fragmentation and conflict’. Stories and images of the millions injured and dead that accompanied the population transfer in post-partition India, Palestine, and Cyprus are enough for many to condemn this method as barbaric and inhumane. Critics charge that this experience should be enough to dismiss the idea that even “organized” population transfer are possible. Further, there is a deeper philosophical opposition to even organized population transfer, arguing that it is contrary to human dignity; indeed, population transfer is a violation of many fundamental human rights. Nicholas Sambanis on the other hand have produced the first empirical study on the viability of partition. His research dismisses pro-partition claims. In his opinion, partition does not sufficiently prevent war recurrence, which suggests, at the very least, that separating ethnic groups does not resolve the problem of violent ethnic antagonism. In the context of the present state of debate we can study the process and consequence of the Bengal Partition and the making of the new Bengal border.

Bengal: The Parting of Ways

By the end of 1946 it became almost evident in political circle that the Partition of the British Empire was unavoidable. The ‘Undivided Sovereign Bengal Plan’ launched by Sarat Basu in cooperation with Abul Hasim and Suhrawandy failed to strike roots in the Bengali minds. The public opinion was shaped heavily by the horrors of communal riots. The Hindu Mahasabha and the Congress demanded immediate partition of the province and launched a concerted movement in favour of it. At the all India level Congress and Muslim League agreed on a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ at the cost of Partition. When Mountbatten announced his Partition Plan, popularly known as 3rd June Plan, neither Muslim League nor Congress opposed it.

The 3rd June Plan provided the basic guidelines of the partition scheme of the sub-continent and the 1941 Census was accepted as the baseline. The authenticity of the 1941 Census was very much dubious. It even failed to satisfy the Census Commissioner, MWM Yeats. He expressed his dissatisfaction in the introductory remarks of the 1941 Census itself . The Census operation was affected by a number of factors. The War, the poor financial condition of the Government as well as the lack of tabulation facilities, buildings and officers hampered the process. Political condition was strenuous. At that time Gandhi’s civil disobedience campaign was in full swing and all over North India the census, as a governmental activity, incurred hostility. More over, different communities intentionally manipulated the census enumeration for political purpose. Even a British poet W.H Auden in his poem entitled “Partition” alludes to the faulty 1941 Census numbers used by Radcliffe while drawing the boundary lines!

“He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate

Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect the contested areas…”

The Govt. identified some districts of Bengal as Muslim majority districts on the basis of the 1941 Census as an immediate move towards partition. These districts were Chittagong, Noakhali and Tripura of Chittagong Division; Bakerganj, Dacca, Faridpur and Mymensingh of Dacca Division; Jessore, Murshidabad and Nadia of Presidency Division; Bogra, Dinajpur, Malda, Pabna, Rajshahi and Rangpur of Rajshahi Division. The Muslim majority areas were to be included in Pakistan and the Hindu majority areas in India. According to the Plan, the Bengal Legislative Assembly was divided into two parts and they met separately on 20 June 1947 to decide the question of partition. The majority of representatives of the Hindu majority districts voted in favour of the partition of Bengal, while those of the Muslim majority districts voted against it. On the basis of this vote, it was taken that the will of partition had been sufficiently established. The Plan also proposed the formation of a Boundary Commission to draw the final boundary line between the two parts of Bengal.

Drawing the Boundary Line: The Formation of the Bengal Boundary Commission

National borders are political constructs, imagined projections of territorial power. Although they appear on maps in deceptively precise forms, they reflect, at least initially, merely the mental images of politicians, lawyers, and intellectuals. The mapping of the modern borders was a process first perfected in Europe but soon applied all over the world. The border revealed the territorial consolidation of the state as well as the markers of the actual power of that state. It was, in a way, an offspring of the idea of the nation state. The nation state formation in South Asia passed through a tricky process of boundary making. The new borders of India and Pakistan and later Bangladesh were curved out of the unified British Empire.

The Bengal Boundary commission was constituted on 30 June 1947. The members appointed in the Commission were Justice Bijan Kumar Mukherjea, Justice C.C. Biswas, Justice Abu Saleh Mohamad Akram and Justice S.A. Rahaman. Sir Cyril Radcliffe was appointed as the Chairman of the Commission. The Boundary Commission was ‘instructed to demarcate the boundaries of the two parts of Bengal on the basis of ascertaining the contiguous areas of Muslims and non-Muslims. In doing so, it will also take into account other factors’. It was also instructed to finalize the report before 15 August. After preliminary meetings, the commission invited the submission of memoranda and representations by interested parties. A large number of memoranda and representations were received. The public sitting of the Commission took place in Calcutta between 16 July and 24 July at a stretch with the exception of 20 July (a Sunday). Arguments were presented to the Commission by numerous parties on both sides. However, the main cases were presented by counsel on behalf of the Indian National Congress, the Bengal Provincial Hindu Mahasabha and the New Bengal Association on the one hand, and on the behalf of the Muslim League on the other. As Radcliffe acted as the Chairman of the Punjab Boundary Commission simultaneously, he did not attend the public sittings in person. After the close of the time of public sittings, the Commission devoted its time for clarification and discussion of the issues involved. The discussion took place in Calcutta.

Problems Faced by Radcliffe

As the Chairman of the Bengal Boundary Commission, Radcliffe faced some serious problems which were mentioned in the Award. These were as follows:
1. To which State was the City of Calcutta to be assigned, or was it possible to adopt any method of dividing the City between the two States?
2. If the City of Calcutta must be assigned as a whole to one or other of the States, what were its indispensable claims to the control of territory, such as all or part of the Nadia river system or Kulti rivers, upon which the life of Calcutta as a city and port depended?
3. Could the attraction of the Ganges-Padma-Madhumati river line displace the strong claims of the heavy concentration of Muslim majorities in the districts of Jessore and Nadia without doing too great a violence to the principles of our terms of reference?
4. Could the district of Khulna usefully be held in a State different from that which held the district of Jessore?
5. Was it right to assign to Eastern Bengal the considerable block of non-Muslim majorities in the district of Malda and Dinajpur?
6. Which State’s claim ought to prevail in respect of the districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, in which the Muslim population amounted to 2.42 per cent of the whole in case of Darjeeling, and to 23.08 per cent of the whole of Jalpaiguri, but which constituted an area not in any natural sense contiguous to another non-Muslim area of Bengal?
7. To which State should the Chittagong Hill Tracts be assigned, an area in which the Muslim population was only 3 per cent of the whole, but which it was difficult to assign to a State different from that which controlled the district of Chittagong itself?

Radcliffe Award

The Radcliffe Award was published on 17 August 1947 two days after the Independence after much speculation. It drew a dividing line between the two parts of Bengal (See Map 1)

1. To East Bengal (East Pakistan) was assigned the whole of the Chittagong and Dacca Division comprising seven districts; the whole of the Rangpur, Bogra, Rajshahi and Pabna districts of the Rajshahi Division and the whole of the Khulna district of the Presidency Division.
2. To West Bengal was assigned the whole of the Burdwan Division; the districts of Calcutta, the 24 Parganas and Murshidabad of the Presidency Division and the Darjeeling district of the Rajshahi Division.
3. The five districts of undivided Bengal viz. Nadia, Jessore, Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri and Malda were, of course, divided between West Bengal and East Bengal (Pakistan).
4. In Nadia districts, twelve Police Stations, viz. Alamdanga, Bhoiramana, Chandanga, Damurhuda, that part of Daulatpur, east of the river Mathabhanga, Gangani, Jilannagar, Khoksa, Kumarkhali, Kushtia and Mirpur were assigned to East Pakistan. These police stations constituted 1352 square miles in area.

5. Jessore largely remained in East Bengal. Only two police stations of the district viz. Bongaon and Gaighata were added to 24 Parganas district of West Bengal which comprised 319.8 square miles in area.
6. In the case of Dinajpur district, ten police stations were included in West Bengal. They were Banshihari, a part of Balurghat, (west of the main north-south railway line), Hemtabad, Itahar, Kaliaganj, Kosmandi, Kumarganj, Rajganj, Sangarampur and Tapan. The remainder of the district went to East Pakistan.
7. The whole of Jalpaiguri district was included in West Bengal except five police stations and some enclaves, south of Cooch Behar State. These five police stations were Bada, Debiganj, Pachagar, Patgram and Tetulia. They constituted 672 square miles area.
8. In Malda district the following five police stations were assigned to East Pakistan. They were Bholaghat, Gomastapur, Nachol, Nawabganj and Shibganj. They accounted for 596 square miles in area. The remainder of the district came to West Bengal.
9. The whole district of Sylhet was transformed from the province of Assam to the new province of East Pakistan, excepting for the four police stations of Patharkandi, Rataleari, Karimganj and Badanpur. These police stations were inhabited mostly by the Bengali speaking Hindus.
10. Murshidabad district did not lose to East Pakistan any entire police station. However, several maujas (village clusters) of a number of bordering police stations were subject to dispute or in de facto possession of East Bengal.

The Award gave West Bengal an area of 28000 square miles, containing a population of 21.19 million people of which nearly 5.3 million (or 29%) were Muslims. East Bengal got 49000 square miles for a population of 39.11 million, of which 29.1% (11.4 million) were Hindus. West Bengal got 36.36% of the land to accommodate some 35.14% of people, while East Bengal got 63.6% of land to accommodate 64.85% of population.

An Evaluation of the works of the Commission

The Radcliffe Award received severe criticism from almost every corner. People resented certain features of the Award. However, much of the discontents with the Award were specific rather than general: while particular aspects of it were criticized in the strongest terms, the Award as a whole was not challenged. This sort of discontent was voiced chiefly by those who found themselves on the wrong side of the border. The Muslims in Murshidabad and Nabadwip were furious for their inclusion in West Bengal. Five southern thanas of Jalpaiguri protested their inclusion in East Pakistan. So did the Hindus who found themselves in the wrong part of Dinajpur. However, the strongest protest came from Khulna which was a Hindu majority district. “It is fair to say that this sort of criticism of the Radcliffe line was far from being a critique of partition, or even of the Award as a whole. It was the panic-stricken response of people who realized, too late, that they had been shut out of their promised land.”

However there were some general and fundamental problems relating to the Award. Joya Chatterji has pointed out some of them. First of all the Award was surrounded by severe uncertainty. This was chiefly the product of misinformation. Most of the people simply did not have access to the printed document and did not know what it contained. Satinath Bhaduri has portrayed vividly the confusion and uncertainty among the common people regarding the Award in his short story ‘Gananayak (The Champion of the People)’ .Bibhuti Bhushan Mukhopadhyay in his short story ‘Acharya Kripalini Colony’ also portrayed the confusion around the Award particularly in the border regions. In that tensed and confusing situation, land price greatly increased because people residing in the border areas were very eager to secure a safer place for themselves.

Secondly, Radcliffe drafted the border line on the basis of physical or natural markers and pre-existing administrative borders. Parts of it were traced over the boundaries between thanas and districts, other parts followed the course of large rivers and their tributaries. On paper the result was a clear and tidy line. But the picture on the ground was very different. The frontiers between thanas and even between districts were not physically marked out. Actual administrative boundaries could only be established with reference to survey and settlement maps, which were often inaccurate and almost always outdated. Naturally it created so many administrative problems at the micro level. Very often the settlement maps differed from the crime maps used by the local police stations to establish their jurisdiction. Radcliffe accepted the thana as the smallest unit of partition, but he used settlement maps rather than crime maps to mark out the border. Contradictions between the two maps were sought to be exploited by both sides, each insisting on whichever interpretation would give it more territory.

Thirdly, the geographical and natural boundaries did not work much better in providing border posts in Radcliffe’s Award. A number of rivers formed a vital part in Radcliffe’s line. Some of them were fed by the melting Himalayan ice-caps and flowed throughout the year. Others were rain fed, and except for the monsoon months, dried up to a trickle. Moreover, the rivers frequently changed their course. Radcliffe had not given any thought to the possibility of rivers changing course----a serious lapse in a province whose rivers were notoriously wayward. The river chars became a major center of conflict between the two states. These problems could have been avoided, or at least minimized, had Radcliffe and the Boundary Commission done their job with greater care.

The Factors that Sealed the Fate of the Commission

We can identify some of the factors which severely affected the working of the Commission and ultimately sealed the fate of the Commission.

1. The structure and composition of the Commission

Radcliffe was widely respected for his intellectual abilities, but he had never been to India. Paradoxically, this fact made him a more attractive candidate, on the theory that ignorance of India would equal to impartiality. He was appointed as the chairman of both the Boundary Commissions for partitioning Bengal and Punjab. Each commission was composed of four judges, two selected by Congress and two by the League. In the end, this two-versus-two format and the judges’ strong political biases produced deadlock, leaving Radcliffe the responsibility to take all the most difficult decisions himself . “The Boundary Commission is instructed to demarcate the boundaries of the two parts of Bengal on the basis of ascertaining the contiguous majority areas of Muslims and non-Muslims. In doing so, it will also take into account other factors.” These terms, i.e. the ‘other factors’, allowed the Chairman enormous freedom of action. However, after the final boundary decision, known as the Radcliffe Award, had been announced, all sides complained that Radcliffe had not taken the right ‘other factors’ into account. The commission’s membership, composed entirely of legal experts, hampered its boundary-making effort but added a valuable veneer of justice and legitimacy. Its composition of equal numbers of Congress and League nominees paved the way to deadlock but created an appearance of political balance. The presence of these political nominees came at the expense of the use of the necessary geographical experts, but satisfied the demands of Congress, League, and of course the British Government to have their own men on the commission. The absence of outside participants—for example, from the United Nations—also satisfied the British Government’s urgent desire to save face by avoiding the appearance that it required outside help to govern—or stop governing—its own empire.

2. The Time Schedule

The structure and composition of the Commission limited its effectiveness, but the most serious flaw was the extremely tight timetable that the British Government, Congress, and League imposed on it. Radcliffe arrived in India on July 8 and met with Mountbatten and the nationalist leaders soon thereafter. It was at this meeting that Radcliffe learned, apparently for the first time, that the boundary must be completed by August 15. He protested, but Mountbatten, Nehru, and Jinnah stood firm. Despite warnings that the time restriction could spoil the end result, they wanted the line finished by August 15. The Commission’s extremely tight timetable made it impossible to make the necessary geographical surveys and gather other information vital to a systematic boundary making.

Time Schedule of the Bengal Boundary Commission

03 June: Announce of the Mounbatten Plan
30 June: Constitution of the Bengal Boundary Commission with Radcliffe as the chairman
08 July: Radcliffe arrived in Delhi and meet the Indian leaders
16-24 July: Public sittings of the Commission held in Calcutta
13 August: Radcliffe submitted the Report
17 August: The Award was announced publicly

3. Radcliffe’s Ignorance about Boundary Making Process

Radcliffe’s efforts were further hampered by the fact that he was almost completely ignorant of the technical information and procedural requirements necessary to draw an international boundary, though these were well established by 1947 . Moreover, he lacked any advisors versed in even the basics of boundary-making, and only his private secretary, Christopher Beaumont, was familiar with the realities of administration and everyday life in the Punjab. Radcliffe’s South Asian colleagues, all legal experts like himself, were as ignorant as their Chairman of boundary-making requirements.

4. The Undeclared Political Ends of the Commission

Radcliffe was not as unbiased, nor as ignorant, as the Indian leaders assumed. On the contrary, his wartime experience as director-general of the British Ministry of Information, along with his sound Establishment background, left him intimately familiar with the goals and interests of His Majesty’s Government. There is no evidence that Radcliffe was biased against Hindus, Muslims, or Sikhs, but he was certainly biased in favor of preserving British interests. As far as its undeclared political ends were concerned, then, the Radcliffe Commission was well arranged. Unfortunately, the forces that shaped the Commission to fulfill political needs also prevented it from following well-established boundary-making procedures.
Consequences of the Radcliffe’s Awards: ‘Radcliffe’s Ghost’ is still visible in the Subcontinent.

The Partition led to a new set of problems. Radcliffe had drawn an artificial line between India and Pakistan. Not only were the new borders artificial, but also many did not know for sure where they belonged, because the border had not been physically demarcated on the ground. It not only divided a nation but also cut through the middle of several villages; in some cases, while the main house was in one country, the servant quarters or bathrooms were in another. More importantly, it disrupted the traditional way of life and people were cut off from their traditional markets, sources of livelihood, medical facilities, etc. it produced a number of enclaves, large scale trans-border migration, smuggling, terrorism, border disputes, river water disputes and so on.

1. The Enclave Problem

The Radcliffe Award produced a very complex problem i.e. the enclave problem. It left a large number of people virtually stateless. There are 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India and 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh. Of these disputed enclaves, 65 are along the West Bengal- Bangladesh border (35 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh territory and 31 in reverse.) The problem of enclaves is a legacy of the dissipated life styles of the rulers of two former princely states of Cooch Behar in North Bengal and Rangpur in South Bengal (present day Bangladesh). The Rajas of the two princely states routinely staked pieces of their estates over a game of cards, and thus came to acquire pockets of land in each other’s territory. The lands were pledged on piece of paper known as ‘chits’ and hence, these lands are still called ‘chits’. The ownership of these enclaves devolved upon India and East Pakistan after partition in 1947. Sir Cyril Radcliffe drew the dividing line as the parties involved failed to arrive at any agreed border. He was concerned with not disturbing the ‘railway communications and river systems’ rather than the issue of enclaves. He left the problem unresolved and thus, sowed the seed of a long lasting and complex dispute between the partitioned states of South Asia.

This issue was not resolved till 1971, when East Pakistan became Bangladesh, and inherited the problem. The residents of these enclaves were initially free to move to their respective mainland. But increased tension between India and Pakistan led to this movement being restricted, and problems arising in trade and transit. There has been no administration in these enclaves for the last 50 years. Hence, no police, no revenue, no taxation, and no government services are available. Over the years, the Bengali Muslims in the enclaves in India have migrated to other parts of the state (West Bengal), and the Hindus in the Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh have migrated to India. These enclaves have long been at the centre of Indo-east Pakistani and the Indo-Bangladeshi boundary disputes since Cooch Behar acceded to India in 1949.

2. Porous Border: Trans-border migration and terrorism

It is a well-known fact that illegal immigration from erstwhile East Pakistan and present Bangladesh has led to serious social tension in West Bengal and the entire northeastern region. On account of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, Hindu refugees moved from East Pakistan, without much interruption, to various parts of India, especially to West Bengal, till 1971, when political boundaries in South Asia were redrawn. Even after the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country in 1971, the march of refugees to West Bengal appeared to be ceaseless. In the days of Pakistan, most of the refugees coming to West Bengal were members of the minority communities in East Bengal (East Pakistan), viz. Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. As a consequence, during 1951—1961, Hindu share of population in East Pakistan came down to 3.5% with growth rate of only 1.53%. [i.e. from 22.0% in 1951 to 18.5% in 1961]. Even during 1961—1974 period Hindu population share further declined by 5% to 13.5% in 1974. A large number of Hindu families who crossed over to India during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971 did not return.

After the emergence of sovereign Bangladesh in 1971 the Muslims in West Bengal did not feel any urge to migrate to Bangladesh. On the contrary, a huge number of Muslims started infiltrating primarily in the bordering districts of West Bengal. Consequently, the Muslim population in the border districts as well as in other interior districts of West Bengal increased in geometric progression.
It is observed from the Bangladesh Population Census 2001, Hindu population share has come down to 9.2% only. During the last 50 years since 1951, very lower growth rate indicates massive migration of Hindu population from Bangladesh to India, particularly in the state of West Bengal. On the other hand, a steady growth of Muslim population since 1951 has enhanced their population share to 89.7% in 2001 from 76.9% in 1951. During the last five decades (1951—2001) growth of Muslim population in Bangladesh is 244.68% as against 23.16% growth of Hindu population. Side by side, growth of Muslim population in West Bengal during the same period is 310.93%, showing much higher growth rate than Bangladesh. It clearly indicates massive Muslim infiltration from Bangladesh to West Bengal.
The problem of illegal immigration continued unabated. The porous border and ready availability of shelter encouraged more infiltration from Bangladesh. Local vote bank politics also encouraged such migration. The Bangladesh government, while covertly encouraging such movement, officially denies that there has been any illegal influx of its people to any part of India.
In the post-partition period, the quantum of illegal immigration to Assam has been phenomenal. It became a crucial issue for the Assamese because they feared that the population profile of the Assam Valley would change in favour of immigrant Muslims if the influx continued. In Tripura the migrants have outnumbered the indigenous tribals. It is primarily due to this reason that there is violence and insurgency in the state.

The Bengal border has traditionally been peaceful and quite open. Although the number of authorized transit points for goods and people is limited, for villagers living on both sides of the border, it virtually does not exist. Traditionally, villagers have been crossing the border to access markets, raw materials, medical facilities, etc. For example, it is a known fact that almost all of the cycle-rickshaw pullers in Agartala, the capital of Tripura, come every morning from Bangladesh to carry on their trade and go back the same evening. They also carry head loads of smuggled goods both ways. Both governments have generally ignored this kind of informal cross-border trade.
The existing legal structure in 1947 did not envisage any such partition and was not capable of meeting the new challenges which arose due to this decision. It was only in 1955 that the Indian Citizenship Act was passed by Parliament, and it was not till 1967 that a new Act, which took cognizance of illegal immigration into India, was passed.

Initially, the Government of India did not pay much attention to this border, which was thinly policed, mainly by armed police battalions of Assam and West Bengal. This state of affairs was not very satisfactory and in 1965, a central force, the BSF, replaced the state police. However, the BSF was never deployed in sufficient strength and the main problems plaguing this border continue. These chiefly consisted of trans-border trafficking by various underground groups to set up training camps and bases in erstwhile East Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Naga and Mizo insurgents travelled extensively across this border to bring men, material and supplies to wage war against India. Later, other underground outfits of various northeastern insurgent groups also used this porous border to bring in arms and ammunition and send across recruits for arms training. They also used it for drug smuggling. In fact, taking advantage of this thinly policed border, not only local insurgent groups but also Kashmiri and Pan-Islamic terrorist groups have been using it, particularly since the mid-1990s, to send their leaders and trained cadres for carrying out terrorist activities in India. The porous border allowed easy flow of migrants from East Pakistan and later Bangladesh, which are densely populated, to West Bengal, Assam and other northeastern states.

3. Problems of the Sharing of River Water

The boundary line demarcated in 1947 defied all logic of geography and introduced a new dimension in the South Asian region, ‘hydro-politics’ or conflict over water. The Partition of the Sub continent created a severe problem in the management of river water. While in 1960, the Indus water sharing problem was resolved after prolonged negotiation between the two states in mediation of the World Bank, the Ganges river water problem remained unresolved till today.
The Ganges river dispute has been regarded as one of the long lasting and most interesting international water disputes. The river flows down from the Himalayan Nanda Devi range and incorporates the riparian states of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and China. The river flows for over 92% of its course within India, before merging with the Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers in Bangladesh and then flowing out into the Bay of Bengal (indeed the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna system is responsible for the existence of Bangladesh itself which is a delta formed from systems silt deposits).

The debate originated in 1951 with the publication of the Indian plan of constructing a barrage at Farakka, 17 kilometers away from the border. The barrage would reportedly divert 40000 cusecs out of a dry season average flow of 50,000 cusecs from the Ganges into the Bhagirathi-Hooghly tributary, to provide silt-free flow into Calcutta Bay, which would improve navigability for the city's port during dry months and keep saltwater from the city's water supply. The Pakistani government officially attracted the attention of the Indian government about the plan. On 8 March 1952, the Indian government replied that the project was only under preliminary investigation. Over the next years, Pakistan occasionally responded to reports of Indian plans for diversion projects of the Ganges, with little Indian response. In 1957, and again in 1958, Pakistan offered a bundle of proposals for the better management of the river water which was crucial for her survival. India virtually turned down all the proposals. Later it was agreed that water resources experts of the two countries would meet to exchange their views.

Thereafter several expert-level meetings between India and Pakistan were held. In the meantime (1961), India announced the initiation of the construction of the Farakka Barrage which was completed in 1970. However, water was not diverted at that time, because the feeder canal to the Bhagirathi-Hooghly system was not yet completed.

Bangladesh came into being in 1971, and by March 1972, the governments of India and Bangladesh agreed to establish the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission, “to develop the waters of the rivers common to the two countries on a cooperative basis.” After long discussion the two sides agreed that a mutually acceptable solution to issues around the Ganges would be reached before operating the Farakka Barrage. On 16 May 1974, the prime ministers of India and Bangladesh met in New Delhi and signed on a joint declaration on the issue. After that the trial operation of the Farakka Barrage started on 16 April 1975. India continued to divert Ganges water after the trial run, without negotiating a suitable agreement with Bangladesh. Bangladesh lodged a formal protest against India with the UNO. As a result the Ganges Water Agreement was signed on 5 November 1977 only for a short term basis. Ultimately in 1996 an agreement was made between the two countries. The 1996 Agreement undoubtedly heralded a new chapter in the Indo-Bangladesh relationship. However, the Agreement had some serious flaws and thus failed to provide a permanent solution to the Ganges water dispute. The artificially created boundary not only produced severe tension in the relationship between the two neighbouting states but also grave environmental problems in the subcontinent.

The changing course of the Ganges has posed a serious threat to the Farakka Barrage itself as well as the future of the people of a large part of Malda and Murshidabad. The uninterrupted encroachment of the river towards its left bank may outflank the barrage and open a new course through the present Kalindi-Mahananda route. The land eroded from the left bank of the Ganges in Malda is more than 200, while that in Murshidabad is about 356 sq,km. Millions of rupees are wasted every year in bank protection. The rehabilitation of the erosion-victims is a serious problem to the state government.

5. Border Clashes

The Indo-Bangladesh (previously East Pakistan) border is the longest land border which India has with any of its neighbours. The hastily created border did not bother about the basic norms of boundary making. Naturally it produced a number of problems. The incomplete demarcation, existence of a large number of enclaves and adverse possession made the situation grave in the Bengal borderland. Cyril Radcliffe botched up the job in the east by drawing a straight line through villages and rivers, houses and marketplaces. Neither did the Indian members of the commission at that time, nor did their successors who came to rule the country later, care to undo the damage by rationally demarcating the border. As a result, border conflicts continue to plague India and its neighbour Bangladesh. Initially, the Government of India did not pay much attention to this border, which was thinly policed, mainly by armed police battalions of Assam and West Bengal. This state of affairs was not very satisfactory and in 1965, a central force, the BSF, replaced the state police. However, the BSF was never deployed in sufficient strength and the main problems plaguing this border continue. The result has been the recurrent border clashes between BSF and BDR, each of these being required to protect and defend a 4,000 km border that is porous along certain stretches, parts of which keep on changing according to the unpredictable course of the rivers that run by them, and including a 6.5 km stretch that has not yet been demarcated. Frequent skirmishes are a regular feature in the Bengal borderland nowadays. One observer has rightly pointed out “….Cyril Radcliff’s sloppy surgery which has left behind our subcontinent as a mangled body is still held sacrosanct by the rulers of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Will they ever be exorcise the ghost of colonialism?”

6. Life in the Bengal Border

The Boundary Commission
Paul Muldoon

You remember that village where the border ran
Down the middle of the street,
With the butcher and baker in different states?
Today he remarked how a shower of rain
Had stopped so cleanly across Golightly's lane
It might have been a wall of glass
That had toppled over. He stood there, for ages,
To wonder which side, if any, he should be on.

The life and culture of the people living in the borderlands is getting more and more scholarly attention nowadays. The newly drawn border disrupted the day to day life of the people living in the border areas. “It separated the peasant’s homestead from the plot he had sharecropped in the last session and the peasant-proprietor from his holding. It cut creditors off from debtors; landlords from tenants.” The Partition badly disrupted the channels of communication which had developed through centuries. It separated the markets from the surrounding villages on which they were dependent.
Thus, the people living in the border took up smuggling as their survival strategy. Partition, though an event more than half a century old, is still a grotesque reality in the border zone.


The boundary making process in Bengal and its consequences reveals some very interesting features. Boundary making is a delicate and specialized task which requires sufficient time and technical knowledge to make it a success. That huge task was done in this case in a hurried manner which had no parallel in history. It has already been shown that neither Radcliffe nor his colleagues had any previous experience of boundary making process. The Chairman and all the members of the Commission were lawyers. It was just another legal battle to them. The 2:2 ratio of the Commission created a deadlock and the final decisions were taken by Radcliffe who was totally ignorant about the subcontinent. Joya Chatterji has rightly criticized the use of the surgical metaphor behind the act of partition. Surgery produces pain, but it has a remedial effect. Moreover it is undertaken by a specialist. The Partition was neither done by a specialist nor did it have any remedial effect. It only produced pain and rapture and the people involved are still going through it. A lengthier and more transparent boundary making process might have served as a sort of anesthetic effect in this process. Radcliffe himself was probably aware of what damage he had done to the subcontinent. He honestly confessed to his son: ‘…..Nobody in India will love me for the award about the Punjab and Bengal and there will be roughly 80 million people with a grievance who will begin looking for me’.

However, even the most carefully crafted border is not altogether free from defects. So it is not enough to criticize the working of the Commission on particular grounds. We can reasonably question the very idea of Partition as a viable means of conflict resolution. The Partition did not end the communal problem in the subcontinent. Rather it created so many new problems. The overall strenuous relationship between the three successor states, recurrent border clashes, trans-border migration, smuggling, terrorism, dispute over river water sharing, problems of the minorities ---all these developments indicate that the Partition is too costly a solution of communal problem. The high level politicians conceived it, the lawyers of the Commission drafted it, and the bureaucrats implemented it without bothering about its consequences for the common people. They had to pay the high price of Independence. They were sacrificed for the sake of the formation of the nation states in the subcontinent. The people on both sides of the border, in turn, openly violate the logic of the nation-state in their day to day life. This is the greatest fallacy of the Partition.