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The Great Calcutta Killings (Direct Action Day) | Indian History | Free PDF Download

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BACKGROUND

  • In 1946, the Indian independence movement against the British Raj had reached a pivotal stage. British Prime Minister Clement Attlee sent a three-member Cabinet Mission to India aimed at discussing and finalising plans for the transfer of power from the British Raj to the Indian leadership.
  • After holding talks with the representatives of the Indian National Congressand the All India Muslim League,on 16 May 1946, the Mission proposed a plan of composition of the new Dominion of India and its government.
  • The Muslim League demand for ‘autonomous and sovereign’ states in the northwest and the east. The central government was expected to handle the subjects of defence, external affairs and communications.
  • Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan of 16 June. • Jinnah rejected the British Cabinet Mission plan for transfer of power to an interim government which would combine both the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress, and decided to boycott the Constituent Assembly.
  • In July 1946, Jinnah held a press conference at his home in Bombay. He proclaimed that the Muslim league was “preparing to launch a struggle” and that they “have chalked out a plan”.He said that if the Muslims were not granted a separate Pakistan then they would launch “direct action”.
  • The next day, Jinnah announced 16 August 1946 would be “Direct Action Day” .

RIOTS

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  • Troubles started on the morning of 16 August,here were many reports of brawls, stabbing and throwing of stones and brickbats.
  • These were mainly concentrated in the North-central parts of the city like Rajabazar, Kelabagan, College Street, Harrison Road, Colootolla and Burrabazar. In these areas the Hindus were in a majority.
  • The trouble had assumed the communal character which it was to retain throughout.
  • The meeting began around 2 pm though processions of Muslims from all parts of Calcutta had started assembling since the midday prayers. A large number of the participants were reported to have been armed with iron bars and lathis.
  • The numbers attending were estimated by a Central Intelligence Officer’s reporter (a Hindu) at 30,000 and by a Special Branch Inspector of Calcutta Police (a Muslim) at 500,000.
  • The main speakers were Khawaja Nazimuddin and Chief Minister Suhrawardy.
  • Subsequently, there were reports of lorries (trucks) that came down in Calcutta, carrying Muslim men armed with brickbats and bottles as weapons and attacking Hindu-owned shops.
  • Hindus and Sikhs were just as fierce as the Muslims in the beginning. Parties of one community would lie in wait, and as soon as they caught one of the other community, they would cut him to pieces.
  • A 6 pm curfew was imposed in the parts of the city where there had been rioting. At 8 pm troops were deployed to secure main routes and conduct patrols from those arteries, thereby freeing up police for work in the slum areas.
  • The worst of the killing took place during the day on 17 August. By late afternoon soldiers brought the worst areas under control, and the army expanded its hold overnight.
  • In the slums and other areas outside military control, however, lawlessness escalated.
  • Skirmishes between the communities continued for almost a week. Finally, on 21 August, Bengal was put under Viceroy’s rule. 5 battalions of British troops, supported by 4 battalions of Indians and Gurkhas, were deployed in the city.

AFTERMATH

  • During the riots, thousands began fleeing Calcutta. For several days the Howrah Bridge over the Hooghly River was crowded with evacuees headed for the Howrah station to escape the mayhem in Calcutta.
  • There was criticism of Suhrawardy, Chief Minister in charge of the Home Portfolio in Calcutta, for being partisan and of Sir Frederick John Burrows, the British Governor of Bengal, for not having taken control of the situation.
  • Both the British and Congress blamed Jinnah for calling the Direct Action Day and the Muslim League was seen responsible for stirring up the Islamic nationalist sentiment.
  • However, supporters of the Muslim League believed that the Congress Party was behind the violence in an effort to weaken the fragile Muslim League government in Bengal.

DEATH

  • In 1960, he suffered a heart attack. He was treated by top doctors in India, including his friend Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal.
  • His health started deteriorating and he died on 7 March 1961 at the age of 74, from a cerebral stroke. At that time he was still in office as the Home Minister of India.

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