“Quit or die!” – Gandhi warns Hindus

'Direct Action Day' was a call for a show of strength by the Muslim League. The secularist narrative, instead of condemning the perpetrators of violence, blames Hindu intellectuals and spiritual leaders, who were either far away from the scene or dead when the 'Great Calcutta Killings' took place.

“Quit or die!” – Gandhi warns Hindus

Last year on August 16, The Quint published a brief account analyzing the prelude to the horrific killings of the Direct Action Day (DAD) or the ‘Great Calcutta Killings’. As expected, the story treaded a carefully constructed line of argument that bolsters the secularist account of Indian History. It is always edifying to recall the history of the land, even if painful, but it is vital not to whitewash this history to project a narrative that serves one’s agenda at the expense of the objective truth. The secularist narrative, of which the Quint article is an authentic sample, insinuates that the DAD was, after all, a result of the ‘Hinduization’ of the freedom movement and therefore, the blame for the violence it unleashed lies with Hindu leaders and thinkers like Aurobindo, Bankim and Vivekananda.

Strange logic this one for sure, but let us dig deeper. It is correct that the ideas of the Indian National movement, and the urge to overthrow the British, were born from a sense of cultural and national integrity, which necessarily harked back to the Dharmic ethos of this land. It is futile to pretend otherwise, given that from the earliest of times what forged a sense of unity in India had been the culture and way of life born out of Dharma. When Alexander’s leftover satraps in the Northwest were vanquished by Chandragupta, aided by the advice and direction of his guru Chanakya, it was again a sense of the civilizational and cultural integrity that formed the  philosophical base on which such an action was carried out. During the British era, Bankim’s call of “Vande Mataram” galvanized a whole nation; Sri Aurobindo during his initial days as a revolutionary leader would use the Gita to inspire young people to a life of commitment towards the Nation and its freedom. It was a standard procedure in the Onushilan Samiti to take a vow on the Bhagavad Gita before someone took to this path. And unquestionably, Swami Vivekananda’s spiritual patriotism was the inspirational fire that gave birth to some of the greatest leaders of pre-independence India.

But should any of these facts be considered morally wrong or inappropriate? On the contrary, one may argue that if not for the Dharma-inspired bravery and enthusiasm, the goal of Swarajya would perhaps never have been achieved. It would certainly not have been possible by any amount of ahimsa-sloganeering, as the former British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, had quite categorically stated[1]

What about the Muslims?

If the Hindus were drawing inspiration from their religion, what was stopping the Muslims from doing so? Probably, an insurmountable theological barrier and the physical distance of 4000 kilometers separating the Middle-Eastern desert towns from the fertile plains of the Indian subcontinent. Or perhaps they were drawing inspiration from their religion, only for purposes antagonistic to India’s concern and well being.  We know from the recorded history of the Khilafat movement that there was far greater enthusiasm among the Muslims of India for the establishment of a Caliphate in Turkey, something that had absolutely no consequence on the life of an average Indian in the sub-continent, than for the plight of fellow countrymen under the British rule. This may sound strange but that is only if someone is unfamiliar with a clear reading of the political theology of Islam. From Timur to Babur to the Khilafati crowd, everyone seems to have drawn inspiration from the core theology of Islam, the initial orders and ways of the prophet for every action, and not surprisingly, even today the same narrative of us-vs-them seems to inspire every Jihadi act of terror across the world. So, let us not pretend that the followers of Islam were free from religiosity or that they desired some kind of a non-religious amalgamation of forces to oust the British. On the contrary, they were, and remain, perfectly steeped in their religious ethos, use it as an inspiration for all sort of activities, not excluding separatist demands. Moreover, theologically Islam has always pegged itself around the Prophet and the initial history of the religion just after the prophet’s demise, thus fostering a kind of trans-national religious allegiance, with little or no scope for patriotism towards one’s land of birth and settlement, unless it happens to be Arabia or a land following the laws of Islam. Democracy itself is an alien concept in such a theological milieu.

After the decline of the Mughal empire and the subsequent rise of the Marathas followed by the establishment of the British imperial government, many of the important religious heads of Islam in India lamented their fall from political power, identifying the root cause of this decline to a dilution of “true Islam”, and the inability of the Mughals to convert more Hindus or enforce a strict adherence to the Sharia law. Many of them became drawn towards the radical revision of Islam started by Muhammad-Al Wahab in Arabia. Some of the most influential Muslim religious leaders, who held the greatest sway over the populace, like Syed Ahmed Barelvi started a Jihad in India, not against the British but rather against the Sikh Empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. This jihadi movement came in conflict with the British only after the British took over the Sikh empire, but its aim was not so much a removal of the British, but rather a gaining back of the political power lost by Muslims through the conscious and forceful rejection of shirk (polytheism) and Bid’ah (innovation in Islam). Nationalism was simply not the least of their concerns. Interestingly, some scholars try and give to spin the historical facts in a way that gives Ahmed Barelvi’s incidental opposition to the British an aura of a nascent nationalistic consciousness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The man is regarded as a ‘shaheed’ of Islam, who died fighting the infidels. For the average Muslim in pre-independence India, any form of loyalty revolved around the Mosque and Madrasa, which eventually resulted in their further alienation from the rest of India (read Hindu Indians), particularly after the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny.

Then came the reformist ideas of Sir Syed and Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani but again, they were still committed to the idea of pan-Islamism, with the ‘Ummah’ being a global community of Muslims, rather than any particularly coherent notion of freedom from the British or of Indian nationalism. With the new surge of Islamic leaders whose ideas longed for a revival of Islamic power, many Muslims in India would categorically point out their foreign ancestry as a way of establishing their special status that not only were they not of this land but rather belonged to a superior pan-Islamist tribe that had ruled India for centuries.

Jinnah, the most charismatic secular leader of political Islam would eventually make matters amply clear when he wrote the following:

“A Muslim of one country has far more sympathies with a Muslim living in another country than with a non-Muslim living in the same country. Even now an Indian Muslim feels far more stirred by the distress of his Muslim brothers beyond India than by a similar calamity affecting non-Muslims in India.” [2]

This was supported by Muhammed Iqbal as well. Dr. Ambedkar, in his book “Pakistan or the Partition of India” puts forth an alarming question as to whether Muslims in the Army could be trusted to defend the nation in case of an attack by a Muslims from outside, or in case of any Islamic rebellion. In short, the prevailing consciousness of the Muslim community right from the twilight of the Mughal rule was fuelled by the idea of an Islamic revivalism, where non-Muslims had no role to play other than being fodder for conversion to the true path, and this, in due course, resulted in the partition of India. Pan-Islamism is anathema to patriotism. This is of course not to belittle the efforts of certain individual Muslims who, going against the majority trend within their community, worked towards the independence of a united India. Alas, one swallow does not make a summer.

Given the above facts, it is intellectually dishonest and politically devious for someone to suggest that the Hindu cultural impetus used to power the freedom movement was somehow responsible for the violence perpetrated decades later by precisely those people who did not subscribe to the Hindu ethos of the movement. It is unbelievable how the secularist ideologues completely miss the irony in their motivated interpretation of the events leading to the creation of Pakistan, which was seen by the Muslim intelligentsia of the time as the creation of a new Medina. [3]

Direct Action

Jinnah’s call for ‘Direct Action’, a euphemism for a show of strength by the Muslims, on the 16th of August, resulted in the Great Calcutta Killings, characterized by widespread riots and killings that were a direct consequence of the actions of the Muslim league. Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy gave a speech calling for a strike at the Brigade Parade Grounds in Calcutta and violence erupted immediately after. Notices and pamphlets were distributed in Mosques calling for a new Muslim nation, as always drawing inspiration from the Quran and the wars that Muhammed fought against the infidels of Arabia. Frederick Burrows, in the Burrows’ Report to Lord Wavell [4], mentions that Surawardy told the crowd of Muslims that, “he [the Chief Minister] had seen to police and military arrangements who would not interfere.” Whether such an order was given or not, the abrupt effect was a free invitation to violence and many of the gathered Muslim crowd immediately started attacking Hindu shops and business establishments. The Hindus and Sikhs retaliated and leaders like Gopal Pathaplayed a key role in organizing Hindus and pushing back the Muslim rioters. The Calcutta Killings sparked off riots in Noakhali (in East Bengal) and spread all the way to Bihar and even Punjab.

The infamous Noakhali riots in Chittagong were an organized attack led by Muslims, who were in the majority in that area, under the leadership of the Muslim League. The massacre of Hindus started on the day of Lakshmi Puja on 10th October and continued unabated, with some reports suggesting that at least 5000 Hindus were killed, with countless rapes, abductions and forced conversions. [5] The converted Hindus were made to write declarations that they had accepted Islam out of their free-will. [6] Not only that, Hindus in the 2000 square mile area were also made to pay the Jaziya, a discriminatory tax on infidels as sanctioned by the Koran. Gholam Sarwar Husseini, a pious descendent of two generations of pious Muslims and the caretaker of a Sufi shrine, Diara Sharif, kept instigating Muslims to attack Hindus, formed a private army and entered into what he and his followers believed to be a holy Jihad against non-believers.

Rajendralal Roychowdhury, who was a member of the Noakhali Hindu Mahasabha, gave shelter to many Hindu families at his home during the riots, and as per some records, kept fending off Muslim mobs with a rifle until his ammunition ran out. Next day Roychowdhury’s head was severed and presented to the pious Husseini by his army, while his two daughters were given off to important Muslim men. Benoy Bhusan Ghosh’s “ দ্বিজাতিতত্ত্ব বাঙালী “ (Two Nation Theory and Bengalis) provides details of this incident.

“The severed head of Rajendra Lal Roy was gifted to Gulam Sarowar in a silver plate. At Gulam’s order his two trusted lieutenants took the two beautiful daughters of Mr. Roy as the booty.”

(Binoy Bhusan Ghosh – দ্বিজাতিতত্ত্ব ও বাঙালী ).

Miss Muriel Leister, member of a relief committee sent to Noakhali wrote on 6th November, 1946:

“Worst of all was the plight of women. Several of them had to watch their husbands being murdered and then be forcibly converted and married to some of those responsible for their death. Those women had a dead look. It was not despair, nothing so active as that. It was blackness…….the eating of beef and declaration of allegiance to Islam has been forced upon many thousands as the price of their lives” [7]

Gandhi ventured to Noakhali in order to bring peace but his march soon resulted in stringent opposition from the Muslim league. Leaders like A. K. Fazlul Haq said that Gandhi’s presence was “harming Islam.” Towards the end of his brief stay, his padyatra (tour on foot) routes would be blocked and Muslims stopped attending his meetings. Leaving his mission halfway, he went off to Bihar to quell reactionary violence against Muslims, as news of Noakhali spread to adjoining areas. His concern for reactionary violence came as a response to the request of the same Muslim League who had so efficiently orchestrated the Noakhali massacre. It is reported that eventually, Gandhi had remarked that Hindus must quit Noakhali or face death. The New York Times ran a headline, “Quit Noakhali Or Die, Gandhi Warns Hindus“. [8]

[M.K. Gandhi with M.A. Jinnah (1944)]


The Quint report mentioned in the introductory comments above quotes a BBC program on 50 years of India’s independence, which brazenly cherry picks incidents of Hindu retaliation and conveniently pegs the blame for the Calcutta Killings at the doors of the great spiritual engines of the Indian freedom movement, namely Aurobindo, Bankim and Vivekananda. This shameless propaganda would have been amusing if not for the grim facts of the massacre of Hindus that the secularists are so keen to sweep under the rug. Genocide is a despicable act and the only thing more appalling is its denial, which is like bringing the dead back only to kill them once more using a suspicious mix of outright lies and insidious half-truths. Even Gandhi would agree!
References / Footnotes

[1] M.A. JinnahProblem of India’s future constitution, and allied articles

[2] Sir Frederic John Burrows, Report on Calcutta riots

[3] Venkat Dhulipala, Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India

[4] [6] Dinesh Chandra Sinha and Ashok Dasgupta, 1946: The Great Calcutta Killings and Noakhali Genocide

[5] V.V.Nagarkar, Genesis of Pakistan

[7] R.C.Mazumder, History of Bangladesh,

[8] Benoy Bhusan Ghosh, “দ্বিজাতিতত্ত্ব  বাঙালী “ (Two Nation Theory and Bengalees)

About Author: Rajarshi Nandy

Rajarshi, a sadhaka and adherent of the Sanatan Dharma, is a technical writer by training, and a spiritualist by passion, currently working as a Contributing Editor for SirfNews.com

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