The Great Calcutta Killing of August 1946 took a toll of 30,000 men, women and children. The fighting that followed thereafter, consumed more than a million lives. And yet, the conflict has never been described as a war, but as communal riots.

 

Is not a riot a civil war, which is a non-international armed conflict? One could also call it an internal conflict. Take the riot in Northeast Delhi towards the end of February, wherein pistols and guns were freely used; albeit the weapons were mostly country-made. Victims suffered bullet wounds almost by the hundred. Many an establishment was the target of arson and several places appeared as if bombed from the air, although perhaps they were not.

In the days bygone, the use of guns was rare. Now it is common. Maybe in the future helicopters may be deployed in what we call riots. The question is: why are these conflicts in our country called riots? Is this an attempt to conceal this phenomenon?

The number of casualties is unlikely to be the reason; the Great Calcutta Killing of August 1946 took a toll of 30,000 men, women and children. The fighting that followed thereafter on the eve of Partition and after, consumed more than a million lives, which is a major war by any standards. And yet, the conflict and the killings have never been described as a war, but as “communal riots”. In contrast, India and Pakistan fought several wars—1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999. All these conflicts devoured fewer people than the Great Calcutta Killing.

A number of countries have experienced civil wars. England in 1642 had an internal war between the Cavaliers led by King Charles I and the Roundheads led by Oliver Cromwell. In 1861 began the historic American Civil War between the Unionists and Confederates, broadly the northern and southern states. Its major issue was whether to abolish slavery or not. Incidentally, Abraham Lincoln led the north and went down in history as the emancipator of black slaves.

The first civil war of the 20th century began in 1917 between the Royalists and Bolsheviks or Communists in Russia, also known as White and Red Russians, respectively. In 1936 commenced the Spanish Civil War, when General Francisco Franco seized power in the country but was resisted by the Leftist Republicans. A few years earlier in 1927, the long drawn out Chinese Civil War had commenced, fought between the Maoists led by Mao Zedong and the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek. It culminated in 1949 when the Communists triumphed.

Earlier in 1950, North and South Korea fought a civil war whose after-effects continue to be felt till this day. Communist North and capitalist South Vietnam clashed with each other in a civil war in 1955 that ended in 1975.

New York City has suffered several riots, particularly one that lasted from 1712 to 1741. An entire book, The Great Riots of New York City, has been written; yet, there is no reference to any expression as “civil war”. But for this, there might have been a special reason, which is to avoid reference to a conflict between the white people and the blacks.

There has been a recorded total of 8,175 riots across the country between 1950 and 1992. The first one, which was noted by R.N.P. Singh, a former Intelligence Bureau officer in his book Riots and Wrongs, was in Ahmedabad as far back as 1713 over Muslim objections to local Hindus lighting the traditional ceremonial fire during Holi. The riot continued for the next three to four days, taking a heavy toll of lives on both sides. Leaders of both communities had to work hard to restore peace in the city.

But what would India be trying to conceal? Is it to protect what M.K. Gandhi termed as “brotherhood” between the two communities and what Jawaharlal Nehru re-labelled as “secularism”? In between, India lost one-third of its land area to Pakistan. Whether we call it war, civil war or a riot, the fact is the country, its people and their economy—all bleed. The inevitable consequence would be retardation of national progress. If we accept this viewpoint, we would be able to begin a search for a solution.

There is an urgent need to recount the history that led up to the Partition of 1947. The younger people of all communities are mostly unaware of why and how the vivisection took place. A typical symptom of why information is badly needed is the frequent mention of Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah. True, he, as it were, scored the goal but there were at least three other forward line players who helped the centre-forward Jinnah. The first was Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan of Aligarh, who in 1887 at Meerut publicly said that Hindus and Muslims were not the same but separate nations. The following year, at Lucknow’s Aminabad, he again stressed the same point.

Sir Sayyid advised his co-religionists not to join the Congress party or to mix with other communities. At the turn of the century, Calcutta High Court Justice Ameer Ali, on retirement, migrated to England and managed to persuade Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India, to introduce separate electorates for Muslims in the Government of India Act of 1909. Poet Allama Iqbal, as President of the League in 1930 also asked a virtual separation in the north-west and north-east, coincidentally precursors of today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In 1915, the Hindu Mahasabha was formed and ten years later the RSS was founded. Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald called three Round Table Conferences in London between 1930 and 1932. Since the communities could not mutually come to any agreement, PM MacDonald gave his Communal Award, which gave the Muslims what they wanted by way of political leeway.

The name Pakistan was coined by a Cambridge scholar called Rehmat Ali. In March 1940, Jinnah addressed a plenary session of the League at Lahore where he explained in great detail that Hindus and Muslims were so different that they could not coexist in one country. They need to separate; the next day the Pakistan Resolution was passed by the Party. To quote Dr B.R. Ambedkar (Volume 8 of his Complete Works published by the Maharashtra government): “such was the Hindu-Muslim relationship from 1920 to 1940. Placed side by side with the efforts made by Mahatma Gandhi to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity, the record makes most painful and heart-rending reading. It would not be much exaggeration to say that it is a record of twenty years of civil war between the Hindus and Muslims in India, interrupted by brief intervals of armed peace.”

Jinnah did not disturb the government as World War II was raging until 1945. In August 1946, the League asked its Calcutta branch to launch an almighty communal riot in the city. Soon the casualty number mounted to approximately 30,000. The riots were used by the British as well as several top leaders of the Congress to argue that a partition was the only alternative. Coeval with the division, Jinnah and his seven senior party colleagues proposed an exchange of populations so that all or most Muslims could enjoy life in their homeland, Darul Islam, while Hindus and Sikhs could be safe and comfortable in Hindustan.

Is not a riot a civil war, which is a non-international armed conflict? One could also call it an internal conflict. Take the riot in Northeast Delhi towards the end of February, wherein pistols and guns were freely used; albeit the weapons were mostly country-made. Victims suffered bullet wounds almost by the hundred. Many an establishment was the target of arson and several places appeared as if bombed from the air, although perhaps they were not.

In the days bygone, the use of guns was rare. Now it is common. Maybe in the future helicopters may be deployed in what we call riots. The question is: why are these conflicts in our country called riots? Is this an attempt to conceal this phenomenon?

The number of casualties is unlikely to be the reason; the Great Calcutta Killing of August 1946 took a toll of 30,000 men, women and children. The fighting that followed thereafter on the eve of Partition and after, consumed more than a million lives, which is a major war by any standards. And yet, the conflict and the killings have never been described as a war, but as “communal riots”. In contrast, India and Pakistan fought several wars—1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999. All these conflicts devoured fewer people than the Great Calcutta Killing.

A number of countries have experienced civil wars. England in 1642 had an internal war between the Cavaliers led by King Charles I and the Roundheads led by Oliver Cromwell. In 1861 began the historic American Civil War between the Unionists and Confederates, broadly the northern and southern states. Its major issue was whether to abolish slavery or not. Incidentally, Abraham Lincoln led the north and went down in history as the emancipator of black slaves.

The first civil war of the 20th century began in 1917 between the Royalists and Bolsheviks or Communists in Russia, also known as White and Red Russians, respectively. In 1936 commenced the Spanish Civil War, when General Francisco Franco seized power in the country but was resisted by the Leftist Republicans. A few years earlier in 1927, the long drawn out Chinese Civil War had commenced, fought between the Maoists led by Mao Zedong and the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek. It culminated in 1949 when the Communists triumphed.

Earlier in 1950, North and South Korea fought a civil war whose after-effects continue to be felt till this day. Communist North and capitalist South Vietnam clashed with each other in a civil war in 1955 that ended in 1975.

New York City has suffered several riots, particularly one that lasted from 1712 to 1741. An entire book, The Great Riots of New York City, has been written; yet, there is no reference to any expression as “civil war”. But for this, there might have been a special reason, which is to avoid reference to a conflict between the white people and the blacks.

There has been a recorded total of 8,175 riots across the country between 1950 and 1992. The first one, which was noted by R.N.P. Singh, a former Intelligence Bureau officer in his book Riots and Wrongs, was in Ahmedabad as far back as 1713 over Muslim objections to local Hindus lighting the traditional ceremonial fire during Holi. The riot continued for the next three to four days, taking a heavy toll of lives on both sides. Leaders of both communities had to work hard to restore peace in the city.

But what would India be trying to conceal? Is it to protect what M.K. Gandhi termed as “brotherhood” between the two communities and what Jawaharlal Nehru re-labelled as “secularism”? In between, India lost one-third of its land area to Pakistan. Whether we call it war, civil war or a riot, the fact is the country, its people and their economy—all bleed. The inevitable consequence would be retardation of national progress. If we accept this viewpoint, we would be able to begin a search for a solution.

There is an urgent need to recount the history that led up to the Partition of 1947. The younger people of all communities are mostly unaware of why and how the vivisection took place. A typical symptom of why information is badly needed is the frequent mention of Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah. True, he, as it were, scored the goal but there were at least three other forward line players who helped the centre-forward Jinnah. The first was Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan of Aligarh, who in 1887 at Meerut publicly said that Hindus and Muslims were not the same but separate nations. The following year, at Lucknow’s Aminabad, he again stressed the same point.

Sir Sayyid advised his co-religionists not to join the Congress party or to mix with other communities. At the turn of the century, Calcutta High Court Justice Ameer Ali, on retirement, migrated to England and managed to persuade Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India, to introduce separate electorates for Muslims in the Government of India Act of 1909. Poet Allama Iqbal, as President of the League in 1930 also asked a virtual separation in the north-west and north-east, coincidentally precursors of today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In 1915, the Hindu Mahasabha was formed and ten years later the RSS was founded. Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald called three Round Table Conferences in London between 1930 and 1932. Since the communities could not mutually come to any agreement, PM MacDonald gave his Communal Award, which gave the Muslims what they wanted by way of political leeway.

The name Pakistan was coined by a Cambridge scholar called Rehmat Ali. In March 1940, Jinnah addressed a plenary session of the League at Lahore where he explained in great detail that Hindus and Muslims were so different that they could not coexist in one country. They need to separate; the next day the Pakistan Resolution was passed by the Party. To quote Dr B.R. Ambedkar (Volume 8 of his Complete Works published by the Maharashtra government): “such was the Hindu-Muslim relationship from 1920 to 1940. Placed side by side with the efforts made by Mahatma Gandhi to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity, the record makes most painful and heart-rending reading. It would not be much exaggeration to say that it is a record of twenty years of civil war between the Hindus and Muslims in India, interrupted by brief intervals of armed peace.”

Jinnah did not disturb the government as World War II was raging until 1945. In August 1946, the League asked its Calcutta branch to launch an almighty communal riot in the city. Soon the casualty number mounted to approximately 30,000. The riots were used by the British as well as several top leaders of the Congress to argue that a partition was the only alternative. Coeval with the division, Jinnah and his seven senior party colleagues proposed an exchange of populations so that all or most Muslims could enjoy life in their homeland, Darul Islam, while Hindus and Sikhs could be safe and comfortable in Hindustan.