16 August 1946 – The Direct Action Day – was the day when city of Calcutta turned into a graveyard. This day marks the biggest communal violence in the history of India.
Let’s Look at the sequence of events.
Lahore Resolution 1940
In the year 1940, Muslim League passed a resolution in its Lahore session. This resolution is called Lahore resolution. In this resolution, the demand of forming a separate state for the muslim majority areas of united India i.e. northwest and eastern part of India.
During Dec 1945 – Jan 1946, elections were conducted for the provincial assembly and the centre. Main issue of these election was the issue of Pakistan. Muslim League was appealing to the people for the cause of Pakistan. Whereas, on the other side, Congress was appealing to the voters who wanted undivided INDIA.
In these elections, a total of 492 seats were reserved for muslim candidates. Of these, Muslim League won 429 seats. Which is 87% of the total muslim reserved seats.
Total Muslim Reserved Seats
Muslim League Won
% of seats won by Muslim League
There was a huge improvement in performance of Muslim League. In 1937 provincial elections, Muslim League could win only 20% of muslim reserved seats. Within just 9 years, it has able to increase its penetration from 20% to 87%.
Inference from 1946 Election Results
Results of 1936 Elections made 2 things very clear.
- Muslim League proved itself as the sole representative of Indian Muslims.
- Majority of muslim population was convinced that they wanted a separate state i.e. Pakistan.
Cabinet Mission 1946
In March 1946, Cabinet Mission came to India. In this mission, British government gave the concept of provincial grouping.
As part of this provincial groupings, provinces were segregated into 3 sections – Section A, Section B and Section C.
Initially, Jinnah accepted the cabinet mission plan because he could see the possibility of the formation of Pakistan in this concept of provincial groupings.
But, Congress had a different interpretation of provincial grouping. Congress considered provincial grouping as non-compulsory, something which can be amended later. Cabinet Mission agreed to Congress’s interpretation.
Jinnah could not accept the Cabinet Mission plan unless the provincial grouping is made compulsory. As it was not possible. Jinnah rejected the cabinet mission plan.
Since, INC accepted the plan and was also the party which won majority of seats in 1946 elections, Lord Wavell invited Congress to form the Interim Government.
Declaration of Direct Action Day
Cabinet Mission plan proved to be a setback for Muslim League’s demand of separate state Pakistan.
Jinnah considered that British Government and INC had been unfair to the muslim league’s demand. And, he took it as the suppression of entire muslim community. As a protest, M A Jinnah declared 16th August 1946 as the day of Direct Action.
Main motive behind the direct action was to show the extent to which Muslim community can go to get it demand approved.
Jinnah had already given the warning in July 1946 to launch the Direct Action if the demand of separate state for muslims is not accepted. He gave this warning in a press conference held at Jinnah’s house in Bombay Presidency.
What happened on Direct Action Day
One of the most popular newspaper of Calcutta in those times – ‘The Star of India’ published the detailed programme of the day, so that Masses can join. The Star of India was owned by one the MLA of Muslim League.
Actually, it was Muslim League’s government in Bengal. And, Bengal’s Chief Minister H.S. Suhrawardy not only sent police on a leave but was also responsible for creating disorder through his aggressive and fiery speeches.
On 16th August, Right from the morning, there was tension in air. Shops were forcefully closed. News of stabbing, pelting of stones and brickbats started arriving from multiple places in Bengal.
Areas where the major impact of direct action could be seen were Rajabazar, Kelabagan, College Street, Harrison Road and Burrabazar. These were Hindu majority areas of the Calcutta.
Based on the original plan, people started to gather at Howrah, Hooghly, Metiabruz and 24 Parganas. From these places, rally started and by 12’O Clock everybody reached Ochterlony Monument. Rally from Ochterlony Monument was considered as the biggest rally seen.
Nowadays, Ochterlony Monument is refereed as Shaheed Minar.
Muslim Leagues had kept at least 3 to 4 party workers at every Mosque in the vicinity of Bengal. So, these party workers were going everything to make people aware of Muslim League’s agenda behind direct action to everyone coming to offer prayers in the mosque were.
At 2’O Clock, mob gathered again along with arms, lathis etc. As per the newspaper ‘Star of India’ – more than 1 Lakh people gathered to hear the fiery speeches of Khwaja Nazimuddin and Chief Minister H.S. Suhrawardy. Mob was really charged up to attack after this and then the communal riots triggered.
Direct Action – Death Toll
Within 72 hours of the declaration of direct action, 6000 people were killed. More than 20000 people were badly injured and close to 1 lakh fled away and became homeless. The event of Direct Action Day is also called “The Great Calcutta Killing”.
During this great Calcutta Killing, mob attacked Kesoram Cotton Mills on 17 August. Here, 300 Oriya mill workers who used to stay at Lichubagan, Metiabruz were ruthlessly butchered.
How did all this came to an end
Communal Violence which started on 16 August was still going on till 21 August. And then, Viceroy Rule was implemented in Bengal on 21 August . 5 British Battalions along with 4 Gurkha battalions were deployed to control this mess. As a result, communal activities slowed down by the end of the day of 22 August 1946.
Viceroy Lord Wavell asked Governor of Bengal – Fredrick Burrows for the detailed report. Fredrick Burrows faced a lot of critics for his negligence in this matter.