Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Between ‘Everyday’ and ‘Extraordinary’: Partition, violence and the communal riots of 1946 in Bihar

  • ISHA DUBEY (a1)

Abstract

The year 1937 saw the establishment of Congress Ministries in eight of the eleven provinces in which the provincial elections had been held, Bihar being one of them. The resounding victory of the Congress which secured a clear majority in the province of Bihar and the dismal performance of the Muslim League seemed at the time to depict the mood of the people in general. It was taken as a clear rejection of the politics of communalism and separatism and as an expression of faith in the secular credentials of the Indian National Congress. However, less than a decade later, the province was gripped by severe communal tensions and had become one of the most prominent parts of India from where the movement for Pakistan drew support. This article thus explores the nature of the communal violence that occurred in Bihar in 1946 against the backdrop of the ‘escalating’ communal tensions during the late 1930s and early 1940s. It seeks to problematise the dichotomy that exists in literature on communal violence between moments of what have been called ‘extraordinary’ violence (such as riots) and the everyday structures of (what Gyanendra Pandey has called) ‘routine violence’. Through its analysis of contemporary material produced by the Muslim League, the Congress Ministry and the provincial British administration to explain the causes of the 1946 riots in Bihar, it argues that it is in the moments of rupture presented by riots that everyday structures of violence are trivialised or normalised through processes of ‘dichotomisation’, ‘dehumanisation’ and ‘denial’.

Copyright

Footnotes

Hide All
1

The Department of Global Studies, Aarhus University and SASNET, Department of Political Science, and the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies at Lund University provided generous financial and logistical support for carrying out and writing up the research presented in this article. I am thankful to Niels Brimnes, Uwe Skoda and Radhika Chopra for all their valuable feedback on various drafts of the article. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for all their constructive insights and suggestions that have helped greatly in improving it. Last but not the least, I am thankful to Biswamoy Pati whose guidance will always be valued and missed by me.

Footnotes

References

Hide All

2 Tripathi, Amles and Tripathi, Amitabh, Indian National Congress and the Struggle for Freedom, 1885–1947 (New Delhi, 2014), pp. 7072. For a detailed analysis of the Champaran Satyagraha, the nature of leadership that Gandhi provided to it and the impact that it had on broadening the base of national movement under the Indian National Congress, see Brown, Judith, Gandhi's Rise to Power: Indian Politics, 1915–1922 (Cambridge, 1972), pp. 5282. See also Macdonald, G., “Unity on Trial: Congress in Bihar, 1929–39”, in Congress and the Raj: facets of the Indian struggle 1917–47, (ed.) Low, D. A. (London, 1977), pp. 289334.

3 Hasan, Mushirul, “Religion and Politics: The Ulama and Khilafat Movement”, Economic and Political Weekly 16, 20 (1981), pp. 909910.

4 Alam, Jawaid, Government and Politics in Colonial Bihar (New Delhi, 2004), p. 159.

5 Quoted in Janet M. Rizvi, “Muslim Politics and Government Policy: Studies in the Development of Muslim Organisation and its Social Background in North India and Bengal,1885–1917” (unpublished PhD dissertation, Cambridge University, 1969), p. 396.

6 Memorandum of Fazlul Haq, Prime Minister of Bengal on Muslim suffering under Congress rule, File no. 674/1939, Home Political Special Department, Bihar State Archives, Patna (henceforth BSA).

7 Quoted in Ghosh, Papiya, Muhajir and the Nation: Bihar in the 1940s (New Delhi, 2010), p. 111.

8 AN APPEAL for the defence and protection of the Hindus of Bihar, Hindu Mahasabha Articles, File no. P-115 (pt. II), Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Delhi (henceforth NMML).

9 Fortnightly Report, July (1), File no.11/1925, Home Political Special Department, BSA.

10 Agrarian situation in Bihar, File no.125/1946 Pol. (1), Home Political, National Archives of India, Delhi (henceforth NAI).

11 Robinson, Francis, Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860–1923 (Cambridge, 1974).

12 Sheikh, Farzana, Community and Consensus in Islam: Muslim Representation in Colonial India, 1860–1947 (Cambridge, 1989).

13 Brass, Paul R., The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India (Seattle and London, 2003).

14 Sajjad, Mohammad, “Muslim Resistance to Communal Separatism and Colonialism in Bihar: nationalist Politics of Bihar Muslims”, South Asian History and Culture 2, 1 (2010), p. 17.

15 Sajjad, Mohammad, Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours (New Delhi, 2014), p. 200.

16 Ibid., p. 202.

17 M. Abdul Waheed Ansari to M. A. Jinnah, File no. 886/132–133, in Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah Articles: Prelude to Pakistan 20 February-2 June 1947, First Series Volume 1 Part 1, (ed.) Zaidi, Z. H. (Islamabad, 1993), pp. 313315.

18 Gyanendra Pandey, “Rallying Round the Cow: Sectarian Strife in the Bhojpur Region, c. 1888–1917”, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Occasional Paper No. 39 (Calcutta, 1981).

19 Ibid., p. 19

21 Ibid., p. 21.

22 The period immediately after Partition did see a considerable decline in ‘big’ instances of communal violence. However, the increase in recorded communal incidents exhibited a steady and consistent rise through the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. The annual figures were 75 for the year 1955, 173 for 1965, 205 for 1975 and 525 in 1985. Taken from Vanaik, Achin, The Painful Transition: Bourgeois Democracy in India (London and New York, 1990), p. 139n.

23 See Das, Veena (ed.), Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots, and Survivors in South Asia (Delhi, 1990).

24 The work of writers such as Sadat Hasan Manto and the way in which it articulated the violence of Partition became central to the efforts of gaining a deeper insight into the complexity of the psyche of the time, mob behaviour, and how women's bodies became playgrounds wherein nationalism, honour and belonging were enacted. See Alter, Stephen, “Madness and Partition: The Short Stories of Sadat Hasan Manto”, Alif: The Journal of Comparative Poetics 14 (1994), pp. 91100; Memon, Muhammad Umar, “Partition Literature: A Study of Intizar Husain”, Modern Asian Studies 14, 3 (1980), p. 380.

25 Pandey, Gyanendra, Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India, (Cambridge, 2004), p. 3.

26 Ibid.

27 Das, Mirrors of Violence, p. 3.

28 Smelser, Neil Joseph, The Theory of Collective Behavior (New York, 1961).

29 Das, Mirrors of Violence, p. 3.

30 Pandey, Remembering Partition, pp. 17–18.

31 Pandey, Gyanendra, Routine Violence: Nations, Fragments, Histories (Stanford, 2006), pp. 1215.

32 Ibid., p.12.

33 Nandy, Ashis, “Telling the Story of Communal Conflicts in South Asia: Interim Report on a Personal Search for Defining Myths”, Ethnic and Racial Studies 25, 1 (2002), p. 5.

34 See Kakar, Sudhir, The Colors of Violence: Cultural Identities, Religion and Conflict (Chicago, 1996), p. 1; Frøystad, Kathinka, “Communal Riots in India as a Transitory form of Political Violence: Three Approaches”, Ethnic and Racial Studies 32, 2 (2009), p. 443.

35 Pandey, Routine Violence, p. 32.

36 Varshney, Ashutosh, Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India (New Haven and London, 2002), p. 6.

37 Ibid., p. 9

39 Jalal, Ayesha, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge, 1985, 1994 edition.), pp. 174207.

40 Ghosh, Papiya, Muhajirs and the Nation: Bihar in the 1940s (New Delhi, 2009). Also see Sajjad, Mohammad, Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing contours (New Delhi, 2014), pp.179234. In the book Sajjad focuses on the responses of the various factions within the Bihar's Muslim community towards the Pakistan Movement.

41 Gilmartin, David, “The Historiography of India's Partition: Between Civilization and Modernity”, The Journal of Asian Studies 74, 1 (2015), p. 28.

42 Ibid., p. 31.

43 Chatterji, Joya, Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932–1947 (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 150190.

44 Gould, William, Hindu Nationalism and the Language of Politics in Late Colonial India (Cambridge, 2004), p. 14.

45 Ibid.

46 Ibid., p. 15.

47 Copland, Ian, State, Community and Neighbourhood in Princely North India c. 1900–1950 (New York, 2005).

48 Ibid., p. 9.

49 Ibid., p. 154.

50 Ibid., p. 207.

51 Ghosh, Papiya, “The Making of the Congress Muslim Stereotype: Bihar, 1937–39”, The Indian Economic and Social History Review 28, 4 (1991), pp. 417434.

52 Ghosh, Papiya, “Articulating Community rights: Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha in Congress Bihar, 1937–9”, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 14, 2 (1991), p. 7

53 Arendt, Hannah, Eichman in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York, 1994) (Originally published in 1963).

54 Browning, Christopher R., Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (London, 2001), p. 192.

55 See Cohen, S., States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering (Cambridge, 2001); Sen, A., Identity and Violence: Illusion of Destiny (Cambridge, 2006).

56 Moshman, David, “‘Ordinary Men’, Ordinary Children, and Extraordinary Violence: Commentary on Wainryb”, Human Development 54, 5 (2011), p. 302.

57 Babtyal, Rakesh, “Communalism, The Noakhali Riot and Gandhi”, Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences IV, 1 (1997), p. 138.

58 Ibid., p. 148.

59 Das, Suranjan, “The 199 Communal Riot in Historical Continuum: A Relapse into ‘Communal Fury’?”, Modern Asian Studies 34, 2 (2000), pp. 282285. See also Das, Suranjan, “Towards an Understanding of Communal Violence in Twentieth Century Bengal”, Economic and Political Weekly 23, 35 (1988), pp. 1804–8. Das, Suranjan, Communal Riots in Bengal, 1905–1947 (Delhi, 1991).

60 Datta, Pradip Kumar, “Anatomy of Communal Riots” (review of Communal Riots in Bengal, 1905–1947 by Suranjan Das), Social Scientist 20, 7/8 (1992), p. 104.

61 CMP(A3), Bengal and Bihar, Sir H. Dow (Bihar) to Viscount Wavell, 9 Nov 1946, Aug-Nov 1946”, in The Transfer of Power 1942–7. Volume 9: The Fixing of a Time,4 November 1946–22 March 1947, (eds.) Mansergh, Nicholas and Moon, Penderel (London, 1980), p. 38.

62 ‘Reports on the Disturbances in Bihar and the United Provinces (October-November 1946)’, Muslim India Information Centre, British Library, London (henceforth BL).

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid., p. 6

65 Ibid.

66 Pamphlet entitled ‘The Bihar State Killing;1946: What Hindu congress Fascism Has Done in Bihar’, The official statement and resolution of Bihar Provincial Muslim League on the Bihar Massacres of 1946, published by Syed Badruddin Ahmad, General Secretary of Bihar Provincial Muslim League, Patna, File no. 296/1947, PS, BSA.

67 Ibid. p. 19.

68 Other pamphlets such as ‘Muzloomin-e-Bihar’ (oppressed Muslims of Bihar) by Syed Ezazuddin, Salar-i-awal Camp Mohalla Darzi Tola, Patna and ‘Matam-i-Bihar’ (the lament for Bihar) by Munshi Muhammad Faruq of Monghyr, which had been in wide circulation in different parts of the province, contained the same language of disbelief at the sheer enormity of the magnitude of violence and emphasis on the role of the provincial Congress government.

69 Ibid.

70 Fortnightly reports 1946, IOR/L/P&J/5/181, BL.

71 Ibid.

72 Reports on Information regarding certain --- concerning the communal disturbances e.g. number of Muslims in affected provinces, Communal history of the worst affected areas, part played by the different castes in the riots, action against officers, File no. 314/1947 Political Special Department, BSA.

73 Damodaran, Vinita, “Violence in the Countryside: Agrarian Unrest and Communal Rioting in Bihar, 1946”, Studies in History 6, 1 (1990), p. 69. For a more detailed analysis of the agrarian structure in Bihar through the 1930s and 1940s, see Damodaran, Vinita, Broken Promises: Popular Protest, Indian Nationalism and the Congress Party in Bihar, 1935–1946 (Delhi, 1992).

74 Ibid., pp. 88–94.

75 Fortnightly Reports, Bihar, IOR/L/P&J/5/181, BL.

76 Instances of Hindus giving protection to Muslims during the riots, File no, 179/1947, Political Special, BSA.

77 Ibid.

78 Ibid.

79 Excerpt from a letter written by one L. P. Singh, Additional District Magistrate of Patna District to the Commissioner N. Baksi, ibid..

80 Das, Mirrors of Violence, p. 28.

81 Ibid.

82 Communal Petitions submitted to Mahatma Gandhi, File no. 316/47, Political Special, BSA.

83 On 27 July 1946 Muhammad Ali Jinnah called upon Muslims to observe 16 August 1946 as the Direct Action Day for the demand for Pakistan to be fulfilled at any cost and with methods beyond constitutional ones. The day is also marked as the Calcutta Killings.

84 File no. 314/1947, BSA.

85 Ibid.

86 Ibid.

87 Copland, Ian, ‘The Production and Containment of Communal Violence: Scenarios from Modern India’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 33, 1 (2010), pp. 123126.

88 Das, Veena, Life and Words: Violence and Descent into the Ordinary (Berkeley and London, 2007).

89 Recounted by late Professor Mangal Dubey (80 years of age at the time), interview, 10 March 2010.

91 Aajiz, Kalim, Jahan Khushboo hi Khushboo Thi (2nd edition, Patna, 2005).

92 ‘Sir H. Dow (Bihar) to Field Marshall Viscount Wavell 22/23 November 1946’, in The Transfer of Power, (eds.) Mansergh and Moon, p. 148.

93 This theoretical framework of the ‘production of communal riots’ has been expounded in depth by Paul R. Brass. See his The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India, pp. 355–384.

94 Pamphlet entitled ‘Kya Bihar Kaand ke Liye Hindu Zimmedar Hain?’ By one Kaushal Prasad Jain, Jai Bharat Sahitya Mandal Ltd., 1946, NMML (translation mine)

96 Even through there can be overlaps.

97 Amin, Shahid, Event, Metaphor, Memory: Chauri Chaura, 1922–1992 (Berkeley, 1995), pp. 16. Chauri Chaura is a small town near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh (the United Provinces in colonial times) that came into prominence in 1922 when the violent incident of a few local people from the town who set fire to the local police station became the cause for the ending of the Non-Cooperation Movement by Gandhi.

1 The Department of Global Studies, Aarhus University and SASNET, Department of Political Science, and the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies at Lund University provided generous financial and logistical support for carrying out and writing up the research presented in this article. I am thankful to Niels Brimnes, Uwe Skoda and Radhika Chopra for all their valuable feedback on various drafts of the article. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for all their constructive insights and suggestions that have helped greatly in improving it. Last but not the least, I am thankful to Biswamoy Pati whose guidance will always be valued and missed by me.

Between ‘Everyday’ and ‘Extraordinary’: Partition, violence and the communal riots of 1946 in Bihar

  • ISHA DUBEY (a1)

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.