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‘Enemy Agents at Work’: A microhistory of the 1954 Adamjee and Karnaphuli riots in East Pakistan

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2020

LAYLI UDDIN*
Affiliation:
King’s College London Email: layli.uddin@kcl.ac.uk

Abstract

Between March and May 1954, an election and two riots took place in East Pakistan, with far-reaching implications. On 30 May, the prime minister of Pakistan, in a bellicose tone, declared that ‘enemy agents’ and ‘disruptive forces’ were at work and imposed governor's rule for the first time in East Pakistan. The autocratic and high-handed attitude of the Central government in Karachi over the seemingly wayward East Wing was to become a portent of future conflicts between the province and the state, eventually leading to the unmaking of Pakistan in 1971. What precipitated the 1954 crisis? Who were the enemy agents and disruptive forces that the prime minister had alluded to? The reference was to the Bengali labourers in East Pakistan—the main protagonists of the 1954 Karnaphuli Paper Mill and Adamjee Jute Mill riots. These were the most violent industrial riots in the history of United Pakistan, if not the subcontinent. Using sensitive materials obtained from multiple archives, this article dismantles the conventional thesis that these riots were ‘Bengali–Bihari riots’, fanned by the flames of Bengali provincialism at the political level, or events instigated by the Centre to derail the democratic hopes of the Bengali population of Pakistan. A microhistory of the events demonstrates a more complex picture of postcolonial labour formations and solidarities; the relationship between state-led industrialization and refugee rehabilitation, and conflicting visions of sovereignty. This is a story of estrangement between employers and workers over the question of who were the real sovereigns of labour, capital, and Pakistan itself.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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Footnotes

I am heavily indebted to Richard Williams and Matt Birkinshaw for their support throughout the entire process of writing and revising this article. Thanks are also due to the following for their excellent feedback and suggestions during earlier presentations and drafts: Sarah Ansari, Anish Vanaik, Sumeet Mhaskar, Aditya Sarkar, Anna Sailer, Lotte Hoek, Delwar Hussain, Ravi Ahuja, Kamran Asdar Ali, and attendees of the Labour History workshops in Warwick, Berlin, and Göttingen. I am very grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their careful reading and critical engagement with the article. Needless to say, any mistakes are my own.

References

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2 There has been a lot of work on the language movement; the following is a selection of the more critical articles: see Toor, Saadia, ‘Containing East Bengal: language, nation, and state formation in Pakistan, 1947—1952’, Cultural Dynamics, vol. 21, no. 2, 2009, pp. 185210CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Alam, S. M. Shamsul, ‘Language as political articulation: East Bengal in 1952’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, vol. 21, no. 4, 1991, pp. 469487CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Oldenburg, Phillip, ‘“A place insufficiently imagined”: language, belief and the Pakistan crisis of 1971’, The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 44, no. 4, 1985, pp. 711733CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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8 James Burke, photographer for LIFE magazine (1951–64) was present in East Pakistan in the aftermath of the Adamjee Jute Mill riots and onset of governor's rule. He was the only photographer to have captured scenes during and after the Adamjee Jute Mill riots. His photographs of the events are available at https://layliuddin.wordpress.com/2019/08/20/enemy-agents-at-work-a-microhistory-of-the-1954-adamjee-and-karnaphuli-riots-in-east-pakistan/ [accessed 20 August 2019].

9 Various shouts were heard during the day; the prominent ones have been mentioned. High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957, Appeal no. 201 of 1956 (Chittagong Hill Tracts), Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction, pp. 74–75 (hereafter High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957).

10 High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957.

11 Office of the UK High Commission, Dacca, 24 May 1954. ‘Preliminary reports on the Adamjee riots’, File no. DO35/5323, National Archives, United Kingdom (UKNA).

12 Ibid. On 14 May, Bengali workers killed a Bihari durwan, allegedly on the grounds that smoke from his cooking fire had wafted over to the Bengali housing colony, he refused to stop when asked, and was thus attacked. The durwan died from the injuries sustained.

13 Ibid. Biharis was a generic term used for the non-Bengali, largely Urdu-speaking refugee population in East Bengal. They came from different states in India such as Bihar, Orissa, Tripura, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, and so on. I will speak in detail later on the formation of Bihari identity.

14 ‘Adamjee Miler Hungamai 600 Lok Pran Harayeche’, Dainik Azad (Dacca), 10 September 1956.

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20 Though there is little evidence to substantiate the claims that the Centre was responsible for the riots, it has been accepted by some historians as well as others. Please see Umar, Badruddin, The emergence of Bangladesh: class struggles in East Pakistan (1947–58) (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 270Google Scholar. See also Ahmad, Kamruddin, Labour movement in East Pakistan (Dhaka: Progoti Publishers, 1969)Google Scholar; Ahmed, Salahuddin, Bangladesh: past and present (New Delhi: A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, 2004)Google Scholar.

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22 Kamran Asdar Ali mentions ‘anti-management agitations’, but does not discuss them in detail. See Ali, Surkh salam, p. 204.

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33 Government of Pakistan, Economic Progress of East Pakistan, p. 32.

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35 By 1954–55, Karnaphuli Paper Mill officially employed 3,000 workers on a daily basis. However, this does not include temporary or contractual labourers. The data for Adamjee Jute Mill are more difficult to disaggregate from other mill numbers. The total numbers officially employed on a daily basis in 1954–55 at the seven jute mills was 28,302. Adamjee Jute Mill was the largest mill in the world at that point; hence, more than likely, that they had the largest share of the 28,000 workers. For more, see Ahmed, Nafis, An economic geography of East Pakistan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958)Google Scholar.

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39 Ghosh, Papiya, ‘Reinvoking the Pakistan of the 1940s: Bihar's “stranded Pakistanis”’, Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. II, no. 1, 1995, pp. 131146Google Scholar. For more interesting scholarship on the Biharis in East Pakistan and Bangladesh, see Alexander, Claire, Chatterji, Joya, and Jalais, Annu, The Bengal diaspora: rethinking Muslim migration (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016)Google Scholar; Redclift, Victoria, Statelessness and citizenship: camps and the creation of political space (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ghosh, Papiya, Partition and the South Asian diaspora: extending the subcontinent (Delhi: Routledge, 2007)Google Scholar; Rahman, Md. Mabubur and Schendel, Willem V., ‘“I am not a refugee”: rethinking partition migration’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 37, no. 3, July, 2003, pp. 551584CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Siddiqi, ‘Left behind by the nation’; Chatterji, The spoils of partition.

40 More work needs to be done on the relationship between state-led industrialization and refugee rehabilitation in postcolonial nation states, and in particular the relationship that refugees forged with industrial scapes and relations. There is some scholarship on this: see Gyanesh Kudaisya, ‘Divided landscapes, fragmented identities: East Bengal refugees and their rehabilitation in India, 1947–79’, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 17, no. 1, 1996, pp. 24–39; Chatterji, The spoils of partition.

41 High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957.

42 Government of East Bengal, ‘Review of half-yearly return of serious crimes for the period ending on 30.6.54’, Home Police, B Proceedings, File no. 156, November 1954, National Archives, Dhaka (NAD).

43 Government of East Bengal, ‘Suspension orders to the L.S.S of this dptt for non compliance with govt. orders’, Home Police, B Proceedings, File no. 6D, January 1952, NAD.

44 Government of East Bengal, ‘Review of half-yearly return of serious crimes for the period ending on 30.6.54’.

45 R. K. Bose handed over the negative rolls to the police; see High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957, pp. 50–51.

46 Ibid., for Badaruddin, p. 45; for Abdur Rahman, p. 102; for Abul Kasem Zaidi, p. 66.

47 Ibid., p.162.

48 ‘Confessional statement of accused Anu Miyan’, in ‘Serious rioting at Chandraghona Paper Mills in the district of Chittagong Hill Tracts on 22.3.54’, Home Police, B Proceedings, File no. 166, January–July 1959, NAD (hereafter Chandraghona Files).

49 High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957, p. 144.

50 Ibid., p. 144. The Judge S. M. Hasan described the men killed as those who were suspected to be ‘supporters and associates’ of Khurshid Ali.

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63 In 1964, the editor of Pakistan Observer in conversation with American Consul and Vice Consul said: ‘West Pakistani businessmen operating in Dacca and Narayanganj were encouraging trouble because they were interested in having more Bihari labourers at their mills. They wanted this because they regarded the Biharis as more docile than the Bengalis.’ See fn. 59 in Ghosh, Partition and the South Asian diaspora, p. 18.

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67 There are very few data on the actual labour force of these large mills, but readings of various documents indicate the regular use of casual labour.

68 ‘Confessional statement of accused Anu Miyan’, in Government of East Bengal (1957), Chandraghona Files.

69 Richard Kriegel, Labor in Pakistan, 1947–59 (n.p., 1959).

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76 Chandavarkar, The origins of industrial capitalism in India.

77 For more on urban daily labour markets, see Mosse, David, Gupta, Sanjeev, and Shah, Vidya, ‘On the margins in the city: Adivasi seasonal labour migration in Western India’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 40, no. 28, 9–15 July, 2005, pp. 30253038Google Scholar; Prasad-Aleyamma, Mythri, ‘The cultural politics of wages: ethnography of construction work in Kochi, India’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, vol. 51, no. 2, 2017, pp. 163193CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Agarwala, Rina, Informal labour, formal politics, and dignified discontent in India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

78 UK High Commission, Dacca, ‘Letter from G.P Hampshire to J.D Murray, Acting High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in Pakistan’.

79 Mukherjee, Janam, Hungry Bengal: war, famine and the end of empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

80 Ibid., p. 230.

81 Kriegel, Labour in Pakistan, p. 84.

82 Ibid., p. 84.

83 ‘Meeting Report’, 21 March 1954, in Government of East Bengal (1957), Chandraghona Files.

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87 Ahmad, Labour movement in East Pakistan, p. 38.

88 Basu, Does class matter?, pp. 225–273.

89 ‘Industrial Disputes Act—appointment of District Judge, Dacca as Tribunal –Sonachura Workshop’, Commerce (Labour) Department, B Proceedings, File no. 1, July–August 1953, NAD.

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91 ‘FIR on Chandraghona’, in Government of East Bengal (1957), Chandraghona Files.

92 High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957, p. 62.

93 Ibid., p. 8.

94 ‘Letter from UK Trade Commissioner Service’, Chittagong, 25/3/1954, DO35/5336, UKNA.

95 International Labour Organisation, Report of the ILO labour survey mission, p. 21.

96 Ahmed Sofa, ‘Karnafulir dhare’ (1965), available at http://arts.bdnews24.com/?p=2972 [accessed 23 December 2015].

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102 High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957, pp. 62, 145.

103 ‘FIR on Chandraghona’, in Government of East Bengal (1957), Chandraghona Files.

104 The historiography on the role of labour contractors in colonial South Asia is particularly rich; see Chandavarkar, Rajnarayan, ‘The decline and fall of the jobber system in the Bombay cotton textile industry, 1870–1955’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2008, pp. 117210CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sen, Samita, ‘Commercial recruiting and informal intermediation: debate over the sardari system in Assam tea plantations, 1860–1900’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 44, no. 1, 2010, pp. 328CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Varma, Nitin, Coolies of capitalism: Assam tea and the making of coolie labour (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2017)Google Scholar; Kerr, Ian J., Building the railways of the Raj: 1850–1900 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995)Google Scholar.

105 High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957, p. 161.

106 Chandavarkar, The origins of industrial capitalism in India. For discussions on the working-class neighbourhood, see also Gooptu, The politics of the urban poor; Basu, Does class matter?.

107 ‘Meeting Report’, 21 March 1954, in Government of East Bengal (1957), Chandraghona Files.

108 For broader discussions of the role of neighbourhood, see Chandavarkar, The origins of industrial capitalism in India; Gooptu, The politics of the urban poor.

109 The Union President of Chandraghona Paper Mill Workers Union, Ali Akbar of Noakhali was a subcontractor under Aminullah Patwari. See fn. 104 for labour historiography on jobbers.

110 High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957, p. 83.

111 ‘Memo from Office of the Superintendent of Police, Chittagong Hill Tracts’, 2 April 1954, in Government of East Bengal (1957), Chandraghona Files.

112 ‘Report on visit on Wednesday 24th March 1954’, DO35/5336, UKNA.

113 ‘Memo from Special Police Investigation Centre on 21.4.54’, in Government of East Bengal (1957), Chandraghona Files.

114 H. W. Glasgow, a New Zealand cost consultant deputed to the mills as part of the Colombo Plan, spoke of Khurshid Ali's constant fear of ‘sabotage’ at the hands of his Bengali employees. See ‘Chandraghona Paper Mill’, DO35/5336, UKNA.

115 High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957, pp. 26–27.

116 These slogans were a constant during the riot; ibid., pp. 21–22, 39.

117 Ibid., pp. 21–22.

118 Ibid., p. 193.

119 ‘Meeting Report, 21 March 1954’, in Government of East Bengal (1957), Chandraghona Files.

120 Sen, Samita, Women and labour in late colonial India: the Bengal jute industry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)Google Scholar.

121 Hussain, Human and social, pp. 192–194.

122 For excellent work on women, sexuality, and the concept of honour in South Asia, see Mookherjee, Nayanika, The spectral wound: sexual violence, public memories, and the Bangladesh war of 1971 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Saikia, Yasmin, Women, war and the making of Bangladesh: remembering 1971 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Zamindar, Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali, The long partition and the making of modern South Asia: refugees, boundaries, histories (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007)Google Scholar; Menon, Ritu and Bhasin, Kamla, Borders and boundaries: women in India's partition (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1998)Google Scholar; Butalia, Urvashi, The other side of silence: voices from the partition of India (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1998)Google Scholar.

123 Ahmed Sofa, ‘Karnafulir dhare’.

124 On Chandraghona, see UK High Commission, Karachi to Commonwealth Relations Office, 24/3/1954, DO35/5336, UKNA. On Adamjee, see ‘Extract from Dacca report, for period ending 19.5.54’, DO35/5336, UKNA.

125 High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957, p. 82.

126 ‘Diary of chief events, 1954’, File no. DO35/5324, UKNA.

127 High Court, Dacca, 29 August 1957, p. 152.

128 See Government of East Bengal, Eastern Pakistan Labour Journal, vol. 7, no. 3, September, 1954 (Dhaka: Labour Directorate)Google Scholar. In the second fortnight of August, a representation is made by retrenched workers of Adamjee Jute Mill asking for reinstatement to their old positions; the Labour Directorate had yet to take on their case as the management was yet to ‘screen’ the workers.

129 Government of East Pakistan, ‘Augmentation of the investigation staff of Dacca and Narayanganj Towns’, Home Police, B Proceedings, File no. 170, August–September 1960, NAD.

130 Chatterji, Joya, ‘The Bengali Muslim: a contradiction in terms? An overview of the debate on the Bengali Muslim identity’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 16, no 2, 1996, pp. 1624CrossRefGoogle Scholar. There has been plenty of excellent scholarship since that has complicated the ‘Bengali-ness’ of the Bengal Muslim identity; see Bose, Neilesh, Recasting the region: language, culture and Islam in colonial Bengal (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tariq Omar Ali, A local history of global capital.

131 Ahmed Kamal, State against the nation, p. 6.

132 Alexander, Chatterji, and Jalais, The Bengal diaspora.

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