A Confusing Empathy Ended with a Broken Dream- CHT Perspective, 1947 Partition

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Parvedge Haider:

The remembrance of partition in August 1947 becomes a matter of agony of some of the tribal regional party leaders, activists and bloggers of the similar ideology. This article is not being written whether the events occurred at that time was appropriate or not, it is to describe the realities of that period and the level of preparedness of the then tribal leaders had. This article is also being written from an impartial point of view that might assist to accept the certainties.  

Before the partition in 1947, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) was ruled by the British considering it to be a non-regulated district and an excluded area. CHT was being looked after by a District Commissioner. There were three circle chiefs who used to collect the revenues and implement other administrative affairs. The circle chiefs used to act as an advisor to the District Commissioner. They were also titled as ‘Raja’. CHT was quite backward in terms of political, economic and social development at that time. Due to lack of political awareness among the general people the then tribal leaders could not display their desired demonstration.  Maximum tribal people of CHT were not educated at that time. They had hardly any concern about the ongoing politics. The Circle Chiefs did not take much interest on the educational development of the general tribal people. There was only one high school in Rangamati at that time. The sons and daughters of the circle chiefs and other solvent people used get higher education from Dhaka, Chittagong, Kolkata or abroad. At the same time, due to lack of political consciousness there were very less of democratic political movement in CHT. But the scenario was different in Tripura, a close neighbor to CHT. People of Tripura became concern about their rights. There was a distinct dissatisfaction of the general people towards the British rule and the Tripura Kingdom. People organized parties like Jano Mongol Samity, Jano Shikhkha Samity, Tripura Proja Mandol, Tripura Rajjo Gano Mukti Parishad etc. On the other hand, there was only one significant movement of Parbattya Chattogram Jano Samiti, led by Kamini Mohon Dewan and his deputy Ghanosham Dewan during 30’or 40’s of the previous century.

Some of the individual or small group initiative brought some light at that time. A tribal lady Mankumari Chakma, being inspired by the then young political leaders, participated in the Lahore Congress All India Exhibition in 1929 with her self-spun, self-woven Khadi of indigenous short staple cotton. She was declared the winner of second prize. The people had hardly any direct contact with the Indian central leaders during first or second decades. They were inspired by the name of Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Jatindra Mohan Sengupta etc. and converted themselves to be the freedom fighters without much of distinct knowledge. Besides the leaders of Parbattya Chattogram Jano Samiti, there were active presence of Dr. Prafulla Ghosh of Mainamati Abhoy Ashram, Comilla, Sarat Talukder, Bijoy Chandra Chakma, Kanak Baran Dewan and many other students of Rangamati High school.

In 1930, there were self-initiated anti-British movements in many places of CHT. Sneha Kumar Chakma and Baneswar Chakma was the pioneer during that movement. There were strikes in Rangamati, Naniarchar and Khagrachari. Following the processions of other places of India, there was ‘Bilati Barjan’ movement in CHT also. The students boycotted all the English games including Football. Baneswar Chakma of Longodu, Rangamati was very active at the local levels in the freedom movement of India. He worked with the freedom fighters like Kalpana Dutta. She was famous for her active role in the armed resistance movement led by Surjo Sen at the Chittagong armory in 1930. However, the nucleus of the maximum movements in CHT was based on Rangamati High School. That time Acting Headmaster Dwijen Chakroborty used to report to the British Government officials about the names of the students involved with the movement.

Photo-1: Sneha Kumar Chakma

The local efforts of CHT were not integrated with the movements of the central leaders of India. Sneha Kumar Chakma admitted that they were unable to clearly distinguish ‘Gandhism’ from ‘Terrorism’. However, during the early 30’s a group of students led by Ghanasyam Dewan met with the legend Subhas Chandra Bose at Jatra Mohan Sen Hall of Chittagong town. That time these students of CHT background also attracted the attention of renowned leaders like Charu Bikash Dutta, Arabinda Ghosh, Barin Ghosh etc. But Parbattya Chattogram Jano Samiti president Kamini Mohon Dewan was influenced by the ideology of Nehru. He was not in favor of Subhas Chandra Bose designed movement. But the secretary of Parbattya Chattogram Jano Samiti Sneha Kumar Chakma had a fondness for Subhas Chandra Bose. He developed a preference for armed action rather to non-violent method of struggle for achieving freedom of India. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose sent a personal letter to Sneha Kumar Chakma in the early forties. But somehow that letter reached to Kamini Mohan Dewan. He preserved that letter for three years and destroyed it in 1947.

Photo-2: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Bhuban Mohan Roy was the Chakma Circle Chief from 1897 to 1933. This was basically the time of mass anti-British movement. He could have contributed an active role in that movement. But he had different agenda where the interests of general people were missing.  James Philip Mills, an Indian Civil Service officer was tasked in 1926–1927 for investigating, how the Bengal Government could best use the Chittagong Hill Tracts Chiefs in the administration. James commented, “Raja Bhuban Mohan Roy is in character both obstinate and weak. He is unpopular with his own tribe, as Chakmas of position have told me in private conversation. His people say that he takes no interest in them, and they only regard him as a troublesome individual who takes their money. He was always eager to talk about dignities and the smallness of his income as compared with what he deserved, but never about duties. He regards the Chakmas merely as a mine to be worked for his benefit; and his vanity is beyond belief. I can find no record that he ever on any occasion aided Government with any valuable advice. His love of Bengali culture has antagonized the respectable and conservative elements in the tribe. He lives in Bengali style, entirely surrounded by Bengalis and he has married his two eldest sons to Bengali ladies, a thing unprecedented in the tribe”.

The central leaders of India did not pay much attention to CHT as it was an excluded area under the Government of India Act, 1935 by the British for administrative convenience. However, with progress of Second World War, there was more presence of the British soldiers in CHT. All central leaders were not with the similar spirit. Except Subhas Chandra Bose, none of the central level leaders exhibited any interest in CHT. But the mysterious absence of Subhas Chandra Bose disappointed the CHT active young activists. The local leadership of CHT could not establish any strong connection with the central level leaders and due to communication gap they were ignorant about the development of situation.

Some of the constituent assembly members Dr Profullo Ghosh, A B Tokkor, Sautal Leader Joypal Singh and two others visited Rangamati prior to the decision of Radcliff partition plan. The meeting was held at Rangamati Dak Banglow. The prominent CHT leaders like Chitto Ranjan Chakma (later on joined in Indian railway), Suniti Jibon Chakma, Khogendro Lal Dewan, Parbattya Chattogram Jano Samiti president Kamini Mohon Dewan, vice president Ghanosham Dewan and secretary Sneho Kumar Chakma joined that meeting. All preferred to include CHT with India. The representatives of the circle chiefs also met with them; they expressed their desire to keep the kingship besides joining India. Here point to note that the then Congress leaderships were highly against the local kingship. Congress leader Vallabhbhai Patel (Sardar Patel) had been working to unite approximately 565 self-governing princely states with India. Besides this meeting, CHT local leaders specially Sneho Kumar Chakma took initiative to reach up to Wavell Conference(Simla Conference 1945) and tried to get attention of the national level senior leaders, specially Pandit Nehru and Maulana Azad to express their desire. The CHT leaders felt the absence of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

Photo-3: Simla Conference, 1945

British India was supposed to be divided on the basis of ‘Two Nation Theory’, which states that the Hindu dominion territory should remain in Hindustan and Muslim majority areas to Pakistan. But Sir Cyril Radcliffe’s plan of partition could not ensure this theory in every place. There were controversy and dissatisfaction in Lahore, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Malda, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Khulna, Murshidabad and Karimganj. The partition remains one of the bloodiest parts of India’s modern history. Over a million people lost their lives. There were horror tales of murder, rape, neighbor and friends turning on one other. Radcliffe was so horrified at the events that he refused Rs 40,000 fees he was offered to draw up the partition borders. He burned all his working paper and left India on 15th August 1947.

Photo-4: Sir Cyril Radcliffe

Col G. L. Hyde was the Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong Hill Tracts, Rangamati. The local CHT leaders and Col Hyde, none of them were aware about the decision of partition plan. Considering the ‘Two Nation Theory’ aspect and their proposition to the central level leaders, Col Hyde and the CHT leaders hoisted Indian National Flag publicly and saluted it. He (Col Hyde) invited the CHT leaders to his office and Banglow where he hoisted Indian National Flag ceremoniously and officially. On August 17th 1947, the Radio announcement interpreted Chittagong Hill Tracts into Pakistan. Sneha Kumar Chakma decided not to abide by decision of partition and left Rangamati on 19 August 1947. He along with his eight companions crossed the Sabroom border on 21 August 1947 and took entry in Tripura. Indromoni Chakma was one of them.

Sneho Kumar Chakma at first went to palace of Tripura king. Unfortunately, he came to know that the king Bir Bikram has expired and the queen Kachanprova was in Shilong. Then he met with the queen at Shilong and moved towards Delhi. However, he had to take some financial support of the queen.

Photo-5: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

The experience of Sneho Kumar Chakma in Delhi was very frustrating. Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel could not spare much time. He told Sneho Kumar to explain the points within three minutes. Sneho Kumar tried his best to meet with Prime Minister Nehru. But he had to wait for long 45 days to get an appointment. Nehru’s response disappointed Sneho Kumar Chakma. On the request of military invasion in CHT by the Indian army, Nehru got furious and replied, “Do you propose to bring India again under Foreign Rule?”

Photo-6: Jawaharlal Nehru

Sneho Kumar approached the Indian Buddhist Council, particularly its general secretary, Bhikshu Rashtrapal, Amnesty International, Survival International, the Anti-Slavery Society and several other places but none of his effort worked. He came back to Tripura. At home, in Rangamati, Kamini Mohon Dewan and Ghanosham Dewan were made house arrest. Later on, after two to three years Ghanosham fled away and reached to Tripura. After the partition, the students who continued processions with the same demand, they were given with transfer certificates from Rangamati High School. In 1957, Baneswar Chakma, the Secretary of the Tribal Union demanded CHT’s inclusion with India. In 1967, he was one of the representatives who met Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Delhi on the same issue. However, this movement did not continue further.

The movement of Kamini Mohon, Ghanosham, Sneho Kumar and their companions ended without any result. The integrated and coordinated effort was necessary to bring any success. The local CHT leaders failed to understand the mind of the central leaders of India. It seems that they overestimated themselves and ended their movement as a scattered one. The interest of the Chakma Circle Chief was also a major factor here. Indian congress would never allow any kind of kingship but the then Chakma Circle Chiefs Nalinakhkho and Tridiv Roy both were blessed by the Pakistani Government. This bondage was further reflected in the subsequent activities of Tridiv Roy. His position was very neutral on Kaptai dam issue, he worked for Pakistan during the war of liberation and he chose to remain in Pakistan till the last day of his life.

 

Parvedge Haider- CHT Researcher

Email- parvedgehaider5235@gmail.com

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