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The Tragedy of 19 May 1961: When 11 Bengalis lost their lives for their mother tongue

Fifty-nine years have passed since 19th May 1961 and fate has again placed us as crossroads. With the anti CAA protests in Assam and NE, the situation is an eerie reminder of the past. While the Assamese nationalist elements are pitted against Bengali Hindus, primarily of Bangladeshi origin, the Muslim infiltration from neighbouring Bangladesh has already irreversibly altered the demography of around ten districts of Assam and three districts of West Bengal.

The significance of the 19th day of May 1961 is probably as alien a concept to the modern-day Bengali of Kolkata, as civilization is to a Vandal. By a strange twist of fate and deliberate design of the Left-Liberal ecosystem, the largest Bengali Language Movement of post-Independence India and the martyrdom of eleven refugee Hindus from East Pakistan is relegated to an obscure memorial in Silchar and condemned to obsolescence in Kolkata, the nerve centre of Bengali culture. Strangely an unrelated 21st February of East Pakistan, which in reality was a struggle for resources between the East and the West in the garb of a language movement, have been imposed on the Bengalis in India, in the form of a black tombstone in Curzon Park, adjacent to a busy thoroughfare of Kolkata.

Come 21st February and the collective intellectual uprising of the Bengali language chauvinists and their Leftists cohorts are quite a spectacle to behold. From sporting Bangladeshi flag in their social media accounts to display maps of ‘United Bengal’ and even supporting Bangladesh in Indo-Bangladesh cricket matches, a very thin line is retained between linguistic chauvinism and downright sedition. A parochial ‘pro-Bengali’ group who routinely abuse the ‘cow belt’ for a living, is at the forefront of this tomfoolery. When it comes to 19th May, the collective silence of these quislings is deafening. Perhaps the Bengali name Kamala Bhattacharya is not as glamourous as the Arabic names of Rafique or Jabbar. Another probable reason is to mask the backstabbing of the Bengali-speaking Muslim population in the form of subsequent Hailakandi communal riots which if exposed would deflate the much propagated 21st February beyond redemption.

The genesis of the movement is as follows. After the annexation of Assam in 1826, the British administered it as a part of the Bengal Presidency. This decision led to the use of Bengali as an administrative language in multilingual Assam, which was a cause of resentment among the native Assamese. In 1874, Assam was carved out as a separate province, however, the Bengali-speaking districts of Goalpara, Sylhet and Cachar were also a part of it. During the Partition of India, the British left the fate of Sylhet to a referendum, because of the Muslim majority. Owing to foot-dragging of the Assam Congress who, allegedly, wanted to get rid of the Bengali-speaking population, the indecision of the Congress Central Command and mass intimidation and rigged polls orchestrated by the Muslim League, Sylhet was literally gift-wrapped to Pakistan in the Sylhet Referendum. Thousands of Bengali Hindu refugees from Sylhet swamped into Cachar following the Partition.

The chronology leading up to the fateful day commenced in 1960 when Bimala Prasad Chaliha, the then Chief Minister of Assam presented a bill in the state assembly seeking to declare Assamese as the sole official language of the state. The bill was opposed by Ranendra Mohan Das, the legislator from Karimganj, on the ground that it was tantamount to imposing the language of one third on the rest of the population since apart from Bengalis, ethnic groups from the modern-day states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur Meghalaya were also part of Assam. When the controversial bill was passed it added fuel to fire. Bengal Kheda erupted again across the Brahmaputra Valley, leading to a gruesome massacre of Bengali Hindus in Goreswar.

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In the Barak Valley, a peaceful language movement started under the banner of Cachar Gana Sangram Parishad to include Bengali also as an official language and give similar recognition to other ethnic languages. On 14th April 1961, Sankalpa Dibas (Determination Day) was observed leading to mass-scale movements also joined by non-Bengali linguistic groups such as the Manipuris. On the fateful day of 19th May, a Satyagraha was observed in Silchar railway station and trains came to a standstill.

Police could not disperse the protesters even after use of brute force and the paramilitary was requisitioned. Assam Rifles opened fire on unarmed protesters and eleven people, including a teenage girl, courted death in the love of their mother tongue. All of them were Bengali Hindu refugees from East Pakistan. This led to massive protests in Cachar, neighbouring Tripura and West Bengal. Kolkata Maidan and Subodh Mallick square erupted in mass movements. Non-Bengali linguistic groups such as the Khasis of Shillong also took part in the protests. Legendary freedom fighter Ullaskar Dutta sent a bouquet to each of the language martyrs.

Under unrelenting pressure, Assam government had to withdraw the circular and Bengali was given official status in Barak Valley as per Section 5 of Assam Act XVIII, 1961 which recognizes the use of Bengali in Cachar district. As a long term effect of this movement, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya ultimately achieved separate statehood. 

The 19th day of May should not be observed in the narrow prism of Assamese-Bengali confrontation, but a struggle for equal rights of all languages in an erstwhile multilingual state. Also, due credit needs to be given to the martyrs who despite being refugees and subject to absolute penury after the Partition fought for the love of their language oblivious to their physical or material wellbeing.

A deliberately hidden aspect of this movement is the rank betrayal of the movement by the Bengali-speaking Muslim population of Cachar who tried to thwart the movement by organizing virulent communal riots targeting Bengali Hindu refugee colonies. In highest traditions of Al Taqiyaa or ‘the art of deception’, the Bengali-speaking Muslims turned against their co-linguists in favour of the Assamese chauvinists. On 19th June, thousands of riotous Bengali Muslim mobs descended in Hailakandi, shouting slogans like ‘Allah Hu Akbar’, ‘Chaliha Sarkar Zindabad’ (Long Live Chaliha Government) and ‘Asomiya Bhasha Sikhte Hobe’ (Learning Assamese is a must). The mother of all ironies is that all the slogans were given in Bengali. The murderous mob, supplied with weapons from the local Muslim shops carried out massive riots and arson against Hindu-owned shops and Hindu refugee colonies. Nearly two hundred houses were gutted and nearly ten people were killed in police firing and the ensuing riots. The dead included a thirteen-year-old teenager called Rabindra Kumar Ghosh and two labourers employed by MLA Gourishankar Roy’s brother. 

Circumstantial evidence implicated Mainul Haq Choudhury, the then Agriculture Minister of Assam Cabinet for complicity. Incidentally, Mainul Haq Choudhury was a PA to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the architect of the partition of India, who assured Jinnah that he would ‘present Assam to him on a silver platter’. The fact this character could become a minister in Assam cabinet explains the level of depravity of Nehruvian Secularism. A massive infiltration also took place from Pakistan in this period with ulterior objectives of separation of Assam. A Pakistani citizen called Taslim Ali was arrested in Aurangabad, who confessed that he had entered India without a passport and worked at the residence of Mainul Haq Choudhury. Nehru, of course, sacrificed these concerns with his characteristic nonchalance at the altar of secularism though alarm bells should have been set off at the highest quarters. A detailed account of the Hailakandi episode can be found in the book, ‘Assame Bhasha Andolan O Bangali Prasanga 1947-1961’ (in Bengali), by Sukumar Biswas.

Fifty-nine years have passed since 19th May 1961 and fate has again placed us as crossroads. With the anti CAA protests in Assam and NE the situation is an eerie reminder of the past. While the Assamese nationalist elements are pitted against Bengali Hindus, primarily of Bangladeshi origin, the Muslim infiltration from neighbouring Bangladesh has already irreversibly altered the demography of around ten districts of Assam and three districts of West Bengal. These illegal infiltrators and their patrons are trying to fish in troubled waters by taking part in anti CAA protests just like their counterparts in Hailakandi in 1961. The Left-Liberal ecosystem is still in place, spinning a web of lies and like the dark fairy of ‘sleeping beauty’ lulling the entire society into a deep slumber oblivious to the clear and present danger. In order to face this existential crisis, we need to cut through the clutter and ask hard questions to the apologists. Why 21st February and not 19th May? Why Rafique-Jabbar and not Kamala Bhattacharya? Why Dhaka and not Silchar?

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