Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Burning for Freedom, Excerpt 3



Hi, Everyone! Here is the next installment (re Noakhali) of the excerpts from Chapter 16 of “Burning for Freedom.” The Dutt and the inspector incidents are coined from real events that happened; the rest are actual happenings.

“Noakhali, October 10, 1946—an auspicious day of Hindu festival: Golam Sarwar, a member of a pious Muslim family revered by Muslims and Hindus, mobilized his private army, the Miyar Fauj, setting it loose upon the innocent Hindus busy celebrating and worshiping their gods. In the Sahapur market, he was joined by League leader Kasem and his army, the Kasemer Fauj. The shrine of the Hindu Goddess Kali was desecrated, and the familiar pattern of murder and mayhem was embarked upon.
Surendranath Basu, a government servant, was critically wounded by vicious stabbing, tied hand and foot, and burned alive. Rajkumar Pal, a doctor on a mission of mercy to help the wounded, was slaughtered on his way. The Muslim public joined these trained private armies. The violence spread to an area covering three hundred square miles strategically selected. The roads and rails were destroyed and canals blocked to prevent help from coming in. The Hindu minority in this area was at the merciless mercy of the ravening Muslims!

Rajendra Lal Chowdhury, president of the Noakhali Hindu Sabha, rushed to his terrace. Dear God, he thought, what a mob! A horde of Muslims, armed and yelling slogans of Pakistan, was headed straight to his home. Fortunately, they had arms and ammunition to defend themselves.

“Hurry up, everyone, take positions on the roof!” he yelled to the men in the house. 
“Lock up the house!”

Shutters were brought down, women and children took positions of safety in the center of the big house, and the men, crouching low before the roof wall kept the mob at bay, firing all day from their guns from the decorative openings in the roof wall. The mob retired for the night. The next day, twenty-two members of Chowdhury’s family were slaughtered, his daughters taken captive, and the house gutted. His severed head was presented to Golam Sarwar.

The Muslim mob strained at the shutters to break entry into Chittaranjan Raychaudhuri’s home. He and his family members had sought safety on the roof. Raychaudhuri had one gun and limited ammunition. What protection could it give? The pounding was getting wilder—there was no time to be lost.

Picking up his gun, he said, “Forgive me, my dears, forgive me …. There is no other choice!”

His grandmother, putting her arms around the children, replied stoically, “Hurry up, son, hurry up! Our honor must be saved! There is no time to be lost!”

Raychaudhuri, willing his hand not to falter, held his gun to the forehead of his family members, one by one, and pulled the trigger. When the roof door shattered open, none but he was left standing. The next instant, his brains spattered on the floor.

Dutt and his wife, clutching their kids, wondered desperately: What to do? What to do? The wild crowd was almost upon them.

“Let us hide in the rushes! Quickly!” Dutt shouted, pulling his family toward the river.

“No, no!” panted his wife. “There is no time—we must save the kids. But how?” She looked wildly around.

“There, there!” she cried, pointing to a pile of slats awaiting disposal in the corner of the yard. There was just enough gap for the two kids, eight and six years of age, to squeeze in.

“My babies, crawl in, please!” She pushed them into the space. “Don’t come out, no matter what, do—not—come—out!”

“Ama, Ama, what is going on? Ama!” they cried out as their mother pried her fingers out of their clasp.

Dutt and his wife were on the other side of the yard when the violent mob fell upon them.

“Please,” cried Dutt, clutching his wife close, “take what you want! Spare our lives!”

“Ha!” cried the leader, looking very frightening with red, bloodshot eyes. He held a fishing spear in one hand and a lighted torch in the other. “This land is our Pakistan! No Hindus allowed here! You love your wife? You may die together.”

The two terrified children watched as the crowd forcibly tied their parents and set first them, then their house on fire. Oh, the screams …! Oh, the roar of the fire …! Helplessly, they watched—huddling in their tiny crevice, tears suspended in their eyes, hands squeezed tightly over their mouths.

The mob left in the direction of the river shouting whoops of victory. They were on the hunt for more victims—certainly many must have taken refuge in the rushes at the river bank!

The two children sat frozen with terror. What should they do? Were their parents dead? No … no … Ama … Ama …! Oh—was that their mother moving? Or was it their father? Hard to tell, so badly burned were the bodies, but one was still alive—and writhing in pain. The two frightened children crawled out of safety. It was unbearable to witness their parent’s pain. What could they do? Their home was smoldering. Perhaps water from the river …? They rushed blindly to the river, their mother’s words of warning completely forgotten.

A horrific scene was being enacted on the river bank. Many people had fled to the river for safety. Surely, surely the thick rushes would hide their presence … if they crouched low, very low, in the water? But the Muslims had an answer to everything. They stabbed the rushes wildly with their fishing spears. Pools of blood welled to the surface until one pool joined the other. Only then were they satisfied! They turned to leave and spotted the two innocents. Without any compunction, one man lifted his spear, still dripping blood from his other victims, and speared first one child, then the other to the ground.

In a police station, the inspector reclined calmly on his chair, feet on the table. Screams of terror, the slogans of Pakistan, the roar of the fire, all reached his ears. The smell of blood and death, too, had permeated the police station. He laughed to himself.

“Saab, Saab,” cried a constable rushing into his room, “there is a crowd coming here.”
The inspector was intrigued. He snapped his feet to the floor. “Let me see!”
He moved ponderously to the door and gaped. “Oy, what a treat!” he cried, rubbing his hands together gleefully—what a treat indeed!

Hindu women and girls stripped of every stitch of clothes and jewelry—stripped of their modesty, dignity, and honor—were being marched along the road toward the police station. The blood of their slaughtered menfolk, mingling with their own, was spattered on their bare skin. They were being ushered along like cattle—poked, prodded, and groped. Any protest they made, any movement to cover themselves, brought more humiliation upon them; yet there was more to come—gang rape and a vicious death, coming sooner for some, later for others. Death, vicious though it may be, was still a merciful release.

Noakhali was a living hell for Hindus."

When this reign of terror—of murder, mayhem, rape and forcible conversions to Islam—began, Chief Minister Huseyn Suhrawady and his secretary were, very conveniently, vacationing away from Bengal.”

Anurupa

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