1970s >> 1971 >> no-804-august-1971

The twin tigers of Bengal

A calamity such as a cyclone, civil war, mass migration of refugees, cholera epidemics and famine (Bengal has had all these!) brings forth a host of would-be helpers: international soup-kitchens like Oxfam, Flo Nightingales of the Red Cross and do-gooders of various religions all vie with the impotent United Nations bodies.


In East Pakistan the Government blandly denied it needed any aid whatsoever, there had been no cholera at all and food stocks were quite sufficient. [1]  In West Bengal the Government was almost as difficult: it did not specify what was needed till too late; [2] medical supplies and Land Rovers got snarled up in Customs and red tape; foreign doctors were definitely undesirable in the congested — but strategic — border regions; and dispersal of the refugees goes slowly for various reasons:


   The West Bengal Government did not yet know when the dispersal would begin. Mr. Mukherji (Chief Minister) . . . said that most other States had not agreed to share the burden, nor did the Centre desire them to do so . . . a suggestion was made to the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Manekshaw, that the Army take over the management of the evacuee problem. The General . . . told the Chief Minister . . . that the Army had very little resources to undertake such a huge responsibility.” [3]


From the nightmarish bloodbath of East Bengal, one turns to West Bengal — to India’s repressive use of parliamentary forces. The main Opposition leader describes frequent “combings and killings”:


   The State’s police force is sixty thousand strong, in addition are fifty thousand para-military forces like the CRP, Border Security Force, etc., and more than fifty thousand of the army and these near two-lakh armed thugs have been let loose on the people of West Bengal to commit murder and mayhem. Regular combing operations by the police and the CRP with the help of the army arc being organised in mahalla after mahalla in the towns, in village after village in the rural areas. Indiscriminate arrests, mass torture, selective killings have become the order of the day, more than twenty thousand persons have already been arrested of whom 750 are still in custody, refused bail, and another one lakh have warrants of arrests pending against them. From the date of the imposition of President’s rule on the State, March 19, 1970, to the end of December, 149 CPI(M) workers and supporters had been killed, by the CRP and police and by anti-social elements organised by the Congress and its allies; the number rose to 219 on the eve of polling day and as this is being written, it has already crossed the 250 mark. In addition are many others who have been killed in this same period.” [4] 

Hardly a day goes by without political assassinations, usually of left-wingers, trade unionists, radical peasants or student leaders by hired gangs of goondas.


Bengal has of course plenty of other problems. West Bengal faces a man-made cholera epidemic and there may well be other diseases fostered in the congested refugee areas.


Trade is now almost non-existent — the 6 million fleeing refugees included most of East Bengal’s Hindu traders — and the Pakistani rupee has hardly any value.


In West Bengal there is a chronic economic crisis, aggravated by power shortages and disruption of the railways, due to wagon-breaking and theft. The refugees are intensifying the problems of the rural areas. Refugees who get their food and shelter free are flooding the labour market in a State with an unemployment problem as bad as Britain’s in the Thirties.


Communalism, nationalism and religion make a hot curry. There are 60 million Muslims in India at risk when Pakistan atrocity stories get into circulation. The two halves of Bengal have been shunting Hindu and Muslim minorities to and fro over the border ever since Partition, when Bengal and the Punjab vied for the title of worst atrocity areas in the sub-continent.


Religion’s political role is evidenced by this example from East Bengal:


    “Eid-e-Miladun-Nabbi (the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday) was celebrated in Dacca on 8th May . . . with solemnity and enthusiasm. The celebration was marked by the people’s re-dedication to the preservation of their homeland, Pakistan . . . The national flag was hoisted on all prominent buildings, houses and offices. . . . The Pakistan Council, Dacca, also held a symposium on the Prophet Mohammad’s role as nation builder . . . Dr. S. Sabir said that Islam cut at the root of territorial nationalism based on language, politics or geography . . .”


This at a time when East Pakistan reeked with the blood of its people, butchered in the name of “territorial integrity”.


It was the more potent factor of nationalism which in the past inspired those Bengalis who spearheaded the intransigent terrorist wing of the independence movement. The failure of “independence” to solve their problems should make Bengalis and others suspicious of all so-called liberation struggles: workers and peasants never get liberated within the capitalist system.


The history of India shows that “World Government” is no answer to capitalism’s problems. For within India are many states, many languages and ethnic groups. A miniature World Government already operates from Delhi. Yet in India there are liberation movements and revolts (e.g. the Nagas and Mizos); spiralling unemployment and land problems; in Bengal these factors combine to produce a measles rash of murder; and rural and urban poverty vie with one another for worst-ever records. Calcutta — once the richest ruby in Victoria’s crown — is now a byword for an obscene stinking slum, with its garbage-choked streets, demonstrating mobs, pavement-dwellers and armed gangs.


Bengal shows us capitalism with all its faults a bit larger than life. Poverty, homelessness, disease, violence, unemployment, land-hunger, debt, communal pogroms, anarchy and despotism: Bengal’s problems are ours, only more so. They are the stripes on the tiger of capitalist society and as long as wage-labour and commodity production exist, so will all these problems.


Charmian Skelton


 [1] Pakistan High Commission Press Release June 16th: “there had been no cases of cholera in any part of East Pakistan during the last six months”. June 15th: “the food position in East Pakistan continues to be satisfactory”.
 [2] UN help for refugees was not requested till May 7th; the Red Cross was not notified till June 4th (Times, June 7th).


 [3] The Statesman Weekly (Calcutta), June 12th.


 [4] lyoti Basu, Cry Halt To This Reign Of Terror—Communist Party of India (Marxist): (Calcutta), April 1971.