Noakhali riots

Bangladesh hindu genocide

The Noakhali riots were a series of semi-organized massacres, mass rapes, abductions and forced conversions of Hindus to Islam and looting and arson of Hindu properties perpetrated by the Muslim community in the districts of Noakhali in the Chittagong Division of Bengal (now in Bangladesh) in October–November 1946, a year before India's independence from British rule.


  • It was the cry of outraged womanhood that had peremptorily called him to Noakhali. He felt he would find his bearings only on seeing things for himself at Noakhali. His technique of non-violence was on tried. It remained to be seen how it would answer in the face of the present crisis. If it had no validity, it were better that he himself should declare his insolvency. He was not going to leave Bengal until the last embers of the trouble were stamped out.
  • The immediate occasion for the outbreak of the disturbances was the looting of a Bazar in Ramganj police station following the holding of a mass meeting and a provocative speech by the person now arrested, wrote the Governor, alleged to be the organizer of the disturbances — Gholam Sarwar Hussein.
  • The holocaust in Noakhali in the same year (1946) was likewise intended as a full-fledged jihãd. The call in this case was pronounced by Gholam Sarwar, a Muslim M.L.A. from those parts. Gholam Sarwar’s call was not documented, but the report submitted by Judge Simpson clearly refers to “large-scale conversion of Hindus to Islam by application of force in village after village. In many instances, upon the refusal of the menfolk to embrace Islam, their women were kept confined and converted under duress.” [1] All these of course were characteristic of a true jihãd. This was not all. As in Calcutta, the Noakhali riots were characterised by the dishonouring of thousands of Hindu women. There were clear indications that these unfortunate women were looked upon as the mujãhids’ lawful plunder (ghanîmah). Baboo Rajendralal Roy, the President of Noakhali Bar Association, attempted to put up on his own some resistance to this jihãd. The outcome of this resistance has been described by a contemporary writer: “Rajenbaboo’s head was presented to Gholam Sarwar on a platter, and two of his lieutenants received as guerdon both of his young daughters (in their harem).”[2]
    • Quoted in Majumadāra, S. (2001). Jihād: The Islamic doctrine of permanent war. ch. 10
  • The Calcutta carnage was followed by the 'Noakhali Riot' in October 1946. There, Hindus including Scheduled Castes were killed and hundreds were converted to Islam. Hindu women were raped and abducted. Members of my community also suffered loss of life and property. Immediately after these happenings, I visited Tipperah and Feni and saw some riot-affected areas. The terrible sufferings of Hindus overwhelmed me with grief, but still I continued the policy of co-operation with the Muslim League.
    • Excerpted from the resignation letter of J. N. Mandal, Minister for Law and Labour, Government of Pakistan, October 8, 1950. [1] [2]
  • As a matter of fact, the driving out of minorities had begun as early as November, 1946 with Noakhali, when the whole of Northern India was flooded with destitutes begging for a morsel or a piece of cloth to cover their shivering bodies.
  • The ‘Clarian Call’ was answered about a fortnight later in the shape of the Calcutta, Noakhali and other riots in Bengal, the ghastliest and most terrible seen till then in India, to be bettered in this respect only by the Muslim holocaust of the minorities in the Punjab, in 1947.
  • What shocked the conscience of India even more than Calcutta, was the large-scale murder, loot, arson, rape, abduction and forced marriage of Hindu women in the Noakhali District of Eastern Bengal. This time the trouble came about in the October of 1946. It appears the League enthusiasts were on the look-out for an area of operation where they could be sure of very little resistance and where they could demonstrate to the Hindus in action as to what was in store for them in case they did not accept the Muslim League demand of Pakistan. In Calcutta the Hindus-although on the first two days they were completely surprised, and reeled under the sudden blow, and lost more than a thousand in killed-yet on the subsequent days they rallied and gave the Muslims as good as they got. The Muslim League perhaps realized the folly of having tried out Calcutta. A better spot should be selected, and this time it was Noakhali and the adjoining area of Eastern Bengal. ... As the trouble broke out, for some time the country did not know about it. Noakhali is a far-away part of Bengal, and the Muslim League Ministry of Bengal did not allow the news of the carnage to trickle though as long as they could help it. So, the assailants had it all their own way for several days, unchecked.
  • The horror and the underlying conspiracy of this occurrence can best be described in the words of Shri S. L. Ghosh of the A. B. Patrika, quoted above. Says Shri S. L. Ghosh: “The four days’ delay in receiving the news indicates at once the magnitude of preparations of the lawless elements as well as the criminal inefficiency of the administration machinery.2 It took ten days, fraught with horror, disgrace and torture for nearly two lakhs of Hindus for the Army to reach the neighbourhood of disaster, another ten days for them to move into the inner fringe of the disturbed area, and over a month to comb the interior of the devastated countryside. “The horror of the Noakhali outrage is unique in modern history in that it was not a simple case of turbulent members of the majority community killing off helpless members of the minority community, but was one whose chief aim (to quote Dr. Syama Prosad Mookerjee) was mass conversion, accompanied by loot, arson and wholesale devastation……… No section of the people has been spared, the wealthier classes being dealt with more drastically. Murder also was part of the plan, but it was mainly reserved for those who were highly influential or who resisted. Abduction and outrage on women and forcible marriages were also resorted to; but their number cannot be easily determined. The slogans used and the methods employed indicate that it was all part of a plan for the simultaneous establishment of Pakistan. The demand for subscriptions for the Muslim League and for other purposes, including conversion ceremonies, showed that mass attackers, and their leaders were inspired by the League ideology. “Apparently, the strategy of terrorisation adopted in Calcutta had failed to achieve the objective of recognition of Pakistan. The zealots of Pakistan in Noakhali and the southern portion of Tepperah, therefore, sought to make that muslim-majority area exclusive to a certain community, and thus convert it into the fortress of Eastern Pakistan, by forcible mass conversion of the other community…… (The League) leaders tried to minimize the enormity of the crimes…… they tended to confirm the impression that they were in close sympathy with the attackers and their nefarious policy and that this was the second phase of the direct action plan of the Muslim League to achieve Pakistan.... “Over and above these persons, there will be another 50,000 or even more who are still living within the danger zone in what may be called the no man’s land. Theirs is the most tragic fate. They have all been subjected to conversion and are still3 under the clutches of their oppressors. Most of them have lost everything, and they suffer from both physical and mental collapse. Their humiliation and torture know - no limitations. Their names have been changed; their womenfolk insulted; their properties looted; they are being compelled to dress, to eat and to live like their so-called new brothers in faith. The male members have to attend the mosques, Maulvies come and train them at home; they are at the mercy of their captors for their daily food and indeed for their very existence. . . .”
  • Acharya Kripalani’s account of what he observed in Noakhali substantiates the statement of Dr. Mookerjee... Said the Acharya: “Next morning (October 22, 1946) we visited the interior of one of the affected areas. The place was Charhaim. Charhaim village and the surrounding areas are occupied by Namasudras (scheduled castes) numbering about 20,000. It was completely destroyed. Most of the houses were burnt. People were living in sheds, built from the ruins of their houses. All their property had been looted. Cash, ornaments, utensils and clothes, and cattle also, had been taken away by the raiders. All the males and females had only the clothes they were wearing. They had no food to eat. Their condition was pitiable in the extreme. There had been cases of murder, but it was not possible during the short time at our disposal to ascertain the number of the killed. Cases of abduction were reported to us. Even after looting and arson the villagers were obliged to embrace Islam; They had to perform ‘Namaz’ and recite the ‘Kalma’……… All the images of the houses were broken and temples looted and destroyed. The conch-shell bangles of women and vermillion marks, signs of their married life, were removed.”
  • Acharya Kripalani arrived at certain conclusions regarding the Noakhali trouble, which are as follows:-
    1. The attack on the Hindu population in the districts of Noakhali and Tipperah was previously arranged and prepared for. It was deliberate, if not directly engineered by Muslim League. It was the result of Muslim League propaganda. The local evidence all went to prove that prominent League leaders in the villages had a large hand in it.
    3. The Muslim officials connived at the preparations going on. A few encouraged. There was a general belief among the Mussalmans that the Government would take no action if anything was done against the Hindus.
    4. The modus operandi was for the Muslims to collect in batches of hundreds and sometimes thousands and to march to Hindu villages or Hindu houses in villages of mixed population. They first demanded subscriptions for the Muslim League and sometimes for the Muslim victims of the Calcutta riots. These enforced subscriptions were heavy, sometimes amounting to Rs. 10,000 and more. Even after the subscriptions were realized, the Hindu population was not safe. The same or successive crowd appeared on the scene later and looted the Hindu houses. The looted houses in most cases were burnt……… Sometimes before a house was looted the inmates were asked to embrace Islam. However, even conversion did not give immunity against loot and arson...
    5. All those who resisted were butchered. Sometimes they were shot, for the rioters had a few shot-guns with them. Sometimes people were killed even when there was no resistance offered or expected I have on record cases where 50 to 60 members of one family were brutally murdered. Some families lost all their male members.
    7. Even after looting, arson and murder the Hindus in the locality were not safe unless they embraced Islam. The Hindu population therefore to save themselves had to embrace Islam en masse……… All the images of gods in Hindu houses were destroyed and all the Hindu temples of the affected area were looted and burnt.
    8. There have been cases of forcible marriages There have been cases of abduction...
  • The Congress Working Committee meeting came soon after at Delhi, and its resolution on East Bengal contained the following observations: “Reports published in the press and statements of public workers depict a scene of bestiality and medieval barbarity that must fill every decent human being with shame, disgust and anger. “The Committee hold that this outburst of brutality is the direct result of the politics of hate and civil strife that the Muslim League has practised for years past and of the threats of violence that were daily held out in past months.”
  • It was clear after Noakhali as to what India was to expect in the coming months-mass attacks on minorities in Muslim-majority areas, co-operation of Muslim police and the officials with the assailants, indifference of the British bureaucrats, and the hypocritical fathering of the League leaders of the responsibility for these occurrences on the minorities themselves. In the case of Calcutta the League leaders blamed it all on the Hindus-in the case of Noakhali and Tipperah, the figures of casualties and damage were understated to ridiculous figures, or just not noticed.
  • Calcutta and Noakhali did not bring any condemnation from the League of these criminal attacks on minorities. Far from it-in the League Press the attempt was made to shift the responsibility, where there occurrences were admitted at all, on the Hindus.
  • [The first news of the Noakhali violence reached Bengal Congress Office in Calcutta on 15 October 1946 from the Party members in Noakhali in the form of a telegram, which read:] ‘Houses burned on mass scale / Hundreds burnt to death / Hundreds killed / Otherwise large number Hindu girls forcibly married to Moslems and abducted / All Hindu temples and images desecrated / Helpless refugees coming to Tippera District / Golam Sarwar leader inciting Moslems to exterminate Hindus from Noakhali…’
    • quoted in Khan Y (2007) The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, Yale University Press, quoted from M.A. Khan Islamic Jihad: A legacy of forced conversion, imperialism and slavery (2011)
  • [By mid-October, records Khosla:] ‘Hundreds of murders had been committed, thousands of women had been dishonored and carried away or compelled to marry Muslims. Whole villages had been burnt down and razed to the ground. All the entire Hindu population of the district had been robbed of all they possessed and then forcibly converted to Islam.’ [Hindu temples were defiled and the idols smashed. There were about 400,000 Hindus living in Noakhali; at least 95 percent of them were converted to Islam at the pain of death.] ‘The converted persons were made to read kalma, slaughter cows and eat their flesh,’ [records Khosla. Up to 5,000 people were murdered, estimated 99 percent of the non-Muslim houses looted and 70–90 percent of them burned down. A similar spectacle transpired in the neighboring Tippera District.]
    • Khosla GD (1989) Stern Reckoning: A Survey of Events Leading Up To and Following the Partition of India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, [39] also quoted in M.A. Khan Islamic Jihad: A legacy of forced conversion, imperialism and slavery (2011)
  • Having thus failed in Calcutta, the Muslim League selected another venue in the district of Noakhali, where the Hindus were only 18 percent of the total population, for the nefarious deeds of arson, loot, abduction and rape of the Hindu women, mass-conversion of faith and killings.
    • Lahiry P. C. (1964). India partitioned and minorities in pakistan. (p.6-7) quoted in Kamra A. J. (2000). The prolonged partition and its pogroms : testimonies on violence against Hindus in East Bengal 1946-64. pp. 9
  • A few roads also serve the two districts but when disturbances broke out the roads were breached in several places and some bridges were destroyed. The passage of cars and lorries was thus almost completely stopped. It is, therefore, not surprising that for some days no news of the great upheaval reached the outside world and it was not till October 14 that Calcutta heard of anything wrong or unusual occurring in Noakhali. By that date a great deal had happened. Hundreds of murders had been committed, thousands of women had been dishonoured and carried away or compelled to marry Muslims. Whole villages had been burnt down and raved to the ground. Almost the entire Hindu population of the district had been robbed of all they possessed and then forcibly converted to Islam.
    • Khosla G. D. (1989). Stern reckoning : a survey of the events leading up to and following the partition of india. Oxford University Press. 68ff
  • Anti-Hindu propaganda was started in Noakhali towards the end of August. Meetings were held throughout the district on August 29 which was the occasion of the /d festival, Rumours were spread through the district that bands of armed Sikhs had been imported from outside with the object of assaulting and murdering Muslims. The Maulvis in their waaz (sermon) preached hatred against the non-Muslims and warned the Muslims to be on their guard. Soon afterwards looting of Hindu shops and houses in various parts of the district began. Temples were desecrated and idols were broken.
    • Khosla G. D. (1989). Stern reckoning : a survey of the events leading up to and following the partition of india. Oxford University Press. 68ff
  • Muslim mobs began attacking Hindu houses on the pretext of searching for Sikh and Hindu goondas who were alleged to have been brought to Noakhali for the purpose of attacking Muslims. Another method adopted was to make demands for large sums of money in order to relieve the sufferings of the Calcutta Muslims. In some cases, as much as a thousand rupees were demanded from an individual. The demand was almost invariably followed by looting and burning. A school master of Khilpara stated that his house was attacked in this manner by seven different gangs each numbering about three hundred or four hundred. All images and sacred pictures were desecrated and smashed and he and his family were then forcibly converted to Islam. This is typical of what was happening all over the district of Noakhali. A crowd of Muslims drawn from a number of contiguous villages would proceed to a chosen village, loot and burn all the Hindu houses and then convert the non- Muslim population to Islam en masse, on pain of death. They would carry away the womenfolk and give them in marriage to Muslims. It was estimated that at least 95 per cent of the non- Muslim population of Noakhali District was, in this manner, converted to Islam and their women dishonoured. The converted persons were made to read kalma, slaughter cows and cat their flesh. The conch-shell bangles of the women were broken and the sandhoor mark was removed before they were made to marry into Muslim families. The converted persons were given Muslim dress to wear including caps printed with League flags, a map of Pakistan and the slogan “ Pakistan Zindabud.”
    • Khosla G. D. (1989). Stern reckoning : a survey of the events leading up to and following the partition of india. Oxford University Press. 68-73
  • The house of Rajendra Babu was then attacked and set fire to. The inmates climbed up to the roof and some of. the hooligans fired shots at them. The unfortunate victims took shelter behind the garret. A portion of the roof collapsed and some of them fell into the flames and lost their lives. A number of hooligans cut down a tall coconut tree and, using it as a ladder, climbed on to the roof. “One by one the mate inmates were brought down and mercilessly butchered on the spot. The female inmates were brought down and cordoned off and taken to the Pir Sahib who was waiting in a boat at a distance. He ordered them to be taken to some other house. The heads of Rajendra Babu and some others were reported to have been presented to the Pir Sahib.
    • Khosla G. D. (1989). Stern reckoning : a survey of the events leading up to and following the partition of india. Oxford University Press. 68-73
  • The aim of the Noakhali Muslims was to terrorize the Hindus, dishonour their women, plunder their property. desecrate their gods and convert them to Islam.
    • Khosla G. D. (1989). Stern reckoning : a survey of the events leading up to and following the partition of india. Oxford University Press. 68-73
  • During the disturbances the districts were visited by Acharya Kripalani, President of the Congress. He flew over some of the affected area on October 19 and remained touring in the district until the 26th, On his way to Comilla, on the morning of the 19th, he flew very low over the area north of Begumganj and Chitansi and saw houses burning in ten or fifteen villages. On the 20th he again flew over Noakhali and saw fresh fires burning in Faridganj, Raypur, Chandpur and Ramgunye areas. In Charhain village he found that every non-Muslim house was completely devastated. Hindu houses had been burnt down and looted of all movables including ornaments, utensils, clothes and foodgrains. The cattle had been driven away. In Khalpara and Hipara all Hindu shops had been looted and League flags were flying on them.
    • Khosla G. D. (1989). Stern reckoning : a survey of the events leading up to and following the partition of india. Oxford University Press. 68-74
  • It was estimated that 99 per cent of the non-Muslim houses had been looted and between 70 and 90 per cent of the houses had been burnt down.
    • Khosla G. D. (1989). Stern reckoning : a survey of the events leading up to and following the partition of india. Oxford University Press. 68-74
  • The destruction is so complete that, except for sheets of corrugated iron, the looting of _ which is in progress each night even at present, nothing remains but pathetic wreckage. . . . Large numbers of small personal temple-huts have been burnt out, images have been pulled down and smashed and at least one large and brick-built temple has been looted and desecrated.”
    • Khosla G. D. (1989). Stern reckoning : a survey of the events leading up to and following the partition of india. Oxford University Press. 74-75
  • The condition of refugees was deplorable. Foodstuffs were unavailable and the price of rice when it could be obtained was Rs. 2 per seer. A large number of refugees had congregated at different places and their state was pitiable. At Faridganj on November 2 there were about six thousand refugees huddled on boats and sheltering in huts ashore. Many of them were suffering from dysentery and other diseases. Rescue parties sent from Calcutta were refused police protection and had to go back.
    • Khosla G. D. (1989). Stern reckoning : a survey of the events leading up to and following the partition of india. Oxford University Press. 74-75
  • From a relief centre in an East Bengal village, Miss Muriel Lester wrote on 6 November 1946: ‘‘Worst of all was the plight of women. Several of them had to watch their husbands being murdered and then be forcibly converted and married to some of those responsible for their death. Those women had a dead look. It was not despair, nothing so active as that. It was blackness..... the eating of beef and declaration of allegiance to Islam has been forced upon many thousands as the price of their lives... perhaps the only thing that can be quite positively asserted about this orgy of arson and violence is that it is nota spontaneous rising of the villagers.’’
  • V. P. Menon writes : ‘‘In about the second week of October 1946, there was a large-scale outbreak of lawlessness and hooliganism in the Noakhali and Tipperah districts of East Bengal. Large forces of armed police and military had to be employed to control the situation. Referring to these distur- bances, a prominent politician, who himself hailed from East Bengal, reported that whereas the lawlessness had been given the colour or pure goondaism, in fact it was not so; it was an organised attack engineered by the Muslim League and carried out with the connivance of the administrative officials. The attacks, he said, were made by the people armed with guns and other deadly weapons, roads had been dug up and other means of communication cut off to prevent ingress and egress ; canals had been blocked and strategic points were being guarded by armed insurgents.’’

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  1. Translated from the Bengali original cited in R.C. Majumdar, Bãñglãdesher Itihãsa, Volume IV.
  2. Benoy Bhushan Ghosh, Dvijãtitattva O Bãñgãli, p. 68.