A PARTITION DIARY
Suhasini Das (1915 – 2009) was a Bengali social worker and freedom fighter who participated in the Non-Cooperation and Quit Indian movement
Suhasini Das (born 1915 in Jagannathpur village in Sunamganj district, East Bengal) is a legendary figure. Social worker and Gandhian activist, she refused to cross over from Sylhet to India in 1947. Earlier she had taken part in the Non-Cooperation and Quit India movements. Subsequently she worked tirelessly for the cause of secularism, Bengali nationalism and the rights of tea garden workers. Revered as ‘Mother’ in Bangladesh, Suhasini Das experienced the incorporation of Sylhet into East Pakistan in 1947 following a referendum. In her diary she kept an account of those tense days and nights. This day-to-day account recalls the tragic drama and suspense of Partition.
14.07.1947: The people have decided. The district of Srihatta is to go to East Bengal. We must accept the decision of the majority. I did not know whether it would be proper to go out. I stayed at home the whole day. At night I chatted with the neighbours. They were all worried that the League could be planning some mischief. They were especially worried about protecting the womenfolk.
18.07.1947: We met at the home of Purnendu Kishore Sengupta at Puran Lane. Quite a few people had come. A central committee was formed consisting only of women volunteers. The publicity and volunteer departments were made over to me. The chairperson was Nalini Chaudhury. We were told to move from home to home to make sure that folks stayed on in the new state. If we did not stand by them now, we would have betrayed their trust. What is politics but the welfare of the people?
19.07.1947: We met people and told them that they should stay on in our Homes without fear. The law and order situation was worsening. The exuberance of the Muslim League at the creation of Pakistan sounded like threats to the minority community.
20.07.1947: Today, all of us, men and women, met at Chauhatta. We all spoke the same words. The news from the villages was not encouraging. No one could imagine that one day we would be facing a situation like this. The beautiful relationship between the Hindus and Muslims has been deteriorating day by day. The Muslim League is going about telling people that only Muslims would be welcome in the new nation. The others were dispensable.
22.07.1947: In every locality of the city of Srihatta, the volunteers had proper communication channels in place. Today we had a meeting at Telihaore. I noticed a change in the morale of the people. They were not feeling secure. They did not know what to do and could not decide on a possible destination. They had never thought on these lines before.
23.07.1947: I moved throughout the city today and organised the volunteers. In case of any untoward incident, they were trained to do what was necessary to save lives and simultaneously inform the other members of the organisation. At dusk, I called the people from Jamtala, my locality, and had a meeting in my home.
25.07.1947: No one would understand the mental agony which the Hindus suffered at this time. How could anyone happily leave behind his home where his forefathers had lived for years? I was deeply distressed. The people of the weaver community were moving away. I went there to instil some courage in them. I don’t know whether I will be able to convince them any more. I found out from certain families that people were leaving the villages and crowding into the cities. People would have felt assured if the people of the Muslim League had assured protection to these people. The League members are not interested to do so.
26.07.1947: Panic is widespread. Our work has increased. It was decided to continue with our work of convincing people of their safety till 30th July.
01.08.1947: I joined a discussion in the girls school. The faces had lost their smiles. I felt more and more troubled. We discussed the present situation.
03.08.1947: Today a meeting of the Congress Committee was held. The leaders discussed all possible situations. The British were deliberately fostering discord between the two communities. This rift could become permanent.
05.08.1947: I travelled to all parts of the city today and met many people. Everyone seemed to be troubled.
07.08.1947: I went to a dentist today and found many people of the locality gathered there. They were determined to leave in a few days. When I tried to persuade them to stay back, I was rebuked. They started abusing the Congress Party too. They were holding the party responsible for this tension. Why did they agree to a popular vote? Why didn’t they stop this?
13.08.1947: When I went to the girls school today I found that they were all leaving. When people close to me decided to leave Sylhet, tears flooded my eyes. I would never meet them again! People were leaving Pakistan in search of safe havens elsewhere. The empty houses stared back at us in despair. The houses that had been well lit only yesterday were pitch black today. Some thieves were freely looting these empty houses. Nobody stopped them.
14.08.1947: I met all the women in Jamtala, Mirza Jangal and Taltola today. Our country had become independent at last! I could not see happiness on any face. I found out that many had already left. The ones left behind were living in a constant state of panic. I told them that if there was any trouble, they should all converge to the same place. The safe zone would be made known by blowing conch shells.
15.08.1947: I did not go anywhere today. I spent the day fasting and spinning yarn. I chatted with Liladi in the morning. She had come to see me. I met Binode Babu in the evening. I got some news of the outside world then. Independence Day was celebrated in a lifeless manner here.
16.08.1947: Today is the first day of the newly created nation of Pakistan. At night I met Durgesh Kumar Deb and Nikunjabehari Goswami. I spent the whole day doing my own work. I must stop more people from leaving the city. We are here now and will be here tomorrow too. This should spread some assurance among them.
17.08.1947: The stillness of the city makes everyone feel like an alien. Nobody is talking. Everyone seemes to be silently assessing the situation. I went to of Charushila Deb’s home in Mirza Jangal where I met Sumati Majumdar, Lila di, Shobha di and many others. They were all worried about the future. When Durgesh da came at night, we heard everything.
19.08.1947: I went to the office of the Mahila Sangh. We decided once again to continue working as before. I went to the house of the lady leader Kiran Shahshi Debi. I noticed a strange lassitude among the volunteers: perhaps they were worried about the future.
30.08.1947: I left at 9 am to visit the Shamshernagar tea garden. The people here too were tense. From there I went to the Kanihati and Chatlapur tea gardens and held meetings. I told the people to continue staying on their own land. I told them to keep their minds pure. Most of the labourers were drunk, so I told them to give up these bad habits. I spent the night at the Chatlapur tea garden.
31.08.1947: I left Chatlapur at five in the morning to reach another ashram far away. People in the villages too were leaving. The minority Hindus who owned prime land were the worst hit and they were being coerced to leave.
05.09.1947: After a few days of work outside, I returned to Sylhet today. Although no major mishap had befallen people here, they were still tense and anxious.
06.09.1947: I joined the ladies meeting and attended the meeting at Meerabazar in the afternoon.
24.09.1947: I accompanied Prabhat Choudhury and Bani at 11 am when they left by steamer for Rajanagar. We have a wing of our organisation there. We had to stay there for some time to encourage the people by our presence. We could not afford to take it easy and while away our time at home. We had to dispell the fear which had settled down in the minds of the people.
26.09.1947: The subdivision of Sunamganj was also tense. People plied us with anxious queries as we went from house to house.
28.09.1947: In the evening we went to the village of Janpur. Everything seemed disoriented there.
06.10.1947: At noon we left for Sunamganj. As it was getting late we spent the night here. Many people came to discuss the current situation; they wanted to know whether it would be safe for them to stay on.
28.10.1947: I returned today to my home after a long time. What could I do but go around providing some kind of assurance to the people? Till death comes, I must continue with this work.
18.12.1947: In the evening I travelled to Kula Ura. I was anxious to hear the news from other areas. We heard that in Habiganj, in the Harijan area, some robbers had plundered all they could lay their hands on and driven these poor low caste people away. The government did nothing to remedy the situation. These people were suffering. We decided to go to them.
22.12. 1947: In the morning we left for Habiganj. We had rehabilitation work to do there. Today we only gathered information. We found that the minorities have been harmed in a deliberate and planned manner.
24.12.1947: In the afternoon we reached the village of Bamoi. Many came to us to complain of their lot. It appears that after seeing us, a new force of life surged through them. The poor people of Namasudrapur had suffered terribly at the hands of the miscreants. The source of their livelihood was fishing but as they had lost their fishing nets along with their homes, they were slowly starving to death.
25.12.1947: We spent the whole day in the village of Masudpur. The people here too were suffering. The Congress leaders are trying to supply these people with spinning wheels and thread for weaving fishing nets.
26.12.1947: I went to Noagram today. Again, I was sorry to see the plight of the people. We had brought very little relief material with us. We assured them of more help later. If we could get their will-power back, they would survive!
27.12.1947: The rehabilitation work at Bamoi has begun. We helped the people there. Houses were repaired.
28.12.1947: We left for Gopalpur at 2 pm. The village was in a sorry state. I love to work with people. The villagers came forward to help us. We stayed at the camp and were at the mercy of the miscreants here. Although they were moving about freely before us, we could do nothing to them for fear that they might attack us too.
29.12.1947: We reached Bhumapur this afternoon. The villagers were happy to hear that we had come to help them. They trusted us and poured out their woes. Many of them had lost their crops and gardens. Their only sin was that they were Hindus. If the Hindus left, the Muslims would be able to grab their land.
31.12.1947: In the morning we went to the village of Uchail. Although the roads were long and we were tired, we forgot our pain when we saw the enthusiasm and happiness on the faces of the villagers. We told them to rebuild their homes. We tried to teach handicrafts to the womenfolk.
01.01.1948: In the morning I had gone to Agapur. I visited practically every house there. At night we had a meeting. I feel that the pain of the people here has been alleviated by our presence. They told us in detail about the property they had lost.
02.01.1948: In the evening we sat together with the people of Bamoi. Many Muslim brothers too attended this gathering. Those who disliked the wrongs being perpetrated by their brothers assured us of all possible help. We tried to teach the illiterate village women. There was no opportunity in this village for the women to become literate.
06.01.1948: People from Gopalpur and Nidhanpur came to collect relief material from us. Nikunjabehari Goswami is working hard to give them these things. Many people who had lost their belongings were living in the clothes they had on for days on end. They were happy with the clothing we provided them.
07.01.1948: We provided relief material to Noagaon today. People are beginning to trust us. We have been distributing clothing, medicines and providing basic education to these people and they have drawn us close to their hearts.
11.01.1948: We distributed relief material to Khora Khoi village at night. I spent the night there and came back to the camp at dawn. I could feel the restlessness of the people. They had lost all hope of living in peace in the future. Because the government remains unconcerned, the number of miscreants has increased and they are becoming more daring.
16.01.1948: I went to the west of Bamoi village today. I had the volunteers stitch 20 blouses for the women. I wanted the women to learn to do this kind of work instead of sitting idle; that is why I want to teach them sewing.
20.01.1948: I traversed through Masudpur this morning and distributed coupons for relief material. In the afternoon, some of them came to collect their clothes.
21.01.1948: We took along bolts of cloth to Bamoi. The women have already learnt to sew!
31.01.1948: After Noagram and Masudpur, we came back to camp and heard of Gandhiji’s death. One day, I had left home to follow the ideals of this great man. I had worked with him closely and was fascinated by his very simple living standards. About a year and a half ago, we had met him here in Noakhali. He had given up everything for his country and this was his reward! Our volunteers felt sad at hearing this news. We prayed for the eternal rest of his soul. We promised anew to devote ourselves to the service of man, as he had taught and inspired us to do.
(Translated by Kumkum Chakravarti)
- We are grateful to Suhasini Das Sampadona Parishad, Sylhet, and Sahitya Prakash, Dhaka, for permission to publish extracts from Suhasini Das’ ‘Diary of Partition’.