Direct Action Day (1946)
Direct Action Day hartal called by the Muslim League on August 16, 1946 to get rid of ‘British slavery and contemplated future caste-Hindu domination’. The backdrop of the Direct Action Day was not only the Muslim League’s acceptance of the cabinet mission plan, but also the loss of face it had to experience because of the plan’s rejection by the Congress. The ‘British betrayal’, as the Muslim League branded the Cabinet Mission’s successive failed proposals to placate the obstinate Congress, made Jinnah bid good-bye to constitutional methods and resort to a programme of ‘direct action for the achievement of Pakistan’, to quote a resolution of the Muslim League Council meeting (27-29 July 1946) in Bombay.
On the heels of this resolution the League Working Committee declared 16 August as ‘Direct Action Day’. Directives were issued to League leaders and the Muslim masses of the provinces to suspend all business on the 16 August and observe complete hartal on that day. As the architect of the reorganised Muslim League in Bengal, huseyn shaheed suhrawardy, the Chief Minister, felt that the Bengal hartal of the Day ought to be the most effective one. His immense preparations to make the Day a success led to communal carnage, something that he perhaps never intended to happen. But things went beyond his control and brutal communal violence ensued. A great portion of Calcutta was on fire for a couple of days. ‘The Direct Action’ riot in Calcutta soon spread throughout the country, and was particularly destructively in Bihar and Noakhali. Both Hindus and Muslims fought each other more or less evenly in Calcutta, but the encounter was mostly one sided elsewhere. In Bihar, mostly Muslims were killed and in Noakhali, Hindus. But on the whole Muslim casualties were heavier. Ironically ‘Direct Action Day’ had a direct result. The fate of India was decided on that day, and on that day was sealed the fate of the united Bengal. Direct Action Day made the partition of Bengal inevitable.
Inshort, following continued rejection by the Indian Congress of the proposal to divide India, the Muslim League planned a protest which began with a “Day of Direct Action”(16th August 1946) to assert the right of the Muslims to a separate homeland. The protests triggered riots in Calcutta in which 4,000 people lost their lives (known as the “great Calcutta Riots”).