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The Militant, 31 August 1946

Larissa Reed

British Gunfire Mows Down
Indians in Calcutta “Riots”

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 35, 31 August 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Another crime was chalked up on the bloody record of British imperialism in India, as Calcutta counted the enormous toll of dead and wounded in the four-day street battle in which Hindu and Moslem “rioters” were mowed down by British guntgre last week. This terrible bloodletting transcended the infamous Amritsar massacre in 1919, in which hundreds of Indians were killed in cold blood by British imperialist police.

An estimated 4,000 people were killed in Calcutta’s streets over the four-day period, August 16–19, and many thousands more were injured. In the wake of the blood-bath, epidemics now threaten Calcutta’s population of 2,000,000 – equal to that of Detroit.

That the bulk of the casualties were caused by the British guardians of “law and order” and not by Hindu and Moslem “rioters” is proved by press reports that the latter were armed mostly with such weapons as soda water bottles, brickbats, knives and clubs. Firearms were almost exclusively in the hands of British troops and police.

Families Slain

Teeming monsoon rains beat down upon the strife-torn city as the conflict subsided. Sanitation squads and volunteer workers began clearing away piles of bodies from the streets. Whole families, including children, were butchered. Many of the bodies, lying in ponds and rivers, and in the streets, had been hideously torn by vultures. Hospitals were jammed with the wounded.

Smashed stores, burned buildings and looting account for property damage of millions of dollars. During the strife all transport stopped. Public services, including communications, were seriously hampered. Factories as well as homes went Up in flames. Thousands of natives fled from the city, bearing their belongings away on their heads.

Many of the city’s poor were without food for days, while fruits, vegetables and eggs rotted on railway platforms and in barred stores. Some food stocks were burned.

British “Order”

The British attempted to conceal their own role in the conflict. At the height of the clashes, on August 17, an India Office spokesman in London said that the “matter was one for Indians themselves to settle, although of course British troops would help to restore order.”

Heavily-armed, steel-helmeted British troops were called out “in unknown numbers” to support the police, and opened fire “time and again.” Infantrymen with fixed bayonets charged into groups. Trucks and jeeps carrying the forces of “law and order” skirted around piles of corpses in the streets, their vehicles covered with wire mesh. British planes flew over the seething city.

The massacre got under way on August 16, a day designated by the All-India Moslem League as “Direct Action Day” against the British Cabinet mission’s plan for an interim government in India. The leaders of both the Congress Party and the Moslem League accepted the plan last month. On August 12 the Moslem League leaders withdrew their acceptance in a wrangle over cabinet posts and began preparations for mass rallies and demonstrations in favor of Pakistan, i.e., an independent Moslem state.

When these rallies and demonstrations began four days later, they quickly developed into clashes between Moslems and Hindus. The British were glad of the opportunity to subject both to a murderous blood-bath. Britain has a long record for sidetracking the wrath of the Indian people against its rule of oppression and exploitation. It encourages and often provokes communal strife in order to divide the ranks of its rebellious slaves, so that it may continue to rule over them.

In this divisive work the British are helped by the bourgeois leaders of both the Congress Party and the Moslem League. Instead of uniting the Indian masses for a struggle to the end against the imperialist oppressors, they seek to make deals with the latter. Their aim is not to free the Indian people, but to share in their exploitation with the British imperialists.

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