Exerpt from All That Glisters by Mukur Kanti Khisha
The First Schedule of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 contained
the list of Bengal Districts to be included in the New Province of East
Bengal. It clearly laid down: "In the Chittagong Division - the
Districts of Chittagong, Noakhali and Tippera". There was no
mention of the Chittagong Hill Tracts at all.
The ground rules for the partition of India were very clear. The
areas in which the Muslims had a numerical majority would constitute
Pakistan and areas with a non Muslim majority would remain in India.
As there was a serious disagreement between the leaders of the Indian
National Congress and the Muslim League in regard to some areas of
Bengal and the Punjab, a Boundary Commission was set up to
demarcate the boundary in these areas. Thus the Commission under
the Chairmanship of Sir Cyril Radcliffe had a very specific mandate.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts was certainly outside its purview.
At the time of the partition in August, 1947 non MusIims
constituted 98.5% of the population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The Muslim population was just about 1.5%. The following figures
will give a clear picture:
|2) Hindus (mainly Tripuri tribe)||10%
The ethnic composition was as follows:
|1) Hill tribes||97.5%
|2) People from the plains|
(Hindus,Muslims and Buddhist Baruas)
It was really unfortunate that the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten,
who considered the grant of independence to India as his act of
crowning glory, was in such a desperate hurry. His ambition was to
achieve this "superhuman" task in record time. He boasted that
before accepting the post of Viceroy he had told King George VI, who
was his cousin: "I am prepared to accept the job only on one
condition. India must be granted independence by July, 1948 and I
will not stay there a day longer". Mountbatten came to India in
March, 1947 and this left him just about sixteen months to complete
such a gigantic task. In reality, he achieved it in five months, on 15th
of August, 1947 for which he was given so much credit.
The Radcliffe Commission submitted its Report on the 9th of
August 1947. At the Staff Meeting on August 12, there was a virtual
explosion and V.P. Menon, who was a confidant of Sardar Ballav
Bhai Patel, reacted most violently when it came to be known that the
Chittagong Hill Tracts was going to be given to Pakistan. The
following day, on August 13th, the All India Congress Committee
issued a declaration alleging that the award "lacked all sense of
justice, equity and propriety" and, therefore, it was "ineffective,
infurctuous and incapable of execution in international consciousness".
Sardar Patel wrote an angry letter to Mountbatten expressing his
indignation, calling the Radcliffe award "monstrous and a blatant
breach of the terms of reference". He warned that "I am urging the
tribesmen to resist amalgamation with Pakistan by force, if
necessary". He was indeed a great patriot and a staunch nationalist.
Originally, the award of the Boundary Commission was to be
made public on the 13th of August. But Mountbatten was reluctant to
spill the beans. According to Philip Zeigler, the author of
Mountbatten's official biography, the case of the Chittagong Hill
Tracts was uppermost in Mountbatten's mind. "He (Mountbatten)
foresaw an Independence Day marred by rancour, Nehru boycotting
the ceremonies, India born in an atmosphere not of euphoria but of
angry resentment. So Mountbatten decided to announce the award
only on the 16th of August when the celebrations were over. As
Zeigler writes, "India's indignation at the award of the Chittagong
Hill Tracts to Pakistan may have been a factor in making up
Mountbatten's mind to keep the reports to himself till after
Mountbatten was himself surprised by the ferocity of Sardar
Patel's reaction to the issue. In his memoirs he wrote: "The one man
I had regarded as a real statesman with both his feet firmly on the
ground, and a man of honour whose word was his bond, had turned
out to be as hysterical as the rest. Candidly I was amazed that such a
terrific crisis should have blown up over so small a matter. However,
I have been long enough in India to realise that major crises are by no
means confined to big matters." It may have been a small matter for
Mountbatten in that exulted position as the Viceroy of India but what
about the poor people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts? When wanton
children throw stones at the frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in
sport, they die in earnest. As Leonard Mosley in his book The Last
Days of the British Raj puts it succinctly: "This is a matter for
The award of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to Pakistan was so
unexpected that even Justice Mohammad Munir, a Muslim member of
the Boundary Commission. said: "I was certain from the start that the
Chittagong Hill Tracts would be awarded to India." Obviously, it was
against all principles of justice, equity and fair play.
Mr Jaipal Singh, who was member of the Sub-Committee of the
Constituent Assembly of India dealing with the Excluded Areas,
recorded a minute of dissent in which he wrote: "The Chittagong Hill
Tracts must be claimed back to India". Soon afterwards, in a public
speech in Calcutta, Nehru himself said that gross injustice had been
done in regard to the Chittagong Hill Tracts. He also declared that
the matter would be taken up with Pakistan. But nothing was done.
With a deep sigh full of pathos Mohit Chakma lamented, "There
was no one to listen to our appeal or champion our cause. We sent a
delegation of our leaders to New Delhi to plead our cause. They were
received by Sardar Patel who gave a sympathetic hearing and advised
them to resist with all their might. He did not hesitate to tell the
members of the delegation, 'At the moment my hands are too full with
Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagadh. Once these problems are solved,
I assure you categorically that I will come to your rescue.' It was
most unfortunate for the Chakmas that he did not live long enough.
With the death of the indomitable Sardar on 15th December, 1950 all
our hopes were dashed to the ground. Thus began a long, unending
tale of woe, suffering, despair, humiliation, distress and torture. The
persecution of the tribal peoples has taken the worst form of genocide.
Thousands of the victims could write The Diary of Anne Frank and put
Schindler's List to shame. In my dreams I often cry Bleed, My
Country, Bleed. And when I wake up, I find that I have no more
tears to cry."
Mr. Mukur Kanti Khisha is a former career diplomat of the Indian Foreign
Service and a Chakma descent from the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
- All That Glisters: by M.K. Khisha