Jogendra Nath Mandal | Commons
Jogendra Nath Mandal | Commons
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New Delhi: The treatment of minorities in Pakistan became a talking point on Twitter this weekend as Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s Information & Broadcasting Minister Fawad Hussain Chaudhry engaged in a war of words over the alleged abduction of two minor Hindu girls in Sindh, their conversion to Islam, and forced marriage.

Pakistan was formed as a homeland for Muslims looking to escape the possibility of Hindu domination in united India, but about 1.6 per cent of its population comprises Hindus, most of them based in Sindh. The parts that constitute Bangladesh joined Pakistan upon Partition in 1947, but gained independence 24 years later.

Muslims, meanwhile, constitute a minority in India at 14.23 per cent of the population, and, over the years, the alleged harassment of the two communities has been a point of friction between the neighbours.

One of the earliest examples of this hostility saw a Hindu minister resign as law minister from Pakistan’s first cabinet (1947-1951), led by Liaquat Ali Khan, three years into the country’s formation.

In his October 1950 resignation letter, Jogendra Nath Mandal, a member of the Pakistan constituent assembly, used the word Hindu 90 times, and lamented the anti-Hindu bias of the Pakistan administration.


Also read: Sushma Swaraj gets into Twitter spat with Pakistani minister on the treatment of minorities


‘Against Brahmin oppression’

Mandal, born in 1904 in the Barisal district of Bengal Presidency (now Bangladesh), was a Dalit.

He began his political journey by winning the Bakharganj North East Rural constituency in 1936 to become a member of the Bengal legislative assembly as an Independent candidate. He gained prominence as a Dalit leader in Bengal, and was influenced by nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose and his elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose.

After Bose was expelled from the Congress in 1940, Mandal lost hope in the party and made a switch to the other national party — the Muslim League of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

His support for the Muslim League, against the larger Hindu tide, was rooted in the belief that the lower castes would be able to escape “Brahmin oppression” in the new country.

Mandal is said to have influenced the plebiscite in Sylhet by rallying the lower castes in Pakistan’s favour, and thrown his weight behind a resolution in the Constituent Assembly to award the title of ‘Quaid-i-Azam’, or ‘The Great Leader’, to Jinnah, despite almost all the minority members opposing it.

In October 1946, when the Interim Government of India was formed ahead of Independence and Partition, Jinnah nominated Mandal as one of the Muslim League’s five representatives.

However, disillusionment followed soon after Independence, as he noted the continued persecution of Dalits in Pakistan.

In his letter to Khan, Mandal sought to point out that “a large number of them (Scheduled Castes in West Punjab) were converted to Islam”.

“Only four out of a dozen Scheduled Castes girls abducted by Muslims have yet been recovered in spite of repeated petitions to the Authority,” he wrote. “The condition of the small number of Hindus that are still living in Sind and Karachi, [then] the capital of Pakistan, is simply deplorable.”

Mandal cited several other instances of harassment and persecution, including from pre-Partition days, as well: “The atrocities perpetrated by the police and the military on the innocent Hindus, especially the Scheduled Castes of Habibgarh in the district of Sylhet… the news of the killing of hundreds of innocent Hindus in trains, on railway lines between Dacca and Narayanganj, and Dacca and Chittagong [during the Dacca (Dhaka) riots]”.

Writing of an estimated 10,000 casualties, and “the lamentation of women and children”, Mandal wrote that he only had one question to ask himself — “What was coming to Pakistan in the name of Islam?”

He also cited the Noakhali riots of October 1946 — with a toll of thousands — where “Hindus including Scheduled Castes were killed and hundreds were converted to Islam. Hindu women were raped and abducted”.

Despite death threats

Mandal then noted how he had remained committed to the Muslim League despite receiving death threats from incensed Hindus in the wake of the violence that followed the 1946 ‘Direct Action Day’ or ‘Great Calcutta Killings’. The riots, which again killed thousands, came months after a provincial election in Bengal brought the Muslim League to office.

In his letter, Mandal recalled how “Hindus demanded my resignation from the League Ministry”, saying he “began to receive threatening letters almost every day”.

“But I remained steadfast to my policy,” he added, reminding Khan that despite “the terrible sufferings of Hindus (that) overwhelmed me (him) with grief”, he still “continued the policy of co-operation with the Muslim League”.

However, by 1950, he was too dejected to continue, the immediate trigger reportedly being that he was frozen out of his own ministry by a bureaucracy pitted against minority leaders.

“After anxious and prolonged struggle, I have come to the conclusion that Pakistan is no place for Hindus to live in and that their future is darkened by the ominous shadow of conversion or liquidation,” he said in the letter to Khan.

“Declarations are being repeatedly made by Muslim League leaders that Pakistan is and shall be an Islamic State,” he wrote, adding, “In that grand setting of the Shariat Muslims alone are rulers while Hindus and other minorities are zimmies who are entitled to protection at price, and you know more than anybody else Mr Prime Minister, what that price is.”

After resigning, Mandal went back to India, where he died 18 years later.

Pakistan columnist Akhtar Balouch wrote in a piece for the daily Dawn that “Mandal’s support for Muslim League, his sacrifices for Pakistan, and his love for Muslims cannot be discredited”, calling his ill-treatment at the hands of Pakistan “a dark chapter in our (Pakistan’s) history”.


Also read: Jogendra Nath Mandal, a Bengali Dalit leader who went on to become a Pakistani minister


 

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