Published:  12:08 AM, 22 July 2020

An almost forgotten part of our glorious past

An almost forgotten part of our glorious past This mound at Rahamatganj graveyard is claimed to be one of the mass-graves where martyrs of Salanga massacre were laid to rest.
If you ask today's youth or even most of the grownups about the glory that Salanga can claim, most will not be able to tell you anything. The history of the cruelty and massacre by the British Indian police force has passed into oblivion in less than a century. Salanga is known nowadays for the Haat (village market) that takes place twice a week and is quite vibrant even now. It is located on the bank of a branch of river Bangalee and comes under present day Sirajgonj district. It was here in this haat that the massacre took place on 27th January; 1922.Before coming to the heinous misdeed of the rulers let me take you for a ride on the history of that period very briefly.

The First World War ended in 1918 which saw the fall of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Many of the Indian Muslims could not come to terms with this defeat at the hands of the Allied forces of which the British were an integral and leading part. The left and progressive leaning amongst the Muslim Leaguers led by Maulana Shawkat Ali and Maulana Mohammad Ali brothers left the party and launched the Khilafat Movement against the British colonialists in India in 1918. They had a fertile ground as the people of the subcontinent were being drained of their wealth and resources for the previous two centuries and were deprived of political rights. They were promised self rule in return for their joining the Allied forces under the British Indian Army in the WW1 but were declined the same after the war was won.

Instead, the British enacted Rowlatt Act to enslave the Indians further. Obviously, people were enraged and getting prepared to fight for their rights. Consequently the Khilafat Movement started gaining momentum. The main aims of this movement were: to boycott foreign goods, to denounce titles awarded by the British, to boycott elections to the legislative assemblies dictated and dominated by the colonizers, non- payment of taxes, to promote local production of clothing, salt and other items, promote religious harmony amongst locals, to form local Panchayets and to strengthen them. In short, these objectives were in conformity with the aims of the Non cooperation movement floated by Gandhiji in 1920 as leader of Indian National Congress to achieve self rule and compel the British rule to pack up from India. So, these two movements went simultaneously hand in hand and the two main religious communities of the subcontinent joined their hands to achieve the common goal.

Under the backdrop of above tense political situation in colonial India both the movements grew stronger day by day. Demonstrations, political marches, mobilization of the populace and educating/spreading the ideals of the movements and such other activities of promoting and strengthening of the movements were going on all over. As the movement grew, the British administration was also not sitting idle. They were deeply concerned and were chalking out programmes how to tackle and smash the unrest.

Despite the strong political agitations, the leaders of both the movements tried to make sure that they remain non violent. Whereas the rulers to the contrary had nothing but ruthless force in their hand to face the people since they themselves betrayed the Indian politicians and walked away from their promises. The movements continued for years and my subject matter of this write up is a glorious and sad part of the struggle of Indians and reprisals from the British crown. This part of history belongs to Salanga.

It was a Friday on 27th January, 1922 which was a regular Haat bar (one of the biweekly business days). In those days Salanga Haat was a prominent business place in Northern and North Western Bengal. Thousands of people used to assemble there on every Haat bar to trade in their produce. The main items being food grains, agricultural products, salt, clothing, cattle, utensils and other items of day to day use. As you would expect in such a marketplace both wholesale and retail trading were in practice.

As the leaders of the movements knew about the huge gathering on trading days in Salanga Haat, they choose this day to organise their supporters and stage a protest demonstration against the British administration by arranging a political meeting to explain their ideals to the people and to convince them to join the movement. The meeting was in progress in front of the Congress office in Salanga marketplace.

An enthusiastic, intelligent and young leader of Khilafat Movement, then only an Entrance (equivalent to present SSC) examinee was addressing the gathering. He was a fierce orator dedicated to the cause of the movement. He was explaining the necessity of boycotting British made goods (especially cloths and salt) and concentrating on production of items locally to strengthen India's economy which had been plundered by then to a great extent by the colonisers.

At this point of time the British Indian Police force attacked the meeting with brutal force. The administration had prior information about this gathering and political preaching. So they assembled a big contingent of armed law enforcers under the SP. The DM of Pabna and the SDO of Sirajgonj were also present. The armed police fired some shots at the meeting and some of the participants were hit, some killed and some injured.

The speaker, young Abdur Rashid was one of them. He was profusely bleeding but nevertheless was arrested. Rumors spread that he might have been killed. The people got infuriated. The more so, since he belonged to a Pir family and amongst the crowd there were many of their murids (followers). They tried to snatch Abdur Rashid to freedom from the law enforcers. In the process the Police Superintendent of Pabna also was injured and the police was ordered to open fire again. They fired indiscriminately and emptied all their bullets into the crowd. Complete anarchy prevailed.

Thousands of people were there in the Haat. Many were killed by police firing. Others lost their lives due to stampede as people hastened to flee from firing. According to different accounts the number of death casualties varies from 1500 to 4500. According to the leader of that meeting who later turned out to be Maulana Abdur Rashid Tarkabagish (in his rare book Swadhinata Sangram er Rakto Shiri-Salanga) the death figure was close to 4000. Many of the dead bodies were thrown into the river. Many others were buried in mass graves in nearby Rahmatgonj.

Though this heinous criminal activity by the Britishers was carried out just 3 years after similar atrocity by the same power in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, it did not receive as much publicity or attention as the Punjab incident did. Somehow it could not attract the attention of historians as well. It may have been due to the remoteness of the place of occurrence and success of the infamous colonial law enforcers in hiding the death figures and atrocities. The leader of the political activities of that area Abdur Rashid also did not have mentionable publications where you could get details of the massacre. Only book where he wrote about this has already been mentioned.

Besides, you get some information from local  literature and songs of the village bards. In the 1960s Maulana Abdur Rashid Tarkabagish Memorial Library was established to keep the glory and memory of the sacrifice of local people in Salanga. But unfortunately it has remained in a poor state and has not been developed properly for reasons unknown to me. I have gathered that the library had some accounts of a few eye witnesses of the massacre and disposal of dead bodies later. Our deepest respect remains for the martyrs of Salanga and their leader Abdur Rashid.

Before concluding, I would like to introduce that young leader to our present generation. I am sure, many of our present day youth do not know much about him. Abdur Rashid was born in a religious family of that area in the year 1900. He was a politically conscious young man though born in a Pir family. He left school in 1919 when he was an Entrance examinee and joined Khilafat Movement and in 1920 he joined the Non cooperation Movement launched by Indian National Congress concurrently. He was a leading figure in both the Movements in North Bengal.

He was injured by police firing during Salanga massacre and was put behind the bars for his leading role there. After his release, he went to the United Province and got education in Bareilly, Saharanpur and Deobandh which earned him the title of Maulana. Then he proceeded to Lahore to study Logic and Philosophy at Ehsanul Islam College. He got the title of Tarkabagish after winning a famous debate competition there.

On his return home he joined full time politics and was active in politics till he breathed his last. He became a close associate of H S Suhrawardy and won his first public election in 1937, becoming a MLA in Bengal Legislative Assembly. After the creation of Pakistan he won many elections and was a lawmaker for long. Still he participated in all pro people movements including Tebhaga and Language movements.

Though he was a parliamentarian of Muslim League, he protested police killing of students on 21st February1952 and resigned from the party criticizing Chief Minister Nurul Amin for which he was arrested on 23rd February. In 1955 he was the first to speak in Pakistan Constituent Assembly in Bangla despite being ridiculed by some of his west pakistani colleagues. From 1956 up to 1967 he was the President of Awami League and worked closely with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding Father of Bangladesh.

The younger Sheikh Mujib was first the Joint Secretary and then General Secretary of Awami League while Maulana Tarkabagish was the President. After putting forward the six point demand Sheikh Mujib became the most prominent leader of Awami League and after release from Pakistani custody after annulment of Agartala case he became Bangabandhu and led us to freedom. Maulana Tarkabagish always remained close to Bangabandhu, played a vital role in our Liberation War and presided over the first session of Bangladesh Parliament in 1972. His last prominent pro-people activity was as a leader of anti Ershad movement for democracy. Our highest tributes go to this great leader of the masses.

The writer is a heritage hunter and loves travelling.

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