Dalits or lower castes produced two powerful leaders before partition of India- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar from Bombay and Jogendranath Mandal from Bengal. Jogendranath Mandal belonged to Namashudra caste. Namashudras were lower caste Hindus who were dominant in East Bengal. Namashudras had always challenged authority of higher caste Hindus of Bengal. Jogendranath Mandal was influential enough to get Dr. Ambedkar elected to constituent assembly from Bengal when he lost election in Bombay.
Partition of India presented a very interesting situation for Jogendranath Mandal. He decided to support Muslim League as he believed that interests of Namashudras will be better served under Jinnah than upper caste dominated Congress.
He used his influence to get Sylhet district of Assam transferred to Pakistan. He also discouraged Namashudras from attacking Muslims during riots in Bengal.
“After the 3rd June 1947 announcement, Sylhet District was to vote in a plebiscite to join either Pakistan or remain in Assam [the state that was to become part of India]. The Hindus and the Muslims of the district equaled each other in terms of population. However, there were a large number of Untouchables, whose vote could sway the poll to either side. …
…following the instructions from Quaid-i-Azam, Mr Mandal arrived in Sylhet to influence the opinion of the Untouchables; when he departed from Sylhet it had voted to join Pakistan.”
– Ahmed Saleem, ‘Pakistan aur Aqliatien’ (Pakistan and Minorities)
Initially things went well for Jogendranath Mandal, he was close to Jinnah and was made first Law and Labour minister of Pakistan.
Pakistani writers like Ahmed Saleem and Pir Ali Mohammed Rashidi talk about fall of Jogendrnath Mandal. After death of Jinnah in 1948, the political situation in Pakistan changed. Hindus were no longer welcome in Pakistan. Jogendranath Mandal was insulted by bureaucracy and there were attacks on Hindus. Jogendranath realized his mistake and he resigned from ministry. He was forced to go back to India. This resulted in migration of Namashudras to India from Pakistan.
“Late Chaudhry Mohammad Ali had spent a major portion of his life in the service of the British Raj when he arrived in Pakistan from Delhi. As Secretary-General of the Cabinet Secretariat, he quickly garnered fame as the ‘architect’ and leader of the Pakistani bureaucracy. .. he tried to keep many cabinet documents away from the Law Minister. It was too much for Mandal. His pride was hurt. Before becoming a minister, he had offered huge sacrifices and as a Hindu, swum against the tide to support our Quaid in the Pakistan Movement…
…how could he possibly pocket the insult from a cabinet secretary, who had taken it upon himself to judge a Hindu minister for his political character and loyalty to his country? Mandal quit as minister and went back to Calcutta to spend the rest of his life being taunted by Hindus.”
-Pir Ali Mohammed Rashidi ,Rodaad-i-Chaman (A Garden’s Tale)
Pakistani Bengali Hindus migrated to India in waves. First wave was of higher caste Hindus, they were settled in West Bengal. Namashudras came in later stage, by then West Bengal government was reluctant to settle them in West Bengal, instead they were settled in other states esp. in MP and Orrisa in place called Dandakaranya.
But plight of Namashudras does not end here. They were asked by communist party to come back to Bengal. On their assurance Namashudras migrated from Dandakaranya to West Bengal. Some of them settled in Sunderban forest and called it Netaji Nagar. It was situated on island called as Marichjhapi, since it was island they has to visit nearest village of Kumirmari to get food, water, medicine etc.
“It was 4pm when police started firing on us. We were trying to flee to Kumirmari in a boat. There was utter panic. My granddaughter was only eight. She was shot and died in the boat. We had no choice but to float her down the river,”
-Mukunda Mondal, survivor of Marichjhapi Massacre
In 1979, communist government asked Namashudras to vacate Marichjhapi as it was part of Sundarban forest. Namashudras refused to vacate as they now were well settled in Netaji Nagar. The communist government under chief minister Jyoti Basu ordered police to vacate the land. Police and communist party workers cut supplies to island and soon the residents were attacked. It resulted in death of many residents. This episode came to be known as Marichjhapi massacre.
“The island was heavily guarded by 30-36 launches, packed with policemen and party cadres. We were not even allowed to get water from Kumirmari. They planned to make our life miserable. We started eating coconut leaves and grass (jadu palang). Many children died of green diarrhoea. On the 10th day of the blockade, we were desperate and tried to go to Kumirmari to bring water, food and medicine. We sent 16 women in a boat, thinking they won’t harm women. But a launch – Indrajit MV79 – sped towards the boat and rammed it. We could save 14 from drowning and later found the other two in the Bagnan forest office. They had been molested,”
-Narayan Mondal, survivor of Marichjhapi Massacre
Partition of Bengal and subsequent events declined the political power of Namashudras.