“They had entered my Uncle’s house. Every one started running… even I did. My maternal Uncle’s house was 3 villages far from ours. We would just run and reach there whenever we wanted too. Each and every bit of the road was memorized by us. But that day… I was scared. I reached the makeshift bridge and couldn’t cross it any more. My cousin came and held me from behind and dropped me home safely. But then just after four days, they reached our village too. They would kill the men and children and abduct the women. We left everything and just ran away…,” – Gurupada Bacher , a refugee from Khulna district of Bangladesh who was rehabilitated in India after the 1964 east Pakistan Riots.
27 December 1963, Srinagar, India –
The hair of Muhammad went missing from the Hazratbal Shrine. There were mass protests in Jammu and Kashmir over the disappearance of the relic. In East Pakistan, Abdul Hai, a member of the Advisory Committee of the Islamic Board declared jihad against Hindus and other non-Muslims of East Pakistan. On 4 January 1964, the relic was discovered and the miscreants were arrested. However, the next day Pakistan Radio described the discovered relic as fake.
1963, Khulna, East Pakistan –
Three years before the Hazratbal incident took place, Abdus Sabur Khan, the Communications Minister of Pakistan, had forcibly occupied 30 bighas of land from Rupchand Biswas, a Hindu landowner from Matikhali in 1960 and erected a three-storeyed building in it. Rupchand Biswas instituted a case against Khan which the latter lost. The court decreed Abdus Sabur Khan to pay 135,000 rupees. He approached Biswas for an out of the court settlement which he refused. In the meanwhile, Majid Mian, the nominee of Abdus Sabur Khan lost in the district council elections. After the loss, Khan and his party members including the Chairman of Chamkuri Union Board held the Hindus responsible for the defeat and began to threat them with dire consequences. During Hazratbal incident, Khan used the opportunity to teach the Hindus a lesson.
2 January 1964 –
Abdus Sabur Khan addressed a huge gathering at Daulatpur industrial area in the outskirts of Khulna. Thousands of Muslims, armed with deadly weapons assembled at Daulatpur to listen to Khan. Khan delivered a rabidly anti-Hindu and anti-India speech, where he described the Hazratbal incident as a Hindu conspiracy. Immediately after the meeting, a 20,000 strong Muslim crowd spread out in the neighbouring localities of Senhati, Maheshwarpasha, Pabla, Chandani Mal and Daulatpur and began to loot Hindu properties and set them on fire. Many Hindus were killed or brutally assaulted. A section of the mob marched towards Khulna, disrupting rail and road traffic reaching the town at sunset. For the next four days an orgy of loot, arson, murder, rape and abduction continued in Khulna. All the villages along the road from Khulna to Chalna were destroyed. On 4 January, the violence spread to Mongla. An estimated 300 Hindus were either killed or injured at Mongla port.
Similar riots followed in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Rajshahi, Sylhet and Mymensingh killing, torturing and burning the Hindus and their properties.
12 January 1964, East Pakistan –
The East Pakistan government promulgated the East Pakistan Disturbed Persons (Rehabilitation) Ordinance (I of 1964), that prohibited the sale of immovable property by any Hindu. When the exodus started, the Hindus had no other option than to leave their properties and flee to India.
Thousands of Hindus arrived in India as refugees. Everyday about 5,000 to 6,000 Hindus queued up in front of the Indian embassy in Dhaka to emigrate to India. But only 300 to 400 used to get the permit.
The migration –
According to Indian authorities, an estimated 135,000 Bengali Hindu refugees had arrived in West Bengal. During this time, many of the remaining Hindu residents of Panamnagar left for India
More than 75,000 refugees, of which about 35,000 were Christians, from East Pakistan arrived into Assam within one and half months since the genocide began. The refugees, mostly Garos, Hajongs and Dalus from Mymensingh took refuge in Garo Hills in Assam, now in Meghalaya.
The forced migration of the tribal people, especially Christian tribal created a lot of stir in the international community. Realizing the consequences, the Pakistan government made an effort to woo the tribal people back home. The district administration of Mymensingh appealed to the refugees to return. The Archbishop of Dhaka met President Ayub Khan and wrote a letter appealing to the tribal refugees to come back home. The Indian authorities announced the appeal of the Pakistan government and the Archbishop of Dhaka to the refugees in the camps and offered them free transportation to the border. The tribal refugees rejected the appeal and declined to go back to Pakistan.
Relief and rehabilitation of Indians as REFUGEES in India -
In India, the refugees were provided relief in temporary relief camps in Assam, West Bengal and Tripura. Later they were provided rehabilitation in different parts of India. 6,000 Chakmas were provided shelter at a relief camp in Silchar. 12 provisional camps were set up at Tura in Garo Hills to provide relief to around 50,000 Garos and other tribals from East Pakistan. The refugee rehabilitation became a national problem in India, and hundreds of refugees were resettled in Dandakaranya (Now Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh)
“I was just thirteen when we migrated. There nothing left there and whatever was with us was looted while we were migrating. When we reached India, it was almost a warm welcome. We were served Khichri and given blankets. We stayed in camps for a year or two and then were rehabilitated in Maharashtra,” says Dr. Santosh Sankhari who completed his M.B.B.S in 1986 from Government medical college of Nagpur.
Dr. Sankhari was one among the thousands of Hindu families who migrated to India after the 1964 riots.
“Everyday was a struggle, but all thanks to the Indian government who gave us the opportunity to live our lives with dignity once again,” he says.
After taking a degree in medicine Dr. Sankhari served the nation by working as a medical officer in CRPF for two years. He then started his practice in Chandrapur, Maharashtra where there were huge number of migrant Bengalis still struggling to make ends meet. He would treat these patients for free or nominal fees. Today one of his sons is a pediatrician, following the footsteps of his father and another son is working in a multi-national company in Bengaluru. According to Dr. Sankhari, everything he or his family has achieved today was because the Indian government gave them shelter back then when they needed it the most.
Uma, who left her birth place Khulna at the age of eight recalls very few but only horrific experiences of the migration.
“One of my sisters was really small. I remember my mother closing her mouth tight with her hands till the time we reached the border. Three to four families had to stay together in one tent and we would get in line to get Khichri all three times a day. Everyday a truck used to come to take away the dead bodies from the camps. And then once they took away my little sister too,” says Uma.
After a year of staying in the camps the kids were sent to the army camp to stay in a hostel and continue their studies.
“The army camp had classes till 7 and then we went to Mana camp to study further. My father had cataract and lost his eyesight. My brother got a job as a teacher, but then he had his own family. So I would take tuitions to support my education. There were many of my friends who would work as daily wage laborers in the night, especially in the coal mines to pull the coal wagons and would study in the day,” says Gurupada Bacher
The refugee community was mostly looked down upon by other Bengalis who were well settled in India much before the partition took place. Hence the community grew closer and supported each other in every possible way. They would also prefer marrying their children to each other. Uma and Gurupada also were married in 1972. Gurupada who did ITI in electrical managed to get a job and the couple made sure their children can come out of the humiliation of being called as a refugee through education.
“I knew right from the beginning that the poverty, the humiliation, the helplessness everything can be won over only through education and so I did not compromise on my children’s education come what may,” says Uma Bacher
Uma and Gurupada’s son, Dr. Gautam Bacher is a lecturer at BITS, PILANI, Goa campus. He is a B.E (electrical), M.tech (instrumentation), MBA and a Phd holder. And their daughter, Manabi Bacher Katoch is an author at The Better India. They all believe and say just one thing in unison, that they owe everything they are today to India.