Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Resignation of Pakistan's First Law Minister, Joginder Nath Mandal

Arundhati Roy has an interesting piece on Gandhi and Ambedkar up on Caravan. Most of it has been common knowledge to anyone with an interest in Indian history and I take issue with black and white, almost naive view of Gandhi as a "villain" that Roy has presented. But nevertheless given how in India we’ve collectively forgotten just how conservative the Mahatma was, it’s an important read.

What might be even more surprising for some is her throwaway line that Ambedkar endorsed the Muslim League’s case for Pakistan, an argument he makes in his book Pakistan or the Partition of India (which is a must read)1.

A good case study, as it were, of the Ambedkarite position on Pakistan and its experiences with the movement/country can be found in the person of Joginder Nath Mandal, a Dalit leader of United Bengal who belonged to the largest Dalit caste in Bengal, the Namasudras. Mandal was made Pakistan’s first Minister of Law and Labour but resigned within 3 years of Independence in protest against the treatment of Dalits (and Hindus in general) in Pakistan.

His resignation letter addressed to Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaqat Ai Khan is a good place to start with learning about him as well as the Dalit movement in Bengal.

The document describes his motivations for allying himself with the League in Bengal arguing that the “economic interests of the Muslim in Bengal generally were identical with those of the Scheduled Castes” and taking care to point out that the final permission for such an alliance has come from Ambedkar himself. He also points out, à la Ayesha Jalal, that the Partition of the country surprised him since he “always considered the demand of Pakistan by the Muslim League as a bargaining counter”. The main thrust of the letter though is the raw deal that the Dalits of East Pakistan had gotten, “particularly after the death of Qaid-e-Azam” (Jinnah had died two years ago). He raises the Lahore Resolution (which had no mention of an Islamic state) as well as Jinnah’s August 11 speech and says that “every one of these pledges is being flagrantly violated apparently to your [Khan’s] knowledge and with your approval in complete disregard of the Qaid-e-Azam's wishes and sentiments and to the detriment and humiliation of the minorities.”

The letter then goes on to list specific atrocities on the Hindus of Pakistan—a country he calls “accursed for Hindus”—which makes for some extremely depressing reading.

You can read the entire letter here.

Further Reading:

An informative resource about the state of Dalits in Bangladesh today can be found here. As the website points out “even in a Muslim country like Bangladesh caste discrimination is pervasive, having infiltrated the texture of culture and thus having become common practice in any religious community, Christians included”. As the popular Hindi saying puns, "jaati woh cheez hai jo kabhi nahin jaati". Caste in the sub-continent is a marker of discrimination which cuts clean across religious lines.

A short background of Namasudra politics in West Bengal and a description of the mostly forgotten Marichjhapi Massacre of the community in 1979 by the Communist-led West Bengal government.

1Yasser Hamdani has also written on this and, in my opinion, overstates the support of Ambedkar to Jinnah's position. Ambedkar did support Pakistan but his reasons for supporting it were somewhat removed from Jinnah's. In fact, they were more similar to the Congress' and Hindu Mahasabha's position when they eventually pushed for Partition in 1947. Most obviously, Ambedkar made it clear that Pakistan entailed a Partition of Bengal and Punjab, something Jinnah never agreed with.

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