Direct Action Day: August 1946

Direct Action Day: August 1946

After the Cabinet Mission broke down, Jinnah proclaimed 16 August 1946 Direct Action Day, with the stated goal of peacefully highlighting the demand for a Muslim homeland in British India.

However, on the morning of the 16th, armed Muslim gangs gathered at the Ochterlony Monument in Calcutta to hear Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the League's Chief Minister of Bengal, who, in the words of historian Yasmin Khan, "if he did not explicitly incite violence certainly gave the crowd the impression that they could act with impunity, that neither the police nor the military would be called out and that the ministry would turn a blind eye to any action they unleashed in the city."

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That very evening, in Calcutta, Hindus were attacked by returning Muslim celebrants, who carried pamphlets distributed earlier which showed a clear connection between violence and the demand for Pakistan, and directly implicated the celebration of Direct Action Day with the outbreak of the cycle of violence that would later be called the "Great Calcutta Killing of August 1946".

The next day, Hindus struck back, and the violence continued for three days in which approximately 4,000 people died (according to official accounts), both Hindus and Muslims. Although India had had outbreaks of religious violence between Hindus and Muslims before, the Calcutta killings were the first to display elements of "ethnic cleansing".

Violence was not confined to the public sphere, but homes were entered and destroyed, and women and children were attacked. Although the Government of India and the Congress were both shaken by the course of events, in September, a Congress-led interim government was installed, with Jawaharlal Nehru as united India's prime minister.

The communal violence spread to Bihar (where Hindus attacked Muslims), to Noakhali in Bengal (where Muslims targeted Hindus), to Garhmukteshwar in the United Provinces (where Hindus attacked Muslims), and on to Rawalpindi in March 1947 in which Hindus were attacked or driven out by Muslims.

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