Jogendranath Mandal commonly known as Jogen Mandal took birth in a Namasudra family of Maisterkandi village, Barisal district of East Bengal, in the year 1904. During the colonial rule, he rose to prominence as the most controversial Scheduled Caste leader of Bengal. The colonial grant of provincial autonomy in 1937, paved the path of Mandal to get elected as an independent candidate in the first Legislative Assembly of undivided Bengal. He became the head of the Bengal chapter of All India Scheduled Castes Federation, the organization founded by his political guide and philosopher, B.R.Ambedkar. Prior to independence he served twice as a Minister in the governments controlled by the Muslim League and had been nominated to the Interim Government of 1946 by the Muslim League.
After partition, he took a lead role in Pakistan government and was assigned the responsibility of Chairman of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and thereafter as a Minister of Law & Labour. However, amidst the backdrop of renewed communal violence and atrocities on the minorities, Mandal relinquished his ministerial position in October 1950 and settled in Calcutta till the last days of his life. On return, he became a part of the refugee movement of West Bengal but was unable to attain success or make any headway in legislative politics, inspite of several attempts. In 1968, he left for his heavenly abode leaving behind all his deeds of appreciation and criticism in the pages of history for the mass to decide.
Careful observations, analysis and productive criticism are essential for identifying the shortfalls and progress of any community or race. With these understandings, the article tries to focus the socio-political activities of Jogen Mandal and its effect on the Dalits and Hindus.
The Namasudras were antipathetic towards Indian nationalism. It was rooted in the fundamental oppositions constituting their socio-political and economical relations with the upper castes. The Baptist Missionaries penetrated into the Namasudra society by taking advantage of the misunderstanding and distrust between the Namasudras and the Caste Hindus. By 1938, Kangali Mahanta the spiritual leader of the Namasudras of Barisal agreed to be baptized along with his 115 disciples to the Christian faith and belief 1.
Mandal was so annoyed with the caste hindus till the last phase of his life that on one occasion after his return from Pakistan, in an interview with Eleenor Zelliot in Bombay, he said he had joined RPI to finish Ambedkar’s work. If conversion to Christianity or Buddhism could change the fate of his community then he is ever ready to go for it. His object is to ‘rectify and not destroy.’ He is committed to take appropriate course of Dalit politics as it demands. The Scheduled Caste communities always considered themselves inferior to the caste hindus and they could never be a part of the latter. On the contrary, they thought that the Muslim community was free from casteism and represent the same platform so far as socio-political and economical conditions are concerned. So, if they join hands with the Muslims, both the communities would be benefitted. The Scheduled Castes wanted to shun away their Hindu identity and were eager to be recognized as lower castes-underprivileged class with a separate identity. In doing so, Mandal and his Federation adopted all tactical methods.
It can be assumed that a man of Mandal’s stature was never ignorant about the prevalent class system of the Muslim society. But he overlooked the matter intentionally for the sake of enhancing the political symbiosis with the Muslim League. The Census of India (1911) categorized the Muslim communities of Bengal into Sharif/Ashraf/Rais (having noble birth, chief or leader of the community), Atsaf/Ajlaf (wretches or mean people), Raizal/Razil (worthless), Arzal (lowest), Kamina/Sitar (mean base) or Chhotozat. Gait has tried to explain the social precedence among the Bengali Muslims in terms of their hereditary title and traditional occupations. So, the above classification of the Muslim community was done according to the Hindu caste categories 2.
Levy classified the Bengali Muslims of the nineteenth century into three categories. These are : Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal. According to him among the Bengali Muhammadans the Ashraf or Upper class include all undoubted descendants of foreign muslims (Arab, Persians, Afghans and so on) and converts from the higher castes of the Hindus. The Ajlaf include various functional groups, such as Weavers (Julaha), Cotton Carders, Oil Pressers, Barbers, Tailors, etc., as well as all the converts of the originally functional Hindu castes. The Arzal (Arabic Ardhal) are those who have been converted from the lower castes viz. Halalkar, Lalbegi, Abdal and Beediyaa 2.
The above segmentation and categorization of the Muslim groups in India clearly reveal that these were done by the application of structural-functional approach. The most unique feature of this context is that most of the authors have adapted the Varna-Jati and interactional models of the caste system to analyse the social segments among the Muslims. But if it is looked into more intensively it will be clear that there is a great difference between the covert (Islamic ideology) and overt (caste like arrangement) aspects of such a social trait. (Mondal, 1993). So, it cannot be ruled out that the Muslim society was devoid of class division and casteism.
Mandal believed that the alliance between the Dalits and Muslims was the demand of time in the greater interest of the Dalits. His pro-Muslim stance was not acceptable to the other dalit leaders, which resulted in the creation of rival groups. Namasudra leader Pramatha Ranjan Thakur stood in support of the Congress through his organization – ‘The Depressed Class League’, while the ‘Depressed Class Association’ headed by another Namasudra leader, Birat Chandra Mandal, aligned with the Hindu Mahasabha. It is observed that the Namasudras and the Scheduled Castes were divided among themselves and aligned with the various mainstream political parties – Muslim League, Congress and Hindu Mahasabha.
Mandal not only remained a Minister of the Muslim League headed by H.S.Suhrawardy, the mastermind of the Great Calcutta Killings but also categorically remarked that, ‘even if these riots appear communal, this is not a communal war.’ This was simply a political battle between the Congress and the Muslim League. It was a cunning act to make the Dalits grew hostile towards the Muslims. Both the Dalits and Muslims are identical to each other as far as their social, economical and political status are concerned. As both are ‘travelling in the same boat,’ the question of gaining or loosing from this enmity makes no sense. It is to be mentioned here that Babu Satish Chandra Bairagi a hardcore follower of Ambedkar was not spared from the wrath of Muslim rioters. His house at Belleghata, Calcutta, was burnt to ashes. Inspite of all such heinous activities by the Muslim League activists, Mandal’s irresponsible political statement made him further unpopular among the Hindus and a good section of Scheduled Castes3.
Mandal was rewarded a ministerial position by the Muslim League in the Interim Government. Few months later, P.N. Rajbhoj, General Secretary, All India Scheduled Castes Federation, ‘fully subscribed to the view expressed by Dr. Ambedkar that if the Scheduled Castes were not given separate representation, he would advise his people to embrace Islam. He had lost faith in Hindu religion’.4 The nomination of Mandal in the Interim Government of Muslim League was done not on good faith and honest gesture. Rather it was a cynical attempt to build pressure on the Congress for including Muslims among their own list of nominated representatives. Both the Federation and Muslim League were busy in playing number game politics with Scheduled Caste card and Muslim card.
Mandal and Federation were dead against the Partition of Bengal. He asserted that partition cannot be the solution of communalism in Bengal. ‘The scheme of partition is only to crush the Scheduled Castes and get all the power in the hands of the caste Hindus’.5 Mandal and Federation organized meetings in the nook and corner of Bengal with financial assistance from the Muslim League. He always stood for the cause of the Scheduled Castes and not for the Hindus at large. His decision to shift to Pakistan was mainly based on his Dalit politics, as the lion share of the Scheduled Castes population of undivided Bengal were now in East Bengal after partition. His own hometown Barisal came under the jurisdiction of East Pakistan. So, he was left with no other option but to accommodate himself with the Scheduled Castes politics of East Pakistan, retaining the hope to create a world of paradise for the Scheduled Castes under the Pakistanis.
Jogen Mandal played a pivotal role in Sylhet referendum. On the advise of Jinnah, Mandal campaigned amongst the Scheduled Caste communities of Sylhet, who were the deciding population in the referendum, to vote for retention of Sylhet under Pakistan. He left no stone unturned in his mission and assisted Gopinath Bordoloi who considered Sylhet as the cancerous part of Assam and needed dissection. He was successful in bringing Sylhet within the jurisdiction of Pakistan. Both Mandal and Bordoloi were crowned as champions by their respective vested interest groups. But both could not shed off the responsibilities of Sylhet massacre and killing of innocent lives, directly or indirectly.
On migration issue of East Pakistan’s minorities, Mandal noted, ‘I do not know why after the restoration of peace in Calcutta, nothing has happened in either part of Bengal to create panic and a sense of insecurity in the minds of the Hindus and Muslims.’ On the contrary, in a letter written during the same time, to Baikuntha Chandra Mandal, Secretary of Tipperah District Scheduled Castes Federation, Mandal noted, ‘Very sorry to learn about the sufferings of the scheduled castes people of Sylhet’.6 So, we find the dual character of Mandal wrapped within the folds of caste politics.
After partition, the Hindu politicians of East Pakistan joined the Pakistan National Congress, the opposition party. ‘Muslim Nationalism’ took momentum in the newly formed state. Scheduled castes or Dalits were not considered as a separate entity but a constituent element of the religious minorities, collectively considered as the opposition to the Muslim majority. Careful observations of the Constituent Assembly debates from 1947-1950 reveals that in the early years of independence, the hopes and aspirations of caste emancipation in Pakistan was slowly put off and absorbed within Hindus – the religious minorities. Scheduled castes leadership found the new theory and definition of Scheduled Castes in their holy-land Pakistan a hard stuff to digest; because from the days of undivided Bengal they were habituated in differentiating the Scheduled Castes from the politics of caste Hindus. But the new definition clubbed them vis-à-vis Muslims. Ambedkar writes in his essay, ‘From Millions to Fractions’, ‘….in the struggle between Touchables and Untouchables the latter did not get any support from the Mohammedans….It is rather strange that the Mohammedans should have kept mum. It was in their interest that the Untouchables should be recognized as a separate political community.’7 Ambedkar here stresses the need of including scheduled castes as the third recognized community. He has deployed the terms of citizenship to transform casteist society. Walking on the same footsteps of his political guru, Mandal joined the Muslim League governments with the expectations that the cause of the Scheduled Castes would be reckoned. As an elected chairman of the Constituent Assembly, Mandal tried to give message through his speech, that the dynamics of caste solidarity were not to be confused with those of religious community. In East Pakistan, the Scheduled Caste leaders of West Pakistan, such as Sindh Scheduled Caste Federation, had asserted that the interests of the Scheduled Castes could only be secured in Pakistan because it would be free from caste Hindu domination. But within very short span of time the Dalit cause in Pakistan lost its motive. Cold-water was poured over the concept of Muslim-Dalit political empowerment, the well cherished dreams of Scheduled Caste leaders of both East and West Pakistan.
Mandal’s faith and belief started shattering by late 1949 after receiving letters of Manohar Dhali, East Pakistan MLA and Federation member, narrating the atrocities on the minorities of Khulna. Dhali narrates, ‘the situation was so very alarming and serious that I am really unable to write and describe even one-thousandth part of the whole matter.’ He added, ‘hundreds of our women have been ravished, property looted, persons forcibly converted and villages have been reduced to deserts.’ Dhali alleged, the local police authorities enabled the rioters to act with impunity. ‘Whenever I think of it, I feel that I may run mad, but helpless’6. Mandal realized that despite repeated assurances, Pakistan’s intention was to divide the entire population into ‘full fledged Muslim citizens’ and ‘Zimmies’. It was an act of betrayal because the idea of Zimmies contradicts Mandal’s understanding, hopes and aspirations for the Scheduled Castes of Pakistan as full-fledged citizens, free from the domination of the caste Hindus. In such pretext, his caste politics is of little importance and meaningful in the context where Scheduled Castes and Hindus were both equally subject to violence of the communal majority. But the same Mandal remained cool three years ago after the brutal killing of innocent Hindus on the Calcutta streets, terming it as a political conspiracy to agitate the Scheduled Castes against their Muslim brothers. He could not sense the foul smell of communalism in it. He did it intentionally, because he was eagerly waiting for the climax position of his political career under the Muslim League government of Pakistan.
In his letter dated January 1950, to the Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, from Dhaka, Mandal detailed about the police atrocities on Scheduled Caste people of East Pakistan. The important fact is that no where in his letter Mandal used the term ‘Hindu’. He failed to highlight the atrocities on the Hindus or Minorities as a whole. He tried to pen-picture the inhuman activities moulded in a caste flavor, as if only the Scheduled Caste community was ill-affected. Mandal ended the letter with a Note : “if such persecution did not letup, the scheduled castes would have no option other than a ‘mass exodus’ because they were not entitled to get the protection of the law of Pakistan. The migration of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan to India continued long after 1947”8. Mandal’s intervention was that ‘migration of Hindu refugees’ which means only caste Hindus were migrating to India and not the scheduled castes. As if victims of communal disturbances were only the caste hindus and the Scheduled Castes were well protected. But interestingly, he threatens that if conditions did not improve, the Scheduled Castes would have no other option but to follow the Hindus. What a contradictory opinion!
Mandal escaped from Pakistan stealthily leaving behind the vast population of minorities whom he assured to protect till the last drop of his blood and took shelter in West Bengal. He did not feel the necessity to work out means and measures for the safety and security of his own people in Pakistan, based on whom he made the permutation – combination of caste politics. In other words, will it be very wrong to assume that ‘he ditched his own people’ when they were rudder-less, jeopardized about their very survival and existence. When a person claims to be a leader of a community, he becomes the pillar of that community and not an individual identity. Their well-being, sorrows and miseries should be treated as his own , which Mandal had failed to perform. Mandal submitted his resignation from the Pakistan government on 8th October 1950. His resignation letter composed of almost eight thousand words, narrating the grim situation of the Minorities. In the wake of his resignation, the East Bengal Scheduled Caste Federation, of which he was an integral part, condemned his actions. The Federation through an emergency meeting resolved to strip-off Mandal from the leadership of Federation and even banned him for having ‘grossly betrayed the best interests of the Scheduled Castes in East Pakistan.’ Mandal was officially declared as a ‘traitor of Pakistan.’ What an irony of fate!
On his return to Calcutta, Mandal tried to shed off his Scheduled Caste identity and become a refugee leader. But on several occasions he introduced the caste question in the discourse of refugee rehabilitation. Regarding his activities, police notes, ‘Sri Jogen Mandal has been spreading class and caste hatred openly in camps. In Bolpur and Uttartilpara camp meetings on 23rd and 24th February 1958, he openly accused the caste Hindu employees and caste Hindu people for sending refugee families to Madhya Pradesh. He accused government to make West Bengal a caste Hindu state’9.
Conclusion may be drawn that Mandal was a power-hungry politician who always used the Scheduled Castes as a shield to acquire political prominence. Upliftment of the community in all respect to which he belonged was not the watch-word of his life. The path adopted by him to counter the Congress, Hindu Maha Sabha was not the right one, as opined by socio-political researchers. The desire to shun off his religious identity and undermine it (Hinduism), threaten to embrace other religion if the demands and causes are not served properly, cannot be a sign of healthy politics. Difference of opinions, ideologies are not absurd but they are to be addressed in the right track for an amicable solution. Climbing the steps of political ladder, mounting it on the backbone of scheduled castes and leaving them alone in their days of dire consequences, is nothing but an act of ‘escapism and cowardice.’ He always encouraged the fragmentations of the Hindu society so that each group considers the other as its foe and that cannot be a welcome step of appreciation. Society should assiduously analyse the activities of Mandal, accept the positive thoughts, shed off the negative ones and last but not the least, stay alert, act cautiously because still the presence of many such Jogen Mandals in the society cannot be ruled out.
- Baptist Missionary Societies Work Among The Outcastes of India, J.Raid
- Paper titled- Castes Among the Indian Muslims, Deptt.of Sociology, University of Jammu, 2013; P 58.
- Hindusthan Standards, 27th August 1946, File No.191/46.
- Morning News, 22nd October 1946, File No. 191/46, WBSA.
- Morning News, 11th May 1947.
- Mahapran Jogendranath Mandal, 4th Volume
- Valerian Rodrigines Edition, The Essential Writings of B.R.Ambedkar, P 332-50.
- The Long Partition & the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, histories; Vazira Fazila Yacoobali Zaminder.
- IB Officer’s Report, dated 15/03/1958, GB, IB Records, F.No. 1483/32, WBSA.
Image provided by the author.