In order to understand the Noakhali riots, we must know something about their background. In 1946, the times in many parts of the subcontinent were not stable. They were tense. The British had promised to the then government to declare independence to its prized colony, India. But there was no concrete decision as to how the transfer of power from the British to the Indians would happen.
On December 30, 1906, the Muslim League got into formation. As soon as they heard that India would become free, they wanted a separate state for the Muslims, namely Pakistan. However, the Indian National Congress did not agree to this. There was tension reeling in the areas where there was no clear majority of either of the two communities: Hindus and Muslims. No one knew what would happen, whether the country would actually be partitioned or not. The people were highly nervous about the fact that even if the partition took place, on which side of the border they would lie. This tension was causing periodic and irregular riots in various places.
Direct Action Day was announced on August 16, 1946. The Muslim League wanted to fight their way in order to fulfill their demand for Pakistan. A lot of infuriating speeches were made. This led the way to the worst communal riots in history- the Great Calcutta Killings. Although not very much affected by the Calcutta Killings, violence started in Noakhali on the 10th of October- Noakhali riots. In the district of Noakhali, Ramganj, Begumganj, Raipur, Lakshmipur, Chhagalnaiya, and Sandwip were affected. In the Tipperah district, Hajiganj, Faridganj, Chauddagram, Chandpur, and Laksham were affected.
The attackers were Muslim National Guards and private military who mainly targeted the Bengali Hindus. This was done by the Muslim League who had advised their supporters to ‘take Pakistan by force if needed’. Enforcers were sent to the affected area on the 14th of October, 3 days after the riots started. If the government had shown the courage to intervene earlier, it might have prevented 1000s of deaths. About 5000 Hindus were killed, thousands were converted forcefully, temples were broken down, properties were ransacked and many women were raped.
Mahatma Gandhi visited the areas where the riots were taking place to tell them to stop and spread his message of non-violence. He failed in his attempt although his presence calmed down many people. Gandhiji in his anger told Suhrawardy, “Yes, you are responsible not only for one murder but for every life lost in Bengal, whether Hindu or Muslim”.
In the aftermath of the Noakhali riots, 50,000 people became homeless. Due to the forced conversions and disastrous massacres, many people fled to other areas. The refugees went to Calcutta. Although the massacre and the conversions stopped in November, the situation became normal only after the partition. After the partition, Noakhali became a part of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).