Namasudra History Congress – Unknown and Neglected Chapters of History 


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Namasudra Thinkers & Activists Forum held a first ever 2-day Namasudra History Congress (NHC), February 18-19, 2017 at Calcutta. In important turn of history the populous Namasudra community played significant role but the same has not been documented by academicians and litterateurs I had delivered keynote address to the Congress which was attended by delegates from various parts of Indian besides Bangladesh. Though marginalized communities made significant contributions to the causes of the nation, the mainstream historians and litterateurs have swept their role under the carpet. The objective of NHC is to highlight and document their roles and contributions in history of the nation.  The print and electronic media of Calcutta did not cover the event though they were invited.

Namasudra History Congress – Focused unknown and neglected chapters of history to deserve attention

Author – Dr A K Biswas


Bengal is a standing proof of what havoc social discrimination, injustice, inequality and persecution, resulting in dehumanization of a populous community wrought to India.  A homeland for Bengali Muslims in 1947, as fallout of these factors, was created. This is a stunning history which, sadly, litterateurs, historians and historiographers evaded to document or shied away to incorporate in academic discourses.

In 1901 census authorities reported that descendants of two untouchable castes, Namasudra, who were the erstwhile Chandals and Pod who embraced Islam, aggregated at nine millions of 10.5 million Muslims of Dhaka and Chittagong Divisions. In 1872, Bengal,  with 1,81,00,400 persons, was a Hindu majority province as against 1,76,09,130 Muslims. They had a thin majority of 4,91,270 souls in excess of Bengali Muslims. A decade later the Muslims outnumbered the Hindus. In 1901 Bengali Hindus aggregating at 2,22,12,069 persons lagged behind Muslims by 55,98,000 persons. The Hindus numbered  250,57,000 and Muslims 330,05,400 souls, who exceeded the former by 79,48,400 persons in 1941, . [1]

Between 1901 and 1941, the Muslims increased at 13.2% whereas Hindus by 24.3%. At this rate the descendants of  converts of Namasudra and Pod contributed during the period 12 lakhs to Muslim population. Their contribution to Bengali Muslims totalled 90,00,000+12,00,000=1,02,00,000. Bereft of 1.02 crore population, there was no Muslim majority. Without 1,02,00,000 descendants of the converted Namasudra and Pod, aforementioned, the Bengali Muslims would decline to 2,28,05,400 and Hindus surge to 3,52,57,000—creating an unbridgeable gap of 1,24,51,600 persons. That made Bengal a Hindu majority province! By the way, Pods are described in British colonial records as half brothers of Namasudras.

Grossest dehumanization, discrimination, and injustice towards the untouchables, therefore, invited the partition of Bengal in 1947 for which Hindus must blame themselves though they targeted British, their policy of  divide and rule, intransigence of Jinnah etc.  These factors were just incidental to the plot. Without demographic majority,  no logic of partition and demand for Pakistan had leg to stand. They admit it or not, the Bengali Muslims must be immensely grateful to savage arrogance and the unbridled orthodoxy of the Hindus who drove Namasudras and Pods for cover and dignity under Islam. The Hindus alone made the dream of Muslim homeland a reality. Were they humane, free from persecution, abuses, hatred and vitriol, Jinnah would have surely suffered a disgraceful  failure in his mission Pakistan. His vision would be predestined for a disaster. But Bengali Hindus on the east were not unkind and disrespectful to him.

Namasudras pioneers of Columbus

L R. Faucus, ICS and settlement officer, Khulna recorded that as the deltaic area which is now Khulna district rose out of the sea, the first persons to penetrate its swampy forests were undoubtedly the pre-Aryan hunters and fishers who alone found a livelihood to their tastes in its jungles and rivers. These tribes were now represented by the Pods and Namasudras who form the bulk of the non-Mahomedan population of the district. The term Namasudra is an euphemism for the detested Chandals who were held in lowest estimation of all the aboriginal tribes of Bengal by the invading Aryans. [2] In 1911, John Edward Websters, ICS, stated that youngest among all the districts in the Ganges delta, Noakhali had no ancient history. It is probably not more than 3.000 years since first it became fit for human habitation, but there are no records to tell us who and what manner of men they were who first settled in it and reclaimed the jungles. They were the progenitors of the present Namasudras or Chandals, who according to Mr. O’Donnel  entered Bengal from the north-east before the Koches; or they may be represented by the Jugis.” [3]

The Queen of Spain Isabella had patronized the expedition of Columbus with a donation of  12,000 maravedis (gold coins each of 3.8 grams)  for facilitating discovery of America. He became globally recognized for this great achievement. In Bengal, nay in India, the extraordinary feat of the untouchable Namasudras and Pods  is unknown to anybody. Namasudra History Congress highlighted this aspect of achievement of their ancestors  long before Columbus.

These are some of the highlights of the keynote address delivered by Dr Atulkrishna Biswas, a retired IAS and former Vice-Chancellor, B R Ambedkar Bihar, University, Muzaffarpur of the first ever Namasudra History Congress, February 18-19, 2017 held at Calcutta. Since these find no place in mainstream historiography or academic discourses, the Namasudra Thinkers and Activists Forum [NIAF] organized the symposium which might be considered as a novel event for academic and cultural calendar of the Bengalies.

Chandals pioneers of peaceful, nonviolent and non-cooperation  movement

The Chandals who in 1911 were officially re-designated as Namasudras, had observed a ‘general strike’ in 1872-73 in protest against their caste men, when in jails as prisoners, being  exclusively employed and forced to perform conservancy services. The prisoners of other Hindu castes and Muslims enjoyed total immunity from the demeaning services. The strike, which aimed to raise their status, lasted  for over at least four months, and it exerted “ruinous” repercussions on the life of 5.5 million people of Faridpur, Backarganj and Jessore, now in Bangladesh. The Faridpur District Superintendent of police after an inquiry reported on 18th March 1873 that the high caste Hindus “consider them only little better than beasts……………” [4] The Magistrate of the district, who too was required by his higher authorities to conduct a personal inquiry in the strike, found and reported that   “………..Chandals are not only agriculturists, but they are also boatmen, porters, carpenters, potters, and fishermen; on them devolve all the occupations and trades practiced by other castes  in more settled tracts.”  [5] The strike by such a community predictably brought life of the predominantly rural economy to a standstill. The impact according to the Magistrate was  “ruinous” on the people as a whole.

Ultimately the Lieutenant Governor Sir George Campbell had intervened and ordered that “………the Chandals in jail should not in future be forced to do the work of sweepers, but that any of them who choose to do it when its comparatively easy nature is pointed out, may be allowed so to work.” [6] Strangely, the order, for mysterious  reason(s), remained unimplemented.  This remains as a standing shame for the colonial bureaucracy to implement the orders of His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor of the Lower Provinces of  Bengal. After 35 years, Bengal Provincial Congress at Pabna in 1908, passed a resolution calling for end of the discriminatory practice of engagement of Chandals as sweepers in jails.  Rabindra Nath Tagore had chaired the annual session of the Provincial Congress.

The Chandals were pioneers of the strike, fully marked by nonviolence, peace and non-cooperation. Historians, by and large, are least prepared to document in historiography and academic discourses  that some illiterate and faceless Chandals viz, Charon Sapah, Dwarika Nath Mandal, Rai Chand Mandal, Nilmoni Biswas, Sibu Dhali, Ram Chandra Bugsha and Bhajon Bala ignited an epoch-making phenomenon. Decades later India adopted the same tools and techniques to fight and successfully oust the British to attain freedom. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was just about 4 year old when the Chandal strike broke out in the deep, swampy rural Eastern Bengal.

Pertinently, “boycott”  entered English vocabulary 7 years after Faridpur strike. Leo Tolstoy enunciated his spiritual treatise on nonviolence and peace in  The Kingdom of God is within You (1894) which was published 21 years later. The Commissioner, Dhaka Division justifiably described the strike  as “a novel state of affairs.” It was a pathbreaking, unique and unprecedented phenomenon. Indian history is blind.

Guru Chand Thakur, a Namasudra patriarch,  social reformer and religious leader of Faridpur stood firmly against anti-partition of Bengal and  swadeshi movement in 1905. Sir Surendra Nath Banerjea wrote a letter to the Namasudra leader, urging him to join with lakhs of his followers and adherents, known as mature the swadeshi movement. But Guru Chand Thakur turned down his request with an interjection that the upper castes were consumers of luxurious  goods imported from abroad and hence the movement should remain confined within them. Deprived of  political right, he pointed out, the  Namasudras were victims of persecution and discrimination in their own homeland. So the upper castes, his letter further stressed, would do well to fraternize  with the untouchables and depressed classes; otherwise they would never participate in swadeshi movement. [7]

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The Indian Statutory Commission headed by Sir John Simon 1927 to study constitutional reforms was appointed by the British Government. The Namasudras took active part in it and stood boldly in the forefront against the political agitation. A number of memoranda was submitted by All-Bengal Namasudra Association and All-Bengal Depressed Classes Association. A joint delegation of these two Associations gave oral evidence to Simon Commission in 1929 at Calcutta and ventilated their serious grievances under leadership of Mukunda Behary Mallick, a Namasudra. The memorandum of the Namasudras stated interalia that  “……….the literacy of the Brahmans is 48% and that of the Vaidyas 65% and that of the  Kayasthas 41%. It is a matter of history that for reasons known to them, these communities have practically shut the doors of schools against the members of the depressed classes during the pre-British rule in India.” [8]

Subhas Chandra Bose holding black flag demonstrations and shouting slogans, e. g., “Go back Simon” marched through the streets of Calcutta against non-inclusion of Indians in the Commission.  According to All-Bengal Depressed Classes Association “denial of admission in Medical College and Hospital, Calcutta for treatment of untouchable patients” was an undeniable reality. [9]  Their memoranda read like chargesheets against the minuscule upper castes.

The  Chandsi method of medical treatment owes its origin to Namasudra community. They proved the the truthfulness of the proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Being deprived of medical attention from upper caste Hindus, they developed Chandsi method of treatment. Incidentally the Chandsi doctors are found all over the country, particularly  in the north and western India.

Communal harmony advocated in Namasudra Memorandum before Simon Commission

Namasudra memorandum demanded that “appointments should be made from amongst the qualified candidates of different communities in proportion to their numerical strength. At the first instance, candidates of the Depressed Classes and others, including Mahomedans, should only be appointed until and unless equalization of these classes is secured to those who have already filled these services. For next ten years, these appointments be made from amongst the Depressed Classes to obtain an equalization of their number to those of others who have hitherto filled all these offices.”  This carried tons of sociopolitical significance and if adopted as policy and implemented honestly,” the catastrophe of partition of Bengal could have been averted. Their further demand was that “For next ten years, these appointments be made from amongst the Depressed Classes to obtain an equalization of their number to those of others who have hitherto filled all these offices.”  The deputationists also believed that the term “efficiency and competence are absolutely misnomer and have absolutely no scope in public service.” Protagonists of efficiency and competence actually divided the country on this plank.

Another significant demand was that “The Courts and judiciary should be so constituted by legislation that there may be representatives of different communities on these in order that the people may have confidence in the administration of justice.”  [10]

The attempts of Dr B R Ambedkar for election to Constituent Assembly in 1946 were with  vengeance  opposed by Indian National Congress. The most organized Party waged a full-scale war against him. The Party’s attitude and opposition was articulated by Sardar Ballabhbhai Patel  that “apart from the doors, even the windows of the Constituent Assembly are closed for Dr Ambedkar. Let us see how he enters into the Constituent Assembly.” The Namasudras of Bengal accepted the challenge to ensure election of Dr Ambedkar to the august House from Bengal. Jogendra Nath Mandal, a Namasudra MLA accepted the challenge and invited him to contest election from Jessore-Khulna Constituency, now in Bangladesh. Seven MLAs—four Namasudra, two Rajbanshi and one tribal voted him to crowning victory with highest number of votes.  The nation would not have got what Ambedkar did for drafting the Constitution of India,  had the Namasudra leader not taken the cudgel against the Bengali Hindu upper caste to beat unsparingly their political hegemony. [11]

Rabindra Nath Tagore attended Namasudra Conference

Scholars are carrying on frenzied researches on Rabindra Nath Tagore. But they have, by and large, shied away to delve deep into this thoughts and ideas on the poet’s thoughts on the underclass or the untouchables. Rabindra Nath’s Chandalini is a favourite dance drama which is often staged and performed in variously. But his attendance in a annual conference of the Namasudras at Comilla  in 1926, strangely,  has not received scholastic attention. In 1926, he was  65 year old. It marked 12 years after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Why did he go to attend the conference of the untouchables? What did he speak to them? What did the organizers expect to hear from him? Most surprisingly, how was he approached and convinced by the unsophisticated and illiterate men for attending their annual conference? This was not very easy a task to accomplish. [12]

A contemporary historian writes, “The British divide and rule tactics were much more successful, however, among the Namasudras of Faridpur, who started developing associations after 1901 at the initiative of a tiny elite of educated men and some missionary encouragement. The contrast may perhaps be explained by the fact that the Mahishyas of Midnapur were a locally dominant  caste which included petty landlords and substantial peasants as well as the poor, while the Namasudras were untouchable poor peasants who felt upper caste gentry exploitation to be nearer enemy than the distant British overlord.” [13]

Several delegates from Bangladesh attended the Congress. Mintu Kumar Mandal, an advocate of Supreme Court, Dhaka stated that Namasudras, who account for about 90%-94% of the minority are the largest element.  Discrimination and other evils of caste still plagues them. They have made good progress in education, employments in government and non-formal sectors. Economically they are better off now.  A sense of insecurity, however, haunts and persists over the thought of uncertainty of policy and attitude towards the minorities with the changes of government in future. Banani Biswas, who works for women empowerment in Bangladesh has succeeded in raising Namasudra omen’s teams playing football, badminton, cricket, kabaddi,  etc. in rural areas.  She shared experience of her success stories in this behalf.

The Calcutta media, Calcutta, print and electronic,  was invited to attend and cover the event, which they avoided.

Author – Dr. A K Biswas, A retired IAS and former Vice-Chancellor, B R Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur can be reached at biswasatulk@gmail.com for comments and observations if any.


[1] Report on the Census of Bengal 1872, pp. Xxxii-xxxiii; Census of India 1901, vol. VI, p. 396; Census of India 1931,vol. V, Report Part I, p. 387; V. B. Kulkarni, Is Pakistan Necessary?, Hind Kitabs, Bombay, 1944, p. 67.

[2] Biswas, A K, The Namasudras of Bengal, Profile of a Persecuted People, Blumoon Books, New Delhi, April 14, 2000, pp. 26-27 quoted from Final Report of The Khulna Settlement 1920-1926, by L. R. Faucus, ICS, Settlement Officer, Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta, para 58.   According to Surveyor General, the Sundarbans covered 5570 sq. miles in 1871 whereas Sundarban Commissioner estimated the area at 7532 sq. miles in 1873.

[3] Websters, J. E., ICS,  Eastern Bengal & Assam District Gazetteers, Noakhali, The Pioneer Press, Allahabad,  1911, p. 14.

[4] Letter no. 66 dated Bhanga, the 18th March 1873 from W. L. Owen , District Superintendent to the District Magistrate of Faridpur.

[5] Letter no. 340, dated Khalia Khal, 8th April 1873 from W S Wells, Magistrate of Faridpur to A Abercrombie, Commissioner, Dacca Division.

[6] Letter from A. Mackenzie, Junior Secretary to the Government of Bengal, Judicial Department to The Inspector General of Jails, Lower Provinces, bearing No. 523T, dated Darjeeling, the 7th June, 1873

[7] Roy , N. B., A People in Distress, Vol. I, B. Sarkar & Co., Calcutta, 1967,  p. 75.

[8] A K Biswas, The Namasudras of Bengal, p. 53.

[9] Ibid., p. 35.

[10] Ibid., p. 35.

[11]  A K Biswas, A memorable chapter neglected in history: Ambedkar’s Odyssey to the Constituent Assembly of India through Bengal, Mainstream, Vol. LV no. 1 New Delhi December 24, 2016 – Annual 2016

[12] A K Biswas, Two Events in Tagore’s Life, Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 20, May 8, 2010.  

[13] Sumit Sarkar, Modern India 1857-1947, 1983, MacMillan India Limited, p. 58.

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