Support Elders member General Shankar Roy Chowdhury (PVSM, ADC), former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, talks about 15th August 1947.
Let me start with the 16th August 1946, in Bengal… I was very young and lived in South Calcutta, Ballygunge, more towards Hazra. When you moved out of Ballygunge and went towards Park Circus—that was a ‘No Go’ area. The army used to patrol; barricades had been put up. It was as good as a different city. Hindus could not go that side and the Muslims could not come this side. I remember there was a lot of tension. If we went up to our rooftops, we would see the city lit up with fires. The area found the young chaps, older than me of course, forming little local protection forces, these protection forces moved around with lathis and spears etc., just in case we were attacked. You could hear mobs shouting, no matter where you lived in the city.
I recall being in Calcutta on the 15th August 1947. What I remember of 15th August 1947 is pretty unique. All the old Muslim areas in central Calcutta, places like Park Circus, Narkeldanga, College Street, Kidderpore, etc. were totally ‘No Go’ areas. We never went that side. I remember on the 15th of August, I don’t know how, but everyone decided that we should go out—now that India was an independent country. We should go out and meet everyone in the city and celebrate. So, we all got into a lorry. We were driven around and I remember going by Ballygunge Circular Road, Lower Circular Road, Loudon Street and Rawdon Street (it was the area where the British used to stay). There was a lot of police movement but they let us pass and then we entered Park Circus. There were crowds of people there. The Muslims came forward and we embraced each other and they were throwing ether (Itar) (rose water). I had never seen anything like it.
I was very young then. We then went into areas that we had never visited before. St Xavier’s in Park St was more or less the dividing line. I was in St Xavier’s School then. We would enter St Xavier’s from Short Street. Anyway, we went everywhere. All the places we had never visited, like Metro Cinema, Wellesley Street, Dharamtala, Esplanade, etc. And roamed around those places so freely. Some people were inter-mingling. It was a beautiful sight and feeling. The whole thing felt different. It was like a switch had been turned on. People were so happy. It was a feeling that was most wonderful. It was a tremendous thing. The memory of that day will probably bring tears to the eyes of the people who were there then.
From that day onwards, we have not stopped growing. We have other problems today. We have political problems—in fact political problems are re-introducing some of the factors that were present at that time. Even a kind of communal feeling at times! But at the same time, I have no doubt that India has grown a lot and that is what makes me very happy and proud. I think we have come to terms with ourselves in the sense that we express ourselves very freely, you can see it every night on television. We are a strong country now and there is a spirit of cheerfulness that we are progressing. Of course, there are obstacles and there is still lots to be done but we have come a long way, a very long way.
Everyone, including Sir Winston Churchill, said that India would not last after the British leave. But we have lasted for 70 years now and we are going to last for another, God willing, two centuries and more.
You see, we are a new India. I do not agree with the people who think and say that we are regressing. Yes, we have new problems but the big thing is we are one nation and we have succeeded in remaining one nation in spite of many problems, which would have broken up many other nations. We are doing well and moving forward. It is a great feeling watching India move forward since that day (15th August 1947).
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