1946 Great Calcutta Killings – Direct Action Day

Perpetrator: Muslim League Council

Year: 16 August, 1946

Number: 4000 Hindus killed, more than 100,000 forced to flee

Muslim league fought the election with a single point agenda – creation of Pakistan. On the outside, their campaign was against the British, but in reality, it was against Hindus.

Jinnah announced 16 August 1946 would be “Direct Action Day” and warned Congress,

“We do not want war. If you want war we accept your offer unhesitatingly. We will either have a divided India divided or a destroyed India.”


The proposal of Jinnah & the Mission was initially rejected by Indian National Congress, which refused to “grouping of provinces,” thus inciting Jinnah to come up with the plan of Direct Action Day. The “groups of provinces” were meant to accommodate the Muslim League demand. 

More than 4,000 people lost their lives and 100,000 residents were left homeless in Calcutta within 72 hours.

Accounts of this pogrom are heart wrenching.

“It would be impossible to describe everything that we saw. A sense of desolation hung over the native bazaars. In street after street rows of shops had been stripped to the walls. Tenements and business buildings were burnt out, and their unconsumed innards strewn over the pavements. Smashed furniture cluttered the roads, along with concrete blocks, brick, glass, iron rods, machine tools ñ anything that the mob had been able to tear loose but did not want to carry off. Fountains gushed from broken water remains. Burnt-out automobiles stood across traffic lanes. A pall of smoke hung over many blocks, and buzzards sailed in great, leisurely circles. Most overwhelming, however, were the neglected human casualties: fresh bodies, bodies grotesquely bloated in the tropical heat, slashed bodies, bodies bludgeoned to death, bodies piled on push carts, bodies caught in drains, bodies stacked high in vacant lots, bodies, bodies.”

Phillip Talbot in his letter to Walter Rogers of the Institute of Current World Affairs, The British Library Archives, London.

In terms of estimate of the number of casualties, he describes,

“In human terms, estimated casualties ran from the Provincial Government’s absurdly reductive report of 750 dead to military guesses that 7,000 to 10,000 people might have been killed. Already more than 3,500 bodies have been collected and counted, and no one will ever know how many persons were swept down the Hoogly, caught in the clogged sewers, burned up in the 1,200 fires, or taken away by relatives who disposed of their bodies privately. A reasonable guess, I think, is that more than 4,000 people died and 11,000 people were injured in what is already being called ‘The Great Calcutta Killing’ or ‘The Week of the Long Knives'”

Phillip Talbot in his letter to Walter Rogers of the Institute of Current World Affairs, The British Library Archives, London.

Another account of an eye witness corroborates the cruelty with which the killings were carried out:

“I saw four trucks standing, all with dead bodies piled at least three feet high; like molasses in a sack, they were stacked on the trucks, blood and brain oozing out; that sight had a tremendous effect on me”

Jugal Chandra Ghosh, local eye witness of 1946 Great Calcutta Killing

This is the barbaric cruelty with which Hindus were massacred, and their dead bodies dumped in drains and rivers. And this is why this bit of the history was deliberately hidden from the eyes of common people.


A City Feeding on Itself: Testimonies and Histories of ‘Direct Action’ Day by Debjani Sengupta

1946: Great Calcutta Killings & Noakhali Genocide – A Historical Study by Dinesh Chandra Sinha, Ashok Dasgupta



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