War Over Music: The Riots of 1926 in Bengal
The year 1926 is poised roughly midway between the two great waves of mass anti-colonial movements. The significance of this chronological placement gains more resonance when we consider the fact that this was the first year of great riots in Bengal. There were by official reckoning eleven riots in the Bengal of 1926,1 that spanned not only its eastern and western regions and the two capital cities, but also its urban and rural sectors, including the peasantry, landlords, merchants, bhadralok and working classes. The scale of the riots had a commensurate intensity. In what was then arguably the largest communal riot in our subcontinent, the April Riots in Calcutta were spread over a month (from 2 April to 9 May) with a ten-day break in between (13 April to 21 April). It also marked a new height in the limits of horror for those times: 110 killed and 975 injured. Nor was this a regional phenomenon. Since 1923, there were 76 riots officially recorded clustered mainly around Bombay, Punjab, Delhi, the United Provinces, Bihar and Bengal, out of which 31 had been counted from the beginning of 1926 till 22 August of that year.2 Clearly after such knowledge there can be little forgiveness if we see 1926 as an unfortunate interruption in the march of nationalism. The scale and intensity of communal riots in this period suggests, among other things, that they drew a great deal of\ energy from forces that animated the early twenties and thirties.
Like the idea of the Indian 'nation', communal discourse in the mid-twenties was still in the adolescent stage of its making. In its more lucid moments, the spokespersons of a communal worldview sought to reorient the idea of nationalism which in its non-cooperation Khilafat incarnation had subordinated the question of Hindu-Muslim unity to the necessity of driving out the British. In his speech on communal conflict in the Legislative Assembly in 1926, Lajpat Rai stated that there must be a 'transition' to parity before real unity could be achieved. Thus Hindus must master a level of physical power equivalent to the Muslims, before the country could hopefully be united to throw off the colonial yoke.3 A similar viewpoint was articulated by Muslim leaders like A.K. Ghuznavi, though in their case equivalence
* Dept. of English, Sri Venkateshwara College, Delhi University, Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 18, Nos. 6-7, June-July 1990