Bengal, Bihar and Orissa had formed a single province under British India since 1765. After the British crushed the Sepoy Rebellion of 1875, they dissolved the East India Company and took direct control of the province. British control extended from Eastern Bengal across the entire Ganges plain, to the Indus valley in distant north-western India, with Calcutta as capital. The British officials also moved into the Chittagong Hills. The British officials governed the local hill peoples, who had remained independent in their remote corner of East Bengal.

The Lt. Governor of Bengal appointed by the Govt. in Calcutta (Kolkata) had to administer an area of 189,000 sq miles, and by 1903, the population of the province rose to 78.50 million. The eastern part of Bengal, because of poor communications was left isolated and neglected in favour of west Bengal and Bihar. Its countryside was cut off by numerous rivers and creeks. Robbery and piracy in waterways were rampant and the peasants lived in extreme misery. Till the last decade of 19th century the region was thought to be under-developed and under-governed. On the other hand, Calcutta (Kolkata) and its nearby districts of West Bengal attracted all energy and attention of the administration.

By the end of nineteenth century, rivalry between Hindu and Muslim factions in Bengal increased. Hindus made majority of landlords and investors whereas most Muslim worked as landless farmers with much less influence in the administration of the region. To fight for further independence from British rule, the elite members of the Hindu community formed the Indian National Congress in 1885. Muslims under the leadership of Syed Ahmed Khan opposed the organisation. He believed Muslims would benefit by full cooperation with the British and promotion of English-language education.

Lord Curzon during Vice-Royalty (1899-1905) of India chose out one of the several schemes for partition: to unite Assam, which had been a part of the province until 1874, with 15 districts of East Bengal and thus form a new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam with a population of 31 million. The capital would be in Dacca (now Dhaka) and the people were mainly Muslim.

0110gThe Government officially published the idea of Partitioning Bengal in the month of January of 1904, and in February, Lord Curzon himself went on an official tour to East Bengal to get an assessment of public opinion on partition. He discussed with leading political personalities of Bengal and delivered speeches explicating Government`s position and stand on partition at Dhaka, Mymensingh and Chittagong.

Government`s idea was that the new province would include the state of Hill of Tripura, divisions of Chittagong, Dhaka, Rajshahi (excluding Darjeeling) and Malda district would be incorporated with Assam province ( On the other side, Sambalpur and five minor Oriya speaking states from Central Provinces were offered to be incorporated with Bengal. After this reconstruction, Bengal would be left with an area of 141,580 sq. miles and a population of 54 million of which 42 million would be Hindus and 9 million Muslims. The new province of ‘East Bengal and Assam’ would have an area 106,540 sq. miles with a population of 31 million of which 12 million would be Hindus and 18 million Muslims.

0110aOn 16 Oct 1905, through a Royal Proclamation, a new province of ‘Eastern Bengal and Assam’ with its capital at Dacca (Dhaka) and subsidiary headquarters at Chittagongwas formed. The partition created two provinces: Eastern Bengal and Assam, with capital at Dhaka, and West Bengal, with its capital at Calcutta (which at that time was the capital of British India).

The Hindus of west Bengal, who controlled most of Bengal’s commerce and professional and rural life, complained that the Bengali nation would be split in two, making them a minority in a province including Bihar and Orissa.

The Muslim population found the partition effective for them. Before the partition it was West Bengal, mainly Calcutta and its adjacent area came under the British influence and enjoyed the facility of education, development and industrialization.

0110cThe eastern part of Bengal due to lack of communication could not have the benefits of development. The socio-economic condition of the Muslim population was poor and they suffered further under the rule of Hindu Zaminders and Landlords. The rivers were full of pirates and a minimum amount was funded for education. The Muslim populations outnumbered the Hindu population in Eastern Bengal. Muslims had feelings of alleviation in the partitioning of Bengal as they thought that they would enjoy more freedom and opportunity for education, employment, politics and economy etc. The partition caused a boost in Bengali Literature and language and Muslim society underwent a social, economic and educational uplift.

0110hFollowing the partition of Bengal, Dhaka was reincarnated as the provincial capital of the newly constituted Muslim-majority province of Eastern Bengal and Assam. Dhaka’s profile was raised in several spheres. The pulse of the public activities quickened too, and in 1906 the All India Muslim League was founded there at the initiative of the Nawab of Dhaka. The British set about developing its infrastructure by laying out a ‘formal’ city adjacent to Old Dhaka. A civil line type administrative quarter was developed around the Ramna area north of the railway line which served Old Dhaka from the new enclave. Big colonial-style bungalows and several important administrative buildings were constructed, interspersed with open spaces which were criss-crossed by straight roads and winding avenues. Among the other important buildings constructed in this period were Curzon Hall (which initially became the Town Hall and was subsequently taken over by Dhaka university), the High Court Building, Secretariat, Govt Press and the Museum. However, this expansion came to a frustrating halt in 1911 when, in the face of growing Bengali nationalism, the partition was annulled and the provincial capital moved to Kolkata. Dhaka once again relegated to the obscure position of a mere divisional headquarters. Its population which between 1901-11 had increased by 21 percent, saw its growth halved after the capital was removed (ref: The Aftermath of Partition in South Asia by Tai yong Tan and Gyanesh Kudaisya published in 2000 by Routledge from London, USA and Canada).

0108.jpg  904×550The partition met great opposition mainly from the influential educated middle-class Hindus. The educated Bengali Hindus of Bengal felt the partition a blow on them. The territorial adjustment touched their interest. They controlled most of Bengal’s commerce and different professions. Calcutta lawyers apprehended that establishment of a Court of Appeal at Dhaka (Dacca) would diminish importance of their own High Court at Calcutta. Journalists feared that appearance of local newspapers would restrict circulation of Calcutta Press. Business community of Calcutta visualized shift of trade from Calcutta to Chittagong port. The Zamindars, mostly Hindus, who owned vast landed estates both in west and east Bengal foresaw extra expenditure. They believed the plan would encourage growth of a Muslim power in the Muslim majority eastern Bengal- mostly peasant and illiterate- to thwart the rapidly growing strength of the educated Hindu community.

0107.jpg  893×564The partition had stirred up the sentiments of Hindus. There were widespread agitations acrosss the state. October 16, 1905, the day on which the partition came into effect, was observed as a day of mourning and fasting throughout Bengal. The Amrita Bazar Patrika of Calcutta wrote in an editorial next day “the people of Calcutta observed it as the day of mourning.” RabindranathTagore, the famous Nobel-laureate and writer, spoke out against this political event by means of a highly inspiring poem: Banglar mati Banglar jal, Banglar bayu, banglar phal, punya houk, hey Bhagaban…(roughly translated into English: “May the soil of Bengal, the water and the air of Bengal be hallowed … “). Tagore himself led mass protest of people on the streets, singing the song and tying Rakhi (ornamental, colourful chord) on each other’s wrists (to symbolise unity and brotherhood). Amar Shonar Bangla (My Golden Bengal) sung at a Calcutta meeting to protest the impending partition. It became a rallying cry for proponents of annulment of Partition. A huge amount of nationalist literature was created during this period.

0109.jpg  905×536In different parts of India a number of secret societies sprang up, particularly in Bengal and Maharashtra. To terrorize British authorities they trained members, mostly students in the use of fire-arms. This was the time when the Swadeshi movement to boycott British manufactured goods was first launched. They made public bonfires of foreign cloths, cigarettes, soap and anything that came handy all over India. The sale of British goods fell between 6 and 20 per cent of original levels. This was the time when extreme nationalists came to the forefront. A large number of young leaders in Bengal took up the task of educating people with Swadeshi spirit of the Indianisation of education, spearheaded by fanatic Hindu revolutionary Arobindo Ghose. In 1905, Aurobindo Ghosh wrote ‘Vawani Mandir’. In this book, he stated the plans and programmes of the Revolutionary Terrorist groups.

Though the revolutionary terrorists did not lead mass struggles against the British, their acts and sacrifices won them enormous popularity among the common people. Among the major groups were the Abhinav Bharat (centers in Nasik, and led by V. Savarkar), the Anushilan Samity (based in Dacca and led by Pulin Das), the Jugantar group (led by Jatindranath Mukherji) and the group led by Rash Behari Bose and Sachindranath Sanyal. These groups carried out several armed raids to raise funds and executions of English officials.

The anti-partition agitation passed into the hands of Hindu militant leaders. The clerical staff, Calcutta tram workers, jute workers, railway workers and younger generation drawn into politics, adopted terrorist methods by using firearms, pistols and bombs indiscriminately. Several assassinations were committed. The Swadeshi movement in Bengal also saw the emergence of labour unions and professional agitators. Bombay, Madras and Punjab also witnessed the growth of a spontaneous anti-imperialist labour movement – the most famous example being the 1908 strike of Bombay textile workers in protest against Tilak’s arrest. The agitation took a turn towards anarchy and disorder.

The Congress and political activity in general, were strongest in Bengal. The leadership of the Indian National Congress viewed partition tantamount to vivisection of their ‘Mother’. Vande-Mataram’ (Hail Motherland) became their national anthem and agitation against partition started in the form of mass meetings and rural unrest. Pujas offered to emphasize the solemn nature of the occasion. Hindu religious militancy reached its peak on 28 September 1905, the day of Mahalaya, the new-moon day before the puja, and thousands of Hindus gathered at the Kali temple in Calcutta. In Bengal the worship ofKali, wife of Shiva, had always been very popular. She possessed a two-dimensional character both generative and destructive and took great pleasure in bloody sacrifices.

Such religious flavor aroused hostility in average Muslim minds. Protest rallies were held by them urging its educated co-religionists to remain faithful to the government. Communal disturbances became a familiar feature in Eastern Bengal and Assam and followed a pattern that was repeated elsewhere. The 1907 riots represent a watershed in the history of modern Bengal.

Sir Bampfylde Fuller, became the first Lieutenant-Governor of the new province of East Bengal and Assam on 16 October 1905. When he arrived Dhaka, the Muslims accorded him a rousing reception. On 16 October 1905, Mohammedan Provincial Union was founded with Nawab Sir Salimullah as its patron. The All India Muslim League founded in 1906 supported the partition.

0110eWhile Hindu-Muslims relations deteriorated, political changes of great magnitude were taking place in the Government of India’s policies. In the new province, Lt.Governor Bampfylde Fuller was accused by the anti-Partition movement leaders as partial to Muslims. Lord Curzon had resigned as Viceroy in 1905 following dispute with the Commander-in-Chief of Indian Army. Coordinated and successful campaign and political protests and agitation led to the ouster of the Lt. Governor of East Bengal and Assam Sir Bampfylde Fuller. He resigned in August 1906. His resignation and its prompt acceptance were considered by the Muslims, a victory for the Hindus.

0117aThe civil disobedience and Swadeshi movement snowballed to such proportions thatViceroy Curzon’s scheme, ostensibly for “administrative convenience”, to divide Bengal into Eastern and Western provinces (whatever be the hidden reason ‘divide and rule’ alleged by the proponents of anti-partition) was nipped in the bud. In the face of rising opposition to colonial rule the British ended the division and the partition had to be annulled.

According to the suggestion of the Governor-General-in-Council, King George V at hisCoronation Darbar in Delhi in December 1911 announced the revocation of the Partition of Bengal and the two parts of Bengal were reunited. At the same time, certain changes made in the administration, the Government of India should have its seat atDelhi instead of Calcutta. British government decided to annul the Partition of Bengal, the date chosen for the formal ending of the partition and reunification of Bengal was 1 April 1912.

0117To placate Bengali Muslim feelings, it was decided on 31 Jan 1912, to build a newUniversity and High Court at Dacca.

The annulment of the partition sorely disappointed and had a negative effect not only the Muslims of Bengal but also the Muslims of the whole of India. Noted British scholar and historian W.W. Hunter in his book on “The Indian Musalmans” (23 June 1871) published from London in 1876 (3rd edition) in the preface said: “The greatest wrong that the English can do to their Asiatic Subjects is not to understand them.” He said in the concluding part of the book “A hundred and seventy years ago it was almost impossible for a well-born Musalman in Bengal to be poor, at the present it is almost for him to be to continue rich.”

bengalpartitionThe Muslims thus felt that loyalty did not pay but agitation would. Thereafter, the dejected Muslims gradually took an anti-British stance. The aim of annulment was to combine appeasement of Bengali sentiment with administrative convenience. This end was achieved for a time, but the Bengali Muslims, having benefited from partition, were angry and disappointed. This resentment remained throughout the rest of the British period. The final division of Bengal at the partitioning of the subcontinent in 1947, which split Bengal into India in the west and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in the east, was accompanied by intense violence.


NOVEMBER 11, 2006



About Ehsan Abdullah

An aware citizen..
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