Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Partitions Of Bengal in 1905 and 1947

Partitions of countries or even administrative units mostly create great controversies. Thus it has never been easy to create new administrative units, even inside a country. In South Asian history partitions of countries or administrative units have a long history and repeatedly played a very important role. The most recent example can be given of Telangana State of India, which was recently carved out of Andhra Pradesh to make a new state within the union of India. It took almost 7 decades for the supporters of Telangana to achieve their goal.

The partition of Bengal is probably the most important event of Indian history in the early 20th century. It set the tone of the politics of India for the next four decades, which resulted in the partition of India and ultimately the emergence of three independent states in former British India. 

The British conquered India in almost 100 years, starting in the middle of 18th century and mostly completing by the middle of 19th. They first created three presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay, as the main administrative units. Gradually they replaced these large presidencies with comparatively smaller provinces. They were of various sizes in area and population. The following table gives the detail of these units and areas:

The above table clearly shows that Bengal was the biggest administrative unit of the British Empire in India, both population and area wise. Here I feel it necessary to inform my readers that the besides these provinces directly administered by the British there were almost 565 semi independent states, ruled by local rulers. Some of them were grouped together to form agencies or attached to some provinces. The table given below, gives the details about these states and agencies.

While organizing their territories in India, the British administration apparently did not pay much consideration to the demographics of that area. The table given below will show you that the province of Bengal contained in itself almost half non Bengali speaking population.

The subject of this post is partition of Bengal. As the above data and maps show, this province was huge province. Its size and geography made its administration difficult. Especially the people living in eastern parts of the province, felt neglected and underdeveloped as compare to the western district. In these circumstances the British administration of Lord Curzon, decided to divide this province in two parts. They carved out eastern districts and merged them with Assam to create and new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam. While the western districts, with addition of the district of Sambalpur and five princely states, remained as the province of Bengal.

This partition produced two kinds of reactions. Muslims were naturally happy with this development, as they clearly saw the benefits of this division to their community. Muslims who were just a third of former Bengal, constituted a clear majority of 58% in the new province. Dacca became the capital of the new province, that hastened its progress. Muslims of Bengal rightly felt that this step will open new doors of development and prosperity on them.

Bengali Hindus who were politically more active, saw it in altogether a different light. They interpreted it as a deliberate attempt to divide the Bengali nation, to break their collective power, under the policy of divide and rule. Hindus dominated trade and commerce and felt this division will cause economic losses to them. Bengali Hindus were better educated and economically were in much stronger position as compare to the Muslims. Calcutta was the economic, administrative and educational hub of the province. And was a stronghold of Hindu Bengali nationalism. Even in the east, the Hindu land lords were the dominant force and felt that under a Muslim dominated government their privileged position will suffer. The reaction was fierce and soon an agitation was launched against this move. Meetings, strikes, processions, boycott of English goods and nationalist propaganda  were the main tools of the protest. But in addition to that terrorist activities  / armed struggles (choose a phrase of your liking), also started. Looting banks, assassination attempts and attacks on government interests were the tactics adopted. The agitation was not confined to Bengal, but spread to other parts of India also. It stirred extremism and nationalism in Hindus.

Two different reactions, on communal lines, further soured the relations between the two religious communities of Muslims and Hindus in Bengal. Hindu reaction was not just based on political ideas, their leader evoked Hindu religious symbols to garner support in masses to further their cause. Hindu prayers were held, Shivaji was promoted as a great hero, nationalistic song Vande Mataram became a war cry. All these tactics further alienated the Muslims and they felt vulnerable against rising tide of Hindu nationalism. This situation gave birth to All India Muslim League on 30th December, 1906. It is no coincidence that foundation of this party were laid down at Ahsan Manzil, in Dacca and Nawab Salimullah was the founding member of this party. The sole purpose of this party was to safeguard the political interests of Muslims of India. Which ultimately gave birth to the two independent states of Pakistan and Bangladesh in south Asia.

Bengal was not just simply divided into two parts. Some other changes were also made. Assam, which was part of Bengal until 1874 was joined with the eastern districts of Bengal to make the new province. On the other side the remaining Bengal was awarded one district and five princely states, previously part of the Central Provinces. I could not find the exact area and population of the new provinces. 

As I wrote above, Hindus launched a fierce agitation against the division of Bengal and demanded unification of Bengal. The government yielded to this pressure and cancelled its division. But not in its original form, but they created a new Bengal, based purely on Bengali speaking areas. The map give below shows this provinces created in 1911. I am not sure what exactly was the demand of Hindus and whether they became satisfied with the new arrangement or wanted to restore the old Bengal of 1904. I hope some reader will enlighten us in this regard. 
The new Bengal of 1911 had an area of approximately 203,751 Km2 and population of 45,483,077 (According to the census of 1911). Muslims formed a majority of  52.74%,with a population of 23,989,719.

This saga of partition was not over in 1911, but repeated itself after 36 years, in 1947. When finally it was decided that the British India will be divided into two independent countries of Pakistan and India. Along Punjab, division of Bengal was also proposed. The following map shows the result of that division. Unlike Punjab, I do not have data of population and area of this division.

It will be helpful, if someone could provide me the tehsil map of Bengal and also the tehsil wise, populations of Muslims and Hindus in Bengal of 1947. For reference you can see my post about The Partition Of Punjab on the same blog. 

Your comments and suggestions to improve it or pointing any inaccuracies are most welcome. 

Tariq Amir
Doha – Qatar.
February 4, 2015.