Partition of Bengal


1. Communalism

Communalism plays a key role in analysing the true nature of the Hindu-Muslim riots in Bengal in 1906 and 1907, after an unsuccessful attempt was made by the British Government to divide Bengal in 1905 and also, in order to analyse the later political developments which resulted in the founding of Muslim League in 1906 and ultimately in the partition of India in 1947.

To understand the socio-political effect of partition in Bengal in 1906, a first hand impression of the term "Communalism" calls forth our attention. Communalism found different interpretations down the ages. But the core idea remains more or less the same.

"The term 'Communalism' ... means the tendency of people to perceive their interests as identical with those of their religious group, the tendency to regard the values and activities of members of the other religious groups as alien or antagonistic, the tendency of religion to determine political affiliation, the tendency of group conflict to occur between members of different religious communities" - John R Mclane(Partition of Bengal 1905: A Political analysis).

Even today for a close look at the problems of the so-called communal discrimination in India, a more recent account of the term as interpreted in recent times, is significant.

"The term is widely used in the Indian context to describe mutual hostility between communities based on religion" - Jaya Chaterjee(Bengal Divided).

These definitions are more relevant today when it seems like the people of the land have not learnt from their past mistakes and are ready to run into the same troubled water as their folk did in early years of 1900.

2. Hindu-Muslim relation in Bengal before 1900

But the scenario was not always the same. Before 1906 Hindu-Muslim conflict in Bengal was rarely seen as compared to the other states of India. There were reports of stray incidents regarding cow-slaughter, religious and social festivals, representation on consultative and legislative organisations, education and government employment but they remained only small frictions but never caused any great communal disharmony.

The Muslim society in general before 1906 was a backward one, full of discriminations among themselves, divided in classes based on social and economic standpoints. The lower class Muslims were looked down upon by the elite Muslims and social contact was avoided as much as possible. In retrospect, the elite Muslims had more in common with the moneyed Hindu upper class than with Muslim lower class.

In spite of the day-to-day contacts, there was almost no way of integration between Hindus and Muslims. Therefore, ignorance and indifference prevailed. No conscious effort was made by any of the two communities to understand and sympathise with each other's inherent lifestyle, traits and cultures.

Moreover, the attitudes of many religious and communal Hindus as well as of Muslims made any way of communication between the two impossible. Perhaps the greatest discrimination lied in the field of government jobs, educational opportunities and in agrarian opportunities. Although no obvious hostility was in view for any particular person, a general dislike for Muslims always brewed in the minds of the Hindus, as they were the one-time rulers. Stories were heard and spread about Muslim domination and oppression on one hand, and heroic Hindu rebellion against them on the other. As a result, such a passive hostility is natural. But whatever was the situation, a more or less peaceful co-existence between Hindus and Muslims was always witnessed in Bengal prior to the partition.

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