Partition of Bengal

3. Steps towards partition

Bengal at the time of Lord Curzon was the biggest and most populated province unable to be governed by a single person, or so the official record runs. So, in 1903 a proposal was made to separate Chittagong Division and the districts of Dhaka and Mymensingh from Bengal and add them up with the Assam Province. This proposal met with an overwhelming opposition from all strata of the society; from rich landlords and poor landless farmers, from political leaders and labour classes as well as from both Hindus and Muslims alike. The protest meetings, processions, pamphlets and newspaper articles amply voiced the general public opinion opposing even the idea of separating people by geographical boundaries.

During his tour in Eastern Bengal, Curzon witnessed the solidarity of the people of Bengal, the centre of nationalism in India. The only way to secure the British Regime was to neap the bud of nationalism and in order to do that, the sense of solidarity among Bengali people must be crushed. In East Bengal, the backward Muslim majority would pose no danger to the British, as the new privileges granted to them would make them loyal to the British government. At the same time in Bengal the Bengalis would cease to be a majority after it would be attached with Bihar and Orissa. Calcutta, the centre of the new found nationalism would loose its importance, as the Bengali Hindus with their advanced political awareness will be a minority in the new province of Bengal.

So in 1905, the British decided to redraw Bengal's boundaries and divided it into two parts: Western Bengal, with a population of 54 million, of which 42 million would be Hindus and 9 million Muslims with Calcutta as the capital; and Eastern Bengal and Assam with a population of 31 million of which 18 million would be Muslims and 12 million Hindus with Dhaka as their capital. The territory to be transferred from Bengal to the new province consisted of the districts of Chittagong and Dhaka divisions, those of Rajshahi division except Darjeeling and the district of Malda.

Curzon sent the scheme to London in February 1905. It was sanctioned by the Secretary of State for India, St. John Brodrich, in June, and the announcement of the formation of the new province was made public in 20 July, 1905. The province of Bengal and Assam came into being on October 16, 1905. But at the face of mass protest, both passive and peaceful as well active and violent, the two Bengals were united again in 1911.

4. Turmoil during partition

The peaceful anti-partition demonstration at the very beginning was joined by the Hindus and Muslims alike and in vast proportions. It started two main types of movements side by side. The first one called for an absolute boycott of using foreign goods and the other promoted the production and use of things made in the country. Both were welcomed with an overwhelming response. The "Swadeshi" and the "Boycott" movements inspired the Muslims and Hindus alike and they took part in it in large numbers. On 23 September, 1905 in a Muslim meeting three resolutions were taken: i) offering their support to the Hindus against partition, ii) joining the Hindus also in matters other than the partition, iii) strong support for the use of swadeshi goods. Even a particular Muslim landlord asked his Muslim subjects not to believe the Government promise of benefits for their support in the new Province.

On the day of the partition, a rakhi bandhan ceremony was observed all over Bengal as suggested by Rabindranath Tagore. It stood for the symbol of the unity of the Bengali people. There was no cooking in any house of Bengal. People practised abstinence as that day was marked as a day of mourning. From early morning huge processions marched on the roads of Calcutta. The high nationalist sentiments that it evoked, made the British afraid of a possible upraise against their rule.

Precautionary measure was to be taken against the Swadeshi Movement and soon. Besides using the police to terrorize the demonstrators, special measures were taken to teach the students, the majority among the agitators, a lesson. Educational institutions were inflicted with circulars with orders of preventing the students either from joining the movement or to punish them. Along with the persecution of the convicted students their families were also been harassed by the police. The other method was directed towards the local landlords. Orders were given out to them to check the spread of the movement in their respective areas. Processions and meeting, which echoed any nationalist sentiment, were banned in public places. Most of the influential local leaders were imprisoned. There were some Muslims, who were not against the very idea of having a Province of their own at all. These loyal Muslims were induced with a separatist sentiment and were chosen to be used against the disobedient Hindus. Nawab Salimullah of Dhaka though at first sympathetic to the anti-partition movement, became the leader of the new Muslim opposition to the anti-partition movement. It was said that the British Government lend him huge amount of money at a very low interest to save him from his debt. Muslims were repeatedly being explained about the unsympathetic treatment they would likely get from the Hindus and the privileges waiting for them in the new Province.

Lord Curzon's visit to East Bengal and his provocative Dhaka Address shows to which extent the British Government made no stones unturned for dividing Hindus and Muslims into two different political camps with undying hostility for each other. Within no time, a split became very much evident between the two communities due to this shrewd British policy of divide-and-rule. It was the Government who appealed to the Muslims to support the partition stressing how much fruitful would be the advantages of partition for them. The Dhaka address of Lord Curzon in February 1904 stated that Dhaka was only "a shadow of its former self" and that the partition "would invest Mahomedans in Eastern Bengal with a unity which they have not enjoyed since the days of the old Mussalman Viceroys and Kings........." This attitude clearly echoed the Government hope of creating trouble between Hindus and Muslims.

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