Important Partition-Related Dates
First War of Independence aka Sepoy Mutiny of 1857
The root causes for British-mandated first partition of Bengal in 1905 can be traced back to Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Since 1765, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa had formed a single province under East India Company and later British monarchy.
In 1757, East India company defeated the Nawab(Prince) of Bengal, SirajUdDaulah, a non-native Farsi-speaking king – inthe Battle of Plassey and started their rule in Bengal (comprising of present day Indian states of Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam and Bangladesh). There was an attempt to overthrow East India Company under Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II in 1765 at Buxar. East India Company won the battle and the Battle of Buxar effectively ended the Mughal rule of India. East India Company shifted their capital from Delhi to Calcutta, which served as the center of politics, culture, education and trade until 1912. After the Sepoy(soldier) revolt of 1857, British Monarchy became the direct rulers of India, replacing East India Company.
1800s Bengal Renaissance, Hindu Renaissance, Indian Renaissance and Indian National Congress (INC), 1985:
With the introduction of Western education, social and cultural reforms entailed in Bengal, ushering simultaneously Bengal Renaissance, Hindu Renaissance and Indian Renaissance. In the midst of raised awareness among Bengali Hindus, voice of discontent against British rule also became louder. Bengali Hindus took leadership role in becoming proponent of independence and equality. In 1885, Indian National Congress (INC) was formed with an aim to create a civic platform for Indians and greater share of jobs to Indians. The helm of Congress was mostly in the hands of Western-educated Indians, which was disproportionately represented by Hindus, even with a few Europeans. One of the greatest Muslim leaders of the time, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–98), convinced British officials that the blame for 1857 mutiny lied with Hindus, even though the mutiny was fought under the helm of Bahadur Shah Jaffar. He founded Anglo-Muhammadan Oriental College (now Aligarh Muslim University) at Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh Province, in 1875. In post-Khilafat movement, it became the intellectual hub of the Muslim League and founding of Pakistan.
Bengal Partition of 1905
Post 1857, the British empire engaged in the policy of divide and rule, by nurturing communal disharmony between the Hindus (non-Muslims) and Muslims in India. In order to tame the nationalistic revolt spearheaded by Bengali Hindus, Lord Curzon declared partition of Bengal in 1905 – when there was no demand either from Muslims or from Hindus for such a Muslim-Hindu divide – withWestern (Hindu) Bengal (heart of Bengali Hindu intellectuals) aligned with less politically active Hindu-majority Bihar and Orissa, with Calcutta (Kolkata) as the capital. A new ‘Muslim Bengal’ i.e. Muslim-majority province of East Bengal & Assam was created with (non-Bengali, non-Muslim Assam), with Dacca (Dhaka) as the capital.
Indian National Congress, headed mostly by Hindus, with other religious groups, strongly opposed the partition, which they considered vivisection of the Motherland. A wave of nationalism swept over India, inspired by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s “VandeMataram” (with music composed by Rabindranath Tagore), which was inducted as INC’s national anthem. INC also had started demand for “swaraj” (self-determination or self-rule) in 1906. Swadeshi movement, boycott of foreign goods ensued.
Beginning of British-Funded Muslim League Party, 1906
In 1906, Aga Khan III convened a meeting with Lord Minto, with demands for national interest for the Muslim community. Minto promised a separate electorate for Muslims. Following the meeting, he convened the first ML convention in Dacca in December 1906, with an aim to “to protect and advance the political rights and interests of Mussalmans(Muslims) of India.” The convention also expressed loyalty to British government, condemned Swadeshi boycott movement and most importantly, supported Bengal partition of 1905. Colonial rulers invited a non-native to Dacca (Dhaka) to start the Muslim League Party giving him a funding of Rs. 300,000 rupees (or Rs. 800,000 rupees according to other research.)
This British policy came to be known as ‘Divide-and-Rule’ and ‘Divide-and-Conquer’ policy applied later in Ireland, East, West and South Africa, Asia, Cyprus, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean and more.
Reunification of Bengal in 1911
With the increased agitation across India against Bengal partition, the British Raj announced the revocation of the Partition of Bengal and the two parts of Bengal were to be reunited in December 1911. At the same time, the British capital in India was moved from Calcutta to Delhi. The official date for reunification of Bengal was April 1, 1912. To placate the Muslims, creation of a new university and high court in Dacca was announced by the British rulers.
British Muslim Non-Muslim Apartheid in India
In 1935, British government established The Bengal Legislative Assembly (lower chamber of the parliament of British Bengal) by the Government of India Act, 1935. The act created separate electorates based on religion as the basis of electing the assembly. In provincial elections conducted in 1937, with Mr. A. K. FazlulHuq becoming the first Prime Minister. MrHuq’s government fell in 1941 when he joined Viceroy’s defense council, an action that Muslim League president Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah opposed. Jinnah felt joining the Viceroy council would adversely affect partition of India and creating a new Muslim homeland. However, Huq was able to form coalition government with help from Hindu Mahasabha party. In 1943, the second Huq ministry fell and a Muslim League government headed by Mr. Nazimuddin was formed. During this period, relationship between Hindus and Muslims worsened, and ill effects of World War II, discontent, famine plagued Bengal. The next general election was postponed by two years. When the elections were finally held in 1946, Bengal Provincial Muslim League won the election, with Mr. Suhrawardy as the Prime Minister. Muslim League had won small mandates in other parts of the India, but received its largest mandate in Bengal. This was also interpreted as will of the electorate for a separate homeland for Muslims. Muslim League pushed its ‘Two Nation’ theory to the colonial masters whereby Muslims and Non-Muslims constituted two ‘nations’ in India.
Partition of Bengal to East Pakistan and West Bengal, 1947:
Both Mr. Suhrawardy and Mr. Jinnah wanted undivided Bengal to be part of Pakistan, with Calcutta as the capital. Some Bengali Hindu leaders like Mr. Sarat Chandra Bose and the (British) Governor of Bengal also proposed a united Bengal.This was opposed by Congress Party and Muslim League. However, in response to communal unrest following Jinnah’s call for Direct Action Day (16 August 1946) in Muslim League-ruled Calcutta, also known as the Great Calcutta Killing, and NoahkhaliDanga (pogrom of Hindu minority, where later Gandhi went to be with the massacred, kidnapped and converted families), Hindu Mahasabha’s legislators in the assembly demanded the partition of Bengal on the basis of religious identity. In voting for partition of Bengal all Muslims League, Congress and Communist party members voted for partition of Bengal.
The following year, 1947, on June 20th, the Bengal Legislative Assembly met to decide on the partition of Bengal.
- At the preliminary joint meeting, with both Hindu and Muslim elected representatives, it was decided by 120-90 votes that if Bengal province remained united, post-independence, it should join Pakistan.
- At a second separate meeting of legislators from West Bengal, it was decided by 58-21 votes that Bengal province should be partitioned and that West Bengal should join the India.
- At a third separate meeting of legislators from East Bengal, it was decided by 106-35 votes that the province should not be partitioned. In the same meeting it was decided by 107-34 votes that East Bengal should join Pakistan in the event of partition.
On August 14/15, 1947 Partition of India:
The provinces of Bengal, Punjab, and Assam through a quick referendum in its Sylhet district, were partitioned, and later the Princely State of Kashmir was partitioned, after a war.
Pakistan enacted an Islamic Constitution that denies many rights to her pre-Islamic indigenous citizens. Colonial Britain remained silent on this.
British bureaucrat Radcliff drew lines through Bengal and Punjab provinces causing millions of deaths through fratricidal killings, and creating tens of millions of refugees that continues today.
No rulers from Britain, newly independent India or Pakistan was held responsible for this horror.
United Pakistan, East and West, 1947-1971:
By early 1950s Pakistan came under strain as the majority of Pakistan, Bengalis, demanded inclusion of their mother language as a National Language of Pakistan. This was rebuffed by the Father of Pakistan, Jinnah.
By mid-1950s the Muslim League Party was reduced to a minority party in East Pakistan.
1970 First and Free Pakistan Election:
Majority Pakistanis voted for Awami League Party of East Pakistan but were not allowed to form a government. Minority-party elites and Pakistan military didn’t want to transfer power to the majority citizens of the East.
1971, Bangladesh Liberation War:
On March 26, 1971 Pakistan Army and minority elites from West Pakistan embarked on a genocide andminority ethnic cleansing until defeated by the Indian Army and citizen’s Bangladesh Liberation Force. Pakistan Army surrendered to Indian Army on December 16, 1971 ushering in a free and independent Bangladesh. Three million Bengalis were killed and over 250,000 girls and mothers were abused by the Army of Islamic Republic of Pakistan and its Urdu- and Bengali-speaking allies. Pakistan, Islamic World and the West didn’t have a War Crimes Trial, but independent Bangladesh started this process in late 2000.
In 1971 Bangladesh enacted a secular Constitution. After the murder of the Father of the Nation, Mr. Mujibur Rahman and 26 members of his family, two military dictators changed the Constitution with ‘Islam as State Religion.’
Ahmed, Akbar S., Jinnah,Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search of Saladin, Routledge, London; 1997
Ali, Mir Shawkat, The Evidence: Liberation War – The Beginning, Vol 1, and Vol II, SomoyPrakashan, Dhaka, 2008
Chatterjee, Partha, Bengal 1920-1947: The Land Question, K.P. Bagchi, Calcutta; 1984
Chattopadhyay, Gautam, Bengal Electoral Politics and Freedom Struggle 1862-1947, Indian Council for Historical Research, New Delhi, 1984
Choudhury, G. W., India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and the major Powers: Politics of a Divided Subcontinent, The Free Press, New York; 1975
Cronin, Richard Paul, British Policy and Administration in Bengal: Partition and the New Province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, Firma KLM, Calcutta; 1977
Das, Suranjan, Communal Riots in Bengal 1905-1947, OxfordUniversity Press, Delhi; 1991
Dastidar, Sachi G.,Empire’s Last Casualty: Indian Subcontinent’s Vanishing Hindu and Other Minorities by, Firma KLM, Kolkata (2008)
Dastidar, Sachi G., Living Among the Believers: Stories from the Holy Land down the Ganges, Firma KLM Publishers, Kolkata (Calcutta); 2006
Hashmi, Taj Ul-Islam, Pakistan as a Peasant Utopia: the Communalization of Class Politics in East Bengal, 1920-1947, Westview, Boulder; 1992
Majumdar, Dr. R. C., History of Ancient Bengal, TulshiPrakashani, Kolkata; 2005
Neogy, Ajit K., Partitions of Bengal, A. Mukherji& Co, Calcutta; 1987
Page, David, Prelude to Partition, Oxford Univ. Press, Delhi; 1982
Ray, RajatKanta, Social Conflict and Political Unrest in Bengal: 1875-1927, Oxford University Press, Delhi; 1984
Roy, Debesh, BarisalerJogenMondol, Dey’s Publishers, Calcutta; 2009
Sengupta, Sukharanjan, Curzon’s Partition of Bengal and Aftermath: History of The Elite Hindu-Muslim Conflicts Over Political Domination Leading to the Second Partition, 1947,NayaUdyog, Kolkata; 2006
Sinha, Dinesh C. & Ashok Dasgupta, 1946 The Great Calcutta Killings and Noakhali Genocide: A Historical Study, Sri HimangshuMaity, Kolkata 6; 2011
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ISPaD: The Indian Subcontinent Partition Documentation Project