On July 20th 1905, the first partition of Bengal along religious lines was approved in London by the Secretary of State of India.
The decision to partition the state of Bengal was announced by Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India in July 1905. This partition came into effect in October 1905 and divided the Muslim majority of eastern Bengal from the Hindu majority of the western part of the state. Indians were livid at this decision and referred to it as “divide and rule” by the British, who were trying to turn Indians against each other. Curzon denied this saying that this was being done for ease of administration.
Bengali Hindus, who held a strong foothold in business and in the rural areas, complained that the partition of Bengal would make them a minority in their state, which would ultimately be incorporated with Bihar and Orissa. With the partition, Muslims founded their own national organizations, though Bengali Hindus were unhappy with this arrangement. In 1911, Bengal was reunited keeping in mind the Bengali sentiment, but this caused unhappiness among Bengali Muslims who benefited from the partition of the state. This resentment among Muslims lasted till 1947, when the state of Bengal was partitioned again.
The state of Bengal during that period stretched across 189,000 square miles, which included regions of Bihar, Odisha and Assam making it an extremely large area to govern. The capital of Bengal, Calcutta (now Kolkata) was then the capital of British India as well. By this time, the Indian National Congress had begun to fight for Independence. Lord Curzon thought it would be wise to partition Bengal, by separating the Hindus and Muslims. By this, he hoped to reduce religious tension and quell the Indian Independence movement.
The first idea of the partition was announced in January 1904, but was opposed by Henry John Stedman Cotton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam (1896- 1902). The Partition of Bengal came into force on October 16th 1905 headed by Viceroy Lord Curzon. The province of Bengal was divided to the Hindu majority “Bengal” (comprising of Western Bengal, Bihar and Odisha) and the Muslim majority “East Bengal and Assam” with its capital as Dacca (now Dhaka). Curzon maintained that it was the large size of the state which was the reason why Bengal was partitioned. Curzon believed that East Bengal was neglected and as a result underdeveloped which was the reason why partition would be a good idea.
The Partition of Bengal was supported greatly by the East Bengal Muslims, who found that partition gave them better opportunities. Bengali Muslims believed that their poor financial condition was because of the fact that most businesses were dominated by Hindu businessmen and landlords, due to which Muslims were not given equal opportunities. Before the partition, most businesses, factories and universities were situated in Kolkata which did not suit people living in other parts of the state, particularly eastern Bengal. After the partition, East Bengal began developing rapidly and many important buildings were set up, such as Curzon Hall. Apart from that, many educational institutes were set up in East Bengal as well which improved educational and employment opportunities for people living in the area.
Bengali Hindus began to look at the partition as an ulterior motive. Since Hindus were dominant in the business front and in political agitation, they began to feel insecure at Muslims gaining strength across the border in East Bengal. The partition set off religious protests. Hindus supported the Swadeshi movement headed by the Indian National Congress, by boycotting all foreign-made goods. Muslims in East Bengal who had finally achieved a better standard of living, by gaining access to better education and employment, stayed away from the movement. Due to this political uprising, Bengal was finally reunited in 1911. This was followed by a partition based on linguistic grounds, with the separation of the Hindi, Oriya and Assamese areas under separate administrative units. The same year, the capital of British India was moved from Kolkata to New Delhi.
In 1909, separate elections were held for both Hindus and Muslims. Members of the Bengali community, both Hindu and Muslim, had all along wanted a stronger Bengali solidarity. Moreover, with different elections, political communities developed with their own, unique political agendas. Muslims dominated the legislature because of their large numbers and nationally Hindus and Muslims began to demand the creation of two separate countries: one with a Hindu majority and the other with a Muslim majority.
The partition of Bengal had a significant impact on the political climate of India and East Bengalis were left dissatisfied after the union of the state, which led to a strong political foresight among Bengali Muslims. To pacify East Bengalis, Lord Curzon opened what is known today as the University of Dhaka, a move which was severely criticized by Hindus of West Bengal, leading to the onset of communal tension between the Hindus and Muslims of Bengal.
Bengal was finally partitioned in 1947 along religious lines, as part of the Partition of India. East Bengal came to be known as East Pakistan, which later became the independent state of Bangladesh after the war of independence with West Pakistan.
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1903: The British increase the size of the Royal Army in India.
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