Colonialism, Politics of Language and Partition of Bengal PART VII
By Nurul Kabir
September 7, 2013
THAT the partition of Bengal in 1905 benefited the people of Eastern Bengal, particularly its majority Muslim population, at least in the field of education, was evident in an official statement by the viceroy, Lord Harding, to a Muslim delegation in 1912, a year after the annulment of the partition in 1911.
Providing statistics, Lord Harding said: ‘Since 1906 it (Eastern Bengal and Assam) has made great strides forward. In that year there were 1698 collegiate students in Eastern Bengal and Assam, and expenditure on college education was Rs. 1, 54,358. Today with the same number of institutions the corresponding figures are 2560 students and Rs. 3, 83,619. Nor has the improvement been confined to colleges. Educational classes and schemes were formed with reference to local conditions. From 1905 to 1910-1911 the number of pupils in public institutions rose from 6,99,051 to 9,36,653 and the expenditure from provincial revenues rose from [Rs.] 11,06,510 to Rs. 22,05,339 while local expenditure, direct and indirect, rose from [Rs.] 47,81,833 to Rs 73,05,260.’ [MA Rahim, The History of the University of Dhaka, University of Dhaka, Reprint 1992 (1981), p 4.] The statistics provides a clue to why the Muslims of East Bengal welcomed the creation of the Muslim majority new province by partitioning Bengal into two.
The Hindu elite of Bengal, as it appeared before its Muslim counterpart, continued to display enmity towards the Muslims of East Bengal even after the annulment of the partition in 1911. Aware of the Muslim dissatisfaction over the annulment of the partition, the British regime arranged for a ‘splendid imperial compensation’ for the annulment by way of setting up of a university in Dhaka. [Lord Lytton, the erstwhile governor of Bengal, disclosed in his convocation speech in Dhaka University in 1922 that the university was planned as a ‘splendid imperial compensation’ for the annulment of the Eastern Bengal-Assam province; see, M A Rahim, The History of the University of Dhaka, Reprint, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, 1992 (1981), p 1.]
To this effect, the government published a communiqué on February 2, 1912, stating the decision of the government to set up Dhaka University. But the Kolkata-based Hindu elite made all-out efforts to undo the project. In this regard, a historian of Dhaka University, Professor MA Rahim, writes: ‘The Hindu leaders were opposed to the plan of setting up of a university at Dacca. They voiced their disapprobation in press and platform. On February 16, 1912 a delegation headed by Dr. Rash Behary Ghose waited upon the Viceroy and expressed apprehension that the creation of a separate university at Dacca would be in the nature of “an internal partition of Bengal”. They also contended that the Muslims of Eastern Bengal were in large majority cultivators and they would benefit in no way by the foundation of a University.’ [MA Rahim, The History of the University of Dhaka, Reprint, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, 1992 (1981), p 5.]
The government, however, did not succumb to the Hindu pressure. In a letter on April 4, 1912, the government of India invited the government of Bengal to submit a complete scheme with a financial estimate for the proposed university. The letter drew attention of the government to ‘the desirability of making accessible to the Mussalmans of Eastern Bengal a university in which they could have a voice.’ [ibid, p 7] Notably, in 1912, there were only six Muslim members on the Calcutta University Senate out of a total of 100, and that too excluding the ex-officio members.
The University of Dhaka was eventually founded in July 1921. In the initial decades, the vast majority of the teachers and students of the university was Hindu. Still, the Kolkata-based Hindu elite used to contemptuously call the Dhaka University ‘Mecca University’, hinting obliquely that the institution was meant exclusively for the Muslims — the university, which would, in fact, become the centre of secular democratic political thoughts of East Bengal in two decades and guide all secular democratic students movements in the next two decades, contributing substantially towards the emergence of secular-democratic Bangladesh in 1971.
The same Hindu elite that successfully spearheaded the civil and terrorist movements in 1905 to annul the partition of Bengal in its parochial communal interests went all out to divide Bengal in 1947, the same Hindu elite that continuously displayed multidimensional dislike for the Muslims in the following decades, the same self-seeking communal Hindu elite went all out to divide Bengal in 1947, again to safeguard the same communal interests of its own. Nirad C Chaudhuri also corroborates the proposition: ‘The same class of Hindu Bengalis who opposed Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal have now themselves brought about a second partition of their country…’ [Nirad C Chaudhuri, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, Eighth Impression, Jacob Publishing House, Bombay, 1988, p 227]
Joya Chatterji, who has academically studied the politics of the division of Bengal with reference to ‘Hindu communalism’ between 1932 and 1947, also subscribes to the view. Tracing the growing ‘unwillingness’ among ‘many Hindu Bengalis’ to be permanently ‘subjected to the rule of Muslim majority ‘in Bengal, which ‘they regarded as their own province’, back to the preceding decades, Chatterji writes: ‘Now, in late 1946 and early 1947, this reluctance hardened into a determination that Bengal must be divided and that Hindus must crave out for themselves a Hindu-majority province. Here was a determination clearly derived from the internal dynamics of Bengali Hindu politics; and yet its success …depended critically on the support of the Congress centre.’ [Chatterji, p 222] The Congress leadership in Delhi, as we have already seen, did actively support the political struggle of the Bengal’s Hindu elite for the communal partition of the province. Joya Chatterji rightly notes, ‘It was this symbiotic relationship between provincial Bhadralok politics and the priorities of the Congress High command that shaped the partition of Bengal in 1947.’[ibid]
It is now an established fact that in both the times, first in 1905 and then in 1947, the Hindu elite of Bengal used the Hindu-dominated Indian National Congress and the extremely communalist Hindu Mahasabha to achieve its communal objectives.
Under such circumstances, it was only natural that the Muslims of East Bengal would not enthusiastically face martyrdom to keep Bengal united. Driven by several decades of bitter experiences, they rather found it better to explore their collective future independently of the hegemonic Hindu elite in East Bengal within the framework of Pakistan.
Dr Muhammad Kudrat-E-Khuda, one of those Bengali Muslims who enjoyed the affection of Tagore, asked the latter in 1936: ‘Why don’t you write more on the Hindu-Muslim friendship, which is essential for the independence of the country?’
In reply, Tagore said: ‘Hindu-Muslim friendship is impossible. You do not know Hindu society as much as I do.’
An anxious Khuda asked Tagore: What’s the solution, then?
Tagore said: ‘Independence will come only when the entire country will become Hindu or Muslim.’ [Muhammad Kudrat-e-Khuda, ‘Kabi Smriti’, in Bhuiyan Iqbal, Rabindranath O Muslim Samaj (Rabindranath and Muslim Society), Second edition, Prathama Prakashan, Dhaka, 2012, p 361.]
Neither Khuda nor Tagore elaborated on the issue for a better understanding of what the latter really meant by the observation that he used to understand the Hindus of the time better. Be that as it may, Tagore’s prediction came true. The independence came to the subcontinent by way of creating two separate homelands for the Hindus and Muslims, Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, which, again, resulted in the partition of Bengal into Muslim-majority East Bengal and Hindu-majority West Bengal.
To be continued.
URL of Part 6: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/sudhakar-group-and-maulana-muniruzzaman-islamabadi-interpreted-islam-in-bangla-to-‘cleanse-the-faith-of-islam’-from-the-influences-of-hinduism-and-christianity---part-6/d/13790